KANSAS CITY, MO - NOVEMBER 22: Missouri picked up a pair of resounding wins to claim the 2011 CBE Classic. Next season, they'll face a far stiffer challenge in the Bahamas. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Now that Thanksgiving 2011 is only a memory and the calendar will flip over to December in a matter of hours, the focus of college basketball is shifting from a two-week run of early season tournaments to conference challenges and neutral-site showcases, at least until we have a few final in-season events before the New Year.
Yet that doesn't mean it's too early to start thinking about next season's schedule, especially since a number of intriguing fields for 2012 have already been announced. So, in what has become an annual tradition on this blog, it's time to look forward to what's ahead at the beginning of next season. (More after the jump...)
First, I'll remind you of the main 2012 Maui Invitational field, which was announced back in August. While not the lineup of 2011, it's still an impressive collection of teams: Butler, Chaminade, Illinois, Marquette, Mississippi State, North Carolina, USC, and Texas.
If that's not enough for you, a banner in the Lahaina Civic Center also revealed the field for 2013, one that has potential, but could also result in some disappointment, thanks to the presence of a few teams that aren't exactly the most consistent performers on the national stage: Arkansas, Baylor, California, Chaminade, Dayton, Gonzaga, Minnesota, and Syracuse.
The four "Maui on the Mainland" teams for both years are to be announced.
OK, back to 2012, though I warn you I will do some bouncing around from year-to-year as this post meanders around the continent. Be sure to take some Dramamine if you're a weak traveler.
The addition of four "Maui on the Mainland" teams allowed the event to give each of the seven teams traveling to Hawaii a fourth game, lining the event up with the proliferation of hybrid campus/neutral-site events and five-team round-robin events, which benefit teams by giving them an extra game under the exempt event rule. This season, the Paradise Jam elected to give a quartet of teams that fourth game, via a pair of campus-site contests. That resulted in Marquette playing Norfolk State twice, a blowout in Milwaukee and a far closer contest on St. Thomas. Well, according to the New Haven Register's David Borges, the event plans a format change for 2012 that will prevent a repeat of such a rematch. The eight-team event will be conducted in a pair of four-team pools, giving each team three games. Presumably, the fourth would be a crossover game to determine placing, with the group winners meeting for the championship, second place for third, and so on. These eight teams will conduct this experiment: Connecticut, George Mason, Illinois-Chicago, Iona, Mercer, New Mexico, Quinnipiac, and Wake Forest.
The newest event on the early season tournament calendar provided some of the biggest shocks of Thanksgiving, as Harvard defeated UCF in the final of the inaugural Battle 4 Atlantis, relegating the anticipated UConn-Florida State showdown to the third-place game. The second edition should be even more exciting, thanks to a power-packed lineup that could reunite Mike Krzyzewski and Johnny Dawkins, as well as Rick Pitino and Tubby Smith, along with longtime Conference USA rivals Louisville and Memphis. And there's also the presence of two of the most successful mid-majors of recent times. The field includes Duke, Louisville, Memphis, Minnesota, Missouri, Northern Iowa, Stanford, and VCU.
The fields for three of the five ESPN-owned events are mostly or entirely set, and not surprisingly many familiar names from fields past are included.
The fifth Charleston Classic field is missing just one team, and six of the seven announced teams are participating in an ESPN-owned event for at least the second time, with only St. John's making its debut. Baylor, College of Charleston, and Southern Illinois are on four entries; Boston College and Dayton are on three; while Colorado will make its second appearance, in consecutive years no less. The Cougars of the host Southern Conference return to the tournament played in their arena for the first time since the initial 2008 tournament, when they finished in third place.
As always, the 2012 Diamond Head Classic includes host Hawai'i, who will be members of the Big West Conference by the time next Christmas' tournament rolls around. The Warriors will be joined by Arizona, Miami, Mississippi, San Diego State, San Francisco, Texas Tech, and one team yet to be announced. Curiously, three of those teams will be making their respective debuts in an ESPN-run event, perhaps due to the call of O'ahu, with only Miami, Ole Miss, and Texas Tech appearing in one previously.
The lone ESPN event with a full set of eight teams is the Old Spice Classic. Each has appeared in at least one network-run event previously, and three clubs will make repeat trips to Lake Buena Vista--2008 champion Gonzaga, inaugural runner-up West Virginia, and Marist, who finished third in that 2006 opener. The other five entrants are Clemson, Davidson, Oklahoma, UTEP, and Vanderbilt. The Wildcats and Commodores will be familiar to the Mountaineers, as Bob Huggins' team defeated both on the first two days of the 2010 Puerto Rico Tip-Off.
Plus, as Andy Katz wrote a few weeks ago, conference realignment could wreak havoc with events like the 2012 Old Spice Classic. If West Virginia is successful in escaping the Big East after this season, it will share a field with conference-mate Oklahoma. There could be a similar issue with the NIT Season Tip-Off, even though its full field has yet to be announced (and probably won't be until the summer, as the NCAA-run event is typically one of the last to release its lineup). Katz writes that another Big East escapee, Pittsburgh, is slated to be in the field alongside future conference rival Virginia. A post on a Cleveland State message board indicates the Vikings will join the Panthers, Cavaliers, and Michigan, in the 2012 event.
Looking ahead, that Katz piece gives us several nuggets for future fields, several of which are many calendar turns away. Syracuse will play in the 2014 2K Sports Classic, with Duke representing the ACC in 2015, and Pitt in the next season's field. North Carolina and Syracuse will both play in future Battles 4 Atlantis, the Tar Heels in 2014 and the Orange one year later.
Other teams that are booked well into the future include Kansas, who will play in the 76 Classic next season, head to the Bahamas in 2013, stick close to home for the 2014 CBE Classic, before likely returning to Maui in 2015. Marquette will follow next year's trip to Maui with one to the 2013 76 Classic.
As for other 2012 events, friends of the blog Patrick Marshall of Creighton site White and Blue Review and Wisconsin fan Patrick Vogel e-mailed me to let me know about their teams' Thanksgiving plans. It turns out the Bluejays and Badgers will be in the same place, Las Vegas, where they'll participate in the Las Vegas Invitational, alongside Arizona State and Arkansas. The four visiting mid-majors for the event will be announced at a later date.
Finally, Kentucky and Maryland will highlight the inaugural Barclays Classic to be played in the Brooklyn Nets' new arena, the future home of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. Morehead State will play Long Island in the undercard of the doubleheader.
As always, if you have information about any early season tournaments, please respond in the comments or e-mail me at bloggingthebracket at gmail dot com.