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September 1, 2009

Plenty of good matchups in early tourneys

In November and early December, dual-sport fans should do themselves a favor and take a break from college football for a day or two to take in some college basketball.

The preseason tournament season is a long way from March Madness, but rest assured, the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee will be paying close attention to early season events.

The Division I basketball committee decided to no longer make the last 12 games of the season as a component for NCAA tournament selection. The goal now is for selectors to look at the "entire body of work" when picking tournament teams.

Will that increase the importance of games in November and December? Will matchups from preseason tournaments carry more weight for bubble teams? We'll learn the answers to those questions in March.

For now, the early tournaments will provide plenty of intriguing matchups that will set the tone for the 2009-10 season. Here's a look at the highlights, along with a listing of the other tournaments.

(Note: The tournaments organized by the Gazelle Group - the 2K Sports Classic, the CBE Classic and the Legends Classic - have forgone a traditional tournament format and allowed the four host teams to automatically advance to the semifinals at a neutral site. Though the host teams essentially are the top four teams in a given tournament, the format does not reward a mid- or low-major underdog by allowing it to win a preseason conference tournament.)

2K SPORTS CLASSIC (COACHES VS. CANCER)

Dates: Nov. 9-12, 19-20
Location: Campus sites for regional round, New York for championship rounds
Semifinals (hosts are guaranteed to advance):
Syracuse vs. California
North Carolina vs. Ohio State
Other teams in the field playing at campus sites: Albany, Alcorn State, Detroit, Florida International, James Madison, Murray State, NC Central, Robert Morris
Matchup we want to see: Cal-North Carolina in the final
Projected winner: North Carolina
The buzz: North Carolina and Ohio State will feel out their point guard positions in their semifinal game. The Tar Heels are set to replace Ty Lawson with Larry Drew II (1.4 ppg last season). The Buckeyes could try either William Buford or Jon Diebler, who are better fits at off guard, or P.J. Hill or Jeremie Simmons, who are better fits to come off the bench. ... Cal should be one of the best perimeter teams in the nation, but the Golden Bears will have a thin frontcourt. Syracuse boasts physical forwards Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson. If Cal meets North Carolina in the final, the Bears could get beat up by Ed Davis, Deon Thompson and Tyler Zeller. Bracket (.pdf)

CBE CLASSIC

Dates: Nov. 15-19, 23-24
Location: Campus sites for regional round, Kansas City for championship rounds
Semifinals (hosts are guaranteed to advance):
Wichita State vs. Pittsburgh
Texas vs. Iowa
Note: The other teams playing at campus sites have not been announced, though Wichita State, Pittsburgh, Texas and Iowa automatically advance to Kansas City.
Matchup we want to see: Pitt-Texas in the final
Projected winner: Texas
The buzz: The Longhorns will be a runaway favorite in this field. They're the only team resembling a Final Four contender. ... Pitt is moving on without DeJuan Blair, Sam Young and Levance Fields. ... Texas and Pitt are looking for answers at point guard. Justin Mason, Dogus Balbay and Florida transfer Jai Lucas are in the mix after the Longhorns struggled at the position last season. Pitt is looking at sophomore Ashton Gibbs, who is coming off a strong performance in international play this summer. ... Iowa and Wichita State are rebuilding under third-year coaches. The Shockers may be further along under Gregg Marshall, and they could have a chance to upset Pitt.

PRESEASON NIT

Dates: Nov. 16-17, 25, 27
Location: Campus sites for first and second rounds, New York for semifinals and final
First-round games:
No. 1 Duke vs. Coastal Carolina
No. 8 Charlotte vs. Elon
No. 4 Arizona State vs. Texas State
No. 3 LSU vs. Indiana State
No. 5 Western Kentucky vs. Milwaukee
No. 2 Connecticut vs. Colgate
No. 6 Hofstra vs. Yale
Matchup we want to see: Duke-UConn
Projected winner: Duke
The buzz: Duke's point guards, starting with freshman Andre Dawkins, could be tested right off the bat. The Blue Devils could meet Charlotte in the second round. The 49ers are led by 5-9 guard DiJuan Harris, who ranked in the top six in assists (7.2) and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.9-1) last season. The Blue Devils could meet Arizona State in the semifinals. The Sun Devils could slide without James Harden, but they will be led by underrated point guard Derek Glasser and 3-point specialist Rihards Kuksiks. ... Duke-UConn would be a marquee championship game - and it's probably the only marquee game in the whole field. Duke, UConn, LSU, Western Kentucky, Arizona State and Cal State Northridge went to the NCAA tourney last season, and LSU, Arizona State and Cal State Northridge could take considerable steps back this season. ... With leading scorer A.J. Slaughter returning, the fifth-seeded Hilltoppers could be the sleeper in the bracket after winning three NCAA tournament games in the past two seasons. First-round opponent Milwaukee could be a tougher draw than potential second-round opponent LSU, the No. 3 seed. ... UConn will usher in the Kemba Walker-Stanley Robinson era. Both showed flashes of brilliance late in the season and during the NCAA tournament. Bracket (.pdf)

