Time To Think About Holiday Travel: An Early Look At The 2011 Holiday Tournaments

Duke and Michigan played a thrilling Third Round NCAA game in Charlotte weeks ago. They may meet again in November's Maui Invitational, which looks to be the strongest of 2011's early season tournaments. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

It's been a little more than a week since the 2010-11 season ended with a disappointing National Championship Game (unless you happen to be a UConn fan), which means it's time to start thinking a little about 2011-12 campaign, particularly the lineup of early season events in November and December. With the price of airline tickets rising by the day, it may not be a bad idea to book your holiday trip to see your team now. That is, if your team has announced its participation in a tournament at this stage of the game.

An early look ahead to the 2011 exempt events, focused on those taking place at neutral sites, is after the jump.

The 76 Classic in Anaheim completed its field Monday, as the host Big West conference announced its representative, UC Riverside. The Highlanders will join the seven teams announced in November: Boston College (ACC), New Mexico (MWC), Oklahoma (Big 12), Saint Louis (A-10), Santa Clara (WCC), Villanova (Big East), and Washington State (Pac-12).

The field for the tournament at the other Disney park, the Old Spice Classic, will be substantial weaker than in recent years. Missouri Valley Champion Indiana State, the event's final entrant, is the only team of the eight who made the NCAAs this season. As for the other seven,

Arizona State (10th in the Pac-10, now Pac-12)
Dayton (A-10 Tournament Finalist, but 8th in the regular season)
DePaul (16th in the Big East)
Fairfield (MAAC Tournament Finalist, but regular season winner)
Minnesota (9th in the Big Ten)
Texas Tech (10th in the Big 12)
Wake Forest (12th in the ACC)

ESPN Regional Television is hoping for some improvement heading into the 2011-12 campaign.

The Puerto Rico Tip-Off still hasn't announced its eighth team, which will represent the host Big East. The options for that spot are numerous, but I suspect Louisville, will get it, despite a reluctance to play in tournaments like these in the past. Why? Cardinal coach Rick Pitino was named Puerto Rico national team coach last December. If its not the Cardinals, the remaining options are Cincinnati, Marquette, Pittsburgh, Providence (who participated in the inaugural event in 2007), South Florida, and Syracuse.

The mystery Big East team will join Alabama (SEC), Colorado (Pac-12), Iona (MAAC), Maryland (ACC), Purdue (Big Ten), Temple Owls (A-10), and Wichita State (MVC). The Crimson Tide, Buffaloes, and Shockers all closed the 2011 campaign at the NIT Final Four in New York, with Gregg Marshall's team claiming the crown.

However, I don't expect Syracuse to be the Big East representative in San Juan, simply because the full NIT Season Tip-Off field hasn't been announced. Teams are permitted to play in a particular exempt event once in a four-year period. (This is why Seton Hall and West Virginia aren't options for Puerto Rico.) The Orange last participated in the preseason NIT in (drumroll) 2007. As a nearly lifelong follower of the program, I highly doubt Athletic Director Daryl Gross (and Head Coach Jim Boeheim) will give up the opportunity to play two home games and another pair in Syracuse's second home, Madison Square Garden, to play three games at a neutral site.

As for the teams actually in the NIT field, Virginia Tech and George Mason are already confirmed and are likely to be placed in the same regional. Texas-San Antonio has also announced its participation. That leaves 13 spots open.

The Hokies, along with Georgia Tech, and Mississippi State, and Richmond, played in a doubleheader at the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas, which served as a test run for a new eight-team tournament that will start there this season. So far, National Champion Connecticut is the only confirmed team. The event will be sponsored by Conference USA.

Another tournament sponsored by C-USA, the Cancun Governor's Cup, appears to be on hold, as the address redirects to the ESPN Plus basketball home page. Kansas State (Big 12) and Southern Illinois (MVC), two teams originally slated to head to Mexico, were shifted to the ESPN-sponsored Diamond Head Classic in late February to fill that field. The Wildcats and Salukis will be joined by host Hawai'i (WAC), Auburn (SEC), UTEP (C-USA), Xavier (A-10), and exempt tournament rivals Clemson (ACC) and Long Beach State (Big West).

