Ranking the Best In-Season College Basketball Tournaments in 2016-17 Season

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystAugust 2, 2016

Ranking the Best In-Season College Basketball Tournaments in 2016-17 Season

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    Dillon Brooks
    Dillon BrooksKyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

    The Oregon Ducks are just one of the three 2017 title contenders in this year's Maui Invitational, cementing its spot atop our ranking of the best early-season college basketball tournaments.

    Now that we're into August, we can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel that is the seemingly interminable college hoops offseason. The 2016 national championship is officially further behind us than the first game of the 2016-17 regular season (Nov. 11) is ahead of us, so it's time to start making plans for those November and December tournaments.

    Here's a fun fact about early-season tournaments: Seven of the past eight national champions won one.

    North Carolina (2008 Maui Invitational), Duke (2009 NIT Season Tip-Off), Connecticut (2010 Maui Invitational), Kentucky (2011 Hall of Fame Tip-Off), Connecticut (2013 2K Classic), Duke (2014 Coaches vs. Cancer Classic) and Villanova (2016 NIT Season Tip-Off) each took care of business, while Louisville (2013 Battle 4 Atlantis) arguably only lost to Duke in its tournament because it was playing without star big man Gorgui Dieng.

    It's never too early to start thinking about the 2017 NCAA tournament, and recent history would suggest these early-season tournaments will give us a good indication of which teams have a chance to win it all next April.

Other Tournaments

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    Cameron Oliver
    Cameron OliverStephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

    Great Alaska Shootout (Nov. 23-26 in Anchorage, Alaska)
    Best-Possible Matchup: Nevada vs. Weber State

    Whether it's Buffalo in the MAC, Weber State in the Big Sky, UC Davis in the Big West or Nevada in the Mountain West, there's a decent chance one team from the Great Alaska Shootout ends up earning an automatic bid to the Big Dance in March. But even with eight teams to choose from, there's not a single combination of teams that results in a "can't miss" game.

    Gulf Coast Showcase (Nov. 21-23 in Estero, Florida)
    Best-Possible Matchup: Houston vs. Vermont

    Like the Great Alaska Shootout, this is a boring eight-team field. Houston might be in the bubble conversation in March, but not because of anything good it does in this early tourney.

    Barclays Center Classic (Nov. 25-26 in Brooklyn, New York)
    Best-Possible Matchup: Maryland vs. Richmond

    The opener between Maryland and Richmond could be interesting, but the winner gets either the worst team in the Big 12 (Kansas State) or the worst team in the ACC (Boston College).

    Global Sports Classic (Nov. 25-26 in Las Vegas)
    Best-Possible Matchup: TCU vs. Washington

    If you're buying stock in TCU as a breakout team or if you simply want to watch Washington's Markelle Fultz as many times as possible, there's some intrigue here. But with UNLV and Western Kentucky the other teams in this field, it might be too generous to set the over/under for 2017 NCAA tournament teams in the Global Sports Classic at 0.5.

    Las Vegas Classic (Dec. 22-23 in Las Vegas)
    Best-Possible Matchup: DePaul vs. USC

    This might as well be the "USC Landmine Invitational." The Trojans will face Missouri State before (presumably) drawing the winner of DePaul vs. Wyoming. Even in a neutral-court environment, neither team would go down in its tournament resume as a quality win, but a loss in either game could be what ultimately keeps a team on the wrong side of the bubble.

    Savannah Invitational (Nov. 25-26 in Savannah, Georgia)
    Best-Possible Matchup: Akron vs. Mercer

    The Savannah Invitational is a new event in 2016, but it will hardly rival the Maui Invitational for quality teams. Akron is probably the best of the four-team field, which should tell you how many at-large candidates there are.

    Lone Star Showcase (Nov. 21-23 in Cedar Park, Texas)
    Best-Possible Matchup: TBD

    While every other tournament has announced its full bracket, the Lone Star Showcase hasn't even released its full field. What we know thus far is that it's little more than Saint Bonaventure and some middle-of-the-road mid-majors. So unless the two TBD teams end up being California and Princeton, there's not much intrigue here.

