Ranking College Basketball's Best 2013-14 Preseason Tournaments
Even though the college basketball preseason ended nearly two weeks ago, the "preseason" tournaments are on our doorstep.
Arizona and Duke have each already played two games in the NIT Season Tip-Off, advancing to the semifinals and potentially setting up a championship game for the ages.
And yet that particular tournament is only the fifth-most intriguing of the 20 tournaments. The three best ones aren't even taking place on the U.S. mainland, as Maui, Puerto Rico and Bahamas host the cream of the crop.
Read on for the criteria used to rank the tournaments and to find out why the Maui Invitational is infinitely more intriguing than the Gulf Coast Showcase.
Criteria for Grading
A tournament gets seven points for each team ranked in the Top Five of Monday's AP Poll.
Teams ranked No. 6 through No. 15 add five points to the scores of the tournaments they are in, while teams ranked No. 16 through No. 25 are worth three points each.
Last but not least, teams in the "Others receiving votes" section are worth one point apiece.
Though most of the tournaments have eight teams involved, a few only have four teams, while one has 16. To help balance out the advantage or disadvantage of a disproportionate number of teams, tournaments with four teams are awarded an extra two points, while the tournament with 16 teams will be docked two points.
All ties shall be broken by deciding which potential championship game would provide the most national intrigue.
*Please note that the Las Vegas Invitational is not included because it is not an actual tournament and will not have a championship game.
Preseason Tournaments No. 20 to 16
No. 20: Gulf Coast Showcase (Bracket)
Dates and Location: November 25-27 in Estero, Fla.
If you are hopelessly addicted to finding a sleeper team for this year's NCAA tournament, you might enjoy the potential semifinal pairing between San Diego and Louisiana Tech. However, there won't be a single household name involved in this one.
No. 19: Las Vegas Classic (Schedule)
Dates and Location: December 22-23 in Las Vegas, Nev.
There's a chance that this tournament could get more interesting over the course of the next month, but UNLV's 21-point loss at home last week against UC Santa Barbara has removed any luster for the time being.
Even if the Rebels get back on track, it's tough to imagine people getting excited about a championship game two days before Christmas between UNLV and South Florida.
No. 18: Paradise Jam (Bracket)
Dates and Location: November 22-25 in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands
If this tournament plays out properly, the best-case scenario is a late-night championship game between Maryland and Providence.
Even if that wasn't being played at the same time as a Monday Night Football game, it wouldn't generate much buzz.
No. 17: Barclays Center Classic (Schedule)
Dates and Location: November 29-30 in Brooklyn, N.Y.
This tournament gets no points, but it's way more interesting than the Gulf Coast Showcase.
Georgia Tech, Ole Miss and St. John's are each expected to finish right in the middle of the standings in their respective major conferences. This is one of those tournaments that might not be highly anticipated but could have huge retrospective implications when we're trying to figure out the bubble in March.
No. 16: Corpus Christi Challenge (Bracket)
Dates and Location: November 29-30 in Corpus Christi, Texas
With Virginia falling out of the rankings after last week's loss to VCU, this tournament is a bit lower on the list than it probably should be.
The Cavaliers drew Southern Methodist in the semifinals—a task that isn't nearly as easy as it would have been in recent years. Win or lose, they'll have to face either Missouri State or Texas A&M the following night.
Virginia might not be ranked anymore, but a 2-0 record in Corpus Christi would probably get it back into the Top 25.
Preseason Tournaments No. 15-11
No. 15: Legends Classic (Bracket)
Dates and Location: November 25-26 in Brooklyn, N.Y.
It's interesting that this tournament at the Barclays Center ranks higher than the Barclays Center Classic.
Similar to the Barclays Center Classic, though, this tournament features a championship game that will be much more interesting in March than it is in November. Joe Lunardi is currently projecting Stanford as a No. 10 seed and Pittsburgh as a No. 12 seed. If they meet in the finals, it might determine who gets to go dancing.
No. 14: Great Alaska Shootout (Bracket)
Dates and Location: November 27-30 in Anchorage, Alaska
With Indiana State's recent win over Notre Dame and Green Bay's near-win against Wisconsin, the Great Alaska Shootout has been upgraded from "don't even bother checking the box scores" to "the championship game might be worth watching."
If nothing else, we won't have a better chance to evaluate Harvard than what should be three straight games against Denver, Green Bay and the winner of Tulsa vs. Indiana State.
