Thanks to the seemingly countless number of early season tournaments in college basketball, these days we now get a lot of chances to see how teams perform both under pressure and against strong competition early in the season. That can be very useful for bettors in assessing where teams are at and what programs are worth keeping an eye on.
Since we are nearly at the end of the early tournament season for this year, here are six things we have learned up to this point:
Michigan Is For Real
The Wolverines were tabbed by many as an overrated squad after being named a Top Five team heading into the season.
It’s much harder to make that argument after their run in the NIT Season Tip-Off. They didn’t face the toughest field in the world, but Pitt is definitely a top-25-caliber team, and Kansas State has some talent.
What was impressive was not that Michigan beat them, but that they did what they were supposed to do as a Top Five team. They controlled both games, and they were clearly the best team on the court. Tim Hardaway Jr. was a total beast, and the freshmen for the squad showed that they are ready for primetime.
A couple of weeks ago the Final Four seemed like a massive stretch for this team. Now it certainly seems conceivable if they maintain their current trajectory.
So Is Duke
Duke is Duke, but they had some things to prove heading into this season.
With their performance in the Battle 4 Atlantis, they more than answered their questions, and the Blue Devils made a very good case for being named the top team in the country.
They made Minnesota look silly in the first round, got past pesky VCU and then won a very good game against then-second ranked Louisville in the final. That’s three tough games in three days, and it’s a very good sign that this Duke team is built to last this year.
Memphis Has Work to Do
The Tigers came into the season ranked and seemingly dangerous.
They still could be—Josh Pastner is an excellent coach building a great program after filling the massive shoes of coach Calipari—but we’ll need to be patient with this squad.
What we learned is that this young and inexperienced squad has some growing up to do.
In the opener of the Battle 4 Atlantis, VCU coach Shaka Smart got aggressive, and the Tigers never adjusted. They lost by 13 to a team they should have seriously outclassed. Instead of shaking off the setback, they let it weigh them down the rest of the tournament. They lost to Minnesota by nine, and they looked like they were feeling sorry for themselves throughout the game. Then they barely got past Northern Iowa to wrap up a wildly disappointing seventh place.
The good news for the Tigers, though, is that outside of a game against Louisville on Dec. 15 that could get ugly, the schedule is very manageable from here until February. In other words, Memphis has a long time to find their game and grow into their potential.
Colorado Is Moving in the Right Direction
It seemed like the Buffaloes made a good hire when they grabbed Tad Boyle from Northern Colorado three years ago.
With their performance at the Charleston Classic, they continued to show that they are a real contender in the Pac-12—unlike their mess of a football program.
It wasn’t a tough field in the tournament, however, Colorado won it with poise and did it by capitalizing on impressive depth. Most impressive was the heart they showed in winning a challenging game against 16th ranked Baylor in the semifinals.
This Colorado squad is definitely a team to keep a close eye on going forward. Their biggest challenge could be finding a way to keep Boyle on board because bigger programs are sure to keep calling if he keeps this up.
Texas Really Needs Kabongo
Teams that go to the Maui Invitational have just one job—don’t lose to Chaminade.
The Division II school hosts the tournament and plays in it every year. They famously beat top-ranked Virginia in 1982, but they haven’t won much since.
Texas obviously didn’t get the memo, though, because they didn’t just lose to Chaminade—they got crushed by them. The 13-point margin of victory was flattering to the Longhorns because it tightened up late in the action after the game was effectively over. It was a humiliating setback, and an overtime loss to USC next time out didn’t help ease the pain.
The recruiting class was very solid this year, and this team should be decent. With Myck Kabongo currently on the sidelines thanks to a NCAA investigation, though, the team is lacking the floor general that can keep things flowing—and it has to deal with the distraction of the situation as well. There is a chance that this could be cleared up soon, and it can’t happen soon enough for the sake of the team and their season.
Gonzaga Is Gonzaga
We’ve started to take Gonzaga for granted over the years because they are so consistently solid. It would be a mistake to overlook this current squad, though, and they demonstrated that with a victory in the Old Spice Classic.
Over four days they beat Clemson, Oklahoma and a very feisty Davidson squad.
What has really stood out is that senior German forward Elias Harris is really maturing into a beast, and sophomore Canadian guard Kevin Pangos is the real deal.
This team likely won’t prove to be truly elite in the end, but they are as good as most of the best Gonzaga programs we have seen through the years.