17. Diamond Head Classic

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    Trey Kell
    Trey KellGregory Bull/Associated Press

    Dates: December 22-25

    Location: Honolulu

    Quarterfinals: Tulsa vs. Stephen F. Austin, San Diego State vs. Southern Miss, San Francisco vs. Utah, Illinois State vs. Hawaii

    Likely Semifinals: Stephen F. Austin vs. San Diego State, Utah vs. Illinois State

    Dream Championship: San Diego State vs. Utah

    The Diamond Head Classic's opening rounds should be a real snoozefest. Tulsa, Stephen F. Austin and Hawaii lost the vast majority of their key contributors from teams that made the 2016 NCAA tournament. San Francisco hasn't been nationally relevant in decades and lost its three primary players from last season. And Southern Miss is going to be a dumpster fire for the foreseeable future.

    But fast-forward to the presumed championship game on Christmas Day and things start to get interesting.

    Neither San Diego State nor Utah is a projected Top 25 team, but both should be on the correct side of the NCAA tournament bubble with the winner of this game entering conference play with at least one quality win under its belt.

    One upset before the finals, though, and there might not be a game in this tournament worth watching.

16. Charleston Classic

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    Kris Jenkins (2) and Josh Hart (3)
    Kris Jenkins (2) and Josh Hart (3)Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

    Dates: November 17-20

    Location: Charleston, South Carolina

    Quarterfinals: Villanova vs. Western Michigan, Wake Forest vs. UTEP, Mississippi State vs. Central Florida, Boise State vs. College of Charleston

    Likely Semifinals: Villanova vs. Wake Forest, Mississippi State vs. Boise State

    Dream Championship: Villanova vs. Mississippi State

    If you're picking anyone other than Villanova to win this tournament, you've lost your mind. The Wildcats should be one of the top three teams in the country, and no one else in this tournament field was in our latest projection of the NCAA tournament field.

    But because Villanova is the reigning national champion and expected to be excellent once again, the Charleston Classic is worth watching just to get an early glimpse of how dominant this team could be this year.

    In the non-Villanova portions of this tournament, Mississippi State vs. Central Florida ought to be a fun game. The Bulldogs have an inexperienced but talented team that could make some noise in the SEC, while the Knights have 7'6" Tacko Fall. They might finish dead last in the AAC, but they'll have one of the most exciting-to-watch players in the game today.

15. Paradise Jam

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    Cole Huff
    Cole HuffSteven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

    Dates: November 18-21

    Location: St. Thomas, Virgin Islands

    Quarterfinals: Loyola (Chicago) vs. Saint Joseph's, Oral Roberts vs. Ole Miss, Montana vs. North Carolina State, Creighton vs. Washington State

    Likely Semifinals: Saint Joseph's vs. Ole Miss, NC State vs. Creighton

    Dream Championship: Ole Miss vs. Creighton

    The quarterfinals pairings shouldn't yield much drama, but the Paradise Jam is something of a bubble bonanza beginning in the semifinals.

    Saint Joseph's will likely be the least competitive of the four after losing DeAndre Bembry, Isaiah Miles, Aaron Brown and Papa Ndao, but the Hawks are rarely a doormat. A couple of early wins in this tournament could be the signal to the rest of the A-10 that Lamarr Kimble, James Demery and company will be in the hunt.

    Ole Miss also lost a number of key players from last season, but incoming transfers Deandre Burnett (Miami) and Cullen Neal (New Mexico) should keep the Rebels relevant in the SECwhere Kentucky is the only surefire NCAA tournament team.

    But the big game of the Paradise Jam is the presumed semifinal between NC State and Creighton, both of which should open the season right around the fringe of the AP Top 25. Outside of the Pac-12 showdowns between UCLA's Lonzo Ball and Washington's Markelle Fultz, Dennis Smith versus Mo Watson could be one of the best point guard battles of the entire season.

14. Cancun Challenge

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    Isaac Haas
    Isaac HaasRon Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

    Dates: November 22-23

    Location: Cancun, Mexico

    Semifinals: Purdue vs. Utah State, Auburn vs. Texas Tech

    Dream Championship: Purdue vs. Texas Tech

    The Cancun Challenge begins our onslaught of eight consecutive four-team tournament fields, but its opening round isn't much better than some of the quarterfinals we just slogged through.

    Both Utah State and Auburn lost three of the top six players from teams that had already finished below .500 in 2015-16. The Aggies might not come within 20 points of Purdue in the first semifinal. With the addition of Mustapha Heron, the Tigers should at least be able to keep things interesting against Texas Tech, but the smart money is on a Boilermakers-Red Raiders championship game.

