The second greatest time of the year has arrived. For nine of the next ten days (all but this coming Saturday), teams will engage each other in elimination action, playing for trophies that mean little in the long run, but that provide a nice measuring stick for the early stages of the season. Additionally, these events often provide mid-major teams with their best opportunities to grab wins against power conference teams, at least in the cases where the mids haven't been completely removed from the equation in the first place.
Today, action begins in New York (the first of a pair of four-team events to be played there over the next week and a half); Charleston, South Carolina; and San Juan. Tomorrow, action begins in St. Thomas. On Monday, the spotlight heads in a more Westerly direction--to Kansas City and Maui. By the time Thursday rolls around, there will be action from coast-to-coast, primarily in areas that are still fairly warm for the fall, and way up north in Alaska.
After the jump, I'll have a rundown of today's schedule, tournament and otherwise, along with my picks for the three events that begin today.
Coaches vs. Cancer Semifinals (Bracket)
Pittsburgh vs. Maryland, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2): Both of these clubs have won one squeaker and two blowouts. Both are shooting an impressive percentage from the floor (.519 for Maryland and .490 for Pitt), but tonight's game will be a different challenge entirely. Pitt hasn't had to deal with an interior presence like Jordan Williams, while the Terps, who had issues with Charleston's Andrew Goudelock, will have to solve Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker.
Illinois vs. Texas, 9:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2): The Illini have been on a tear so far this season, winning their opening three games by an average of 28 points. On the surface, the Longhorns' average margin of victory of 31 looks more impressive, but Texas has started slowly in both of their games. Both teams have shown an aptitude for transition basketball so far, so this contest should be highly entertaining.
Tournament Pick: It wouldn't surprise me if any of these four won, so I'm just going to guess and take Illinois over Pitt in a close one.
Puerto Rico Tip-Off Quarterfinals (Bracket)
Davidson vs. West Virginia, 11:30 a.m. ET (ESPNU): These two have each played once, with diametrically opposed results. The Wildcats lost at Penn Friday night, while the Mountaineers had no trouble with Summit champ Oakland. I'm not expecting an upset here.
Nebraska vs. Vanderbilt, approx. 2 p.m. ET (ESPNU): Doc Sadler's team struggled with South Dakota in their opener, but looked to have gotten the rust off in a 43-point win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff Monday. However, the Commodores will be a different challenge entirely, especially if Jeffery Taylor and Brad Tinsley, fresh off the school's first triple-double, are firing on all cylinders.
Hofstra vs. North Carolina, 5 p.m. ET (ESPN2): This will be the Pride's first game against a Division I opponent, as they pounded Farmingdale State in the opener. Hofstra and the rest of the country, meet Harrison Barnes, the first freshman AP Preseason All-American. However, if the Tar Heels aren't sharp all the way (like against Lipscomb on Friday), they could be prone to an upset.
Western Kentucky vs. Minnesota, approx. 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN3 only): It's a shame that what could very well be the most entertaining game of the day is relegated to the Internet. Sergio Kerusch, Juan Pattillo, and Steffphon Pettigrew are all averaging 18 or more points per game for the Hilltoppers, who opened with a jawdropping 28-point win at St. Joseph's Friday. The Gophers, meanwhile, grabbed two home wins over NCAA teams from last season, Wofford and Siena, without Devoe Joseph. It was thought he might make the trip to the Caribbean, but that is not going to be the case. I'm officially flipping the Upset Alert switch on.
Tournament Pick: Shockingly, Vanderbilt looks to be the most dangerous team of this group. The Commodores knock off North Carolina, who gets pushed in the semis, in the final.
Charleston Classic Quarterfinals (Bracket)
Georgetown vs. Coastal Carolina, 12 p.m. ET (MASN/CSS): Not only does this tournament has a very regional field (and feel), but the Carolina First Center is going to feel downright home-like for the Chanticleers after Sunday. They already lost an 83-67 decision to the hometown Cougars on Tuesday, blowing a 12-point halftime lead in the process. Austin Freeman and Jason Clark will hope to shoot the Hoyas past the Chants, but Julian Vaughn may miss another game with an undisclosed illness.
