In The Spirit Of The Season, Holiday Tournaments Offer Opportunities For Future Bubble TeamsPosted by BHayes on July 19th, 2013
Bennet Hayes is an RTC columnist. He can be reached @HoopsTraveler.
It may have been slightly less dramatic than Selection Sunday (okay, maybe a lot less), but yesterday’s unveiling of college basketball’s holiday tournament brackets still provided a bit of fun during these dry days of summer. Fans across the country were offered the opportunity to lick their lips at the thought of some tantalizing November and December possibilities, with matchups like VCU-Michigan, Baylor-Gonzaga, and Duke-Arizona all not so far-fetched. But if we look beyond those potentially epic matchups, there’s still a lot of substance to be found. Preseason tournaments are an opportunity to build momentum for the season ahead, and for many teams, a rare shot for resume-boosting wins that can mean the difference between NCAA Tournament and NIT come March. A good showing in the holiday tournament season goes a long way for any team, but the five teams listed below need it more than most.
UMass (Charleston Classic)
First Round Opponent: Nebraska, Possible Marquee Opponent: New Mexico (semifinal)
Before Derek Kellogg and UMass flirted with the NCAA Tournament in each of the past two seasons, it had been awhile since Minuteman fans had even received a March sweat. Whiffs in all three big non-conference games a season ago (NC State, Miami and Tennessee) created too much work in the A-10 season for the Minutemen to make up. Getting past Nebraska would be nice, but a semifinal win over New Mexico would give Chaz Williams and co. not just a sweet November scalp, but a real sense that this is the year they finally get over the hump.
Texas (CBE Hall Of Fame Classic)
First Round Opponent: BYU, Possible Marquee Opponent: Wichita State (final)
Well, I guess this tournament can’t possibly go as poorly as Maui did last year for Texas (thank you Chaminade!), but nevertheless this is a massive spot for Rick Barnes’ club. And Rick Barnes. The seat is pretty toasty down in Austin, and the best way to avoid suffering through a year like the last one might be to leave Kansas City as champions. Provided Wichita State skirts by Depaul, a CBE HOF Classic title for the Horns would mean beating two solid teams (BYU in the opener), and would offer an important reminder that this roster still has enough talent to make some noise in the Big 12 – and keep Barnes employed.
Boise State (Diamond Head Classic)
First Round Opponent: Hawaii, Possible Marquee Opponent: St. Mary’s (semifinal), Iowa State (final)
Last year’s Boise team was a pleasant surprise, coming from relative obscurity to make their way into the field of 68. With nearly the entire roster back in 2013-14, the Broncos will be sneaking up on nobody this go-around. And while the Mountain West shouldn’t be quite as treacherous this season as it was a year ago, Boise would still be well served to make some noise in advance of the conference season. Diamond Head will give the Broncos that chance and then some, as they begin the tournament against host Hawaii, with possible clashes against St. Mary’s and Iowa State looming down the road.
Memphis (Old Spice Classic)
First Round Opponent: Siena, Possible Marquee Opponent: Oklahoma State (final)
Year in, year out, Josh Pastner lines up a row of marquee win opportunities for his team, and year in, year out, they flop miserably in all of them. The conference season has been the Tigers’ saving grace for a while now, but it’s high time this talented roster started beating good teams in the non-conference portion of the schedule. Siena and then LSU or St. Joe’s should be easy pickings for Memphis – it’ll be a potential championship matchup with Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State where Pastner’s group will have the chance to show they’ve changed their ways.
Georgetown (Puerto Rico Tip-Off)
First Round Opponent: Northeastern, Possible Marquee Opponent: Michigan/VCU (final)
The departure of Otto Porter and loss of Greg Whittington (torn ACL) have tempered expectations in the nation’s capital, but let’s not forget that last season’s Hoyas also entered November with little fanfare. That team wound up a #2 seed in the Dance, and it was an impressive Legends Classic performance (win over UCLA, OT loss to Indiana) that initially launched them into the national picture. With a manageable road to the finals here, and a likely shot at a marquee opponent if they can get there, could these Hoyas follow that same script?