10 Potential Surprises at College Basketball's Early Tournaments

Scott Henry@@4QuartersRadioFeatured ColumnistJuly 29, 2012

10 Potential Surprises at College Basketball's Early Tournaments

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    With major coaches around the country ducking out of any games that could resemble difficult non-conference matchups, early-season tournaments will provide some of the best battles available through November and December.

    Brand-name programs like Kentucky, North Carolina and Kansas dot the brackets of these events, but many also feature under-the-radar teams that may make loud statements with upset wins.

    As the brackets continue to be finalized and released, some choice matchups have revealed themselves.

    These 10 teams will not be expected to win their tournaments, but if they do, readers of this slideshow will understand why.

    Tournaments are presented in chronological order of start.

Charleston Classic: Colorado

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    First-Round Matchups

    Dayton vs. Colorado
    Baylor vs. Boston College
    St. John's vs. Charleston
    Murray State vs. Auburn

    This draw could easily see its true championship game staged in the semifinal. A potential NCAA tournament rematch between Baylor and Colorado will be nothing but fun to watch.

    Baylor will bring in a rebuilt frontcourt augmented by veteran guards Pierre Jackson and Brady Heslip. Colorado likewise has a few holes to fill, but potential NBA lottery pick Andre Roberson may be the best player on the floor.

    While Baylor brings in ESPN 100 prospects Isaiah Austin and Ricardo Gathers, Buffalo freshmen Josh Scott and Xavier Johnson are every bit as decorated. Don't be surprised to see at least three of the four starting for their respective teams from day one.

    In March, Quincy Acy dominated the boards and Heslip rained down three-point shots. In November, Acy won't be there, so Baylor's freshmen will need to avoid foul trouble and keep the tireless Roberson off the glass. As for Heslip, Colorado coach Tad Boyle should have some ideas for keeping hands in his face.

    Even if the Buffs do defeat Baylor, Isaiah Canaan and Murray State could await in the final.

2K Sports Classic: Villanova

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    Semifinal Matchups

    Alabama vs. Oregon State
    Purdue vs. Villanova

    Villanova had far too much talent to finish 13-19 last season, but the reason for the Cats' malaise may have been laid bare when Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek bailed for the NBA draft. Jay Wright has proven he can lead a strong team when everyone's interested in being a part of the process and not playing for the pro scouts.

    There's still a lot of size on the Wildcats' roster, with four players topping 6'9" and another tipping the scales at 260 pounds. Wake Forest transfer Tony Chennault (pictured) forms a dangerous point guard trio with sophomore Ty Johnson and incoming freshman Ryan Arcidiacono.

    Alabama loses star forwards JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell but does add prized freshman Devonta Pollard.

    Purdue finally has to deal with life after Robbie Hummel and will need major work from freshmen A.J. Hammons and Jay Simpson to have any post presence whatsoever.

    Oregon State saved coach Craig Robinson's job with a 21-15 season, but star guard Jared Cunningham has gone pro. The Beavers may be able to go size-for-size with Villanova, though.

    Each team in the tournament has potential undercut with major question marks, but Villanova may be the program that most needs to emerge supreme. Every non-conference win will come in handy in the still-potent Big East.

Puerto Rico Tip-Off: UMass

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    First-Round Matchups

    Akron vs. Oklahoma State
    UNC Asheville vs. Tennessee
    NC State vs. Penn State
    UMass vs. Providence

    The Puerto Rico Tip-Off is headlined by several teams with something to prove.

    Oklahoma State and Tennessee each have super sophomores who may lead their teams to prominence. NC State returns a talented cast and could be favored to topple the Duke-UNC monolith atop the ACC.

    Providence may be missing talented freshman guard Kris Dunn, but classmate Ricardo Ledo and veterans Vincent Council and LaDontae Henton are far from slouches.

    Out of all these teams, though, the Massachusetts Minutemen could make the biggest statement with a tournament victory. Point guard Chaz Williams (pictured, with ball) should be a favorite for Atlantic 10 Player of the Year, and he's surrounded by a group of deadly shooters in Raphiael Putney, Terrell Vinson and Jesse Morgan.

