ACC/Big Ten Challenge Presents Giant Opportunity For Michigan

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 2nd, 2013

What to Make of Michigan Heading to Duke in the Headliner of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge

Nobody ever said life after Trey Burke was going to be easy. Despite entering the season with both a top 10 ranking and preseason All-American (again) to lead the way, John Beilein had to know that this group of Wolverines would be a work in progress. Gone was not only the transcendent Burke, but also backcourt mate Tim Hardaway, Jr., a highly accomplished player in his own right. Also of concern: The fact that this year’s preseason All-American, Mitch McGary, entered the season on the mend. The bruising sophomore is recovering from a back injury, and even with a (relatively) healthy back a season ago, he had averaged only 7.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game as he got acclimated to college basketball. Was he really ready to deliver All-American type production? Every team entered this season with question marks, but Michigan faced as many as any of their preseason top-10 cohabitants.

Michigan And Mitch McGary Will Attempt To Reassert Themselves At Cameron Indoor On Tuesday Night

Michigan And Mitch McGary Will Attempt To Reassert Themselves At Cameron Indoor On Tuesday Night

The Wolverines are now seven games into the season, and the top-10 ranking is gone. The same cannot be said for those pesky preseason questions. Michigan is 5-2 on the year, with an overtime victory over Florida State ranking as its lone victory of consequence (seriously, the average Pomeroy rating for the other four Wolverine conquests is 297). The back injury ultimately caused McGary to miss just two games, but his production since returning has hardly been like that of an All-American: 8.2 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.0 BPG in 25 minutes per game. I’m not in the habit of judging a guy off of five post-injury games, but the jury remains out on whether McGary can live up to those expansive preseason expectations.

Nor has a verdict been offered on the Michigan point guard situation. Nobody expected Derrick Walton to become Trey Burke, but the freshman has averaged nearly as many turnovers (2.4 per game) as assists (3.3 per game), while also ceding crunch time minutes to backup Spike Albrecht. In the two Michigan losses (to Iowa State and Charlotte), Walton has averaged just 19 minutes a game. Clearly John Beilein is not ready to fully hand over the reins to the talented youngster, but like McGary, there’s still plenty of time for Walton to grow into his expected role.

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Arizona Proved It’s a National Title Contender and Isn’t Shy About It

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on November 30th, 2013

Brian Otskey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from Friday night’s NIT Season Tip-Off championship game at Madison Square Garden where Arizona toppled Duke.

After most early-season games, especially in November, head coaches and players are very hesitant to make bold statements in public about what heights their team can reach by the end of the season. You’ll usually hear statements like, “we’re a work in progress; I like some things about our team; I’m proud of our guys; etc.” After his team’s impressive 72-66 win over Duke at Madison Square Garden last night, Arizona head coach Sean Miller was anything but conservative when discussing the potential of his 7-0 Wildcats. “I think we can be special, no question,” Miller said. “We have to be an elite defensive team. We have to be able to get stops. We have to be able to use our size rebounding.”

Arizona Came East and Proved Its Worth on Friday Night

Arizona Came East and Proved Its Worth on Friday Night

Special may be an understatement. It’s ironic because what Miller said they need to do to be special is exactly what the Wildcats did last night. Arizona took control of the game in the second half after trailing by three points at the break. Using its significant height advantage and defensive pressure, the Wildcats held the Blue Devils to 17 points over the first 17+ minutes of the second half to put the game away. It was a fantastic defensive performance against a team that entered the game averaging 90 PPG in seven games played. Freshman phenom Jabari Parker scored 19 points for Duke but Arizona limited him to the tune of a 7-of-21 shooting night, including an 0-of-5 mark from beyond the arc. Miller had his freshman star Aaron Gordon as well as Rondae Hollis-Jefferson take turns guarding Parker and it worked, keeping the 6’8” freshman out of sync all game long. “When you think about our team being versatile, two players really stand out, Rondae and Aaron, our two freshmen, because they are so interchangeable. But we can get better,” said Miller.