    Should it come to fruition, it will be one heck of a frontcourt war. Purdue has more household names in Caleb Swanigan, Isaac Haas and Vince Edwards, but Texas Tech has the deeper stable of big men with the addition of Arkansas State transfer Anthony Livingston (15.9 PPG, 10.0 RPG). Swanigan versus Aaron Ross in a battle of stretch 4s should be worth the price of admission.

13. CBE Hall of Fame Classic

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    Devonte' Graham
    Devonte' GrahamAaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

    Dates: November 21-22

    Location: Kansas City, Missouri

    Semifinals: Georgia vs. George Washington, Kansas vs. UAB

    Dream Championship: Georgia vs. Kansas

    As was the case for Villanova in the Charleston Classic, there's no question which team should win the CBE Hall of Fame Classic.

    UAB will be one of the better mid-majors after losing just one key piece (Robert Brown) from a team that entered 2016 postseason play with a 26-5 record. George Washington lost five of its seven leading scorers, but will still have a strong core consisting of Tyler Cavanaugh, Yuta Watanabe and Seton Hall transfer Jaren Sina. And Georgia boasts one of the nation's best inside-outside duos in Yante Maten and J.J. Frazier.

    But, come on, Kansas has to win this one, right? In addition to what is clearly the most talented rosterKansas will open the season ranked no worse than No. 5 in the AP Top 25, while the other three teams in this field would be lucky to get any votesthis tournament is practically being held in the Jayhawks' backyard. It would be nothing short of shocking to see them lose a game in Kansas City.

    Yet, anytime a title contender is in action in a "neutral" environment, it's worth monitoring, as this tourney will give us an early glimpse into what Kansas can accomplish this year without the likes of Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden.

12. Emerald Coast Classic

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    London Perrantes (32) and Tony Bennett
    London Perrantes (32) and Tony BennettGeoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

    Dates: November 25-26

    Location: Niceville, Florida

    Semifinals: Virginia vs. Iowa, Memphis vs. Providence

    Dream Championship: Virginia vs. Providence

    Here we have yet another four-team tournament in which the projected winner is blatantly obvious, but at least Virginia has slightly better competition than Villanova or Kansas. Or, at any rate, the name power of the opposing teams is a bit stronger.

    For Iowa, Memphis and Providence, though, it should be a rebuilding year. Those three teams had a combined 14 players average at least 7.5 points per game last season, but only four of those players return in 2016-17Iowa's Peter Jok, Providence's Rodney Bullock and Memphis siblings Dedric and K.J. Lawson. And considering Iowa's 39th-best recruiting class is tops in that trio, there aren't very many reinforcements on the way.

    Meanwhile, Virginia might have its most talented roster to date with London Perrantes, Isaiah Wilkins and company buttressed by four top-100 players in this year's class, Mamadi Diakite as a stud redshirt freshman and Austin Nichols as possibly the country's most impactful transfer.

    We're projecting Providence to beat Memphis, but this tournament would pick up several additional units of intrigue if it ends up being Memphis and Virginia in the championship game, given that Nichols transferred from the former to the latter. His former head coach and most of his former teammates are gone, but you better believe he'd have something to prove against that opponent.

11. Las Vegas Invitational

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    Allonzo Trier
    Allonzo TrierRick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Dates: November 24-25

    Location: Las Vegas

    Semifinals: Arizona vs. Santa Clara, Butler vs. Vanderbilt

    Dream Championship: Arizona vs. Butler

    Well, what do you know? It's another four-team field with a clear favorite that should open the season ranked Top 10 in the nation. Arizona boasts one of the most talented and positionless rosters in recent memory. If redshirt freshman Ray Smith and true freshman Lauri Markkanen even remotely live up to the hype, the Wildcats could be the biggest threat to Duke in the 2017 NCAA tournament.

    But after what we've seen the past four years, only a fool would sleep on Butler in an early-season tournament.

    In the 2012 Maui Invitational, the Bulldogs knocked off both Marquette and North Carolina. The following year in the Old Spice Classic, they nearly beat both Oklahoma State (in Marcus Smart's sophomore year) and LSU. In the 2014 Battle 4 Atlantis, they once again toppled North Carolina before also beating Georgetown. And last November, Butler made it to the championship game of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off before running into a Miami buzzsaw firing on all cylinders.

