Early Preview and Predictions for NCAA Basketball's Non-Conference Tournaments
The World Wide Leader gave college basketball fans a reason be excited in July on Tuesday, announcing the matchups for early-season tournaments.
Hey, it’s not the NBA raising the age limit, but we’ll take what we can get in July.
The early-season tournaments make the first month of the season worth watching. We'll update as more tournament brackets are announced.
For now, enjoy this guide to the best matchups that we know about.
Bracket (via ESPN.com)
Best first-round matchup: Syracuse vs. Minnesota
Rick Pitino should be able to fill in his son Richard Pitino, the new Minnesota coach, on how to beat the Syracuse zone. The younger Pitino has what you want when going up against the Syracuse zone, two experienced guards in Andre Hollins and Austin Hollins.
Best potential matchup: Syracuse vs. Gonzaga in the championship
It's the battle of the Canadian point guards! Syracuse freshman Tyler Ennis and Gonzaga veteran Kevin Pangos could be battling it out in years to come on the Canadian national team. They'll also be two of the better point guards in college basketball this season.
Point guard play would be important in this game, but it could be won or lost inside. Gonzaga once again has a strong inside presence with Sam Dower and Przemek Karnowski, and Syracuse's greatest strength is its interior D.
Prediction: Syracuse over Gonzaga
Diamond Head Classic
Bracket (via ESPN.com)
Best first-round matchup: South Carolina vs. St. Mary's
Frank Martin signed seven players in this recruiting class. Martin isn't exactly known for his patience, and that's reason to believe he'll get things turned around quickly at South Carolina.
St. Mary's graduated star point guard Matthew Dellavedova. The Gaels relied on Dellavedova as much as any team relied on one player last year, but Randy Bennett has built a program that is much more than just one guy. He's won 25-plus games each of the last six seasons. We don't really know what to expect from either of these teams, but knowing these coaches, I expect both to be better than anticipated.
Best potential matchup: Boise State vs. Iowa State
Set your DVR, clear your schedule, do whatever you have to do to watch this game. Both teams shoot a lot of threes and are entertaining to watch. Leon Rice and Fred Hoiberg are two of the up-and-coming coaches in the college game.
The Cyclones return Georges Niang and Melvin Ejim up front, and—surprise, surprise!—Hoiberg picked up an impact transfer in the backcourt in former Marshall guard DeAndre Kane. Boise State, fresh off its first NCAA appearance in five years, returns its six leading scorers, including double-digit scorers Anthony Drmic, Derrick Marks and Jeff Elorriaga.
Points will be scored. You will be entertained.
Prediction: Iowa State over Boise State
CBE Hall of Fame Classic
Nov. 25: Texas vs. BYU (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU); Wichita State vs. DePaul (10 p.m. ET, ESPN3)
Nov. 26: Consolation game (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU); Championship game (10 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
Best first-round matchup: Texas vs. BYU
Texas' leading three scorers either left school early (Myck Kabongo) or transferred (Sheldon McClellan and Julien Lewis). The Longhorns are not what they once were, but there's still enough talent left to rebound this season. The matchup in this game between UT's Ioannis Papapetrou and BYU's Tyler Haws is worth watching.
Best potential matchup: BYU vs. Wichita State
Everyone knows how good the Shockers can be after their Final Four run. BYU could be gearing up for another Jimmer-like run. Haws averaged 21.7 points per game last season as a sophomore, which is actually more than Jimmer Fredette averaged his sophomore season. He, like Fredette, also has a solid supporting cast around him.
Haws obviously loves to score; so does Wichita State's Cleanthony Early. Watching the two go at it could be a treat.
Prediction: Wichita State over BYU
Bracket (via ESPN.com)
Best first-round matchup: Nebraska vs. UMass
This is Year Two for Tim Miles at Nebraska and this tournament is an opportunity to get one or two quality wins. UMass will be a contender in the A-10 because of point guard Chaz Williams, one of the best guards in the country who most college basketball fans probably haven't heard of. Williams, at 5'9", averaged 15.5 points and 7.3 assists last season.
