Tag: North Carolina

It’s never too early…

Although the college basketball season has just started, some crucial games will be played over the next couple of weeks. These early-season games can often be forgotten about once we reach the rigors of conference play, but teams can win and lose games in November that will impact how the committee views them when the bracket gets put together in March. This is true now perhaps more than ever. Every year seems to see more underclassmen declaring for the NBA Draft, which means that top-tier programs deal with extreme roster turnover and may take some time to sort out their rotations. Suspended players and transfers who become eligible in the second semester can also mean teams are starting the season some way below full-strength. On the other side of things, teams with experience and stability may sense opportunities for upsets that might be harder to achieve later in the season.

All this underlines the importance of early-season tournaments and inter-conference series. Where in years past the Maui Invitational and Great Alaska Shootout were the main early-season tournaments that attracted marquee programs, there are now over a dozen tournaments, plus several doubleheader that feature big-time matchups. Nearly every team with postseason aspirations will appear in at least one of these tournaments, and with so many teams filling the majority of their out-of-conference schedules with cupcakes, the tournaments provide big opportunities for teams to rack up wins against quality opponents. Here’s a recap of some of the games already played, and a look at some of the tournaments taking place over the next week:

Gavitt Tipoff Games – The Gavitt Tipoff Games featured eight matchups between teams from the Big East and Big Ten. In contrast to tournaments played at neutral sites, these games are played at campus sites, and thus allow for teams to gain true road wins that are highly valued by the NCAA Tournament committee. Xavier made a statement by traveling to Madison to defeat Wisconsin. The Badgers are perhaps not as strong as they have been in recent seasons, but the Kohl Center is never an easy place for visiting teams. Minnesota and Creighton also picked up nice road wins over potential NCAA tournament teams in Providence and Northwestern respectively, and Purdue handled Marquette in Milwaukee. Maryland defeated Butler in College Park, a win that might become even more important in March.

2K Classic – A four team tournament held at Madison Square Garden saw Providence take home the title, over a field that also included Saint Louis, Virginia Tech, and Washington. Providence may have hoped for a matchup with Virginia Tech, who should be an NCAA Tournament contender, but the Hokies were upset in the semifinals. Tech will root for Saint Louis to have a solid season, in hopes that their loss to the Billikens won’t look so bad.

Charleston Classic – An eight team field with the most noticeable names being Auburn, Temple, and Clemson. Auburn, missing their top two big men due to suspension, were upset by Temple in the semifinals. Temple will now play Clemson in the final tomorrow, and either team could gain a key win. Temple, featuring the sweet-shooting Quinton Rose and versatile forward Obi Enechionyia, are a sleeper team in the American Athletic Conference.

Puerto Rico Tip-Off (held in Conway, SC)The aftermath of Hurricane Maria meant this tournament had to be relocated to Coastal Carolina University. While not featuring many traditional heavy hitters, South Carolina were a notable name after their run to the Final Four last season. The Gamecocks, however, were stunned by Illinois St., who were then blown out in the semifinals by Boise St. The Broncos, led by do-it-all swingman Chandler Hutchison, could add a big win to their resume in the tournament final, where they will play Iowa St.

Upcoming tournaments

Hall of Fame Classic (Nov. 20-21; Kansas City) – Baylor, Creighton, UCLA, Wisconsin.

Lots of potential for quality wins here. UCLA’s suspension of three freshman after their shoplifting fiasco in China has meant the Bruins are lacking a lot of depth, so it will be interesting to see how they fare against some good teams.

Maui Invitational (Nov. 20-22; Lahaina, HI) – California, Chaminade, LSU, Marquette, Michigan, Notre Dame, VCU, Wichita St.

It’s a loaded field headed to Maui, as usual. Notre Dame-Michigan could be a marquee matchup if both teams win their first games. And with quality wins perhaps being at a premium in the Atlantic 10 this year, VCU will see this as an opportunity to make a statement.

