On Wednesday, ESPN announced the brackets for five of the events it televises during the first half of the college basketball season. They revealed four more on this August Thursday, including ones for both Disney Parks-centered events and the highly-anticipated Maui Invitational. But this post opens with a look at a tournament that concludes in the Heart of America. (Read on for more...)
Over the past few seasons, the CBE Classic has featured at least one school located near its final site, Kansas City, Missouri. In 2010, Kansas State filled the role. Wichita State and Iowa participated in 2009; Kansas in 2008; and Missouri in 2007.
Four years since their last appearance, the Tigers return to serve as the quasi-host for the 2011 event. On Monday, November 21st, Mizzou will face their first real test under new coach Frank Haith, opening against a Notre Dame squad that earned a No. 2 seed in last year's NCAA Tournament. The Irish will attempt to match that success without Big East Player of the Year Ben Hansbrough and Carleton Scott.
Semifinal number two will feature a pair of mystery teams, California and Georgia. The Golden Bears' roster is virtually identical to last year's, which is only good if they improve upon their mediocrity. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs lost two key pieces, Travis Leslie and Trey Thompkins to the NBA, where they both may suit up for the Los Angeles Clippers, if there's actually a season. However, the arrival of highly-regarded shooter Kentavious Caldwell should help cushion the blow.
One thing that's a given: there will be a 2010 Old Spice Classic rematch on night two, as Notre Dame faced both Cal and Georgia in that event. The matchup against the Golden Bears was noteworthy, as the two teams combined for 26 points in the 1st half, with Mike Montgomery's team managing just five. Perhaps "mediocrity" wasn't the right word to describe Cal's 2010-11 season after all.
However, the M-word cannot be used to describe this year's Maui Invitational field, not even for Tennessee, who will likely be flat-out bad after all of the turmoil surrounding last season. This is a field of blue-bloods, with host Chaminade virtually guaranteed to go 0-and-3, even if all of these powers arrive with questions they need to answer. The Silver Swords will open with the Wear twins and UCLA in the first game of the evening session. The winner will face whoever survives the final game of the quadruple-header, Georgetown or Kansas, in Tuesday's semifinals.
Action begins bright and early at 10 a.m. Hawaii time with Michigan taking on Memphis. This half of the bracket features plenty of teams that are familiar to one another. The Wolverines embarrassed Tennessee in the
First Second Round of the NCAA Tournament before being eliminated by Duke, and those two happen to play in game two. That contest will be the first serious college action for Austin Rivers. Plus, imagine how happy Josh Pastner will be with the news that not only will his Tigers have to host the Volunteers in a regularly-scheduled game, but the two could meet on the second day in Maui.
It's not easy to pick a winner in this event, especially with the majority of the teams going through transitions, which just means the three days should provide plenty of surprises.
The four participating teams in the "Maui on the Mainland" portion of the tournament will play a four-team tournament at Middle Tennessee's Murphy Center on November 19-20. (Murfreesboro is most assuredly not Lahaina in late November.) The hosts will take on UNC Greensboro in one semifinal, while Towson plays Belmont, a team who could be serious NCAA threat this season, in the other. The Bruins visit Duke, who they nearly knocked off in the First Round of the 2008 Tournament, and Memphis.
If you were a serious--and frankly, well-off--college basketball fan, you could leave heavenly Lahaina late on Wednesday evening or very early on Thanksgiving morning (a private jet would help) and fly into sunny Orange County in time to take in most of the first day of action at the 76 Classic held right across the street from Disney's California Adventure. While this tournament isn't quite as stacked as Maui, the eight-team bracket does showcase plenty of NCAA contenders.
If you were to embark on our hypothetical cross-Pacific basketball journey, you'd likely miss Thursday's 11 a.m. Pacific time tip-off, which pits Boston College against Saint Louis. The Eagles used a 2-1 performance at the Old Spice Classic last year to vault surprisingly into NCAA contention. They'll have to try to repeat that feat without NBA draftee Reggie Jackson, though the addition of a flood of new recruits, including four from Southern California will help. Meanwhile, Rick Majerus' Billikens could use a tournament run to boost their confidence as they attempt to vault up the Atlantic 10 standings. If BC tops Saint Louis, a meeting with former Big East rival Villanova would likely await in Friday's semifinals. Even though the Wildcats lost a lot of talent after last season, departures that will likely see them become more frontcourt-oriented, they should get past the host Big West's representative, UC Riverside, easily.
The evening session opens with a matchup between Mountain West contender New Mexico and CollegeInsider.com Tournament champion Santa Clara, The Lobos are led by Drew Gordon, who transferred from UCLA not long after the Bruins' awful 0-3 showing in the 2009 edition of this tournament. The final quarterfinal continues the theme of "Old 76 Classic faces in new places" as Lon Kruger, who coached UNLV to the 2010 crown, returns as Oklahoma coach. I wouldn't bet on the Sooners giving Kruger a second title in a row, as this half of the bracket is stacked. Oklahoma opens with Washington State, a team that would probably have been the favorite had Klay Thompson not bolted for the NBA.
Finally, given the lack of powerhouses in the 2011 edition of the Old Spice Classic across the country at Walt Disney World, ESPN could have pulled the team's names out of a hat (or from a goldfish bowl with modified ping-pong balls, like in Saturday's World Cup preliminary draw) and ended up with an acceptable bracket.
Wouldn't it be something if the final of this event ended up being a mid-major clash? It's a good possibility considering Dayton, Fairfield, and Indiana State outperformed their major conference brethren in 2010-11.
The Sycamores, who were the only one of the eight participants to make last season's field of 68 open with Texas Tech, now led by Billy Gillispie. That's the result of Pat Knight's dismissal after the Red Raiders finished 10th in the Big 12 last season. Game two sees Big East doormat DePaul (2011-12 slogan, "We can't wait until TCU joins the league next season.") take on Minnesota, who collapsed down the stretch after claiming the Puerto Rico Tip-Off crown. With both Trevor Mbakwe and Ralph Sampson III back, the Golden Gophers may have the interior presence to dominate this event.
Wake Forest has started a series with Xavier to honor the late Skip Prosser, and they'll open the Thanksgiving night session by taking on the Musketeeers' archrival, Dayton, who will be coached by Archie Miller, brother of Sean, another former Xavier bench boss. The Demon Deacons will look to build on an eight-win campaign, while the Flyers fell in round one of the NIT. The quadruple header closes with Fairfield, led by new coach Sydney Johnson--who led his alma mater, Princeton, to an NCAA bid last season--taking on Arizona State who finished 10th in the final year of the Pac-10. This section gives the Stags the opportunity to pick up a couple of name wins, though the quality will ultimately be determined as the season winds along.
Derek Needham and company's at-large chances might get a boost if they can run the table at Walt Disney World, but as Tubby Smith can attest to, the trophy will mean nothing if injuries strike and things go south in February and March.
As usual, I've placed this information on the 2011 Early Season Events page.