No. 13: Diamond Head Classic (Bracket)
Dates and Location: December 22-25 in Honolulu, Hawaii
This one has no huge names, but it's loaded with noteworthy schools.
Barring opening-round upsets, the semifinals will be Iowa State vs. Akron and Boise State vs. Saint Mary's. All four of those teams have a reasonable shot at making the NCAA tournament this year.
No. 12: Charleston Classic (Bracket)
Dates and Location: November 21-24 in Charleston, S.C.
This tournament was much more intriguing before Davidson opened the season with an 0-3 record. Now, it's anyone's guess who will emerge from the bottom half of the bracket.
Regardless of the opponents, the Charleston Classic gives us an opportunity to evaluate New Mexico on a neutral court after last season's early dismissal from the NCAA tournament. Home games against Alabama A&M and Charleston Southern haven't exactly given us any indication of how the Lobos will do this season under new head coach Craig Neal.
No. 11: Cancun Challenge (Schedule)
Dates and Location: November 26-27 in Cancun, Mexico
Rather than hoping for a good championship game, the schedule makers for this tournament have blessed us with a semifinal pairing between the two best teams involved. Wisconsin and St. Louis will almost certainly be partaking in the 2014 NCAA tournament, but they'll first have to play each other in Mexico.
No. 10: 2K Sports Classic
Teams involved (Bracket): Connecticut, Indiana, Boston College and Washington
Dates and Location: November 21-22 in New York, N.Y.
Ideal championship game: Connecticut vs. Indiana
Underrated player to watch: C.J. Wilcox, Washington
Because they were ineligible for the 2013 NCAA tournament, the Connecticut Huskies seem to be flying under the radar.
Emerging from this tournament with a 6-0 record should be their ticket back to national attention.
Shabazz Napier is nearly averaging a triple-double, putting up 13.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game through Connecticut's first four contests. And he has missed just one of his seven three-point attempts.
Amida Brimah—a freshman from Ghana—is averaging four blocks per game, even though he's playing less than 16 minutes per contest. He had three blocks in a span of 25 seconds in Connecticut's opener against Maryland and has recorded multiple blocks on a single possession in three of his first four games.
Once he figures out how to play defense without fouling—he committed four fouls in just 10 minutes on Sunday against Boston—Brimah should go down in Connecticut lore with Hasheem Thabeet and Emeka Okafor.
The winner of the assumed championship game between Connecticut and Indiana will move to 6-0 and become the "don't sleep on this team" squad when it comes to discussing whether Louisville and Michigan State can go undefeated in their respective conferences.
No. 9: The Wooden Legacy
Teams involved (Bracket): Arizona State, Creighton, Marquette, Cal State Fullerton, Charleston, George Washington, Miami and San Diego State
Dates and Location: November 28-December 1 in Anaheim, Calif.
Ideal championship game: Arizona State vs. Marquette
Underrated player to watch: Jordan Bachynski, Arizona State
If nothing else, the Wooden Legacy gives us the most intriguing opening-round pairing of any tournament.
Arizona State and Creighton face off at 11 p.m. ET on Thanksgiving night. Long after the entire East Coast has succumbed to several meals' worth of tryptophan, Jahii Carson and Doug McDermott will go head-to-head in a battle between potential All-Americans.
The winner of that one will most likely draw San Diego State in the semifinals before possibly facing Marquette in the championship game. If either Arizona State or Creighton wins this tournament, it will have earned it.
One fun storyline to keep an eye on is the chance for Creighton and Marquette to play each other five times this season.
They're already scheduled for two regular-season meetings, and it wouldn't be a surprise if they run into each other somewhere in the late rounds of the Big East conference tournament. If they meet in the championship of this tournament, it would at least make it possible for them to play for a fifth time in the NCAA tournament.
If it happened, it would be the first time since Oregon and Oregon State played each other five times during the 1970-71 season.
No. 8: CBE HOF Classic
Teams involved (Schedule): BYU, DePaul, Texas and Wichita State
Dates and Location: November 25-26 in Kansas City, Mo.
Ideal championship game: BYU vs. Wichita State
Underrated player to watch: Cleveland Melvin, DePaul
Wichita State is on everyone's radar after last year's trip to the Final Four, but it's BYU that figures to be busting brackets this season. Led by Tyler Haws, the Cougars put up 112 points against Stanford in the tipoff marathon and could pull a fast one on Wichita State in the championship of this tournament.
Then again, DePaul might shock the Shockers in the opening round.