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DeAndre Daniels Key to UConn’s Season

Posted by Todd Keryc (@tkeryc) on November 22nd, 2013

Todd Keryc (@tkeryc) is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Thursday night’s game between Connecticut and Boston College in the 2kSports Classic.

Through the first four games of this season, it looked more like 2010 than 2013 for the UConn Huskies. Shabazz Napier, the 6’1” lightning-quick senior point guard, had inherited the role of Kemba Walker and the rest of the roster was there to support him however they could. This was the basic premise of the 2010-11 national championship season in Storrs. Players like Jeremy Lamb, Alex Oriakhi and even Napier himself stepped up when needed but largely deferred to the greatness of Walker and it resulted in a magical March.

Deandre Daniels

DeAndre Daniels Had a Huge Thursday Night Against BC

This November, it’s been the Napier show in Connecticut. He leads the team in scoring (largely expected), assists (no-brainer) and steals (not terribly surprising). He also leads the team in rebounding, which is stunning when you see that he averages just fewer than 10 per game, nearly six more than anyone else on the team. He is a complete floor general and he bears full responsibility to make UConn succeed. With less flair and without the incredible scoring ability of Walker, Napier has nevertheless turned into the 2013 model of Kemba. And if it continues, UConn has no chance of advancing deep into the NCAA Tournament.

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Champions Classic: Keeping Some Perspective With Tonight’s Games

Posted by nvr1983 on November 12th, 2013

We hate to have to do this because we really love college basketball and we embrace the fact that so many people are excited about this season due to the influx of elite freshmen talent. But we feel like we have to tell you that the Champions Classic is not going to be what everybody wants you to believe. By now you have probably read dozens of columns hyping this event as the best early-season match-up in college basketball history — which at some level it is — and hundreds or thousands (depending on how much time you have on your hands) of message board discussions talking about the implications of these two games. Unfortunately, in the grand scheme of things these two games might be a whole lot of fun but they’re mostly meaningless.

Hype

The Hype Machine is in Full Throttle This Week

Now this is not to say that the games and the participants playing in them won’t be interesting. According to some reports nearly 80 NBA personnel are expected to be in attendance to watch Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle and Jabari Parker along with at least a half dozen other potential NBA lottery picks in action. And of course there are the four blue-blooded programs with their Hall of Fame coaches (don’t worry, Tom Izzo, Bill Self, and John Calipari will all be joining Mike Krzyzewski in Springfield someday). On top of that nearly every major college basketball media outlet will be represented as well as quite a few NBA media members. Obviously, they can’t all be wrong. Right?

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Early Look: Ranking the ESPN Tip-Off Marathon’s Top Five Matchups

Posted by Chris Johnson on August 13th, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

Covering college basketball year-round can, in the months not filled with actual college basketball, turn into a scavenger hunt for interesting topics to write about. We’ve just about hit the nadir of the offseason college hoops news cycle, and trust me, the next month or so could get even worse. Luckily, ESPN came through early this week with a totally awesome diversion – its release of the schedule, ordered in lockstep with the actual succession of games three months from now, for the 2013 24-hour Tip-Off Marathon, which begins at 7:00 PM on November 11. It’s become annual appointment viewing for college basketball dorks, myself humbly included, and the match-ups this year are just as enticing, if not more so, than anything the Mothership has lined up since the event’s christening. Now that I’ve explained the basics, and there’s nothing else to do during this offseason dry spell but anxiously await the start of games this fall, it’s as good a time as any to pick out the Marathon’s very best games, five of them – which will only have the effect of intensifying your craving for the beginning of the season. But hey, I pine for November just as much as you do. With our mutual longing for the upcoming season now recognized, let’s look ahead to one of the year’s best non-conference events. I’ll be waiting, caffeine and sugary comestibles in hand, buttocks planted to padded recliner, cathartically rejoicing after a long offseason spent, well, doing this.

