Full Breakdown Of The Top November TournamentsPosted by zhayes9 on November 8th, 2009
What’s the best part of the college basketball season kicking off? The early-season tournaments, of course! Coaches vs. Cancer, Preseason NIT, Maui Invitational, Anaheim Classic…these are our first opportunities to see the top teams in the nation, gauge exactly how much of a force they could pose this season, evaluate the progression of upperclassmen and estimate the talent level of the much-ballyhooed freshmen. The preseason tournament fields this season are not quite as loaded as in year’s past (you’ll recall last season Maui featured three top-ten teams, although two — Texas and Notre Dame — didn’t pan out), but there’s plenty of potential for memorable early-season classics. Let’s delve into the cream of the crop in November:
2K Sports Classic Benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer (Regionals: November 9-11, NYC: November 19-20)
* RTC Live will be at the California subregional and the NYC semis and finals.
The Field: The powers-that-be decided to avoid any clunker matchups at MSG in mid-November, so they’ve given the four hosts — North Carolina, California, Ohio State and Syracuse — an automatic pass to the semifinals in NYC, so don’t expect any Gardner-Webb Cinderella stories invading the Big Apple. The tournament kicks off Monday and Wednesday at all four sites with Syracuse battling Albany and Robert Morris, California taking on Murray State and Detroit, North Carolina facing Florida International and North Carolina Central and Ohio State matched up against Alcorn State and James Madison. The semifinal games are set for November 19 with Syracuse vs. California as the under-card and North Carolina vs. Ohio State in the nightcap.
The Sleeper: The bigger news, in my opinion, that came out of the Carrier Dome last Wednesday when Syracuse stunningly fell to Le Moyne was not the final score, but Wesley Johnson scoring 34 points after a clunker in the exhibition opener. Big-time programs have been stunned in exhibitions before — you’ll recall Michigan State fell to Grand Valley State a few years back and still reached the Sweet 16 — and Syracuse was primarily experimenting with a man-to-man defense that Jim Boeheim could very well scrap for the season. Johnson exploding for 34 points shows he could be the go-to scorer Syracuse needs with Jonny Flynn and Eric Devendorf no longer manning the orange.
The Pick: I’ve been on their bandwagon all off-season so why not? My pick is Ohio State. Dallas Lauderdale keeps saying he should be ready to play. They return all-around performer Evan Turner who has a triple-double in his plans this season. William Buford and Jon Diebler can shoot the lights out and should really extend the Carolina defense. Receive steady point guard play from P.J. Hill and Jerime Simmons and that’s a possible top-ten team. I’ll take the Buckeyes to knock off UNC and California.
CBE Classic (Regionals: November 15-19, Kansas City: November 23-24)
*RTC Live will be at the semis and finals.
The Field: Much like the 2K Sports Classic, the semifinals are already set for Kansas City pitting Texas against Iowa and Pittsburgh against Wichita State. The four regional games are as follows: Texas facing UC Irvine and Western Carolina, Binghamton and Eastern Kentucky visiting Pittsburgh, Fairleigh Dickinson and Arkansas-Monticello taking on Wichita State and Iowa getting Duquesne and UTSA. The one possible upset here (not that it matters) is a high-scoring Duquesne team upsetting Big Ten bottom-feeder Iowa.
The Sleeper: It’s really hard to see Texas not annihilating this field, but could Wichita State knock off Pittsburgh? The Panthers won’t have Gilbert Brown (suspension) and possibly Jermaine Dixon (foot injury) for this one while already attempting to overcome the loss of DeJuan Blair, Levance Fields and Sam Young. Gregg Marshall returns seven of his top ten scorers for a squad that could linger near the top of the MVC led by senior guard Clevin Hannah and junior forward J.T. Turley, who is poised to become a star. If the Shockers can contain freshman forward Dante Taylor, they could live up to their name and pull a shocker in Kansas City.
The Pick: I have Texas ranked #2 in my preseason top-25 and they don’t have much sterling competition in this field. Pittsburgh was depleted by losses and may not even be an NCAA tournament team this season, Wichita State is a few rungs behind Creighton and Northern Iowa in the MVC and Texas’ first round opponent, Iowa, won’t be able to stay on the floor with the supremely talented Longhorns. Rick Barnes’ team is extremely deep at every position and could be a national title contender if Florida transfer Jai Lucas or newly-eligible J’Covan Brown provides stability at point guard. Damion James and Dexter Pittman are constant double-double threats inside.
NIT Season Tip-Off (Regionals: November 16-17, NYC: November 25, 27)
The Field: Unlike the 2K Sports Classic and CBE Classic, the four home hosts are not guaranteed a spot in the semifinals. Who is the most likely upset victim? Western Kentucky returns four starters from a team that nearly made their second straight Sweet 16 — forwards Steffphon Pettigrew and Sergio Kerusch, center Jeremy Evans and star guard A.J. Slaughter — and could very well knock off an LSU team that’s looking to replace a good portion of their roster. The Hilltoppers must first knock off an experienced Milwaukee team in the loaded Baton Rouge regional while LSU draws Indiana State. The Duke region pits Coastal Carolina against the Blue Devils and Elon against Charlotte. The Arizona State region has the Sun Devils facing Texas State and TCU taking on Cal State Northridge. Connecticut faces Colgate then the winner of Hofstra vs. Yale. Watch out for Hofstra guard Charles Jenkins (17.9 PPG), but otherwise the hosts should advance to NYC fairly easily.
