Previewing the Holiday Tournaments: A Big Ten PerspectivePosted by Max Jakubowski on November 21st, 2013
The holiday tournaments tip off today and college coaches are huge fans of their teams participating in these events. With the quick turnarounds and neutral court sites, the events give players a glimpse of what their conference and postseason tournaments will feel like. From the prestigious eight-team Maui Invitational to the four-team Barclays Center Classic, each tournament provides valuable experience for teams and coaches alike to prepare for a postseason atmosphere. Along with gaining that precious experience, teams can also improve their non-conference resumes just by showing up. A couple of good performances or a holiday tournament championship looks pretty attractive to the selection committee in March. This year, the Big Ten has nearly the entire league competing in some sort of holiday tournament (Illinois and Ohio State are the two absentees). Let’s break down each of them, starting with the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, Charleston Classic and 2kSports Classic, beginning today.
Puerto Rico Tip off: November 21-24
- Teams: Michigan vs. Long Beach State, VCU vs. Florida State, Georgetown vs. Northeastern, Charlotte vs. Kansas State
- Favorite: VCU
- Projected Michigan Finish: 3rd
- Michigan Player to Watch: Derrick Walton Jr.
- The Skinny: In the eight-team field, Georgetown, VCU, and the Wolverines are the clear front-runners. Georgetown lucked out as they are on the opposite side of the bracket of both Michigan and VCU. This means that a match-up of last year’s NCAA Tournament third round game between the two schools is likely in the semifinals. Last year, Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. shredded Shaka Smart’s “Havoc” defense on its way to a huge victory. Now, Walton is set to run the offense for Michigan and go up against a veteran VCU backcourt. This game could spell major trouble for John Beilein and his staff, but could also be an important teaching moment.
Charleston Classic: November 21-24
- Teams: Nebraska vs. UMass, UAB vs. New Mexico, Georgia vs. Davidson, Clemson vs. Temple
- Favorite: New Mexico
- Projected Nebraska Finish: 5th
- Nebraska Player to Watch: Tai Webster
- The Skinny: The Cornhuskers play UMass and then either New Mexico or UTEP in the next round. New Mexico is a top 20 team while UMass is expected to compete for a NCAA bid out of the Atlantic 10. Chaz Williams for UMass is an explosively fast guard who can distribute the ball well and shoot lights out from three. Tim Miles will have his work cut out to try and stop Williams, and the freshman Webster will get a nice welcoming from the “Chaz Master.”
2kSports Classic: November 21-22
- Teams: Indiana vs Washington, Boston College vs. UConn
- Favorite: UConn
- Projected Indiana Finish: 2nd
- Indiana Player to Watch: Yogi Ferrell
- The Skinny: The Hoosiers travel to New York to play in Madison Square Garden and will get Washington followed by either Boston College or UConn. The Hoosiers should be able to get by the western Huskies and set up a possible great match-up with the eastern Huskies. It will be interesting to see how IU’s backcourt handles Connecticut’s star guards in Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. Both are quick-on-quick and can light it up from the perimeter. Ferrell will have to show he has matured enough on the defensive side in order to stop or slow down Napier. It wouldn’t surprise me if Tom Crean puts Will Sheehey on Napier to try to defend him with a more physical player.
Coaches vs. Cancer: November 22-23
- Teams: Michigan State vs Virginia Tech, Seton Hall vs. Oklahoma
- Favorite: Michigan State
- Projected Michigan State Finish: 1st
- Michigan State Player to Watch: Keith Appling
- The Skinny: This road trip to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn should be all business for Michigan State with nothing less than a 2-0 record expected. Appling has been a superb senior so far, averaging a crazy good stat line of 15.3 PPG, 4.0 RPG, and 6.3 APG. If Appling can keep those numbers consistent, MSU might have the best trifecta of players in the Big Ten with himself, Gary Harris and Adreian Payne.