The Marathon’s final match-up could be one of the best games of the season, full stop. (USA Today)

1. Duke vs. Kansas (November 12, 10:00 PM ET, ESPN)

This selection could have been predicted when ESPN released its highly-anticipated Champions Classic duo a long while ago. There are two match-ups to consider here. First, we get two of the most culturally impactful, nationally successful, blueblood-identifiable programs in the country squaring off in a potential Final Four, or even National Championship, preview. These teams are going to be good. The top-ranked freshmen they inherited this season are even better. Duke’s Jabari Parker and Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins are the main attractions — not just of this game, but of the entire college hoops season writ large; both are expected to enjoy wildly successful one-year stints in college, lead their respective teams on deep NCAA Tournament runs and land a spot in the NBA Draft lottery shortly thereafter. That process will get its formal introduction this November, in the second half of the Champion Classic’s cant-miss double-header (which coincides with the finale of the Tip-off Marathon). If you’re limiting your Marathon sampling size to just one game – first things first: I strongly urge you to reconsider – this is the game of choice, no doubt about it. It’s been a long time since college basketball has seen so much freshmen star power this enticing enter its ranks. Watching the very best of it, two generational NBA franchise-changers, going head-to-head during the first month of the season is a treat no fixture on the 2013-14 hoops calendar can possibly hope to live up to. Maybe the Final Four. Other than that? Nah.

2. Kentucky vs. Michigan State (November 12, 7:30 PM ET, ESPN)

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College Hoops Expanding Global Reach With Armed Forces Game in South Korea

Posted by Chris Johnson on August 1st, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

For many years, the college basketball season would tip off with a relative murmur, drowned out by the football-crazed environment that consumes November. Changing this dynamic has been one of college hoops’ biggest priorities in recent years. Not only has the sport devised new, innovative, quasi-gimmicky events, the NCAA Tournament selection committee did away with its traditional emphasis on the “final 12 games of the season” in order to give equal weight to the entirety of a team’s campaign. The non-conference season has never meant more in the eyes of the selection committee, and if you don’t perform in November in December (or fill your schedule with small league opponents and other RPI anathema), turning in a merely “decent” league season won’t make amends for your cautious and/or unsuccessful pre-New Year efforts. Non-league games are important, and college hoops has sought to highlight their importance by spicing up its typically mundane season opening with eye-opening events like ESPN’s 24-hour marathon, the compacted Champions Classic and other innovative ventures.

If this year's AFC even comes close to last season's game in Germany, it will be considered a success (AP).

If this year’s AFC even comes close to last season’s game in Germany, it will be considered a success (AP).

One of the sport’s more successful recent season tip-off undertakings was the Carrier Classic, which conflated patriotism and Veterans Day college hoops in unique and aesthetically enthralling way. The 2011 game was a huge success: President Obama sat courtside with hundreds of troops in uniform aboard the USS Carl Vinson while Michigan State and North Carolina played a “just OK” game in front of some of the more gorgeous vistas of any sporting event I can remember. It felt magical, or something close to it. One year later, the water cycle did its thing, players and coaches alike decried hazardous court conditions, and despite the event’s commendable patriotic intent, most everyone had agreed that whole boat idea wasn’t going to work out any more. The 2012 Armed Forces Classic was a safer alternative, imbued with the same troops-honoring purpose, and staged on far-flung defense bases in a five-year rotating cycle including all five military branches*. Last season, UConn and Michigan State faced off at Ramstein Air Base in Germany; In 2013, the AFC is setting up shop even further away from the Continental United States. ESPN’s Andy Katz dropped the news Tuesday afternoon: Georgetown and Oregon will kick off 2013-14 at Camp Humphreys Army Base, located 45 miles south of Seoul, South Korea.

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In The Spirit Of The Season, Holiday Tournaments Offer Opportunities For Future Bubble Teams

Posted 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.

Can Chaz Williams and UMass parlay a strong showing in Charleston into a Tournament bid for their long suffering fans?

Can Chaz Williams and UMass parlay a strong showing in Charleston into a Tournament bid for their long suffering fans?

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.

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The Big 12/SEC Challenge Needs to Rethink Its Scheduling Principles

Posted by Chris Johnson on May 16th, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.

