Teams That Will Ride Holiday Tournament Success into CBB's Top 25
The preseason AP poll has been released, and No. 25 Florida State is followed by any number of teams chomping at the bit to break into the national rankings. Many of the leading unranked contenders will get excellent opportunities to do just that courtesy of the many early-season tournaments centered around Thanksgiving week.
Among the most prestigious of those tourneys is the Maui Invitational, which should serve as a national-TV introduction for an outstanding young Texas team. With talented (and towering) freshmen joining standout PG Myck Kabongo, the Longhorns have a real chance to take home the trophy, even against a typically-impressive field in Hawaii.
Read on for more on Texas and four more unranked teams poised to crack the Top 25 before November is out.
5. St. Joseph’s
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Few teams outside the Top 25 can help themselves as much as the Hawks, who could get two shots at teams in the bottom five spots in the rankings when they compete in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic.
If St. Joe’s can win their opener against No. 22 Notre Dame (far from an impossible task), they’ll likely face No. 25 Florida State in the final and have another chance for an early statement win.
Phil Martelli’s team doesn’t have a ton of buzz after a 20-14 finish, but they return all five starters from a squad with some extraordinary individual talents.
The backcourt of Carl Jones and Langston Galloway combined for 32.5 points per game—with the latter shooting an eye-popping .466 from beyond the arc—while PF C.J. Aiken has finished in the top five in the nation in blocks in each of his two collegiate seasons.
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Having plummeted from the preseason No. 10 spot to a disastrous 22-17 finish a year ago, the unranked Panthers would love to reverse that trajectory in 2012-13.
With a healthy Tray Woodall (11.7 points and 6.1 assists per game) at point guard and 7’0” freshman Steven Adams manning the middle, they have the personnel to make a serious run at that goal.
Their best chance to build momentum early will come in the preseason NIT, where they’ll probably get a home game against a very dangerous Lehigh team in the quarterfinals.
The semifinal will be the money game for the Panthers, who should get a shot at No. 5 Michigan at Madison Square Garden.
While they’ll be definite underdogs in such a matchup, Pitt plays the kind of physical defense that can wreak havoc with a finesse shooting squad like Michigan’s.
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The key to Texas’ hopes this year is the return of sophomore PG Myck Kabongo, who could easily have jumped to the NBA after dishing out 5.2 assists a night as a freshman.
A sensational recruiting class will provide Kabongo with an all-new (and all-6’10”) frontcourt headlined by the soft shooting touch of Cameron Ridley.
The Longhorns got a very favorable draw in the Maui Inviational bracket, opening with host Chaminade and following that with the winner of USC-Illinois.
Unless something goes terribly wrong, that combination should put Texas in the championship game against No. 11 North Carolina.
Against the Tar Heels' many first-time starters, the Longhorns' combination of backcourt experience and frontcourt muscle gives them a real chance to pull the upset.
2. Virginia Commonwealth
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The Battle 4 Atlantis is one of the more recent additions to the holiday-tournament scene, but that hasn’t stopped a remarkably impressive field from heading to the Bahamas this year.
No. 2 Louisville, No. 8 Duke, No. 15 Missouri and No. 17 Memphis will all be competing, providing plenty of opportunities for a signature win for the always upset-minded Rams of VCU.
Shaka Smart’s squad loses Bradford Burgess but returns every other major contributor from a group that led the nation with 10.5 steals per game a season ago—including Briante Weber, who racked up 2.1 of them in less than 20 minutes a night.
That high-pressure defense bodes ill for opening-round foe Memphis (whose offense has been its Achilles heel) and likely semifinal opponent Duke (still without a true PG and counting on freshman Rasheed Sulaimon in the backcourt).
1. Murray State
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Even with appreciable graduation losses from last year’s 31-2 team, Murray State got more Top 25 votes (59) than any team left out of the AP’s rankings.
The senior-heavy Racers will again be carried by superlative combo guard Isaiah Canaan (19 points and 3.6 assists per game last year), supported by classmate Ed Daniel (5.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks a night) underneath.
They’ll get a chance to prove their mettle at the Charleston Classic, where they should have little trouble winning their first two games against Auburn and (likely) a young St. John’s team.
If all goes according to plan, they’ll finish with a showdown against No. 19 Baylor, whose freshmen-heavy lineup has tons of potential but may not have the savvy to overcome veteran Murray State.