Maui Invitational: November 25-27
- Teams: Minnesota vs. Syracuse, Arkansas vs. California, Chaminade vs. Baylor, Dayton vs. Gonzaga
- Favorite: Syracuse
- Projected Minnesota Finish: 7th
- Minnesota Player to Watch: Andre Hollins
- The Skinny: The Golden Gophers face a top 10 team in Syracuse for its first game. Baylor, California, and Gonzaga are the other projected NCAA teams in Maui this year. Minnesota lost three starters from last year and will be fighting for every win it can get this season during the always brutal conference play. New head coach Richard Pitino will be looking to see what kind of production he can get out of newcomers Joey King and Malik Smith. The offense will flow entirely through Hollins and will depend on his ability to create for himself and others. Pitino and his staff would definitely welcome a 2-1 record in Maui.
Cancun Challenge: November 26-27
- Teams: Wisconsin vs. Saint Louis, West Virginia vs. Old Dominion
- Favorite: Wisconsin
- Projected Wisconsin Finish: 1st
- Wisconsin Player to Watch: Sam Dekker
- The Skinny: Bo Ryan and his squad face a difficult opening opponent in Saint Louis. SLU was a #4 seed last year in the NCAA Tournament and returns A-10 preseason player of the year Dwayne Evans. Wisconsin looks to counter with the sophomore Dekker, who will be the focal point of the Badgers’ offense this year regardless of Frank Kaminsky’s recent explosion for 43 points. A win over SLU will be a major commendation the Badgers can use on their resume come March, which already includes early wins over Florida and St. Johns.
Las Vegas Invitational: November 28-29
- Teams: Northwestern, Missouri, UCLA, Nevada
- Favorite: UCLA
- Projected Northwestern finish: 3rd
- Northwestern Player to Watch: Dave Sobolewski
- The Skinny: The Wildcats will play Missouri and then UCLA the following night. Both opponents are NCAA Tournament-caliber teams and a win over either would do wonders for Northwestern’s resume. The Mizzou game figures to be a perimeter battle, with the Tigers bringing Jordan Clarkson, Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross to counter Sobolewski, JerShon Cobb and Drew Crawford. In the UCLA matchup, the Bruins have the advantage down low and it will be up to sophomore Alex Olah to prove he is a legitimate post presence. It will definitely be a challenging two days in the desert for Northwestern.
Battle 4 Atlantis: November 28-30
- Teams: Iowa vs. Xavier, UTEP vs. Tennessee, USC vs. Villanova, Kansas vs. Wake Forest
- Favorite: Kansas
- Projected Iowa Finish: 2nd
- Iowa Player to Watch: Jarrod Uthoff
- The Skinny: The Hawkeyes match up with a young but rising Xavier club in the first round in the Bahamas. Other notable teams in the field include Tennessee, Villanova and Kansas. The one advantage Iowa has over all the other teams in this event is in their depth. Fran McCaffery goes 11 deep this season and can mix and match his lineup to find favorable defensive match-ups. Uthoff is one of those key bench players who can really score in a variety of ways. Iowa might not be the favorites to win Atlantis, but if it can secure wins over Xavier and Tennessee, those victories will go a long way to help the Hawkeyes get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006.
Barclays Center Classic: November 29-30
- Teams: Penn State vs St Johns, Ole Miss vs Georgia Tech
- Favorite: St. John’s
- Projected Penn St. Finish: 4th
- Penn St. Player to Watch: DJ Newbill
- The Skinny: All four of these teams have their specialties and could capture the title in a relatively weak field. Penn State’s advantage is its guard play, led by Tim Frazier and DJ. Newbill. The frontcourt still has its issues, however, which could be a problem when they play the Johnnies, a team that is absolutely loaded with talented bigs. Frazier and Newbill have enough scoring capabilities together to carry the offensive load, but if Penn State’s frontcourt struggles to defend and rebound, Pat Chambers’ team could leave Brooklyn 0-2.
Old Spice Classic: November 28 to December 1
- Teams: Purdue vs. Oklahoma State, Butler vs. Washington State, Memphis vs. Siena, LSU vs. St Joseph’s
- Favorite: Oklahoma State
- Projected Purdue Finish: 7th
- Purdue Player to Watch: AJ Hammons
- The Skinny: Purdue drew a difficult test in Oklahoma State in the first round out in Anaheim. Purdue could hang with the Cowboys for a little while, especially if Hammons uses his big frame to dominate in the post against a smaller Oklahoma State front line. LSU and Memphis are the other top teams in this tournament that could help the Boilermakers get back to the NCAA Tournament if Purdue can grab a couple wins here.