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.