LEGENDS CLASSIC

Dates: Nov. 18-22, 27-28
Location: Campus sites for regional round, Atlantic City for championship rounds
Semifinals (hosts are guaranteed to advance):
Rutgers vs. Massachusetts
Michigan State vs. Florida
Note: The teams playing at campus sites have not been announced, though Rutgers, UMass, Michigan State and Florida automatically advance to Atlantic City.
Matchup we want to see: Florida-Michigan State in a semifinal
Projected winner: Michigan State
The buzz: National runner-up Michigan State is the clear favorite, and Florida - which went to the NIT - is the only other postseason team in the semifinals. The Spartans might be the only NCAA team in the field this season, too. ... Michigan State guard Kalin Lucas carved up Louisville's press in the Elite Eight last season, and he'll be a major test for Florida point guard Erving Walker and freshman Nimrod Tishman. The Gators' frontcourt, which now includes Georgetown transfer Vernon Macklin, doesn't appear to have a favorable matchup against Michigan State's Raymar Morgan, Draymond Green and Delvon Roe, either. ... Aside from Lucas, Rutgers' Mike Rosario could be the best guard playing in Atlantic City. In fact, he might be the best player in the field not playing for Tom Izzo. Rosario averaged 16.2 points as a freshman for the 11-win Scarlet Knights. ... UMass senior Ricky Harris is a proven scorer (18.2 ppg last season), but the Minutemen are rebuilding this season.

PUERTO RICO TIP-OFF

Dates: Nov. 19-20, 22
Location: San Juan, Puerto Rico
First-round games:
Dayton vs. Georgia Tech
George Mason vs. Villanova
Indiana vs. Ole Miss
Boston University vs. Kansas State
Matchup we want to see: Georgia Tech-Villanova in the second round
Projected winner: Villanova
The buzz: The early rounds are loaded with juicy matchups. A first-round game matches Dayton, the A-10 favorite, and Georgia Tech, a potential top-25 team. The Yellow Jackets won only two ACC games last season, but should be a league contender with center Derrick Favors, the No. 3 prospect in the 2009 class, joining forward Gani Lawal and guard Iman Shumpert. The Flyers have a star of their own in 6-8 junior Chris Wright. A strong defensive team, Dayton is poised for a breakout season. ... A Final Four team a year ago, Villanova could draw either of those teams in the second round. Whether the Wildcats face Georgia Tech or Dayton, their frontcourt will need to answer for the loss of leading scorer Dante Cunningham. ... Like Villanova, Ole Miss is a backcourt-heavy team when a healthy Chris Warren teams with Terrico White. ... Indiana will have a chance to show how well Tom Crean's rebuilding project is going. Ole Miss should contend in the SEC West, but the Rebels are hardly an NCAA tournament lock. We'll see if Georgetown transfer Jeremiah Rivers and a standout signing class led by forward Christian Watford can compete with Ole Miss. ... Thanks to the guard tandem of Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen, Kansas State could be a sleeper in this field. The Wildcats didn't play an NCAA tournament team in their non-conference schedule last season. That could change if K-State wins a game or two in this tourney. Bracket (.pdf)

CHARLESTON CLASSIC

Dates: Nov. 19-20, 22
Location: Charleston, S.C.
First-round games:
Tulane vs. Miami
UNC Wilmington vs. Penn State
USF vs. Davidson
La Salle vs. South Carolina
Matchup we want to see: Penn State-South Carolina in the final
Projected winner: South Carolina
The buzz: The field doesn't include a single NCAA tournament team, but at least it has NIT champion Penn State. ... The Nittany Lions bring back guard Talor Battle. He was the third-leading scorer in the Big Ten, but Penn State basically was a three-man team with Battle, Jamelle Cornley and Stanley Pringle. The latter two are gone. ... This might be the "Shoes-to-Fill" Tournament with Davidson losing Stephen Curry and Miami losing Jack McClinton. ... Curry was a once-in-a-generation player for Davidson. Was his supporting cast so mediocre that even lowly USF could win this first-round game? ... The first-round game between South Carolina and La Salle could be intriguing. The return of Devan Downey essentially salvaged the season for the Gamecocks. La Salle is a sleeper in the A-10 with four-star freshman center Aaric Murray joining an all-senior starting lineup. Bracket (.pdf)

