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November 24, 2008

SCS.comHow much college basketball can you handle?

Feast Week is here, and that means college basketball will be on television all day from Monday through Sunday. The Maui Invitation and the Old Spice Classic will be the main attractions this week, with a combined seven top 25 teams participating in the two tournaments. The Pre-Season NIT features a possible Purdue/Oklahoma match-up, and the Anaheim Classic and the CBE Classic have strong fields as well. Plus, some of the most obscure tournaments actually feature some interesting match-ups—for example, have you ever heard of the Cancun Challenge? How about the Philly Hoop Group Classic, or the Global Sports Classic? The number of non-conference tourneys taking place this week is almost ridiculous, but who am I to complain? It just means we all get to enjoy even more college basketball during this festive Thanksgiving week.

Before we take a look at this week’s tournaments, lets reflect on the week that was:


UCLA goes down in 2k Sports Classic: We never got our dream match-up of UCLA and Duke, but the 2k Sports Classic at the Garden still provided some drama. In a stunning upset, John Beilein’s Michigan Wolverines advanced to the title game by downing UCLA in a low-scoring, defensive battle. Beilein has finally gotten through to his team, and for a second I thought I was watching one of his old West Virginia teams. Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims may not have a lot of help, but that duo can win some games in the Big Ten. UCLA, on the other hand, just looked lost last week. After sleepwalking through a narrow win over Miami (OH), the Bruins’ sloppy play caught up to them on Thursday in the loss to Michigan. With so many newcomers and so much inexperience at several positions, it’s not surprising that UCLA has struggled so early in the year.

Puerto Rico Tip-Off: After winning three close games, Xavier heads back to Cincinnati with the tournament championship. The Musketeers were able to squeak by Missouri in round one, and they edged Memphis by five points for the title last night. The closest call came in the second round against Virginia Tech, and by now you’ve probably seen the highlights of Dante Jackson’s half-court shot at the buzzer. Seton Hall has to leave Puerto Rico feeling good about itself, as it was able to knock off USC and Virginia Tech. With only cupcakes remaining on their non-conference schedule, Seton Hall may enter Big East play with only one loss. If the Pirates can manage to win seven or eight conference games, they may have a strong case for an NCAA tournament bid with their performance in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. Missouri also had a decent showing, as it nearly beat Xavier and knocked off USC on Sunday. The Trojans had a rough time on the island, and freshman DeMar DeRozan still needs time to adjust to the college game.

Wild games in the Pre-Season NIT: Curry vs. Griffin didn’t disappoint, as Oklahoma held off a Davidson rally and won 82-78. After the Sooners built a 21 point lead in the second half, the Wildcats went on a 14-0 run that seemed to take about 30 seconds. Davidson kept the game in reach but could never overtake the Sooners, and it was an encouraging effort on the road in a tough atmosphere. After that game, UAB and Arizona played a late-night game in Tuscon that went down to the wire. Hopefully, you stayed up for that game, because it ended in an unbelievable way, with Arizona losing the game by mistakenly fouling the Blazers twice in the final minute.


Maui Invitational
Monday through Wednesday (ESPN network)
Teams of note: North Carolina, Texas, Notre Dame, Oregon, Alabama, Indiana, St. Joseph’s

As one of the classic Thanksgiving week tournaments, the Maui Invitational features three teams with Final Four aspirations in North Carolina, Texas and Notre Dame. The latter two teams will most likely face each other in Tuesday’s second round game at 6:00 PM central, which will mark the first top ten match-up of the season. Both teams have prolific offenses—especially the Irish—so a lot of points should be scored. The winner of that game will likely face North Carolina in the finals. Though the Heels are the favorites to win it all in March, it’s still November, and injury problems are leaving them vulnerable. If North Carolina, Texas and Notre Dame make it to the semi-finals, Tuesday and Wednesday will be a dream for college basketball fans.

Even some of the consolation games may be exciting. Indiana and St. Joseph’s are likely to meet on Tuesday, and that game will give us an idea of how competitive the Hoosiers will be this year. Oregon and Alabama actually meet in the first round, and that is an important game for both teams, though it doesn’t seem very important on the surface. The winner of that game goes on to face North Carolina and then probably Texas/Notre Dame. The loser, on the other hand, plays Chaminade and possibly St. Joseph’s or Indiana. Arizona State missed the tournament last year because of its weak non-conference schedule, and its RPI took a hit because it lost an opening round game in Maui and had to play lesser competition. Alabama especially has been touted as a possible NCAA tournament team, so a loss would be crippling on Monday.

Old Spice Classic
Thursday through Sunday (ESPN network)
Teams of note: Michigan State, Gonzaga, Tennessee, Georgetown, Oklahoma State, Maryland

What are you doing on Thanksgiving weekend? Hopefully not watching football, because the Old Spice Classic is the tournament to watch on Thursday, Friday and Sunday. First, on Thursday, Tennessee, Michigan State and Gonzaga should be on upset alert (Georgetown should take care of Wichita State pretty easily). The Volunteers, facing Siena, have the toughest first round task. Against a team that destroyed Vanderbilt in last year’s NCAA tournament, Tennessee will have trouble advancing to the second round. Michigan State and Gonzaga will face Maryland and Oklahoma State respectively, and though they will be heavily favored, these are still difficult match-ups. Gary Williams’ program has slipped in recent years, but Greivis Vazquez can single-handedly win a game for Maryland, and the Cowboys have installed an up-tempo system under Travis Ford that could bother the Bulldogs.