The Sleeper: Western Kentucky could be the sleeper to reach NYC (and I think they will), but to win it all? With Duke entering as the prohibitive favorite as the best overall team in the field and their habit of peaking in November and December, does Connecticut qualify as a sleeper? Even though that’s a bit of a stretch, I’ll take the Huskies. Kemba Walker could make the leap in his sophomore campaign to stardom, Jerome Dyson returns to bring shooting, leadership and defense while Stanley Robinson has all the talent in the world on the wing. The weakness for Connecticut this season, unless freshman Alex Oriakhi is much better than anticipated, will be post production offensively and defensively. Another reason to like this matchup for UConn is Duke’s lack of a true big-bodied post presence; Mason Plumlee, Kyle Singler and Ryan Kelly like to hang around the perimeter more than plant themselves down low and Brian Zoubek is woefully uncoordinated.
The Pick: Connecticut. Give me their 1-2 guard combo over Nolan Smith and Jon Scheyer. Guard play proves to be the difference, Singler is contained and Jim Calhoun has a confidence-building November tournament win.
Puerto Rico Tip-Off (November 19-20, 22)
The Field: The strongest first round matchup is the early tip-off with Dayton and Georgia Tech meeting in a fight of borderline top-25 teams. This will be our first look at possible freshman POY Derrick Favors and this super-talented Tech squad against Chris Wright and the A10 favorite Flyers. Villanova takes on George Mason as the favorite to win this tournament. They return an incredible backcourt with Scottie Reynolds, Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes and two top-50 recruits in Dominic Cheek and Maalik Wayns. Ole Miss returns a dynamic backcourt duo of Terrico White and Chris Warren to battle improving Indiana. Finally, Kansas State is on upset watch against America East favorite Boston University.
The Sleeper: I can see Kansas State doing some damage in this field. Denis Clemente (15.0 PPG, 37% 3pt) is back as a possible Big 12 POY candidate. He makes a nice perimeter duo with double-digit scoring junior guard Jacob Pullen. Frank Martin also lured five-star power forward recruit Wally Judge to Manhattan and could form a top inside-outside duo with Clemente immediately. There’s plenty of talent for Kansas State to knock off Ole Miss in the semifinals and face Villanova, Dayton or Georgia Tech in the final of this entertaining tournament.
The Pick: Even if their frontcourt is a bit thin going up against Chris Wright or Derrick Favors in the second round, Villanova has enough talent in the backcourt to win this tournament. What may prove to be the Achilles heel for the Wildcats is a frontcourt which simply lacks in bulk, with only reserve junior Antonio Pena and freshmen Isaiah Armwood and Mouphtaou Yarou 6’8 or over. This could be especially troubling against the 6’10 Favors and 6’9 Gani Lawal of Georgia Tech. Still, who can match up with that perimeter? They’re the main reason Villanova is the Big East favorite and the reason they’ll win this tournament.
Paradise Jam (November 23-25)
The Field: Could the Paradise Jam be the top tournament this season? There are two teams that headline the field — Purdue and Tennessee — with top-10 talent. Boston College returns nearly their entire roster from a team that garnered a #7 seed and Northern Iowa is a preseason favorite for many in the Missouri Valley. The Panthers first-round game is against hapless DePaul while Tennessee gets East Carolina on the top half of the bracket. BC draws St. Joseph’s, a team that lost both Ahmad Nivins and Tasheed Carr and could really struggle to score points. Purdue will face South Dakota State to complete the bottom half.
The Sleeper: Northern Iowa is a very dangerous team. Their methodical, efficient offense doesn’t turn the ball over (11.7 per game for 22nd in NCAA) and shoots the ball extremely well (45% FG, 75% FT). They return all five starters from a team that shared the regular season title and won the conference tournament, including forward Adam Koch and center Jordan Eglseder. They could hang with Tennessee enough to frustrate the Volunteers and make up for the vast talent differential.
The Pick: While many have Michigan State tabbed as their preseason Big Ten champs, even those experts don’t have Purdue far behind. With a healthy Robbie Hummel, this team is loaded, experienced and the core has been together for a few years. JaJuan Johnson continues to improve down low, E’Twaun Moore is a legitimate scoring threat and Chris Kramer locks up the opposition’s best shooter. Sophomore Lewis Jackson, a welcomed contributor in his debut season, completes their stellar three-guard lineup. Purdue is my Big Ten title selection and also my pick to take the Paradise Jam crown.
Maui Invitational (November 23-25)
The Field: The Maui Invitational is widely known as the premiere November tournament, yet this year the field isn’t quite as loaded as in season’s past. Still, there’s potential for plenty of storylines and competitive games, even if there’s no true standout team. Colorado and its flailing program will look to make some inroads this season in the Big 12; they draw a difficult first-round matchup in Gonzaga. Cincinnati vs. Vanderbilt gives us our first look at Cincy guard Lance Stephenson and Vandy guard John Jenkins, a freshman with unlimited shooting range. Maryland wins the lottery and takes on Chaminade. They’ll draw the winner of two normally-competitive programs that could take a step back this season: Arizona vs. Wisconsin.