    Could the Bulldogs provide some early sparks again this year? Or could Santa Clara's Jared Brownridge have an encore performance of last November's 44-point game against Arizona?

    The Wildcats should win the Las Vegas Invitational, but it's not nearly the cakewalk Kansas, Villanova and Virginia should have.

10. Men Who Speak Up Main Event

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    BYU vs. Valparaiso in the 2016 NIT
    BYU vs. Valparaiso in the 2016 NITMitchell Layton/Getty Images

    Dates: November 21, 23

    Location: Las Vegas

    Semifinals: Alabama vs. Valparaiso, BYU vs. Saint Louis

    Dream Championship: Valparaiso vs. BYU

    Not much is expected this year from Alabama or Saint Louis. The former lost three of its top four scorers, while the latter lost three of its top five and will likely face one more rebuilding year before resurfacing as a potentially nationally relevant program in 2017-18.

    But the other two participants in the Men Who Speak Up Main Event should be two of the better mid-major teams in the country this yearand would give us a rematch from the 2016 NIT semifinals.

    Of its top nine scorers from last season, Valparaiso lost four to graduation and a fifth (David Skara) as a transfer. Normally, that would be grounds for significant concern, but the Crusaders still have Alec Peters, who is one of the most unstoppable forces in the nation—mid-major or otherwise. And with the addition of redshirt freshman Derrik Smitsson of the Dunkin' Dutchman, Rik Smitsthey might have a starting five that dominates the Horizon League en route to a third consecutive season with at least 28 wins.

    BYU also lost some crucial pieces in Kyle Collinsworth and Chase Fischer. But the additions of freshmen T.J. Haws and Payton Dastrup, graduate-transfer L.J. Rose and the return of big man Eric Mika should put the Cougars in a position to compete in what may be the best West Coast Conference season ever. Gonzaga is a legitimate title contender, and Saint Mary's should open the season ranked in the AP Top 25, so a solid year from BYU would boost the tournament resumes of all three of those teams.

    This game won't hold a candle to some of the others being played on Nov. 23 (Maui Invitational championship and Battle 4 Atlantis quarterfinals, in particular), but a showdown between BYU and Valparaiso could be massive for both teams come Selection Sunday.

9. NIT Season Tip-off

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    Dwayne Bacon
    Dwayne BaconMichael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

    Dates: November 24-25

    Location: Brooklyn, New York

    Semifinals: Temple vs. Florida State, Illinois vs. West Virginia

    Dream Championship: Florida State vs. West Virginia

    If you enjoy getting an early look at teams with a wide range of expectations, the NIT Season Tip-Off has you covered.

    For starters, there's Florida State. No team in the country has had a more consistent residence on the bubble over the past 13 or so years. The Seminoles lose a ton of players from last year's roster, but they still have Dwayne Bacon and Xavier Rathan-Mayes to pair with stud freshman big man Jonathan Isaac. It's an inexperienced but talented bunch that could finish anywhere in the Nos. 5-10 range in the ACC, per usual.

    Illinois is no stranger to the bubble, either, and could be a major bounce-back candidate in 2016-17 if guys like Tracy Abrams, Mike Thorne and Leron Black can avoid injuries this year. The Illini won't win the Big Ten, but they could finish above .500 and make the NCAA tournament, if healthy for a change.

    But no team has a larger set of possible outcomes than West Virginia. The Mountaineers lost arguably their three most important players from last season (Devin Williams, Jaysean Paige and Jonathan Holton) and could be headed for a rough season. Then again, that Press Virginia scheme has been so tough to beat over the past two years that they might just mess around and finish runner-up to Kansas in the Big 12 again.

    With the possible exception of Temple going 0-2 after losing Quenton DeCosey, Jaylen Bond and Devin Coleman, you may have a serious gambling problem if you're betting on any particular outcome from this tourney. And that should make it fun to watch, even though there isn't a guaranteed NCAA tournament team in the bunch.