Stay glued to your television on Friday and Sunday as well for the semi-finals and title game. A Michigan State/Gonzaga game, though not a guarantee as I mentioned above, would be better than any football game on TV (you can watch 10-1 Tennessee vs. 0-11 Detroit if you want). And, no matter what team Georgetown plays, either Siena or Tennessee will provide the Hoyas with a stiff test. The consolation games, like Maui, could be interesting as well. Maryland and Oklahoma State both believe they are in contention for an NCAA tournament, so it is important for them to pick up some wins over name opponents in Orlando.

Pre-Season NIT
Semi-Finals Wednesday, Finals Friday (ESPN network)
Teams of note: Purdue, Oklahoma, Boston College, UAB

You got a taste of the Pre-Season NIT last week, and in this Friday’s title game, Purdue and Oklahoma will likely square off in a battle of defensive-minded squads. The Sooners survived a scare against Gardner-Webb this weekend, and looked like a different team than the one that beat Davidson. Blake Griffin has lived up to all of the hype so far this year, and Purdue's strength isn’t in the paint, so Oklahoma has the advantage there. The Boilermakers have not been tested yet this year, and if they make it to Friday’s title game, we will find out just how ready they are to compete for a Big Ten championship and maybe even a Final Four.

Anaheim Classic
Thursday through Sunday (ESPN network)
Teams of note: Wake Forest, Baylor, Arizona State, Providence, St. Mary’s, UTEP, Charlotte

Since the Great Alaska Shootout has basically been destroyed, the Anaheim Classic is now the Thanksgiving tournament that provides fans with basketball in the middle of the night. Played in the pacific time zone, a couple of this tournament’s games will start close to midnight eastern time. The intriguing start time isn’t the only appealing thing about this tourney—there will be some great competition as well. St. Mary’s and Wake Forest should face each other in the second round, and that will be a close battle between the experienced Gaels and the young but talented Demon Deacons.

There’s no telling what might happen in the bottom bracket, whose first round games include Charlotte/Arizona State and Providence/Baylor. The favorites to advance are Arizona State and Baylor, but both will have very challenging first round games. Charlotte especially will be a tough game for the Sun Devils, as the 49ers nearly knocked off Clemson this weekend and are predicted to finish near the top of the Atlantic Ten.

CBE Classic
Semi-Finals and Finals, Monday and Tuesday (ESPN network)
Teams of note: Kansas, Washington, Syracuse, Florida

It’s time to find out how much the Jayhawks are reeling after losing all five starters from last year’s championship squad. If they get past Washington—who has already lost to Portland— their real test will come against Syracuse or Florida. That game, by the way, should be a dandy. With more depth and a healthier squad, the Orange are ready to compete in the brutal Big East. The Gators already look improved over last year, but Monday’s game against the ‘Cuse will tell us even more about Billy Donovan’s young squad.

Legends Classic
Semi-Finals and Finals, Monday and Tuesday (HDNet)
Teams of note: Pittsburgh, Texas Tech, Washington State, Mississippi State

Believe it or not, I’m actually looking forward to the Legends Classic. Go ahead and laugh at me for being excited about a tournament that includes a ranked team and three other middle-of-the-pack BCS-conference teams. I understand why the Legends Classic is going to get lost in the shuffle this weekend, but I am still interested in it for a couple of reasons. First, how healthy is Levance Fields and is Pittsburgh good enough to win the Big East? How much of a step back—if any—will Washington State take after losing Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver? Are Mississippi State and Texas Tech flying under the radar? The Legends Classic will answer a lot of these questions.

Las Vegas Invitational
Friday through Sunday (ESPN network)
Teams of note: West Virginia, Iowa, Kentucky, Kansas State

This Sin City tournament has featured some outstanding basketball the past two years, but the 2008 version will be tamed down. West Virginia is the strongest of the four teams and should win the whole thing. I’ll be keeping an eye on the other three teams, and Iowa, Kentucky and Kansas State could build some nice momentum with a strong showing in Vegas.

Paradise Jam
Championship, Monday (Fox Sports)
Wisconsin vs. Connecticut

Connecticut dispatched of Miami and Wisconsin beat San Diego on Sunday, setting up this top 25 match-up tonight. The Huskies looked spectacular early on in their semi-final game, building a 30-14 lead, but looked a bit sluggish in the second half. Still, they won convincingly against a good Hurricanes team. The Badgers needed overtime to beat Iona, but played a strong game against San Diego on Sunday. The title game tonight is worth watching. The Huskies need to push the pace and use their speed and athleticism to overwhelm Wisconsin.


South Padre Island Invitational
Friday and Saturday
Notable teams: Illinois, Kent State, Tulsa and Texas A&M

All four teams could be in the NCAA tournament in March. A win or two in this tournament could help them get an at-large down the road.

Global Sports Classic
Friday and Saturday
Notable teams: California, UNLV, Florida State and Cincinnati

UNLV is probably the team that has the best shot of getting into the Dance in March, but the other three teams can at least make the NIT. This tournament almost seems made up and I am sure you won’t find any of the games on TV, but I’ll at least check the box scores of these games.

Philly Hoop Group Classic
Friday and Saturday
Notable teams: Villanova, Penn State, Rhode Island

I just said the Global Sports Classic sounded made up. But the Philly Hoop Group Classic? Where did this come from? Villanova should roll in this tournament.

Cancun Challenge
Saturday and Sunday
Notable teams: VCU, Vanderbilt, Drake, New Mexico

Puerto Rico, Hawaii and the Virgin Islands get tournaments, so why shouldn’t Mexico? Vanderbilt’s young squad lost at home for the first time in 20 games last week to Illinois. A possible match-up with the frenetic VCU Rams could spell trouble for the Commodores.

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