This week, it really begins. The past two weeks were simply an unofficial college basketball pre-season, consisting of a few major games and a handful of exhibition games that happen to count towards regular season records. Now, it’s time to prepare yourself. Starting Monday night, and continuing throughout the week, there are almost a dozen tournaments to pay attention to, some containing monster matchups you won’t want to miss. And even though Thanksgiving is known for its football, college hoops will be on all day as well, continuing on into the rest of the weekend. There won’t be a week for the rest of the non-conference season that will be as exciting and action-packed as this one.
(Note that all listed times are central.)
GAME OF THE WEEK
CBE Classic Semi-Finals and Finals
Kicking off the grand opening of the Sprint Center in Kansas City is the College Basketball Experience Classic. With no upsets in the opening rounds of the tournament, the four teams the tournament was built for will be facing off. The first semi-final between UCLA and Maryland becomes much more even now that Bruins’ point guard Darren Collison will sit out with an injury. UCLA has a national championship caliber team, but it is a different team without their floor general. The Terps may have a shot in this one, but there won’t be much room for error against a team as good as UCLA. In the next semi-final, Missouri will look to knock off 12th ranked Michigan State, and the Tigers have the benefit of playing in their home state just a few hours away from the university’s campus. Both teams will look to push the pace, but the key will be how the Spartans handle the Tigers’ frenetic full court pace and if the Tigers can avoid being abused on the boards.
Unless Maryland or Missouri can steal a win - and that could definitely happen - the showdown between UCLA and Michigan State will be a fantastic basketball game, and probably the biggest matchup of this young season. If the Bruins had Collison, it’d be their game to lose, but without him, this game couldn’t be more evenly matched. If you get ESPNU, check out the consolation game before the finals. Assuming Maryland faces Missouri, the Terps will need to play much better than their early season performance would indicate, struggling with both Hampton and Northeastern.
OTHER MUST-SEE MATCHUPS
NIT Pre-Season Tip-Off Semi-Finals and Finals
The most appealing aspect of the Pre-Season NIT is the fact that there is no clear favorite. Any of the four teams could easily win the entire thing, so the semi-finals, finals, and consolation game will all be entertaining. Washington is the one team that may be a step lower than the others, but with a little luck they may be able to knock off the favored Texas A&M in the semi-finals. The Huskies better find a way to stop the Aggies vaunted frontcourt duo of Joseph Jones and DeAndre Jordan, though. Syracuse was tested by two good teams in Siena and St. Joseph’s, and Orange fans must be encouraged that their team came away with two victories. Now, Syracuse will take on an even better opponent in Ohio State, who will face its first formidable opponent of the season.
If Texas A&M can get past Washington, either Syracuse or Ohio State will be awaiting them - the winner of that game is, as they would say in an election, “too close to call.” The Aggies are the highest-ranked team left in the field, but both the Orange and the Buckeyes are good enough to take them out. Texas A&M’s experience may play a factor considering both Syracuse and Ohio State are relatively young teams.
NIT Maui Invitational
One of the most prestigious tournaments this week is of course the Maui Invitational, which has provided top-notch basketball for years. If you want to find a way to get through these next three days until Thanksgiving, look no further than this tournament, which will run all day Monday, as well as Tuesday and Wednesday night. The only downside to the Maui Invitational is the consolation games won’t be too exciting with the likes of Chaminade and Princeton in the field. Look for Marquette, Oklahoma State, Duke, and Illinois to advance to the semi-finals, and expect to see a rematch of last season’s CBE Classic final between Marquette and Duke. Neither team has much of a frontcourt, so this game will be a battle of guard play.
Legends Classic Semi-Finals and Finals
New Mexico State vs. Texas contains an interesting storyline considering the two teams met in last season’s NCAA tournament. The Aggies gave the Longhorns a bit of a scare before Kevin Durant and company pulled away eventually. New Mexico State didn’t even look like they belonged on the same floor as Duke last week, though, and they will need to do a complete 180 degree turn if they want any shot at taking out Texas. West Virginia is a work in progress under Bob Huggins, whereas Tennessee has real aspirations of a Final Four this year. If New Mexico State and West Virginia lose like they are supposed to, the matchup between Texas and Tennessee will actually give people a reason to watch Versus.
This tournament may be littered with low-major squads, but Mississippi State, Southern Illinois, and USC all have a shot to take home the title. The Bulldogs will take on Chris Lowery’s club, assuming neither team is upset in the first round, and USC seemingly has an easy path to the finals, as long as they don’t trip up along the way. That sets up two games in this tournament worthy of watching, and neither game will disappoint.
Arizona at Kansas
Part of the inaugural Big 12/Pac 10 Challenge, Kansas will finally see how it fares against legitimate competition. Arizona will be without Lute Olson once again, who is out indefinitely for personal reasons. The Wildcats are starting an unfortunate trend of underachieving, and their reputation didn’t get any better with their recent loss to Virginia at home. One of Arizona’s main problems is shaky point guard play, as superstar freshman Jerryd Bayless is forced to play out of position at the point. This one is a game Kansas should win, but Arizona certainly has the talent to compete with the Jayhawks.
Old Spice Classic
Football not doing it for you? Turn to ESPN2, where all weekend you’ll be able to check out the Old Spice Classic. The best matchup of the entire tournament is undoubtedly the semi-final game between Villanova and the winner of George Mason/Kansas State. Michael Beasley alone should be enough to carry KSU into the second round, but GMU is an experienced team capable of pulling the upset. North Carolina State has a relatively easy path to the finals, although its loss to New Orleans on Sunday is not encouraging.
OTHER GAMES OF INTEREST
Great Alaskan Shootout
There’s nothing like some basketball in the middle of the night on Thanksgiving weekend, is there? If you can stay up late enough to watch this tournament (you’ll probably need to adjust your normal sleeping pattern), there’s some good basketball being played out in Alaska. Butler, Virginia Tech, and Texas Tech should get past the first round fairly easily, but Gonzaga could have some real trouble with Western Kentucky. Led by star Courtney Lee, the Hilltoppers' high-scoring attack could give the Bulldogs a real scare. With both Michigan and Virginia Tech down this season, Butler pretty much has a trip straight to the finals, but the rest of the bracket is unclear. If WKU can take out Gonzaga, they have a real shot at winning the entire tournament. The wide open field combined with the cool setting of Alaska deep into the night makes this tournament an interesting one to keep an eye on.