Your average casual college basketball fan knows plenty about March Madness, the whole Final Four and Sweet Sixteen and whatnot. Peel that onion a little bit and the number of people that get really into the conference tournaments is a bit smaller. But it is the true college basketball junkies who get all excited by phrases like “Maui Invitational,” “Preseason NIT,” and, this year, “Battle 4 Atlantis.” We here at RTC know who our readers are, so get ready as we begin to dig through the early season college basketball tournaments and exempt events that will help keep us entertained while the rest of the sporting world is paying attention to silly stuff like college football and the NFL. Today we’ll take a look at where four of the conference’s schools will be playing their exempt events, with additional posts to come in the future on the rest of the teams.
Oregon State – 2K Sports Classic, November 15-16, Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
The Beavers kick off their season with a pair of “regional round” games at Gill Coliseum against Niagara (on November 9, the opening night of the season) and New Mexico State (November 11), a pair of games which, though they’ll count in OSU’s record, don’t have a lick of impact on which teams advance to NYC. Still, NMSU is a team coming off an NCAA appearance (despite losing three seniors from that team), while Niagara is a young team that played its best basketball at the end of last year; both games promise to give the Beavs a good workout. OSU will kick off its engagement at MSG with the matinee performance against a young and athletic Alabama team that was among the best defensive teams in the nation last year. However, Bama has to replace forwards Tony Mitchell and JaMychal Green, with freshmen Jimmie Taylor and Shannon Hale potentially getting the first crack. If OSU can get past a tough Crimson Tide defense (that’s a familiar phrase), they’ll advance to the championship game to face either Villanova or Purdue, two more teams in the midst of program transition. The Boilermakers are replacing Robbie Hummel and Lewis Jackson this season, while Villanova lost its backcourt duo of Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek to early departures (both went, predictably, unpicked in this year’s NBA Draft). Still, each team returns plenty of talent, and Purdue introduces four four-star freshmen, while the Wildcats break in a pair of four-star guys of their own. All told, regardless of how the semifinal round shakes out, OSU will get two winnable matchups against good, solid power conference teams. If they come away with two wins, they should be ecstatic, while a pair of early losses would put a damper on their plans, but not leave them completely dead. Still, post-New York, the only RPI boosting game on the Beavs’ non-conference schedule is a tough trip to Kansas City to face Kansas on an anything-but-neutral court.
Oregon – Global Sports Classic, November 23-24, Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas, NV
Las Vegas continues to position itself as a college hoops destination with the newest generically-named early season tourney in Sin City. Like the 2K Sports Classic, it purports itself to be an eight-team tournament, but really, four teams are already ticketed to the semifinals regardless of the outcomes of the earlier games. And those four teams present a challenging field, as the Ducks are joined by Cincinnati, Iowa State and hometown favorite UNLV. Dana Altman’s squad will officially start play in this event on November 10 when they host Northern Arizona and they’ll wrap up the preliminaries with Jacksonville State on November 19, two games that should be relative breathers for UO. But once they get to Vegas, things get real serious real fast, with the Runnin’ Rebels their semifinal opponent. The Ducks dodge a bit of a bullet in that they get the Rebs prior to Khem Birch becoming eligible, but regardless, Mike Moser, Anthony Bennett and company will provide a stiff challenge for Oregon’s newcoming frontcourt players like Ben Carter and Waverly Austin. Depending on the outcome of the outcome of the semifinal, either the Cyclones or the Bearcats will still provide a good bit of competition in the Ducks’ second game of the weekend, with Cincy in particular expected to field a very talented backcourt. If it is ISU, however, the Ducks will get a first look at Fred Hoiberg’s newest class of transfers, including former Michigan State point guard Korie Lucious and former Utah double-double machine Will Clyburn. Again, like the Beavers before them, if UO gets out of this weekend 2-0, they should be very pleased with themselves.