Editor's Note: I interrupt this Olympic blogging with some college basketball content. Thank you.
On Thursday, much to my surprise (since there has been a bit more hype and even ESPNews special programming over the past couple of seasons), ESPN revealed the brackets for the early season tournaments appearing on its various channels during November and December. These announcements came just as I was wrapping up a post outlining how I'd bracket these events if I was in charge. (Yes, I realize that's even sadder than regular old Bracketology.)
Since those fields are out, I obviously had to chuck that post. While I updated the Early Season Tournaments and Events page almost immediately after the announcements, it's taken me this long to come up with some reaction. To replace the post I deleted, I've decided to modify the content to create a couple of entries that go through each event recapping the NCAA and NIT fates of each tournament's respective fields from last season, listing some facts about the 2012 fields, and sharing some thoughts on the teams to watch.
Today's first post focuses on the traditional eight-team (or 12 in the case of Maui) bracketed events. Post two will look at the campus-site/neutral-site hybrid events. Since a few of those tournaments' pairings have yet to be finalized, that entry will come at a later date and will likely feature a slightly different focus.
I'll run through the tournaments in rough chronological order after the jump, starting with one that released its bracket some time ago and will actually air on a Fox-owned network instead of an ESPN one.
Nov. 16-19: Charlotte Amalie, VI: University of the Virgin Islands Sports and Fitness Center
In 2011: Two rather unique and unexpected things happened in the 2011 Paradise Jam. The first was an occurrence that should serve as an example to all bracketed tournaments that decide to allow teams to add a fourth campus-site game. Marquette won a home game over Norfolk State (remember them?) by 31. A week later, the two teams met again for the championship, thanks to Spartan wins over Drexel (without Chris Fouch) and TCU, with the Golden Eagles picking up a second win, by just one.
Secondly, the three teams from last year's Paradise Jam field that made the NCAAs all incredibly ended up in the same half of the West Region bracket ... and all of them lost to Florida. The Gators defeated Virginia in the Second Round, Norfolk State in the Third, and Marquette in the Regional Semifinal. So, really, my alma mater should be the true owner of the 2011 Paradise Jam trophy. (Kidding, Marquette fans.)
Drexel and Mississippi ended up in the NIT, where the Dragons' run ended in the quarterfinals at the hands of Massachusetts and the Rebels fell at the first hurdle, at home against Illinois State in overtime.
Field Facts: UConn returns to the Virgin Islands looking to repeat its 2008 championship. Thanks to the APR penalties imposed on the Huskies, this is the only trophy Jim Calhoun's team can claim this season -- except for the Big East regular season title. Iona also participated in four years ago, finishing sixth. Meanwhile, UIC finished in last place the season before.
Thoughts: Unusually for an event that features five teams below the Red Line, the organizers paired two Power Conference teams in the quarterfinals -- UConn and Wake Forest --which is a testament to how mightily the Demon Deacons are struggling at the moment. Favorites New Mexico and UConn, along with fellow 2012 NCAA team Iona, should all find themselves in the winners' bracket. George Mason should be favored for the fourth spot, but the Patriots will have a devil with a time against Mercer, who won the CollegeInsider Tournament title last season.
Puerto Rico Tip-Off
Nov. 15, 16, 18: Bayamon: Coliseo Ruben Rodriquez
In 2011: The 2011 field featured three-quarters of the previous season's NIT semifinalists, all of whom bettered their postseason placing in 2012. Alabama, Colorado, and Wichita State joined Iona, Purdue, and Temple in the NCAAs, but only the Boilermakers and Buffaloes managed to win a game. The Crimson Tide topped Purdue for the championship, defeating Maryland and Wichita State -- the team they fell to in the 2011 NIT Final -- along the way.
Field Facts: The host Big East didn't provide a team in 2011, but the conference is back this season with Providence, who lost to Miami in the first-ever Puerto Rico final in 2007. Oklahoma State and Tennessee both participated in the 2008 Old Spice Classic but did not meet. N.C. State and Penn State were in the same half of the bracket of the 2007 edition of that tournament, but also did not meet. N.C. State will host UNC Asheville in this tournament's lone non-bracketed game.