8. 2K Classic

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    Derrick Walton (10) and Zak Irvin (21)
    Derrick Walton (10) and Zak Irvin (21)Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    Dates: November 17-18

    Location: Madison Square Garden

    Semifinals: Pittsburgh vs. SMU, Marquette vs. Michigan

    Dream Championship: Pittsburgh vs. Michigan

    Similar to the NIT Season Tip-Off, the 2K Classic is flush with bubbly teams. In fact, the gap from top (Michigan?) to bottom (SMU?) is by far the narrowest of any early-season tournament field.

    The Wolverines are the most intact of the bunch, retaining all five of the top scorers from the team that just barely got into the 2016 NCAA tournament. Led by Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin, they could finish in the top third of the Big Ten standings. Though with four key reserves transferring out of the program this offseason, it might only take one injury to derail the whole campaign.

    Marquette will also look similar, save for one massive omission, as first-rounder Henry Ellenson bolted for the NBA after just one year. But Steve Wojciechowski adds a trio of 4-star freshmen and graduate-transfer Katin Reinhardt in hopes of moving on without the big man.

    In the other semifinal, both Pittsburgh (Kevin Stallings) and SMU (Tim Jankovich) will need to adjust to new head coaches. The Panthers should be in good shape with Michael Young, Jamel Artis and Sheldon Jeter leading the way as seniors, but the Mustangs might be in a bit of trouble after losing Nic Moore, Jordan Tolbert and Markus Kennedy.

    That said, if SMU were to win the 2K Classic, it wouldn't be much of a surprise.

    There are better tournaments that could help determine which teams get No. 1 seeds in the Big Dance, but this one might have the biggest impact on which teams get into the 2017 field.

7. Legends Classic

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    Shaka Smart
    Shaka SmartEric Gay/Associated Press

    Dates: November 21-22

    Location: Brooklyn, New York

    Semifinals: Notre Dame vs. Colorado, Texas vs. Northwestern

    Dream Championship: Notre Dame vs. Texas

    The Legends Classic is similar to the NIT Season Tip-Off, but instead of three bubbly teams and Temple likely going 0-2, this one is three bubbly teams and Texas likely going 2-0.

    The Longhorns lost a ton of seniors, but they struck oil on the recruiting market with the additions of Jarrett Allen, Andrew Jones, James Banks and Jacob Young. It's the country's fifth-best recruiting class in the country and enough to make Texas a fringe-but-legitimate threat for the 2017 national championship.

    But this early in the season, will those young players have jelled enough to take down the competition?

    Colorado lost Josh Scott and Tre'Shaun Fletcher. Notre Dame moves on without Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste. And Northwestern is hoping to finally make it to an NCAA tournament despite losing Tre Demps and Alex Olah. But all three have major pieces waiting in the wings who could keep them from falling apartColorado's Xavier Johnson and Northwestern's Vic Law returning from injuries that cost them the entire 2015-16 season and Notre Dame's Temple Gibbs as an impact freshman.

    Not one of those three teams figures to open the season in the AP Top 25, but each one has the talent to eventually get there and could use the Legends Classic as a springboard to reach that goal.

6. Puerto Rico Tip-off

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    Trevon Bluiett
    Trevon BluiettJasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

    Dates: November 17-20

    Location: San Juan, Puerto Rico

    Quarterfinals: Clemson vs. Davidson, Missouri vs. Xavier, Arizona State vs. Northern Iowa, Tulane vs. Oklahoma

    Likely Semifinals: Clemson vs. Xavier, Arizona State vs. Oklahoma

    Dream Championship: Xavier vs. Oklahoma

    At first glance, this looks like one of the strongest tournaments. Xavier is certainly a preseason Top 25 team, Clemson and Oklahoma will both be right on the fringe of that first poll, and Davidson could be the best team in the A-10 in Jack Gibbs' final year.

    On second glance, though, Xavier might as well have a bye into the semifinals, and Oklahoma should get to the championship game without breaking a sweat, because the other four teams in this field have little to no hope of dancing in 2017.

    If things break properly and if Clemson is as good as we think it could be, there are a few games in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off that will be worth watchingparticularly the semifinal between Clemson and Xavier. But this tournament also might become unattractive in a hurry to everyone other than Xavier fansparticularly if Oklahoma gets upset in either of its first two games.