College of Charleston Cougars (Southern), Massachusetts (A-10), Rice (C-USA), and Utah (Pac-12) are the teams who may or may not be headed to the Mexican Riviera over Christmas week.

The Charleston Classic field lost Baylor, but received a nice boost, thanks to VCU's (CAA) run to the Final Four. The Rams will be joined by Georgia Tech (ACC), LSU (SEC), St. Joseph's (A-10), Seton Hall (Big East), Tulsa (C-USA), Western Kentucky (Sun Belt), and one other team, likely from the host Southern Conference. Much like the Old Spice Classic, ESPN Regional Television will be hoping for a breakthrough from at least one of the six non-NCAA qualifiers in this field.

Note that the College of Charleston, Davidson, and Wofford are ineligible to represent the SoCon in Charleston, as they served as host in the first three editions of the event.

The Maui Invitational still looks to be the strongest of the early season events, by far, even with Tennessee's (SEC) issues. The other teams joining the Volunteers and host Chaminade (D2, Pac West) are Duke (ACC), Georgetown (Big East), Kansas (Big 12), Memphis (C-USA), Michigan (Big Ten), and UCLA (Pac-12). The Wolverines, Blue Devils, and Vols were all in the same first weekend pod in Charlotte. Four mid-majors will be added to the field later, they'll participate in preliminary games with mainland power schools in mid-November.

The Gazelle Group events announced host schools for two of its three events. California (Pac-12), Georgia (SEC), and Notre Dame (Big East), all of whom participated in the Old Spice Classic last Thanksgiving are ticketed for the CBE Classic in Kansas City this year, alongside Missouri (Big 12).

The Coaches vs. Cancer event will have added significance this season, thanks to one of the coaches. St. John's (Big East), coached by Steve Lavin, who announced Friday that he's fighting prostate cancer, will be in the field, alongside Arizona (Pac-12), Mississippi State (SEC), and Texas A&M (Big 12).

The Legends Classic's quartet of host schools are still to be announced.

The Great Alaska Shootout, won by the Red Storm last November, continues to struggle to compete with the ESPN-televised events. Host Alaska-Anchorage (D2, GNAC) will be joined by Dartmouth (Ivy), Murray State (OVC), New Mexico State (WAC). This blog post lists USC (Pac-12), San Francisco (WCC), and Southern Mississippi (C-USA) as potential teams, but the Trojans are already committed to another event.

That happens to be the Basketball Tournaments, Inc.-run Las Vegas Invitational (the one over Thanksgiving weekend). The Trojans will be joined by North Carolina (ACC), UNLV (MWC), and South Carolina (SEC) in the major conference bracket, while Cal Poly (Big West), Mississippi Valley State (SWAC), Morgan State (MEAC), and Tennessee State (OVC) will visit the host schools pre-Thanksgiving and participate in a mid-major bracket at the Orleans Arena.

West Virginia is the only team that appears set for the Christmas-time Las Vegas Classic at the moment, however.

The four hosts for the Thanksgiving weekend Chicago Invitational Challenge appear to be Bradley (MVC), BYU (WCC), Nevada (WAC), and Wisconsin (Big Ten), which is a change from this September David Woods Indianapolis Star blog post, which indicated Indiana and Butler would be involved in the event.

There's a fair bit of mystery surrounding the South Padre Invitational because the two teams who appear to be headed there so far, Iowa State (Big 12) and Northern Iowa (MVC), meet in the regular season. This blog post indicates the two won't meet in Texas, which means if both are host schools, the event could be setup like the 2010 Las Vegas Invitational, which featured a predetermined final between Arizona and Kansas.

The still mostly empty Battle at Atlantis will take place in a hotel ballroom, much like the Cancun Challenge, which this season will feature a major conference, or Riviera Division, semifinal lineup of Illinois State (MVC) vs. Rutgers (Big East) and Illinois (Big Ten) vs. Richmond (A-10). Hampton (MEAC), Lipscomb (A-Sun), Sacred Heart (NEC), and SIU Edwardsville (D1 Transitional, OVC) will participate in the mid-major Mayan Division.

That's all the info I've been able to piece together so far, if you have anything to add, feel free to place it in the comments below or e-mail me. I'll be updating this information as the long offseason moves along.

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