Every year, the Puerto Rico Tip-Off manages to fly criminally under the radar.
Perhaps the fact that it takes place outside the continental United States forces some to shrug it off and not pay attention, but if you want a chance to check out some teams that will surely be around come March, then look no further than Roberto Clemente Coliseum next week.
Since the tournament's inception in 2007, five of its six winners have ended up dancing in March. Last year, fans were treated to a final between NC State and Oklahoma State, arguably two of the most entertaining teams in America.
With Michigan, Virginia Commonwealth, Georgetown and Florida State all here in 2013, a thrilling encore looks likely.
Winners Bracket and Schedule
Note: Check out ESPNevents.com for the entire bracket
|1||Charlotte||Kansas St.||Thur, 11/21||10:30 a.m.||ESPNU|
|2||Northeastern||Georgetown||Thur, 11/21||12:30 p.m.||ESPNU|
|3||Long Beach St.||Michigan||Thur, 11/21||5 p.m.||ESPN2|
|4||Florida St.||VCU||Thur, 11/21||7:30 p.m.||ESPNU|
|Semi||Winner 1||Winner 2||Fri, 11/22||2:30 p.m.||ESPN2/U|
|Semi||Winner 3||Winner 4||Fri, 11/22||5 p.m.||ESPN2/U|
|Final||Winner Semi||Winner Semi||Sun, 11/24||6:30 p.m.||ESPN2|
Player to Watch: Mitch McGary, Michigan
McGary missed Michigan's first two games of the season with a lower-back injury, but he returned to play 22 minutes off the bench against Iowa State on Sunday.
It depends how his back reacts overnight, but by the time Thursday rolls around, the sophomore should be able to jump back into the starting lineup and give John Beilein close to 30 minutes.
Should that happen, expect him to put on a show in Puerto Rico.
As you'll remember, McGary took the country by storm last March. After starting just two of Michigan's first 33 games, he was moved into the starting lineup in the NCAA tourney's second round against South Dakota State and proceeded to establish himself as one of the best big men in the field of 68.
In Michigan's six tournament games, he averaged 14.3 points on 67.8 percent shooting, 10.7 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 2.0 steals per contest.
McGary is one of the most physical, energetic players in the nation, but he combines his hard-nosed style with quite a bit of skill, as he passes the ball well and can knock down the mid-range jumper. There's a reason he was getting talk as a potential NBA lottery pick.
If we perchance get a Michigan-Georgetown meeting in the championship game, that will mean McGary and Joshua Smith will be battling down low.
That means we should be checking the Richter scale for small earthquakes in the Puerto Rico area.
Team to Watch: VCU
Many wondered if the new "freedom of movement" rules would affect Shaka Smart's HAVOC system, but it would appear it has only made the Rams angrier.
According to Kenpom.com (subscription required), Virginia Commonwealth is eighth in America in defensive efficiency, third in defensive turnover percentage and second in steal percentage after its first three wins over Illinois State, Virginia and Winthrop.
Offensively, Treveon Graham is the Rams' early go-to option, but Rob Brandenberg is dangerous from beyond the arc, Briante Weber can get to the rack and 6'9", 250-pound physical freak Juvonte Reddic is incredibly difficult to deal with, both inside and on the offensive glass.
Defense and turnovers are obviously VCU's calling cards, but it has lots of versatility and talent on the offensive end.
Who will win the tourney?
The Rams have the most difficult path to the title, facing Florida State and then probably Michigan and Georgetown—although don't overlook Kansas State. Man, this field is stacked.
FSU is a good defensive squad, the Wolverines showed last March that they clearly have the blueprint to beat Smart's defensive system, and Georgetown has lots of size and length, as always.
Nevertheless, there are cons that come with those pros. The Seminoles have been allergic to taking care of the ball early this season, ranking 332nd in turnover percentage. That's a recipe for disaster against VCU's defense. The Wolverines will find it much more difficult to beat the press without Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. Not to mention that VCU's ability to run will limit big Joshua Smith's effectiveness, which hurts the Hoyas.
VCU is incredibly difficult to prepare for in a tournament setting where games are played on back-to-back days. The Rams will hoist the Puerto Rico Tip-Off trophy, but not without a couple of thrilling games first against Michigan and Georgetown.