5. Advocare Invitational

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    Josh Perkins (13) and Mark Few
    Josh Perkins (13) and Mark FewJames Snook-USA TODAY Sports

    Dates: November 24-27

    Location: Lake Buena Vista, Florida

    Quarterfinals: Indiana State vs. Iowa State, Miami vs. Stanford, Gonzaga vs. Quinnipiac, Seton Hall vs. Florida

    Likely Semifinals: Iowa State vs. Miami, Gonzaga vs. Seton Hall

    Dream Championship: Iowa State vs. Gonzaga

    The Advocare Invitational has a lot of potential. It's hard to complain about Miami vs. Stanford or Seton Hall vs. Florida as guaranteed games in an eight-team tournament, and the possible semifinal pairings here are drastically better than any we've encountered to this point in the list.

    It's also possible that Gonzaga runs a freight train through a field otherwise devoid of elite teams.

    In our offseason projection of the 2017 NCAA tournament field from early June, Gonzaga was the No. 12 overall seed. Meanwhile, Iowa State was No. 39 with Miami (41), Seton Hall (42) and Florida (second team out) not far behind. And, if anything, Gonzaga has only further separated itself from that pack since then by adding California graduate-transfer Jordan Mathews. The Zags now may open the season as a Top 10 team.

    But with four projected tournament teams and a fifth just barely on the wrong side of the bubble, we're finally getting somewhere with these early-season tournaments. Thus far, they have mostly boiled down to one quality team and a bunch of question marks or no star power at all. From this point forward, though, these are the ones most likely to breed a NCAA tournament atmosphere, because they're loaded with likely tournament teams.

4. Wooden Legacy

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    Bryce Alford (20) and Isaac Hamilton (10)
    Bryce Alford (20) and Isaac Hamilton (10)Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

    Dates: November 24-27

    Location: Fullerton and Anaheim, California

    Quarterfinals: Texas A&M vs. Cal State-Northridge, New Mexico vs. Virginia Tech, Dayton vs. Nebraska, UCLA vs. Portland

    Likely Semifinals: Texas A&M vs. Virginia Tech, Dayton vs. UCLA

    Dream Championship: Virginia Tech vs. UCLA

    Let this brief Wooden Legacy preview serve as your two-part warning that Virginia Tech will make the 2017 NCAA tournament and that UCLA has the horses to win the Big Dance.

    The Hokies have missed nine consecutive dances, but if you watched them late in the 2015-16 season, their portion of the above statement should come as no surprise. They won seven of their final nine games, including an emphatic victory over Miami and four more wins over quality foes (Pittsburgh, Princeton and Florida State twice). With Ahmed Hill returning from an injury that kept him out all of last year, they should have more than enough ammo to get an at-large bid this year.

    And to address the other half of that opening sentence, UCLA adds two 5-star guys and a total of three top-50 players to a rotation that's only losing Tony Parker and Jonah Bolden. Aaron Holiday averaged 10.3 points and 4.0 assists per game as a freshman who started every game in 2015-16, but he'll more than likely be bumped to a reserve role to make room for Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf. The Bruins may be a disaster on defense, but their offense is going to be incredible.

    To that pair of intriguing teams, add Texas A&M and Dayton as potential preseason Top 25 squads and New Mexico as a mid-major sleeper with Elijah Brown and Tim Williams and you've got a strong field. Three of the four quarterfinals games will probably be blowouts, but everything else in the Wooden Legacy should be great.

3. Hall of Fame Tip-Off

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    Grayson Allen
    Grayson AllenSteve Helber/Associated Press

    Dates: November 19-20

    Location: Uncasville, Connecticut

    Semifinals: Duke vs. Penn State, Cincinnati vs. Rhode Island

    Dream Championship: Duke vs. Rhode Island

    Whether the Hall of Fame Tip-Off is a good tournament or a great one will hinge on whether this is the year Penn State becomes nationally relevant again.

    Duke is the clear favorite to win the 2017 national championship and the even clearer favorite to win this tournament. In Frank Jackson, Grayson Allen, Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles and Marques Bolden, Duke's entire starting five (if that's the one Mike Krzyzewski goes with) may open the season on the official watch list for the Wooden Award. It's ridiculous how much talent the Blue Devils have, and whether you love or hate them, you'll want to watch this team as much as possible in 2016-17.

    Cincinnati has won at least 22 games in six consecutive seasons, and that streak is unlikely to end this year. The Bearcats lost a number of key pieces, but they still have Troy Caupain and Gary Clark and add to that duo NC State transfer Kyle Washington and a solid freshman shooting guard in Jarron Cumberland.