The Sleeper: Most prognosticators will predict a Maryland-Gonzaga final, but I think there’s an excellent chance the winner of the Cincinnati vs. Vanderbilt game could take the crown. I’m a big believer that Kevin Stallings and the Commodores will make some serious noise in the SEC led by center A.J. Ogilvy, wing Jeffery Taylor and guards Jermaine Beal and John Jenkins. I’m also a believer that Cincinnati is a team to be reckoned with in the Big East now that Stephenson is eligible. Pair him with Deonta Vaughn and Cashmere Wright in the backcourt along with Yancy Gates inside and that’s a formidable squad for Mick Cronin.
The Pick: Every team in this field has holes: Gonzaga has a weak frontcourt, Wisconsin doesn’t have the scoring punch, Arizona is dealing with too much turnover and Cincinnati/Vanderbilt are not quite at that elite level yet to win three games against this type of competition. I’ll send my support to Maryland. Greivis Vasquez could win tournament MVP, Eric Hayes is a steady point guard and they have enough athletically to match up with Gonzaga, Vanderbilt and Cincinnati on the perimeter. How the freshman inside duo Jordan Williams and James Padgett perform could determine their fate.
76 Classic (November 26-27, 29)
*RTC Live will be at select games of this tournament.
The Field: Does West Virginia have the goods to win the Big East? We’ll get our first look at the Mountaineers when they take on Big West favorite Long Beach State. The second game pits Texas A&M against Clemson in what could be a crucial bubble contest we look back on in February and March with great importance. The best first-round matchup is Butler vs. Minnesota. The top-ten Bulldogs could receive a stiff test from Minnesota and their deep, talented squad. UCLA faces Portland in what is a very dangerous game for the Bruins.
The Sleeper: Clemson always seems to peak too early. This could be the case again even with the losses of K.C. Rivers and Terrence Oglesby on the perimeter. Trevor Booker is an absolute force inside and Milton Jennings is an elite 6’9 athletic forward who gives Booker major help under the basket. If Demontez Stitt, Tanner Smith and Andre Young can hold fort in the backcourt, Clemson could do damage in the early months yet again. Another possible sleeper is Portland. The Pilots return their top ten scorers and all five starters, including sharpshooter T.J. Campbell (53% 3pt, not a typo) and shooting guard Nik Raivio (16.0 PPG), from a team that could supplant Gonzaga this season in the WCC.
The Pick: West Virginia could take on Butler in what would be the best tournament final of any featured this November. This would be a matchup of two rugged, fundamentally sound teams that crash the boards and work hard on every possession. West Virginia can edge Butler athletically, though, with the slower Gordon Hayward attempting to contain Devin Ebanks and Da’Sean Butler raining threes outside. If the Mountaineers can get Joe Mazzulla playing like he did two years ago in March, they could take the Big East crown and should have enough ammunition to win this tournament.
Old Spice Classic (November 26-27, 29)
The Field: Possible Big Ten contender Michigan faces a stiff test in their first game with Missouri Valley contender Creighton opening the Old Spice Classic. Michigan returns potential Big 10 POY Manny Harris while Creighton has P’Allen Stinnett (12.5 PPG, 48 steals). The second game is a Jesuit battle between Xavier and Marquette. Both teams lost a good portion of their scoring/rebounding a year ago, yet it’s still an enticing matchup between two relatively new coaches in Chris Mack and Buzz Williams. Alabama and Baylor could be an entertaining, high-scoring affair while Florida State caps off the tournament’s first day with a likely victory over Iona. This will be our first look at talented Seminoles freshman Michael Snaer.
The Sleeper: This may surprise some readers due to the losses of Wes Matthews, Dominic James and Jerel McNeal, but I have Marquette tabbed to beat Xavier in their first round contest. While it’s a stretch to say they’ll topple Michigan, the Golden Eagles are my sleeper for this field. I’m a huge Lazar Hayward fan (in fact, I voted him fourth team All-American for the RTC teams). He can rebound (8.6 RPG) and can shoot the ball very well outside (53 3-pt made last season). Williams brought in a talented recruiting class led by Darius Johnson-Odom, an explosive scorer and 6’6 freshman Jeronne Maymon. Jimmy Butler should step into a bigger role and continue to contribute on the boards.
The Pick: John Beilein and his Michigan Wolverines could really take off in his third year at the helm. Manny Harris is one of the best penetrating guards in the nation, constantly able to get to the free throw line and has an uncanny ability to finish under the basket in traffic. DeShawn Sims (15.4 PPG, 6.8 RPG) provides a nice complimentary scoring punch for Harris. If Laval Lucas-Perry can harness his potential and the Wolverines shoot at a higher rate as a team from downtown, they could be a Sweet 16 squad. At the very least, they have the team to beat Creighton, Marquette/Xavier and the bottom half to take this title.