Early Season Tournament Preview
The NCAA college basketball season is off to an exciting start with upsets such as Minnesota over North Carolina and Louisville over Butler but this weekend is when the season really gets going with a series of Thanksgiving weekend tournaments. I know Thanksgiving is all about football and turkey but I suggest grabbing a big plate of grandma’s stuffing and tuning into an all day marathon of college hoops. If you don’t want to watch the lowly Lions and the disappointing Cowboys come Thursday, switch over to the ESPN family of networks to find a all day affair of scintillating college basketball action featuring an endless number of postseason teams from a year ago. Here is a preview of some of the holiday tournaments that tip off this week and continue through the weekend.
-The 76 Classic
The 76 classic, kicks off on Thursday the 25th in Anaheim and wraps up with the tournament championship on the 28th. The 8 team field this year, features Stanford Tulsa, Oklahoma State, Murray State, Virginia Tech, DePaul, UNLV and Cal State Northridge. The favorites in this one appear to be the Hokies of Virginia Tech led by preseason all ACC pick Malcolm Delaney and big man Jeff Allen. The upstart Racers of Murray State also should contend, the Racers return their top 8 players from last year’s team which went 31-5( 17-1 in the OVC) and upset Vanderbilt in the first round of the NCAA tournament before losing a heartbreaker to National Runner Up Butler 54-52. These two teams will be favored to reach the final on Sunday but don’t count out UNLV which made the tournament last season and return Tre’Von Willis, Chace Stanback and Oscar Bellfield, and have already knocked off Wisconsin this season. One other sleeper in this field could be the boys from Stillwater, Oklahoma State returns its starting backcourt in Keiton Page and Ray Penn but must make up for the loss of Big 12 Player of the Year James Anderson who moved onto the NBA. I see this tournament being an exciting one but expect Virginia Tech to prevail over a good UNLV team in the final on Sunday. UNLV and Murray State are both talented enough to knock of Tech but Virginia Tech’s experience and premier athleticism should prevail in Anaheim.
Projections: Virginia Tech over UNLV. MVP: Malcolm Delaney, Virginia Tech
-EA Sports Maui Invitational
The Annual Maui Invitational kicks off later today with a loaded field of traditional powers including Michigan State, Kentucky and Connecticut taking part in the Hawaii tradition. Washington, Wichita State, Virginia, Oklahoma and Division 2 host Chaminade round out the best field the tournament has had in a few years. Michigan State has to be the favorite here coming in ranked 2nd in the country but don’t be surprised if one of these other teams is able to make a run at the title as Washington, Wichita State, Connecticut and Kentucky also have the talent to win this tourney. I look for Michigan State to take care of business behind the veteran leadership of point guard Kalin Lucas and I also expect Delvon Roe to have a breakout tournament. Connecticut’s Kemba Walker is coming off a 42 point explosion against Vermont but I don’t think he will get enough help in Hawaii for the Huskies to win the title. Kentucky is also tough to pick against because of their talented freshman led by Brandon Knight but without Enes Kanter, I think the Wildcats lack the size needed to compete inside with the Spartans. Thus I expect the Spartans to prevail in Maui, defeating an inexperienced but very talented Kentucky team in the final.
Projections: Michigan State over Kentucky. MVP: Kalin Lucas, Michigan State
-Old Spice Classic
The Old Spice Classic from Orlando also tips off this week, but unlike the first two tournaments there is no clear favorite or frontrunner in this year’s field. The field this year features Wisconsin, Boston College, California, Georgia, Texas A&M, Manhattan, Notre Dame and Temple. Most experts like Wisconsin in this tournament but the field is filled with athletic teams especially Temple and Georgia. Cal, Texas A&M, Boston College and Notre Dame all lost important contributions due to graduation, transfer or the NBA so I see only three teams really competing for this tournament title. The team I like is Temple, the Owls bring back one of the nation’s leading rebounders in Lavoy Allen and wizard point guard Juan Fernandez from a team that earned a 5 seed in last year’s NCAA tournament. The other team I see competing with Wisconsin and Temple is the Georgia Bulldogs out of the SEC. The Dawgs feature two outstanding players in forward Trey Thompkins and guard Travis Leslie and are on the rise under second year coach Mark Fox. Boston College could be a dark horse due to the talent of guard Reggie Jackson and forward Joe Trapani but the Eagles are struggling to fill the void left by Rakim Sanders who transferred to Fairfield. I like the Owls in this wide open tournament, as Fran Dunphy’s Owls are both athletic and tough enough to matchup with the defensive minded Wisconsin Badgers.
Projection: Temple over Wisconsin. MVP: Lavoy Allen, Temple
-South Padre Invitational
The South Padre Invitational Tournament also features a few noteworthy teams such as Texas Tech, Saint Mary’s, Brigham Young and South Florida. Georgia Southern, Liberty, Chicago State and Mississippi Valley State round out the field in one of the under the radar good early season tournaments in college basketball. The winner should come from the top 4 teams in this tournament as Texas Tech faces Saint Mary’s and South Florida tips off against BYU in the other crucial game of the tourney. The Cougars led by All American candidate Jimmer Fredette should cruise by an athletic South Florida team and would meet either the Red Raiders or the Gaels in the final game. Texas Tech and Saint Mary’s could be one of the more exciting games of the whole weekend as both teams like to run and I expect a shootout with the Red Raiders prevailing because of the one -two scoring punch of John Roberson and Mike Singletary. BYU is my pick to win the title because Jimmer Fredette is too good and Texas Tech has struggled early on to find their identity evident in an early upset loss to North Texas.
Projections: Brigham Young over Texas Tech. MVP: Jimmer Fredette, BYU
It should be an exciting holiday across the college basketball landscape and I advise you to grab your Thanksgiving leftovers and make your way to a television set.