    In the past 17 years, Rhode Island has had one four-week stint in the AP Top 25, but the Rams should join Gonzaga and Saint Mary's as the non-major constituents in this year's preseason Top 25. With E.C. Matthews returning from injury and the invaluable experience Jarvis Garrett and Jared Terrell gained last year because of that injury to Matthews, Rhode Island should have one of the country's better starting fives.

    That just leaves the Nittany Lions, who add a pair of top-100 recruits (Tony Carr and Lamar Stevens), as well as a redshirt freshman who just barely missed out on a top-100 ranking last year: 247Sports' No. 102 Mike Watkins. Along with that infusion of talented youth, they add some championship experience via Connecticut transfer Terrence Samuel.

    Penn State won't beat Duke, but if it can put up a respectable fight in both of its games, there won't be a single dud on either side of this bracket. Good luck saying that about any other tournament.

2. Battle 4 Atlantis

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    Quentin Snider
    Quentin SniderCharles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    Dates: November 23-25

    Location: Paradise Island, Bahamas

    Quarterfinals: Michigan State vs. St. John's, Baylor vs. VCU, LSU vs. Wichita State, Louisville vs. Old Dominion

    Likely Semifinals: Michigan State vs. Baylor, Wichita State vs. Louisville

    Dream Championship: Michigan State vs. Louisville

    We can probably all agree that 23 early-season tournaments is way too many. With a total of 132 teams competing in those events, the pool is nearly twice as large as that of the NCAA tournament and roughly three times as long as the list of teams with good enough resumes to go dancing via an at-large bid. There's just no way to make more than six or seven can't-miss early-season tournaments.

    And with the Battle 4 Atlantis and Maui Invitational hauling in so many potential title contenders, they might be the only two that all college basketball fans must watch.

    Case in point, Michigan State will be the favorite to win the Battle 4 Atlantis and will face the most intriguing potential path of any team encountered thus far on this list.

    After the opener against a St. John's team in rapid rebuilding mode, the Spartans will likely draw a pair of preseason Top 25 teams in Baylor and Louisvilleprovided those teams can even get that far. The Bears have a brutal quarterfinal draw in VCU, while the Cardinals will face either LSU or Wichita State in their second game, neither of which will be a pushover.

    Frankly, aside from perhaps Old Dominion, every team in this field has at least some hope of making the 2017 NCAA tournament as an at-large team. And Michigan State, Louisville and Baylor have aspirations of winning it. The Battle 4 Atlantis is loaded, but it barely even compares to the No. 1 tourney.

1. Maui Invitational

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    Justin Jackson
    Justin JacksonBill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

    Dates: November 21-23

    Location: Lahaina, Hawaii

    Quarterfinals: Tennessee vs. Wisconsin, Georgetown vs. Oregon, Connecticut vs. Oklahoma State, North Carolina vs. Chaminade

    Likely Semifinals: Wisconsin vs. Oregon, Connecticut vs. North Carolina

    Dream Championship: Oregon vs. North Carolina

    This field is downright ridiculous.

    North Carolina, Oregon and Wisconsin should each open the 2016-17 season ranked in the Top 10. Connecticut and Georgetown might not make the Top 25, but they should both get votes. Oklahoma State is a breakout candidate with a healthy Jawun Evans and Phil Forte. Tennessee should be moderately competitive in Rick Barnes' second season at the helm. And there's always the chance/hope that Chaminade will shock the world by beating a D-I opponent.

    The obvious intrigue is the possibility the winners' side of the bracket will yield two games between serious Final Four threats. But let's give a shoutout to the losers' side of the bracket, too. Georgetown vs. Tennessee and Oklahoma State vs. Chaminade is a better four-team field than most of the actual four-team fields.

    There's no terrible outcome from this tournament. Even if there is a big upset (say, Georgetown toppling Oregon), that leads to a scenario where the Hoyas enter the semifinals with the hope of beating three Top 10 teams in three days, which would inevitably catapult them into the Top 10 of the following poll.

    Maybe you won't want to watch the battle for seventh place between Tennessee and Chaminade, but that's about the only game of the Maui Invitational you can afford to miss.

    Recruiting rankings are courtesy of 247Sports

    Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.

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