A Trio of SEC Teams to Watch in Holiday TournamentsPosted by DPerry on November 2nd, 2012
Holiday tournaments are some of the most anticipated events in college basketball. Teams commit well in advance of the season to play in exotic locales such as Maui, Puerto Rico, and the Bahamas, with purist fans hoping to see the top teams avoid upsets to ensure compelling tournament finals between highly ranked non-conference foes. The spectacle is alluring, but we don’t always seen the best basketball since teams haven’t had much practice time. However, because of new NCAA regulations enacted this year, we may be fortunate enough to see these teams in borderline midseason form.
Several SEC teams will be showcasing their talents in these holiday tournaments over the coming month. Be sure to keep an eye on these teams in particular:
Texas A&M – CBE Classic (November 19-20): When Billy Kennedy left Murray State to become the head coach in College Station, the ultimate goal (pipe dream?) was for his Aggies to be able to compete with Kansas, the class of the conference. After three losses to the Jayhawks and a move to the SEC, the target is no longer KU, it’s UK. However, with a little luck, Texas A&M will have another shot at Kansas in the CBE Classic. Earlier in the summer, few would have given the Aggies much of a chance against first round opponent Saint Louis, but the Billikens now look much less daunting. Ray and Elston Turner will be eager to return to the NCAA Tournament in their senior seasons, and a non-conference victory over a quality team could prove invaluable. If the Aggies can sneak by SLU, a matchup with the Jayhawks awaits. The talent disparity is massive, but with Bill Self working several new pieces into the rotation, Billy Kennedy will be keen to take advantage, giving his team a chance at their first victory over the former conference rival since the days of Acie Law.
Tennessee – Puerto Rico Tip-Off (November 15-18): In his recent column, RTC’s Chris Johnson chose six power conference schools ready to make “the leap.” If you want to see how they deal with increased expectations, buy a ticket to San Juan (or maybe just tune in), where you can see half of these teams in action. Tennessee shouldn’t have much trouble with last year’s NCAA near-Cinderella UNC-Asheville, but an Oklahoma State backcourt triumvirate of Marcus Smart, Markel Brown, and Le’Bryan Nash (OK, he’s a swingman) will present a unique challenge for the frontcourt-oriented Volunteers. In the final, a match-up with old foe Mark Gottfried looms large, but his NC State team is far from familiar. The Wolfpack are ranked #6 in the preseason polls and will be eager to prove a point to the skeptics from traditional ACC powers UNC and Duke. The Puerto Rico Tip-Off kicks off a brutal non-conference schedule for Tennessee with the potential for a few of the toughest tests they’ll face before SEC play.
Missouri – Battle 4 Atlantis (November 22-24): While most of us have ambitious designs on relaxing with family and partaking in a full buffet over Thanksgiving, the Missouri Tigers won’t be living as free and easy. The field for the second annual Bahamian tournament is loaded, with all eight participating teams ranked in the top 50 of Ken Pomeroy’s preseason rankings. Missouri opens against a Stanford team that closed 2011-12 with an impressive run to the NIT title. An upset over Louisville in the second round would demand the attention of the college basketball universe, and a final game against Duke or Memphis wouldn’t leave any room for a letdown. With Northern Iowa, VCU, and Minnesota rounding out the field, the Tigers, even if they wind up in the loser’s bracket, will be guaranteed three games against quality opposition. If you have to choose one preseason tournament to watch, look no further than the Battle 4 Atlantis.