PARADISE JAM

Dates: Nov. 20, 22-23
Location: Virgin Islands
First-round games:
DePaul vs. Northern Iowa
East Carolina vs. Tennessee
Saint Joseph's vs. Boston College
South Dakota State vs. Purdue
Matchup we want to see: Purdue-Tennessee in the final
Projected winner: Purdue
The buzz: Tennessee, Purdue and Northern Iowa should have little trouble advancing from their first-round games. All three return all five starters from NCAA tournament teams last season. ... A potential second-round matchup between Tennessee's Tyler Smith and Northern Iowa's Adam Koch would be a face-off between versatile forwards. The Vols' questionable point guards would be tested by UNI's Kwadzo Ahelegbe. ... Purdue defeated Northern Iowa 61-56 in the first round of the NCAA tournament. They could have a rematch in the final of this event. ... The Boilermakers, a Final Four contender, should have a clear path to the final after facing South Dakota State, then either Boston College or Saint Joseph's, teams that must replace their best players. ... BC bottomed out to 14-17 after losing Jared Dudley in 2007-08. We could get an indication of how the Eagles deal with the loss of Tyrese Rice in this tournament. Bracket (.pdf)

LAS VEGAS INVITATIONAL

Dates: Nov. 22-24 (campus sites), 27-28 (Las Vegas)
Location: Las Vegas
Semifinal games:
Illinois vs. Utah
Bradley vs. Oklahoma State
Other teams in the field playing on campus sites: Presbyterian, Seattle, Southern, Wofford
Matchup we want to see: Illinois-Oklahoma State in the final
Projected winner: Oklahoma State
The buzz: All signs point to an Illinois-Oklahoma State final. Bradley topped 20 wins for the fourth consecutive season, but still landed in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. Utah won the Mountain West tournament and a share of the regular-season title, but the Utes will have trouble replacing MWC player of the year Luke Nevill. ... A final between the Cowboys and the Illini would be meeting of Travis Ford's up-and-down game against Bruce Weber's slow, defense-minded approach. Other than 6-6 wing James Anderson, Oklahoma State is undersized. Illinois would counter with 7-1 center Mike Tisdale and 6-8 forward Mike Davis. Both teams are replacing productive point guards.

MAUI INVITATIONAL

Dates: Nov. 23-25
Location: Maui, Hawaii
First-round games:
Chaminade vs. Maryland
Cincinnati vs. Vanderbilt
Colorado vs. Gonzaga
Arizona vs. Wisconsin
Matchup we want to see: Arizona-Gonzaga in the second round
Projected winner: Gonzaga
The buzz: This field doesn't have a prohibitive favorite and no powerhouses for the 2009-10 season. The games should be competitive, though. Every team but Chaminade and Colorado has a legitimate chance to win the tournament. ... Neither Cincinnati nor Vanderbilt played in the postseason last season, but both have hopes for an NCAA bid this season. The Bearcats will trot out a lineup that includes point guard Cashmere Wright, who was injured last season, and five-star freshman guard Lance Stephenson, who was a late signee. ... The Commodores add five-star guard John Jenkins, who led the nation in scoring as a high schooler. ... Arizona and Wisconsin are hanging onto NCAA tournament streaks (the Wildcats at 25, the Badgers at eight). Arizona's Nic Wise and Wisconsin's Trevon Hughes are looking to become team leaders after being complementary options last season. ... Gonzaga also is looking to replace key players. ... The most established stars in the field - Maryland's Greivis Vasquez and Cincinnati's Deonta Vaughn - could meet in the second round. Bracket (.pdf)

CANCUN CHALLENGE

Dates: Nov. 24-25
Location: Cancun, Mexico
First-round games:
Riviera Division:
Kentucky vs. Cleveland State
Stanford vs. Virginia
Mayan Division:
Florida A&M vs. Rider
Sam Houston State vs. Oral Roberts
Matchup we want to see: Kentucky-Virginia in the Riviera Division final
Projected winners: Kentucky, Rider
The buzz: Other than Kentucky, this is a weak field. Cleveland State won the Horizon League last season by winning the conference tournament, but the Vikings lost four of their top six scorers. ... Stanford looks as if it will fight USC to avoid last place in the Pac-10. ... Besides Kentucky, the most interesting team is Virginia. How will the Cavaliers react to new coach Tony Bennett and his plodding style? The Cavaliers went 10-18 last season, but Sylven Landesberg averaged 16.6 points and 6.0 rebounds as a freshman. ... In the Mayan Division, Rider is hoping to challenge Siena and Niagara in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. The Broncs have one of the best mid-major players in the country in guard Ryan Thompson (18 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 3.2 apg). ... Oral Roberts is a potential NCAA tournament team out of the Summit League.

