Clair Wyant loves College Basketball and gives us insight into the importance of the early season tournaments. Clair is a sports fan, a former sports reporter for the Tucson Citizen newspaper, currently a foreign exchange professional. Clair can be found on twitter @ClairDogg.
The sports calendar is jammed packed in the US. Football season is in full swing and fans are recovering from 7 months of baseball. People locally in Boston are paying attention to the Celtics & Bruins. It is also close to the end of the year where family tends to take higher priority. There is a lot on everyone’s plate.
Well, college basketball is just starting up. Everyone gets into the madness in March, but the early part of the season is close to non-existent among a lot of fans. Believe it or not, these early games can shape how some teams are during the season. It could also be make-or-break for the NCAA tournament, due to conference schedules. It is also the opportunity for “mid-majors” to make some noise. With the parity in college basketball the past couple of years, a major team not playing up to there potential can get upset by a well-established team (read: loaded with juniors/seniors) can pull off an upset. For the powers, early victories will help gain confidence, but losses will make people think about where they truly stand nationally. So, every game is critical for each of these teams, even with the long season.
Granted, like any other sport in the early season, teams are trying to get their chemistry together. Teams can still start slow & gain steam as the season goes on (ask Michigan State).
There are still some intriguing match ups (or potential matchups) in the early season tournaments. Each day this week we will be previewing a tournament to keep an eye on. Keep in mind, this is only a sampling of what is in store. There will be plenty to think about when you are also thinking turkey.
Preseason NIT (November 15/16/17/24/26)
Fully expect Villanova to run away in the tournament, but there are teams to watch out for. UCLA may have has a lackluster year last year, but you do not walk on the court thinking you are going to beat Ben Howland with your eyes closed. VCU, Nevada and Winthrop has a history of making some noise and Tennessee is a household name in college basketball. Boston University is in the 2nd round, and can play Villanova with a win over George Washington.
Puerto Rico Tip-Off (November 18/19/21/2010)
This field is intriguing with several major conference teams, and a handful of mid-majors. In my opinion, this is one of the most interesting fields due to the balance of all the programs. These are solid teams, but not super powers, so a good performance will mean more when March rolls around. The most interesting in the first round is Minnesota and Western Kentucky. Minnesota is trying to get well established (Tubby Smith can & will do that!). Minnesota is in the conference pundits say will be the toughest this year. Meanwhile Western Kentucky has proved the past couple of years they can play with majors. Final Four participate last year, West Virginia, needs to do well for itself, and the Big East, as they play Davidson, winner of Nebraska, and Vanderbilt, both solid teams for the early season. A statement can be made with solid wins. Hofstra, and North Carolina are also in it. If UNC is not in the title, readjusting needs to be done, and/or Minnesota/Western Kentucky will be teams to watch out for this season.
2K Sports Classic Coaches vs Cancer (November 18/19)
The 2K Sports Classic Coaches vs. Cancer is an already established mini-tournament in Madison Square Garden in New York City that also has a few regional games. Pittsburgh, Maryland, Illinois, and Texas will compete. All these teams have been powers the past 10 years, and all are expected to do very well in their respective power conferences. Illinois needs to do well to gain early confidence, due to the powers in the Big Ten this year. Pittsburgh struggled in a win over Rhode Island last week (a team that has not made the NCAA tournament in recent years), so coming out with a strong performance. All these teams are expected to make the NCAA Tournament, but this will give a test to see where they compare nationally.
CBE Classic (November 22/23)
The CBE Classic is set-up similar to the Coaches vs Cancer, with a mini-tournament at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, MO. Duke, Marquette, Kansas State, and Gonzaga make up the field. All these tams are simply well balanced. Duke maybe the champions with several All-Americans, but they cannot over look these majors where any of these teams can beat each other on any given night when both teams bring there A game. These are all power team from power conferences. Marquette exited in the 1st round last March by only 2 points to Washington, and finished 5th in the Big East last year. Kansas State lost in the Elite 8 to Butler in a game that was closer then the score looked. Plus, everyone’s favorite, Gonzaga, who knows these early season games mean something, due to their conference. Kansas State needs to show they can still ply up to their level as they did last year without Denis Clemente. Just like the Coaches vs Cancer Classic, all these teams are expected to be dancing in March, but where they stack up nationally will be on there minds.
Maui Invitational (November 22/23/24)
This is the granddaddy of all early season tournaments. Granted, one team has to play a division II team to get to the title game, but the rest of the field makes the trip worth it. This could be an important time for UConn (who plays Wichita State in the 1st round). UConn has been sliding past couple of years on the court, and Jim Calhoun has turned into a grumpy old man. A solid performance will show they can still play, and have the potential to do well this season. A poor performance will diminish expectations.
Virginia, Washington, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Michigan State make up the rest of the field. Kentucky lost a lot of talent last year, so this will be an excellent measuring stick on what to expect from them. Washington was the king in a mediocre (at best) Pac-10 last year, which are projected to finish on top this year. Michigan State is coached by the master when it comes to managing the season. He knows when to win, and how. Regardless of performance in the tournament, they will at least make the sweet 16 in March.
Thanks to Kevan Emmott for the picture of Gerry MacNamara.