Boy howdy, would that be an upset. The Blue Demons have lost 43 consecutive games against ranked opponents since beating No. 17 Villanova on January 3, 2008.
It might be a long shot, but led by seniors Cleveland Melvin and Brandon Young, Oliver Purnell's team looks more capable through four games than it has in nearly a decade.
No. 7: Coaches vs. Cancer Classic
Teams involved (Schedule): Michigan State, Oklahoma, Seton Hall and Virginia Tech
Dates and Location: November 22-23 in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Ideal championship game: Michigan State vs. Oklahoma
Underrated player to watch: Fuquan Edwin, Seton Hall
This is way too high on the list for what should be a cakewalk for the Spartans.
Still, who doesn't want to watch the No. 1 team in the country?
Virginia Tech lost its season opener at home to USC Upstate. The fact that you've literally never heard of USC Upstate before should tell you how bad of a loss that was. The Hokies are still going to play the game, but the chances of going from a loss like that to a neutral-court win over Michigan State are less than slim to none.
Oklahoma should provide a slightly greater challenge for Michigan State, but the Sooners don't have a single athlete taller than 6'8" who has played yet this season. Led by Buddy Hield (18.3 PPG), Oklahoma will shoot at least 20 three-pointers per game, but Adreian Payne should dominate in the paint all night en route to a second comfortable win in as many days.
No. 6: Old Spice Classic
Teams involved (Bracket): Memphis, Oklahoma State, Butler, LSU, Purdue, Saint Joseph's, Siena and Washington State
Dates and Location: November 28-December 1 in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Ideal championship game: Memphis vs. Oklahoma State
Underrated player to watch: Halil Kanacevic, Saint Joseph's
If we're lucky, we'll get a rematch of Tuesday night's game between the Tigers and the Cowboys. Marcus Smart scored 39 points and led Oklahoma State to a comfortable victory.
Maybe Memphis will be up for the challenge this time around, but let's make sure not to count our chickens before they hatch.
Opening-round games against Purdue and Siena shouldn't be too difficult for the two favorites, but the semifinals will be a different story.
Even after losing Brad Stevens to the NBA and losing Roosevelt Jones to wrist surgery, Butler could still give Oklahoma State a run for its money. Kellen Dunham and Khyle Marshall won't roll over and die.
And whether the opponent is LSU or Saint Joseph's, Memphis will have anything but a free pass into the finals.
LSU lost its opener to Massachusetts but is still expected to finish near the top of the heap of SEC teams not named Kentucky or Florida. Meanwhile, Saint Joseph's nearly upset Creighton on Saturday behind 10 assists and 10 rebounds from point forward and matchup nightmare, Halil Kanacevic.
No. 5: NIT Season Tip-Off
Teams involved (Bracket): Arizona, Duke, Alabama, Canisius, Drexel, East Carolina, Elon, Fairleigh Dickinson, Georgia State, McNeese State, Metro State, Norfolk State, Rhode Island, Rutgers, Stillman, UNC-Asheville
Dates and Locations: November 18-19 at campus sites; November 27-29 in New York, N.Y.
Ideal championship game: Arizona vs. Duke
Underrated player to watch: Frantz Massenat, Drexel
Lots of teams are involved in this one, but unless we get Arizona vs. Duke in the championship game, there might not be a single game worth watching.
Alabama, Arizona and Duke breezed through the first two rounds into the semifinals. The fourth quadrant—Canisius, Drexel, Elon and Rutgers—provided the most competitive games of the early rounds, but it's difficult to see Drexel upsetting Arizona in the semis.
Provided we get the dream championship matchup, it should be a fun contrast in styles.
Arizona dominates on the glass and in the paint, while Duke relies on the perimeter game on both sides of the court. Forced to deal with Brandon Ashley, Aaron Gordon and Kaleb Tarczewski, Duke will show us if it's capable of winning a physical game.
No. 4: Hall of Fame Tip-Off
Teams involved (Schedule): Louisville, North Carolina, Fairfield, Richmond, Belmont, Hartford, Hofstra and Holy Cross
Dates and Location: November 23-24 in Uncasville, Conn.
Ideal championship game: Louisville vs. North Carolina
Underrated player to watch: Mark Nwakamma, Hartford
(This is effectively two four-team tournaments being played in the same building, but for the purpose of points, it is considered one eight-team tournament.)
At halftime of the season opener against Oakland, the Tar Heels looked invincible.
Since then, they have been positively destructible. After jumping out to that 58-21 lead over the Golden Grizzlies, North Carolina has been outscored 177-168 at home by Oakland, Holy Cross and Belmont.