The beauty of early non-conference tournaments exists in their compressed schedules. Teams with different capabilities and ceilings typically meet up in a tropical locale, stage a raft of competitive games in a compacted two or three-day window, a champion is crowned and, fin. That is how non-conference events should be: quick, clean, blurringly thrilling, a drive-by snapshot of prospective NCAA Tournament match-ups, a winter sampling of the sport’s crowning postseason event. Think Feast Week, or the Champions Classic, or Maui. The accumulation of quality teams and coaches and players gives each event its own unique brand of entertainment value each and every year, but the timeless temporal convenience of rapid-fire completion is what we value most. It calls upon the spirit of March in November, with more equalized match-ups, less auto-birth low-majors and coaches in ridiculous Hawaiian floral shirts. These cute little early-season gauntlets don’t need fixing. Make more of them. Invite better teams.

Two weak leagues and a scattered set of games could push this season's Big 12-SEC challenge into the abyss of early-season tournaments.

Two weak leagues and a scattered set of games could push this season’s Big 12/SEC Challenge into the abyss of early-season tournaments.

Whatever you do, non-conference scheduling lords, do not take any cues from the new Big 12/SEC Challenge. The leagues announced their 2013 lineup Tuesday, and at least two of the match-ups belong in the apex of this season’s partially uncovered non-conference slate. On Friday, December 6, Kentucky and its intergalactic force of indomitable freshmen will take on Baylor, who returns one of the more athletic and imposing frontcourts (Isaiah Austin, Cory Jefferson, Ricardo Gathers) in the country. Four days later, Kansas will take its Andrew Wiggins-equipped squad (an aside: You have no idea how great it feels not to have to include the standard “we don’t know where he’s going” disclaimer every time I type Wiggins’ name. Wiggins, Kansas, got it.) to Gainesville for a meeting with five-star freshmen Kasey Hill, Chris Walker and a respectable supporting group. Those are two excellent December match-ups, spaced just four days apart, stuffed with freshmen intrigue and NBA lottery talent and future Hall of Fame coaches. They are the kinds of games everyone lives for in college basketball’s fluff-filled non-conference season.

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College Basketball on the Verge Of Making Another Smart Addition to Its Season-Opening Slate

Posted by Chris Johnson on May 2nd, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

With each passing season, college basketball moves closer and closer to staging a truly definitive opening day. The goal, for obvious reasons, is to eliminate the brushed-aside nonchalance with which the general sports populace typically treats college basketball’s opening tip. The time slot is hazardous  (The NFL is the law of the land, basically, and college football after that) and aside from a few marquee events in recent years – the Champions Classic, the Ramstein Air Base adventure, the epic aircraft carrier overindulgence of last season – the non-conference season commences in a way that captures the common fan almost exclusively in non-NFL, college football-time slots. College hoops is a fallback at that time of year, an OK-because-nothing-else-is-on ordeal. All of these ambitious season-opening endeavors comprise an attempt to make it the main attraction.

If the event comes to fruition, college basketball will have improved its often overlooked nonconference season (Ardas Photography).

If the event comes to fruition, college basketball will have improved its often overlooked non-conference season (Ardas Photography).

Another such opportunity was brought to our attention late Tuesday night by ESPN’s Jason King, who reported that event management firm bd Global is working with the American Airlines Center in Dallas to stage a headlining “multi-game event featuring some of the nation’s top teams.” The AA Center stuck its toes in the college hoops realm last season when it hosted Texas and UCLA’s ugly December 8 clunker in front of meager crowd support and only a passing glance of national media attention.

This year’s proposed event would be better theoretically, and astutely planned practically. Why? The arena just so happens to be situated a mere afternoon drive’s distance (18 miles, to be exact) away from the modern sports fiefdom known as Jerry World, the site of the 2014 Final Four. Placing this event – which could include up to four games and, in lieu of more enlightening details, should feature a large contingent of Big 12 teams – near the Final Four host site will stoke local excitement in the sport and its nearby teams well in advance of the time of year casual fans typically turn their eyeballs and acknowledge college basketball’s actual existence: March.