    UMass could struggle in a final against Tennessee, with the Vols' post duo of Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon capable of imposing their will. The three-point shot is a classic equalizer, however, and Trae Golden could struggle to keep Williams in front of him.

Coaches vs. Cancer Classic: St. Joseph's

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    Matchups: TBA
    Participants: BYU, Florida State, Notre Dame, St. Joseph's

    All four of these teams, until proven otherwise, should be expected to reach the NCAA tournament. Their talent levels are unquestioned, but what of continuity?

    While BYU must replace leading scorer Noah Hartsock and Florida State returns only one full-time starter (All-ACC guard Michael Snaer), St. Joe's brings back everybody. Literally.

    Guards Langston Galloway (pictured) and Carl Jones form one of the nation's elite backcourt pairs. Also, the frontcourt features three guys standing taller than 6'8" in C.J. Aiken, Halil Kanicevic and Ronald Roberts.

    The Hawks' offense was in the top 60 nationwide in efficiency, effective FG percentage and true shooting, and their defense in the latter two also placed in America's top 35.

    With everyone back after another year of experience, the main hurdle between St. Joe's and their escape from last year's NIT purgatory should be the increasingly brutal Atlantic 10.

CBE Classic: Saint Louis

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    Semifinal Matchups

    Texas A&M vs. Saint Louis
    Washington State vs. Kansas

    Saint Louis is a borderline Top 25 team coming into the 2012-13 season, so considering it surprising for them to win a tournament is odd in itself. However, when that tournament is the CBE Classic, played in Kansas City's Sprint Center, and the Kansas Jayhawks are in the field, anyone else winning is a surprise.

    SLU returns nearly everyone except All-Atlantic 10 forward Brian Conklin. Guards Kwamain Mitchell and Mike McCall Jr. are dangerous from the perimeter, as is forward Cody Ellis. Last year's Kansas team was somewhat shaky in its perimeter defense, and this year's freshman-heavy roster could struggle to contain the Billikens' array of shooters.

    There will only be a couple of games for the Jayhawks to integrate all those freshmen before the short trip to Kansas City, and if there's a coach in America who can draw up plans to befuddle a young opponent, it's Rick Majerus. A Majerus-Bill Self coaching matchup would be one of the more fascinating of the tournament season.

Maui Invitational: Butler

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    First-Round Matchups

    Butler vs. Marquette
    Mississippi State vs. North Carolina
    Texas vs. Chaminade
    USC vs. Illinois

    Heading into last season, this field would be a phenomenal one. However, Marquette, Mississippi State and Illinois have all taken major losses. North Carolina's lost quite a bit as well, but UNC simply reloads and carries on as a top-10 squad.

    If there's a team here that could stun the world with a victory, it would be the Butler Bulldogs. A crew that could not shoot straight last season (28 percent from three-point range) will benefit from adding a pair of deadly gunners.

    Arkansas transfer Rotnei Clarke (pictured) shot 42 percent from deep over his three years in Fayetteville. Freshman Kellen Dunham made around 45 percent of his bombs in his senior year at Pendleton Heights High School.

    Considering that center Andrew Smith was the Bulldogs' highest-percentage option from three last season, these guys are arriving none too soon.

    The greatest difficulty in a Butler win over North Carolina would come in the Bulldogs dealing with UNC's size and flexibility. Roy Williams can mix and match at will to try to counteract Clarke and Dunham.

Las Vegas Invitational: Arkansas

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    Semifinal Matchups

    Arizona State vs. Arkansas
    Creighton vs. Wisconsin

    Wisconsin is a perennial Big Ten favorite, and Creighton returns All-American Doug McDermott, so that matchup will loom large on the college basketball calendar. Look for the revitalized Arkansas Razorbacks to make life difficult for everyone this season, however.

    With another offseason for the Hogs to absorb Mike Anderson's maddening system, the returning talent may be enough to get Arkansas back to the NCAA tournament. Guard B.J. Young could be capable of going basket-for-basket with anyone in the SEC and certainly anyone in this tournament, even McDermott.