Thoughts: This tournament is set up for a Tennessee-N.C. State final, though a Volunteer win over defending Big South champ UNC Asheville (ask Syracuse) on Thursday isn't a given, and a Friday semifinal win isn't a given either. UMass can serve early notice on an already competitive Atlantic 10 by performing well in the Caribbean, a definite possibility given the draw. They won't fear power conference strugglers Providence or Penn State, and N.C. State may not have point guard Lorenzo Brown, who is recovering from knee surgery, at 100 percent this early in the season.
Nov. 15, 16, 18: Charleston, SC; Carolina First Arena
In 2011: Just one team from last season's field made it into the NCAAs, and VCU needed to win the CAA title to ensure its place. The Rams didn't duplicate their run to the 2011 Final Four, but they did manage to top Wichita State in their opening game. Shaka Smart's club actually finished in 7th place in Charleston, defeating Western Kentucky by five before beating the Hilltoppers again in Bowling Green in a non-bracketed game three nights later. Tournament champion Northwestern, runner-up Seton Hall, third-place St. Joseph's, and fifth-place finisher LSU all ended up in the NIT.
Field Facts: Baylor was supposed to participate in this tournament in 2011, but decided to reschedule for this year. Murray State visits Dayton on December 22, so ESPN placed them on opposite sides of the bracket here. The Racers handled the Flyers handily in Kentucky last season. The College of Charleston returns to its home tournament for the first time since the inaugural edition in 2008. That marks a return for the host Southern Conference, who didn't enter a team in 2011. Auburn will face Boston College and Baylor will take on College of Charleston in a pair of non-bracketed games, so those four teams take advantage of the "four games for the price of one" portion of the exempt tournament rules.
Bracket (Top To Bottom): Baylor (Big 12) vs. Boston College (ACC); Dayton (Atlantic 10) vs. Colorado (Big 12); St. John's (Big East) at College of Charleston (SoCon); Murray State (OVC) vs. Auburn (SEC)
Thoughts: It would be a bit of a surprise if Baylor and Murray State, two of the three 2012 NCAA teams in the field, did not meet for the championship. The Bears' former Big 12 rivals from Colorado appear to be their biggest hurdle on the way to the showcase game, but the Buffaloes themselves face a tough test on Day One, as they take on a Dayton team that always seems to pull an upset or two early in the season. On the other side of the bracket, the Racers will get to see how much Tony Barbee's Tigers have improved in the quarterfinals before facing a test against either Steve Lavin's very young and very talented Red Storm or the hosts, always dangerous on John Kresse Court, on Friday.
Nov. 19, 20, 21: Lahaina, HI; Lahaina Civic Center
In 2011: If Kentucky (2010 Maui runner-up and 2012 NCAA champion) and Connecticut (2011 NCAA and 2010 Maui champ) had delayed their trips by just a season, 2011's marquee field would have been even more formidable. Still last November's edition was loaded with big names and in the end, Duke toppled eventual national runner-up Kansas in the final. Oddly enough, the Jayhawks and Georgetown were the only teams out of the five Maui NCAA squads that won a game in the Dance. Duke, Memphis, and Michigan all fell at the first hurdle. Tennessee earned a No. 1 seed in the NIT, primarily due to financial reasons, but ended up falling to Middle Tennessee --a participant in the inaugural set of "Maui on the Mainland" games -- in the second round. Take that NIT Selection Committee and your financially-biased bracketing!
Field Facts: North Carolina has won this tournament in each of its last three appearances (1999, 2004, 2008). Texas finished third in its last appearance, as the Longhorns missed a final date with the Tar Heels thanks to a one-point loss at the hands of Notre Dame in '08. Marquette and Illinois last appeared in 2007 when the Golden Eagles were runners-up to Duke and the Fighting Illini topped Oklahoma State for third. Illinois' best finish was second place in 2000. Butler and Mississippi State both participated in the 2010 Diamond Head Classic, but the two did not meet.
Of the four Mainland teams who will play in the on-campus round, Elon (SoCon) is the only one which will not play four games. As a consolation, the Phoenix will host Colgate (Patriot), Coppin State (MEAC), and Florida Atlantic (Sun Belt) for two days before Thanksgiving.