Cayman Islands Classic (Nov. 20-22; George Town, Cayman Islands) – Buffalo, Cincinnati, Iowa, Louisiana, Richmond, South Dakota St., UAB, Wyoming.

Cincinnati will look to live up to its early season hype in the Caribbean, where Iowa will likely be their biggest challenger. Buffalo, Louisiana, and South Dakota St. are among the top contenders in their respective conferences.

Battle 4 Atlantis (Nov. 22-24; Nassau, Bahamas) – Arizona, NC State, Northern Iowa, Purdue, SMU, Tennessee, Villanova, Western Kentucky.

This has quickly become one of the premier early-season tournaments, and in Arizona and Villanova it features two teams currently ranked in the AP Top 5. NC State, SMU, and Tennessee could all get a major boost with a couple wins in the Bahamas.

NIT Season Tip-Off (Nov. 23-24; Brooklyn) – Rhode Island, Seton Hall, Vanderbilt, Virginia.

Seton Hall looks like a strong contender in the Big East, but the rest of these teams could all be on the bubble come March.

AdvoCare Invitational (Nov. 23-24, 26; Lake Buena Vista, FL) – Central Florida, Long Beach St., Marist, Missouri, Nebraska, Oregon St., St. John’s, West Virginia.

West Virginia will likely make the NCAA Tournament, but might need some resume-boosting wins to help their seeding if the Big 12 has a down year. Central Florida, Missouri, Oregon St., and St. John’s all look like bubble teams who would love to add a quality win or two. Missouri will hope that their ballyhooed freshman Michael Porter Jr. can return from a leg injury to play.

Phil Knight Invitational (Nov. 23-24, 26; Portland, OR) – Victory Bracket: Arkansas, DePaul, Michigan St., North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Portland, UConn. Motion Bracket: Butler, Duke, Florida, Gonzaga, Ohio St., Portland St., Stanford, Texas.

In honor of Phil Knight’s 80th birthday, Portland will host a behemoth of a tournament, featuring two separate brackets full of college basketball royalty. There could be implications for seeding at the top of the NCAA Tournament bracket, Gonzaga and Oregon will get to test out their reloaded rosters, and Oklahoma, Texas, and UConn will look for big wins after missing the NCAAs last season.

Preseason Top 25

A brief look at the top contenders for the 2017/18 college basketball season.

1. Duke – Grayson Allen is the only significant holdover on the roster, but the late addition of Marvin Bagley makes an already great recruiting class even stronger. Much will depend on how well freshman Trevon Duval settles in at the point.

2. Michigan St. – Miles Bridges was the rare NBA-level talent who returned to school. He’s accompanied by one of the deepest supporting casts in the country, with strong rebounding and 3-point shooting, and heady point guard play.

3. Arizona – Could this be the year Sean Miller’s Wildcats get over the hump and make it to the Final Four? Do-it-all guard Allonzo Trier leads a strong returning group of players, and freshman DeAndre Ayton is a likely NBA lottery pick.

4. Kentucky – Death, taxes, and John Calipari bringing in one of the best recruiting classes in the country – what else is new? Kentucky reloads with another group of long, skilled, and versatile freshman to compete for a national championship. Consistent point guard play might be their only question mark.

5. Kansas – Few teams have backcourts that can compete with that of the Jayhawks, who will again be the prohibitive Big 12 favorites. Senior guard Devonte’ Graham will be the leader, but much will also depend on the development of big men Udoka Azubuike and Billy Preston (no, not that Billy Preston).

6. USC – Andy Enfield has built the Trojans into a contender with his up-tempo style. Five returning starters, led by forward Bennie Boatwright, will challenge Arizona for Pac-12 supremacy.

7. Wichita St. – The Shockers make a major step up as they move from the Missouri Valley to the American Athletic Conference. Otherwise, continuity reigns with Landry Shamet a star in the making at the point, and plenty of size and talent up front.

8. Xavier – Nearly all of the team that reached the Elite Eight last season returns, led by All-American candidate Trevon Blueitt. Top 60 recruits Naji Marshall and Paul Scruggs will add depth to an experienced core.

