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.
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.