Bracket (Top to Bottom): Butler (A-10) vs. Marquette (Big East); Mississippi State (SEC) vs. North Carolina (ACC); Texas (Big 12) vs. Chaminade (Division II, PacWest); USC (Pac-12) vs. Illinois (Big Ten)
Thoughts: North Carolina will enter this tournament as a heavy favorite to make it four wins in four straight trips to Maui, but as Marquette shares the Tar Heels' bracket, the Golden Eagles will be hard pressed to better their 2007 runner-up finish. The presence of 2010 and 2011 national runner-up Butler, a team looking to make a statement after a difficult 2011-12 season, makes the top half of the bracket super-competitive. As for the bottom half, Texas looks like a good bet to cause some ripples after a rather mediocre 2011-12 campaign, while USC will look to show that last season's struggles are behind them, a feat that's possible thanks to an infusion of talent and the return of Jio Fontan and Dewayne Dedmon from injuries. Illinois, like Mississippi State in the top half, will look to impress its new coach, and any upsets those two can pull here will boost them the rest of the way. Chaminade, meanwhile, is Chaminade, a likely bet to go 0 and 3.
Old Spice Classic
Nov. 22, 23, 25: Lake Buena Vista, FL; HP Field House
In 2011: It was not a vintage year for the oldest of the ESPN-owned events, as not a single entrant qualified for the NCAA Tournament. Champion Dayton and runners-up Minnesota ended up in the NIT, where the Golden Gophers finished second. Who knows what Tubby Smith's team would have done the rest of the way (and in the rest of last season's final for that matter) had Trevor Mbakwe not gone down in the first half with a torn ACL.
Field Facts: Gonzaga, Marist, and West Virginia are all making return trips to Walt Disney World. The Mountaineers lost to Arkansas in the first ever final in 2006, while the Red Foxes finished third in the same event. Gonzaga won the 2008 tournament. UTEP topped Clemson in the first round of the 2011 Diamond Head Classic, and they could meet again on Friday in Lake Buena Vista. Gonzaga hosts West Virginia in the Tip-Off Marathon in a non-bracketed game, a rematch of the Bulldogs' Second Round NCAA win in Columbus. Davidson, Vanderbilt, and West Virginia all participated -- and shared a half of the bracket -- in the 2010 Puerto Rico Tip-Off, where the Mountaineers defeated the Commodores in a semifinal en route to a runner-up finish. In fact, all three teams finished with a 2-1 record. Those three will once again be in the top half here.
Thoughts: As the Mountaineers now share a conference with Oklahoma and a West Virginia-Gonzaga game was already scheduled, this field was relatively easy to bracket. However, a third meeting between the Mountaineers and Bulldogs in a calendar year is a strong possibility. In the top half of the bracket, look for SoCon favorite and legit at-large threat Davidson to be WVU's biggest hurdle, as Vanderbilt lost quite a bit of firepower after last season's Tournament defeat to Wisconsin. As for the bottom half, Gonzaga will be challenged by a trio of teams that had middling seasons last year and who will be looking to pick up an early marquee win to launch themselves toward an improved 2012-13 campaign, and maybe even an NCAA bid.
Nov. 22, 23, 25: Anaheim, CA; Anaheim Arena
In 2011: Much like its East Coast counterpart, the 2011 Anaheim Classic didn't quite live up to previous editions. However, fans at Anaheim Arena did see a pair of NCAA teams three times, as champions Saint Louis and fifth-place finisher New Mexico qualified and won a game each. Disappointingly, none of the six remaining teams even managed to qualify for the NIT.
Field Facts: St. Mary's is the only previous Anaheim participant making a return trip -- the Gaels finished in 5th place in 2008. Randy Bennett's team will be conference rivals with Pacific next season, and the Tigers will represent the host Big West in their final season in the league. Xavier was originally headed to the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, but a scheduling conflict -- the Musketeers face new A-10 rival Butler in a non-conference game during the Tip-Off Marathon -- sees them heading West. Drake and Drexel were both in the 2011 Paradise Jam, but they did not meet.
Thoughts: The top half is a mid-on-mid crime spree waiting to happen, which could quite possibly damage the at-large hopes of the trio of teams that don't reach the final. I'm a bit surprised ESPN didn't vary things up a bit, especially as Rice and Georgia Tech, who both sit above the Red Line and in the bottom half of this field, are arguably not worthy of a semifinal place. That or they just gave the job of bracketing the event to Jay Bilas. Given its path, if Cal doesn't reach the final out of the bottom half, it would, in my opinion, be the most stunning result from any early season tournament. Winning the trophy will be a different story for the Golden Bears, though. Drexel, St. Mary's, and Xavier will all be looking to pull a November upset for their March profiles.