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Wrapping Up The DirecTV Classic in Anaheim…

Posted by AMurawa on November 26th, 2012

Andrew Murawa is an RTC correspondent and a Pac-12 microsite writer. He filed this report after attending the DirecTV Classic over the weekend in Anaheim.

The field at the DirecTV Classic in Anaheim this weekend was anything but classic. The play was ragged at times, there were more than a couple of teams working through the growing pains of major roster overhauls, and so coming up with a coherent all-tournament team was no easy task. But, in the end, we come away with what looked like the most likely outcome going into the holiday weekend – a California win. It wasn’t always easy for the Golden Bears and it certainly wasn’t always pretty, but they leave Anaheim with a 6-0 record on the year with three serious tests ahead of them in the coming weeks. Below, we’ll run down some brief takeaways from each team that participated here this weekend and, at the end, give you what I came up with for my DirecTV Classic all-tournament team.

Justin Cobbs, California

Justin Cobbs Averaged Better That 19 Points, Five Rebounds and Four Assists On His Way To Earning Tournament MVP Honors (Getty Images)

  • California – We knew about Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs coming into this tournament, and while each had their bumps and bruises along the way, their strong performances in Anaheim were no surprise. The bigger questions for this team involve their frontcourt play and their depth, and Mike Montgomery got some promising answers this weekend. Up front, the trio of David Kravish, Richard Solomon and Robert Thurman were largely solid all weekend. Solomon had 12 points and nine boards against the biggest and most athletic team the Bears played all weekend, Georgia Tech, and was very good in the other games. And, he can get better. Kravish and Thurman each had their moments as well, but it is Solomon who has the ability to transform the Cal front line from merely acceptable to an actual team strength. As for depth, Monty definitely has gone with a solid seven-man rotation now, with point guard Brandon Smith and versatile freshman wing Tyrone Wallace seemingly taking turns manning that third perimeter spot. Throw in Ricky Kreklow when he returns from his foot injury, and there’s plenty of talent here for the rigors of the Pac-12 schedule. Cobbs and Crabbe are the established stars here, but there is plenty of upside potential too in Solomon and Wallace.
  • Pacific – The surprise team of the tournament, the Tigers, in the midst of head coach Bob Thomason’s retirement tour, sent Xavier to the consolation bracket on Thanksgiving, then handled Saint Mary’s before running into a Cal team that was too much for them. There are a lot of nice pieces here – the Tigers played 11 players in each game of this tournament – but more than one opposing coach this weekend attributed at least some of their early success to Thomason’s coaching, especially with the extra practices the team got this summer as a result of their international trip. As Randy Bennett put it, “they’ve just got more stuff put in than the rest of the teams here.” With no one standout talent on this squad, this team is going to be tough to game plan for on a nightly basis, but this is still probably a team that winds up in the middle of the Big West standings this season. Read the rest of this entry »
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Brackets For This Weekend’s Preseason Tournaments

Posted by rtmsf on November 15th, 2012

Three preseason tournaments get under way today, so we thought it might be worth a minute to review the brackets to see if any of these games are worth anyone’s time. Here’s a brief primer on each:

Charleston Classic – Charleston, SC

  • When: Thursday, Friday, and Sunday
  • Should Win: Baylor
  • Could Win: Murray State
  • Sleeper: Colorado
  • Key Match-ups (actual and potential): Murray State vs. Auburn; Baylor vs. Colorado; Murray State vs. Baylor
  • Players to Watch: Isaiah Canaan, Cory Jefferson, Andre Roberson, D’Angelo Harrison, Frankie Sullivan, Pierre Jackson

Puerto Rico Tip-Off – San Juan, PR

  • WhenThursday, Friday, and Sunday
  • Should WinNC State
  • Could WinTennessee
  • Sleeper: Oklahoma State
  • Key Match-ups (actual and potential): Providence vs. Massachusetts; Tennessee vs. Oklahoma State; Tennessee vs. NC State
  • Players to Watch: Tim Frazier, Marcus Smart, Lorenzo Brown, CJ Leslie, Jarnell Stokes Read the rest of this entry »
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Breaking Down the Five Best Non-Conference Tournaments