Playing without the suspended P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald has forced the team to rely way too much upon Luke Davis and Nate Britt, but regardless of the excuse, this looks nothing like a Top 25 team.
Forget about beating Louisville in the championship game. If North Carolina doesn't improve by leaps and bounds overnight, it would be lucky to beat Richmond in the opening game.
Louisville, on the other hand, has taken the complete opposite arc this season.
Since struggling in the first half of the opener against Charleston, the Cardinals have outscored their opponents by an average of 18.9 points per half. They haven't been tested yet—and might not be until the showdown with Kentucky on December 28 if UNC doesn't shape up—but they're looking like one of the two or three best teams in the country right now.
No. 3: Battle 4 Atlantis
Teams involved (Bracket): Kansas, Iowa, Villanova, Tennessee, USC, UTEP, Wake Forest, Xavier
Dates and Locations: November 28-30 in Paradise Islands, Bahamas
Ideal championship game: Kansas vs. Iowa
Underrated player to watch: Devin Thomas, Wake Forest
Based solely on the allure of watching Andrew Wiggins three times in a span of three days, this is one of the most intriguing tournaments for the casual college basketball fan.
However, the undercards make this one shimmer.
Iowa, Tennessee and Villanova are all expected to make the NCAA tournament this year. UTEP will likely finish near the top of the 16-team Conference USA and could contend for an at-large bid. Both Wake Forest and Xavier are off to 3-0 starts and thus far appear to be much better than advertised.
With all due respect to the USC Trojans, they're the only team in this tournament that probably has no hope of going dancing this year.
At first glance, many will see No. 2 Kansas and a bunch of unranked teams and assume the Jayhawks will win every game by 40 points.
Wake Forest, Villanova and whoever emerges from the bottom half of the bracket will have other ideas.
No. 2: Puerto Rico Tip-Off
Teams involved (Bracket): Michigan, VCU, Georgetown, Kansas State, Charlotte, Florida State, Long Beach State, Northeastern
Dates and Locations: November 21-24 in Bayamon, Puerto Rico
Ideal championship game: Georgetown vs. Michigan
Underrated players to watch: Caris LeVert, Michigan and Devon Bookert, Florida State
Bookmark this comment to throw in my face at a later date, but if VCU wins the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, we need to start discussing the possibility of an undefeated season. Games against Belmont and Eastern Kentucky won't be easy, but that's as tough as it gets for Shaka Smart's Rams until they travel to La Salle on January 25.
Of course, they'll have their fair share of difficult games in this tournament.
The opener against Florida State shouldn't be a problem. The Seminoles should be improved from last season, but they're currently averaging 19 turnovers per game. That's a death sentence against VCU.
A semifinal pairing between Michigan and VCU is more intriguing than any possible championship game pairing from this tournament. This potential rematch from the 2013 NCAA tournament could have a different outcome now that the Wolverines are without the calming presence of Trey Burke.
Whichever team emerges from that game will most likely draw Georgetown in the championship. Mitch McGary versus Joshua Smith would be a fun battle to watch in the paint, but Markel Starks versus Havoc would be just as aesthetically appealing.
No. 1: Maui Invitational
Teams involved (Bracket): Syracuse, Gonzaga, Baylor, California, Arkansas, Dayton, Minnesota and Chaminade
Dates and Locations: November 25-27 in Lahaina, Hawaii
Ideal championship game: Gonzaga vs. Syracuse
Underrated player to watch: Justin Cobbs, California
Entering play on Wednesday, the eight teams involved in the Maui Invitational are a combined 26-0 on the season—including Chaminade's two wins over Western Oregon and Saint Martin's.
Granted, very few of those wins were against teams worth their weight in salt, but it's still impressive that there isn't a clear-cut "favorite" to challenge Chaminade for the right to go 0-3 in this tournament.
That isn't to say that just anyone is capable of going 3-0 in Hawaii; Baylor is probably the only team with a legitimate shot at upsetting either Gonzaga or Syracuse. But we should get treated to a fair number of good games in this tournament.
If we get Cal vs. Syracuse and Baylor vs. Gonzaga in the semifinals, we'll be set up for gems in both the championship and consolation games.
Keep a watchful eye on how well Syracuse performs in this neutral setting. Aside from a road game against St. John's, this is the only time the Orange will play away from home before the start of the ACC season.
The last time Syracuse lost a game earlier than December 15 was during the 2007-08 season.
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