Best Potential Matchup: Davidson vs. New Mexico in the championship
The last time we saw the Wildcats, they were blowing a lead in the final minute against Marquette in the NCAA tournament. That Marquette team went on to the Elite Eight. Translation: Davidson was legit.
New Mexico was one of the tournament's biggest disappointments, losing to Harvard in the first round. You cannot, however, wipe out the great season the Lobos had, and they return four starters. Davidson returns forward De'Mon Brooks, who was Southern Conference player of the year in 2011-12.
You might as well pay attention to this game—if it happens—because there's a good chance both teams will be around in March.
Prediction: New Mexico over Davidson
Bracket (via ESPN.com)
Best first-round matchup: Creighton vs. Arizona State
Usually these tournaments try to pair the best teams with patsies in the first round. Thanks Wooden Classic for giving us this one. I'll be paying close attention to the game inside the game--who scores more: Creighton's Doug McDermott or Arizona State guard Jahii Carson?
Best potential matchup: Creighton vs. Marquette in the championship
This could be an early preview of the battle for the Big East title. (It still feels weird writing "Creighton" and "Big East.") Marquette, even without Vander Blue, should be the favorite because of the inside tandem of Davante Gardner and Jamil Wilson. And you can not count out any team with McDermott, especially now that he has his buddy Grant Gibbs feeding him the rock again. This could be a great opportunity for Creighton to prove it belongs with the big boys in its new league.
Prediction: Creighton over Marquette
2K Sports Classic
Bracket (via ESPN.com):
Nov. 21: UConn vs. Boston College (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2); Indiana vs. Washington (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
Nov. 22: Championship and third-place games
Best first-round matchup: Indiana vs. Washington
This game has the potential to be a fun battle of the backcourts. Point guard Yogi Ferrell is the only returning starter for the Hoosiers and he'll team up with last year's sixth man Will Sheehey.
Washington returns leading scorer C.J. Wilcox, and he'll be joined by incoming freshman Nigel Williams-Goss, one of the top point guards in his class. That duo has the potential to develop into one of the top backcourts in the country. The Huskies will probably need a huge game from both to advance.
Best potential matchup: UConn vs. Indiana
Again, it will be worth watching the backcourt battle. UConn relies heavily on Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. But what will determine whether UConn or Indiana have great seasons will likely be what they get out of their best frontcourt player. For the Hoosiers, they have big expectations for incoming freshman Noah Vonleh. For the Huskies, they need DeAndre Daniels to become a force.
This early-season matchup between Daniels and Vonleh could tell us a lot about how good each team could be.
Prediction: UConn over Indiana
Old Spice Classic
Bracket (via ESPN.com)
Best first-round matchup: Oklahoma State vs. Purdue
It’s the best player in the tournament, Marcus Smart, against the best coach, Matt Painter.
The Boilermakers missed the NCAA tournament last season for the first time since Painter’s first year at Purdue in 2006.
Reason to believe the Boilermakers have a chance in this game is Painter—you never count out that guy—and his 7-footer A.J. Hammons. The Cowboys don’t have a lot of meat inside with the graduation of Philip Jurick.
Hammons was either really good last year—he went off for 30 against Indiana—or he was mostly invisible, scoring six points or less in 11 games.
This is an opportunity for Hammons to get some attention nationally and for the program to get some confidence after a down year last season.
Best potential matchup: Oklahoma State vs. Memphis in the championship
Both teams have top 10 talent. Both have an elite point guard—Smart vs. Joe Jackson. And both have athletes galore.
That could mean a fun up-and-down game, or it could be a sloppy early-season mess. That will be—assuming this game happens—dictated by the guards.
All eyes will be on Smart all season, but Memphis’ backcourt is what intrigues me. Jackson, Geron Johnson, Chris Crawford and Michael Dixon (if eligible) form the deepest backcourt in the country, and it will be interesting to see early on how Josh Pastner distributes minutes.
Prediction: Oklahoma State over Memphis
Hall of Fame Tip-off
Bracket (via ESPN.com)
Nov. 23: North Carolina vs. Richmond (Noon ET, ESPN3); Louisville vs. Fairfield (2 p.m. ET, ESPN3)
Nov. 24: Championship game (1 p.m. ET, ESPN); Consolation game (3 p.m. ET, ESPN3)
Best first-round matchup: North Carolina vs. Richmond
This tournament is obviously set up to get North Carolina and Louisville in the championship, but Richmond is not a cream puff.