9. Cincinnati – The Bearcats bring back their entire starting frontcourt, featuring the skilled and tough Jacob Evans. Transfer Cane Broome will man the point, and much will come down to how well he can replace experienced leader Troy Caupain.

10. Villanova – Jalen Brunson is the only starter remaining from the 2016 national championship winning team, but Jay Wright has continued to bring talented players to Philly, and will ensure that the Wildcats continue to play elite defense.

11. Minnesota – Four double-digit scorers, led by point guard Nate Mason, along with the physical presence of Reggie Lynch at center, return for the Golden Gophers. Expectations will be higher than usual in the Twin Cities this season.

12. Texas A&M – The talent, led by NBA prospect Robert Williams, in in place. Point guard was a problem last season, and the Aggies hope that solidifying that position will see them fulfill their potential.

13. Miami-FL – McDonald’s All-American Lonnie Walker joins an immensely gifted backcourt, and Dewan Huell is a breakout candidate up front. Improved 3-point shooting and replacing Kamari Murphy’s defense in the post will be the keys.

14. West Virginia – Jevon Carter leads an experienced group on the perimeter, but the Mountaineers will need young players in the frontcourt to develop and contribute. Expect the usual emphasis on defense – Bob Huggins wouldn’t have it any other way.

15. North Carolina – The defending national champs lose a lot of talent and experience, but Joel Berry II will be an All-American candidate if he returns from a broken hand at full strength. Pitt transfer Cameron Johnson will be counted on to provide scoring.

16. Purdue – Replacing a player like Caleb Swanigan will not be an easy task, but the Boilermakers nearly every other key contributor from last year’s Sweet 16 team, and should once again be strong defensively.

17. Florida – Transfers Egor Koulechov and Jalen Hudson will join KeVaughan Allen in what should be a high-scoring lineup. Center John Egbunu’s physical presence will be important, but will miss a significant portion of the season as he recovers from a torn ACL.

18. Louisville – The upheaval at Louisville makes them a tough team to judge. The Cardinals have the talent for a Final Four run, especially if prized recruit Brian Bowen is declared eligible to play. David Padgett will provide stability on the bench after Rick Pitino’s firing, but there are still likely to be some hiccups for the rookie head coach.

19. St. Mary’s – The Gaels return four starters, including Australian big man Jock Landale, and will hope that transfer Cullen Neal will add scoring punch. Emmett Naar, another Aussie, is the leader in the backcourt.

20. Providence – After being one of the last four at-large teams in last season’s NCAA Tournament, the Friars bring back an experienced core led by forward Rodney Bullock and point guard Kyron Cartwright. A lack of size on the inside is their biggest weakness.

21. Gonzaga – After a heartbreaking loss to North Carolina in last season’s championship game, the Zags will try to reload with an experienced backcourt and breakout candidates Killian Tillie and Rui Hachimura joining Johnathan Williams up front.

22. Seton Hall – Angel Delgado, Khadeen Carrington, and Desi Rodriguez provide the Pirates with plenty of scoring and senior leadership. Rebounding should be a strength, while 3-point shooting will need to be improved.

23. UCLA – Assuming there is no major fallout from the recent arrest of three freshman (including Lonzo Ball’s brother LiAngelo) during the team’s trip to China, the Bruins should still be an NCAA Tournament team. Combo guard Aaron Holiday will be a key leader for a very young team.

24. TCU – It hasn’t taken Jamie Dixon long to turn his alma mater into a contender, but now the Horned Frogs need to turn last year’s progress into an NCAA appearance. Vladimir Brodziansky and Kenrich Williams will lead five returning starters hoping to do just that.

25. Alabama – Freshmen Collin Sexton and John Petty should form one of the nation’s most high-flying backcourts, and Braxton Key is an emerging star on the wing. Consistent frontcourt play and a non-conference schedule full of top-tier programs will be the biggest challenges for the Crimson Tide.