USC Upstate vs. Wofford, approx. 2:30 p.m. ET (MASN/CSS): These two schools are 4.5 miles away from one another, but have yet to meet on the basketball court at the D-1 level. The Spartans are still transitioning from Division II, so they're ineligible for the Atlantic Sun and NCAA Tournaments. On the other hand, Noah Dahlman and the Terriers can't get caught looking ahead. After dropping consecutive games at Minnesota and Clemson, this tournament is their best chance at grabbing a marquee win before the SoCon season begins.
East Carolina vs. NC State, 6 p.m. ET (MASN/CSS): The Pirates are 2-0, but the wins came against Erskine and Campbell, so they could struggle against a Wolfpack team that has a lot of offensive firepower.
Charlotte vs. George Mason, approx. 8:30 p.m. ET (MASN/CSS): The 49ers struggled through their first two games, a loss against Gardner-Webb and a 9-point win over South Carolina State, thanks to suspensions. Everyone should be on the court against the Patriots, who opened with a 13-point win over Harvard Saturday. If Mason plays as well defensively as they did Saturday, it could be a long night for Charlotte.
Tournament Pick: Georgetown will have a bit too much defense and rebounding for NC State in the final.
There are several other non-tournament games on national television this evening.
USF at UCF, 7 p.m. ET (CBS College Sports): The I-4 rivals are both looking to finally make waves nationally.
Bowling Green at Michigan (Legends Classic), 7 p.m. ET (Big Ten Network): The Wolverines face the Falcons and Gardner-Webb before heading to Atlantic City for next weekend's finals.
Presbyterian at Kansas State, 8 p.m. ET (FS Kansas City/ESPN3): The Blue Hose, who were blasted by Vandy in their opener, will collect another beating/game check tonight.
Texas Southern at Oklahoma, 8 p.m. ET (Sooner Sports/ESPN3): The Sooners needed OT to dispatch North Carolina Central, who went 7-22 as an independent last season. Now they face a Tiger team that should contend in the SWAC.
Western Illinois at Missouri (Cancun Caribbean Challenge), 8 p.m. ET (Mizzou Sports/FS Midwest/ESPN3): This is the first of two on-campus games in this event for the Tigers, who are the clear favorites for the crown.
New Mexico State at Arizona, 8:30 p.m. ET (KWBA/FS Arizona/FCS Pacific): The WAC Tournament champs have a decent shot at upsetting the young Wildcats in Tucson.
Colorado State at Denver, 9 p.m. ET (FSN Rocky Mountain/FCS Central): After going 0-3 in Eugene, the Pioneers are still looking to crack the win column. They may struggle against a Ram team that could be a surprise in a strong Mountain West.
Virginia at Stanford, 10 p.m. ET (FSN/Comcast Sports Network): These two actually met in Cancun last Thanksgiving week, with the Cardinal grabbing a 5-point victory before scaring Kentucky in the final. Both teams have looked good early on. The Cavaliers picked up a surprisingly easy win over William & Mary and beat USC Upstate, while Stanford avenged a 2010 loss to San Diego with little trouble.
And there are of course other games tonight that deserve a follow, even if they aren't on readily-available TV:
- Morehead State at UNC Wilmington, 7 p.m. ET
- Florida State at Florida International, 7 p.m. ET
- Morgan State at Providence, 7 p.m. ET
- Richmond at Iona, 7:30 p.m. ET
- Jackson State at Baylor, 8 p.m. ET
- Austin Peay at Lipscomb, 8:15 p.m. ET
- North Florida at Wyoming (Cancun Caribbean Challenge), 9 p.m. ET
I'll be taking a half-day today, so expect to see updates both here and on Twitter.