Minnesota-UMKC preseason N.I.T. preview

The Minnesota Gophers open their 2003-04 season against Missouri-Kansas City in the preseason N.I.T. at Williams Arena Monday night at 7:00. The Kangaroos finished 9-20 last season and were 7-7 in Mid-Continent play. They return three starters from a team that was 2-16 at one time before finishing the season with seven wins in its final 11 contests. The Kangaroos are 2-0 after wins over Athletes in Action 81-69 and Quincy University 66-59.

Missouri-Kansas City is led by 6-1 senior guard Michael Watson. He was recently named a preseason first-team all-conference selection for the second consecutive season. Watson averaged 25.5 points per game last season, second in the league behind Oakland's Mike Helms (26.9 points per contest).


Watson started 28 of 29 games, recording the second-best single scoring season in UMKC history as he scored 740 points, fourth among all NCAA Division I men's players. Watson had a career-high 54 points at Oral Roberts (2-22-03), the top performance by an NCAA Division I men's player in 2002-03. He was named to the United States Basketball Writers Association all-District VI team and was also second-team all-District 12 by the National Association of Basketball Coaches. He was first-team all-Mid-Continent Conference for second straight season


Watson scored 26 points in their exhibition win over Athletes in Action and 19 points versus Quincy as he made just five of 22 shots from the field.


Watson was the team's lone double figure scorer. 6-9, 300-pound junior center Carlton Aaron led the team in rebounding with 7.7 rebounds per game and was second in scoring with 9.8 points per contest. He averaged 11.8 points in conference games


Carlton scored 20 points in their exhibition win over Athletes in Action off the bench and had 13 points and nine rebounds versus Quincy. 


6-8 sophomore forward Brandon Lipsey was the third returning starter. He averaged 6.1 points and 5.3 rebounds per game as a freshman. Lipsey scored six points in their exhibition win over Athletes in Action and nine versus Quincy.


The Kangaroos landed a strong recruiting class, which included four junior college transfers and one freshman.


6-1 point guard Brandon Temple played at Southwest Missouri State University-West Plains, the same school as ex-Gopher Tavarius Bennett. Temple helped the Grizzlies post a 52-12 record in two seasons. He averaged 8.3 points and 6.0 assists per game in 2001-02 as a sophomore. Temple holds the school career assist record (332), leading team in assists in 54 games and establishing a school record with 12 assists in a game. Temple scored 12 points in their exhibition win over Athletes in Action and six versus Quincy.


6-4 forward Mike English averaged 19.7 points, 7.8 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game last season for Kaskaskia (IL) CC. He blocked a team-high 22 shots and was named an all-conference performer, English earned National Junior College Athletic Association Division I all-Region 24 honors. English had 13 points in their exhibition win over Athletes in Action and 10 points and 16 rebounds versus Quincy.


The Kangaroos are the fifth representative ever from the Mid-Continent Conference to participate in the Preseason NIT.


The winner advances to the second round to face the winner of the Georgia State-Utah contest at a campus site on November 19.


"We are excited about participating in this event," said UMKC head coach Rich Zvosec. "Getting an opportunity to play against someone of the caliber of Minnesota will be a fantastic experience for our players."


Other first-round pairings on November 17 include Vermont at Nevada and Yale at Connecticut. First-round matchups scheduled for November 18 are St. Francis (N.Y.) at Massachusetts; Davidson at Texas Tech; Louisiana-Lafayette at Georgia Tech; and Hofstra at Marist.


The winners of the second-round contests advance to New York City, playing in Madison Square Garden for the semifinal and championship rounds on November 26 and 28.


In addition to Minnesota, three other teams in the field, Georgia Tech, Louisiana-Lafayette and Texas Tech, played in the 2003 postseason NIT. Texas Tech reached the semifinals of the event, with the Red Raiders losing to St. John's. Connecticut also experienced postseason play this past season as a participant in the 2003 NCAA Tournament, reaching the Sweet Sixteen.


The Preseason NIT was inaugurated in 1985. The tournament is comprised of 16 teams, with NCAA legislation allowing for only one team from a conference to participate in a given year. The format of the tournament is similar to the postseason NIT.

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