    The main knock on McDermott as a professional prospect is a lack of quickness and athleticism, two issues that could be magnified against an aggressive defensive unit like Arkansas.

    If the Hogs' defense can tighten up at all (ninth in the SEC in defensive efficiency last season), McDermott could be in for more mistakes than normal. Sophomore point guard Austin Chatman will have to grow up fast under this kind of pressure.

    Also, Arkansas sophomore Hunter Mickelson could match up well with either Creighton's Gregory Echenique or Wisconsin's Jared Berggren. Mickelson's 5.3 blocks per 40 minutes last season could dissuade a lot of attacks on his post position. Berggren could be a more dangerous matchup with his perimeter shooting ability.

Old Spice Classic: Davidson

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    First-Round Matchups

    West Virginia vs. Marist
    Vanderbilt vs. Davidson
    UTEP vs. Oklahoma
    Clemson vs. Gonzaga

    Gonzaga is the brand name in this tournament, and West Virginia enters with LaSalle transfer Aaric Murray replacing the graduated Kevin Jones. Still, Davidson has a strong chance to pull off the win.

    While Gonzaga has to integrate Polish behemoth Przemek Karnowski in place of the departed Robert Sacre, Davidson returns every player who averaged more than seven minutes per game last season.

    Forwards De'Mon Brooks (pictured) and Jake Cohen form one of the best frontcourt duos that the casual fan has never heard of, while guards J.P. Kuhlman and Nik Cochran have a marked size advantage over the Zags' Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr.

    The matchup between Brooks and Elias Harris could be almost as fun as the potential second-round tussle between Cohen and Murray in the semifinals.

    In the end, Davidson has a full lineup of shooters, including the 6'10" Cohen. If Gonzaga hasn't ratcheted its perimeter defense up to last season's level, the Wildcats could snipe their way to a pair of huge non-conference victories. Those could prove invaluable in case Davidson stumbles in the Southern Conference tournament.

Anaheim Classic: Drexel

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    First-Round Matchups

    Xavier vs. Pacific
    Drexel vs. Saint Mary's
    Rice vs. Georgia Tech
    Drake vs. California

    The Anaheim Classic essentially has its championship game in the first round, as St. Mary's and Drexel may very easily be the two best teams in the bracket.

    Under Bruiser Flint, Drexel has been molded into one of America's top defensive squads, and they would have their hands full against the clockwork offense of St. Mary's.

    Dragons guard Frantz Massenat (pictured) will wage a great battle against the Gaels' Aussie star Matthew Dellavedova. While Drexel has to replace bruising Samme Givens, St. Mary's has to fill the shoes of not just double-double threat Rob Jones but also top three-point shooter Clint Steindl.

    The Dragons don't really have the size to bang with the Gaels inside, but if their bigs can keep Brad Waldow and Mitchell Young in check, there's a good chance to disrupt that efficient offense and escape with a win.

Diamond Head Classic: Miami

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    First-Round Matchups

    Ole Miss vs. Indiana State
    San Diego State vs. San Francisco
    Arizona vs. East Tennessee State
    Miami vs. Hawaii

    Arizona brings in one of America's most touted recruiting classes, and San Diego State has a lineup laden with talented veterans. Miami seems to trail a distant third, but they've got some veteran horses of their own.

    The burly post duo of Reggie Johnson and Kenny Kadji are supplemented by sixth-year senior Julian Gamble, junior Raphael Akpejiori and freshman Tonye Jekiri, all of whom stand 6'10" themselves. That much sheer bulk could wear down a young Arizona squad and push around a San Diego State team whose only true big man may be Virginia transfer James Johnson.

    Veteran guard Durand Scott led the 'Canes in scoring last season and should see even more looks with the departure of his spray-and-pray backcourt mate Malcolm Grant. Kadji provides perimeter shooting on pick-and-pop looks, and senior Trey McKinney-Jones should also prove dangerous if opponents pack the lane.