76 CLASSIC

Dates: Nov. 26-27, 29
Location: Anaheim, Calif.
First-round games:
West Virginia vs. Long Beach State
Texas A&M vs. Clemson
Minnesota vs. Butler
Portland vs. UCLA
Matchup we want to see: Butler-West Virginia in the final
Projected winner: West Virginia
The buzz: This is another balanced tournament that could provide an upset or two. ... There is potential for some great matchups in the frontcourt. West Virginia will be led by Da'Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks. Clemson has Trevor Booker. With Ralph Sampson III and Colton Iverson, Minnesota led the Big Ten in blocks last season. Matt Howard and Gordon Hayward should lead Butler to a gaudy record. ... Clemson has been a notoriously quick starter in the past three seasons, but the Tigers haven't played the most challenging non-conference schedule. That changes if Clemson defeats Texas A&M, then gets West Virginia in round two. ... Several teams are looking to improve their guard situations, starting with UCLA, which appears likely to open the season with just three viable guards. ... Keep an eye on Portland, which should challenge Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference. Nik Raivio and T.J. Campbell will be the top guard duo in the league. Bracket (.pdf)

OLD SPICE CLASSIC

Dates: Nov. 26-27, 29
Location: Orlando
First-round games:
Creighton vs. Michigan
Marquette vs. Xavier
Alabama vs. Baylor
Florida State vs. Iona
Matchup we want to see: Michigan-Xavier in the second round
Projected winner: Michigan
The buzz: How serious is Michigan about being a Big Ten contender this season? With the top five scorers back, the Wolverines are the only contender in the field without a major question mark. ... First-round opponent Creighton is rebuilding without Booker Woodfox. Xavier is replacing its top three scorers and breaking in new coach Chris Mack (though the Musketeers add Indiana transfer Jordan Crawford). Florida State loses only one starter, but it is Toney Douglas, the leading scorer... After challenging for the Big East title for most of last season, Marquette is rebuilding around Lazar Hayward. ... On the other side of the bracket, either Florida State or Baylor could emerge. Douglas is gone for the Seminoles, but they are hopeful big men Chris Singleton and Solomon Alabi can play more prominent roles as sophomores. Baylor was up-and-down last season, but the Bears ended up in the NIT final. Bracket (.pdf)

CHICAGO INVITATIONAL

Dates: Nov. 27-28
Location: Campus sites, Hoffman Estates, Ill.
First-day games:
Tennessee State vs. Kennesaw State
Liberty vs. Mississippi Valley State
Notre Dame vs. Northwestern
Iowa State vs. Saint Louis
Note: The Iowa State/Saint Louis winner and loser will play the Notre Dame/Northwestern winner and loser on Day Two; Tennessee State, Kennesaw State, Liberty and Mississippi Valley State move into separate winners and losers brackets.

GREAT ALASKA SHOOTOUT

Dates: Nov. 22-28
Location: Anchorage, Alaska
Pool A: Washington State, Alaska Anchorage, Nicholls State
Pool B: Oklahoma, Houston, San Diego
Matchup we'd like to see: Oklahoma-Washington State
Projected winner: Oklahoma

SOUTH PADRE INVITATIONAL

Dates: Nov. 27-28
Location: Campus sites, South Padre Island, Texas
Bracket 1:
Mississippi State vs. Richmond
Missouri vs. Old Dominion
Bracket 2:
Longwood vs. Bethune-Cookman
Chattanooga vs. Texas-Pan American
Matchup we want to see: Mississippi State-Missouri in the final
Projected winner: Mississippi State

DIAMOND HEAD CLASSIC

Dates: Dec. 22-23, 25
Location: Honolulu
First-round games:
Northeastern vs. St. Mary's
Western Michigan vs. USC
SMU vs. UNLV
College of Charleston vs. Hawaii
Matchup we want to see: College of Charleston-UNLV in a semifinal
Projected winner: UNLV

LAS VEGAS CLASSIC

Dates: Dec. 17-19, 22-23
Location: Campus sites, then Las Vegas
Bracket 1:
Nebraska vs. Tulsa
Nevada vs. BYU
Bracket 2:
Jackson State vs. Wagner
Eastern Washington vs. Chicago State
Matchup we want to see: BYU-Tulsa in the final
Projected winner: Tulsa

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.



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