Posted by Chris Johnson on October 22nd, 2012

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

For the first time this offseason, thanks to new NCAA legislation allowing coaches to work with their teams over the summer, coaches began official practice with a good grip on what to expect from their teams this season. This is a generally positive development. It helps eliminate some of the rust players typically carry into fall workouts, allows coaches to begin formulating and implementing tactical tweaks earlier than usual, and gives incoming freshmen a chance to leave a positive first impression while benefiting from a longer and more relaxed transition into their college careers. Sadly, this takes some of the luster off Midnight Madness, which is traditionally viewed with excitement and anticipation as the official start of hoops practice and the symbolic commencement of another season-long slate of hardwood drama. But from a coaches perspective, getting an early look at your team before the usual date would seem like a positive change of pace, if nothing else.

All the Hoosiers need to do is sneak by Georgia to do battle with a promising UCLA squad in the Legends Classic final (Photo credit: Sandra Dukes/US Presswire)

With teams starting preseason preparations early this year, some of the usual sloppiness of non-conference play should be replaced by a more crisp and disciplined brand of basketball. This hypothesis may or may not bear fruit, but whatever the effect of the rule – whether it better conditions teams for promising starts, or eliminates the intensity of fall preseason workouts – the value of an extended offseason program will be put to the test in rather abrupt fashion with the annual slate of non-conference tournaments. These little events spring up stateside just as much as they do in island states and commonwealths, from Las Vegas to Brooklyn, Hawaii to Puerto Rico, and pretty much anywhere with a basketball court, hotels and some bleachers. It’s awful hard to keep track of them all, so I’ve chosen five events to narrow your focus. Each fixture is intriguing in its own way, and a variety of factors went into constructing the list. Exciting games between top teams carried the most weight.

On a side note: I decided to exclude mega-events such as the ACC/Big Ten and SEC/Big East Challenges, as well as the Preseason NIT. Those are great events, no doubt, but they’re great events each and every year. Plus, they don’t fit the categorical purpose of this exercise, so listing them here is unnecessary. I also excluded mini-events such as the Gotham Classic, Jimmy V Classic, Champions Classic and Wooden Classic in favor of actual tournament-style events.

1. Legends Classic 

  • Where: Barclays Center; Brooklyn, New York
  • Teams: Indiana, Georgia, UCLA, Georgetown
  • When: November 19-20
  • Bracket

Before we get to breaking down the matchups, the venue – the state of the art Barclays Center, which offers a cutting-edge food-ordering app, free wi-fi and the very real possibility you might spot hip-hop mogul Jay-Z, 2013 Super Bowl halftime diva Beyonce, or both – is a spectacle on its own, an urban hoops palace taking a lead role in modernizing the sports viewing experience with unprecedented technological amenities. Watching basketball played on that court is exciting no matter what teams inhabit it. Then you take a shiny new stadium and put two Top 25 squads on the floor, both of whom will still be figuring out their lineups and rounding into form, and it’s hard to envision anyone being disappointed by the end product. If Indiana can get by Georgia in one semifinal and UCLA takes care of business against Georgetown in the other (which, admittedly, is far from a guarantee), the championship game could make for one of the upcoming college hoops calendar’s best non-conference games altogether, let alone the bracketed tournament variety. Indiana will get its first real test of the season, while UCLA may still be feeling things out with an expected freshman-heavy lineup. If I had my druthers, I’d rather see this game played later on in the  schedule, mostly because of the very real possibility that No. 1 recruit Shabazz Muhammad won’t be available due to an ongoing NCAA review of possible violations committed during his recruitment. With Muhammad, the potential Indiana-UCLA Final is a Final Four-worthy bout. Without him, it’s exciting but incomplete, insofar as it won’t accurately gauge the Bruins at full strength against another legitimate national title contender.

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