The Spiders went 8-8 in a tough Atlantic 10 last season. Chris Mooney’s version of the Princeton offense is always difficult to defend. And UNC could be without P.J. Hairston.
Do I smell an upset? Probably not, but it could at least be a game worth watching.
Best potential matchup: Louisville vs. North Carolina
My attention will be on the big men and point guards in this game.
How do Chris Jones and Terry Rozier look at the point for Louisville? Has UNC point guard Marcus Paige improved? Is UNC big man James Michael McAdoo still settling for too many jumpers? Can Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell score in the post?
Man, I’d like to attend this one. Wonder if Fats Thomas could loan me a ride?
Prediction: Louisville over North Carolina
Puerto Rico Tip-off
Bracket (via ESPN.com)
Best first-round matchup: Florida State vs. VCU
VCU will be a top 20 squad in the preseason. Florida State would have been there too if Andrew Wiggins had joined the Seminoles.
Let's go ahead and bury that narrative now.
The Seminoles still have the potential to be a solid squad, particularly if Wiggins' high school teammate Xavier Rathan-Mayes is legit. Rathan-Mayes showed some flashes during the U-19 FIBA World Championships for the Canadians, averaging 12.2 points per game in that tourney.
The worry for Florida State in this one should be turning it over against Shaka Smart's "Havoc" pressure. The Seminoles gave the ball away on 22 percent of their possessions last season (according to KenPom.com).
Best potential matchup: Michigan vs. VCU in the semifinals
Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. did a masterful job handling the VCU press in the round of 32 of the NCAA tournament in March. This will be a great early-season test (or a nightmare) for incoming freshmen guards Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin.
The winner will be the favorite in the championship game, most likely against Kansas State or Georgetown.
Prediction: VCU over Georgetown
Las Vegas Invitational
Schedule (via ESPN.com):
Nov. 28: UCLA vs. Nevada (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN3); Missouri vs. Northwestern (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU)
Nov. 29: Missouri vs. Nevada (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN3); UCLA vs. Northwestern (11:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
Best Matchup: UCLA vs. Northwestern
It would be UCLA against Missouri in this slot, but we'll get that game in Columbia instead of in Vegas—the two teams are finishing up a home-and-home series.
The UCLA-Northwestern matchup is worth watching to see how the Bruins are looking under Steve Alford and the Wildcats under Chris Collins, two of the higher-profile hires this past offseason.
For UCLA, Alford doesn't have much to gain from these two days. A loss would be a bad look. For Northwestern, a win over UCLA would help Collins build the brand and become more than just "Isn't that Doug Collins' son who used to be an assistant at Duke?"
Prediction: UCLA and Mizzou go undefeated.
Bracket schedule (via ESPN.com):
Nov. 25: Pittsburgh vs. Texas Tech (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2); Stanford vs. Houston (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
Nov. 26: Consolation game (7 p.m. ET, ESPN3); Championship game (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU)
Best first-round matchup: Stanford vs. Houston
This isn't exactly a ratings-buster deluxe for ESPN. Notice that the championship game is on ESPNU.
The Stanford-Houston matchup at least has the potential to be competitive.
Houston leading scorer Joseph Young transferred to Oregon, but there's still some talent in the program with TaShawn Thomas, Danuel House and Jherrod Stiggers.
Stanford won the postseason NIT two years ago and that core is still around.
Come to think of it, ESPN can sell this one easy...
It’s the Cougars with some decent talent and the 2012 NIT champs on ESPN2!! Tune in for the chance to watch a game that might not be a total snoozer!
Best potential matchup: Stanford vs. Pittsburgh
Stanford underachieved last year. Pittsburgh graduated leading scorer Tray Woodall and Steven Adams left school early.
It usually doesn't matter what roster Jamie Dixon has; he usually (sans 2011-12) gets results.
This season will be a challenge with the loss of Adams. Both teams could benefit from something positive happening early on, and winning this tourney would be something each program could feel decent about.
Prediction: Stanford over Pittsburgh