Great Alaska Shootout
Nov. 21-24: Anchorage; Sullivan Arena
In 2011: The days of power conference teams playing in Anchorage may have ended when St. John's beat Arizona State in the 2010 final, but last year's Shootout featured three NCAA teams, finalists Murray State and Southern Mississippi and third-place finisher New Mexico State. The Racers won a double overtime classic over the Golden Eagles to grab the trophy.
Field Facts: Surprisingly, there are plenty of teams making a repeat trip to Anchorage in this field of eight. None have won the title, but Northeastern lost to Iowa in the 1986 final, while Loyola Marymount fell to Cal in the 2006 championship game. The Lions finished sixth four years earlier. Texas State finished seventh in 1987, when the school was known as Southwest Texas State, and last in 2003 after losing to the hosts in the consolation semifinals. Oral Roberts finished third in 2005. Host UAA's best finish is 4th, most recently in 2010. Three teams in the field -- Belmont, Oral Roberts, and Texas State -- are in new conferences this year, while the Bobcats and Charlotte will be on the move in 2013-14. In fact, arriving Oral Roberts and departing Texas State just missed each other in the Southland this season.
Bracket (Top To Bottom): UC Riverside (Big West) vs. Northeastern (CAA); Belmont (OVC) at Alaska-Anchorage (Division II, GNAC); Loyola Marymount (WCC) vs. Oral Roberts (Southland); Texas State (WAC) vs. Charlotte (A-10)
Thoughts: Like the Paradise Jam, the Great Alaska Shootout does not air on ESPN (a major reason for its slide into relative obscurity), but after a few seasons of cobbling together a TV deal, the tournament moves back to a single channel, in this case the CBS Sports Network. As for the field, if this version of the Shootout was played last season, Belmont and Oral Roberts would be the clear favorites. They probably still are, but the door is open for the other six, as the Bruins and Golden Eagles both lost significant amounts of talent to graduation. Northeastern, which has a chance to surprise in the CAA this season, and Loyola Marymount, who caused plenty of headaches in the WCC in 2012, could be surprise finalists in this one.
Diamond Head Classic
Dec. 22, 23, 25: Honolulu; Stan Sheriff Center
In 2011: Three participants made it to the NCAAs. Xavier, who finished in seventh place, in no small part to the after effects of the team's now infamous brawl with Cincinnati Bearcats, actually got the furthest of the trio, as the Musketeers actually righted the ship and ended up in the Sweet 16. Champion Kansas State won its NCAA opener, while runner-up Long Beach State couldn't get past New Mexico in its Second Round game. Of the remaining five participants, none ended up in the NIT.
Field Facts: Host Hawai'i just moved into the Big West from the WAC and San Diego State will join them next year, as the Aztecs are preparing to depart the Mountain West. ETSU was a late addition to the field, replacing Texas Tech. Arizona set up a home-and-home with the Red Raiders after their withdrawal.
Thoughts: Arizona and San Diego State met last season in Tucson, will meet again next year at Aztec Mesa (see the schedule link in "Field Facts" above), and will be favorites to meet for the championship here. In the top half of the draw, the Aztecs stiffest challenge should come from NIT team Ole Miss in a potential semifinal, but Steve Fisher's team will have to get past a 20-win San Francisco team first. Miami, a potential ACC sleeper, will threaten Arizona in the bottom half, though the Hurricanes face the challenge of opening the tournament against the host Warriors, who have a 5-4 record in this event.
As a bonus, I'm closing this post with a projection for the yet-to-be released bracket for what should be the biggest early season tournament of 2012, the Battle 4 Atlantis. The official announcement will come Thursday.
Battle 4 Atlantis
Nov. 22, 23, 24: Atlantis Resort, Bahamas
In 2011: Harvard and UCF catapulted into the national consciousness with runs to the final, grabbing semifinal wins over Florida State and Connecticut Huskies, respectively. The champion Crimson joined the Seminoles, Huskies, and seventh-place finisher UNC-Asheville Bulldogs in the NCAAs. However, Florida State was the only team out of the quartet to win a game in the tournament. UCF fell in the first round of the NIT.
Field Facts: Since this event is only in its second year, history is obviously limited in terms of previous appearances. Note that Duke and Memphis avoided each other in Maui in 2011 and, Louisvilles visit the Tigers on December 15. Stanford drubbed Minnesota in the 2012 NIT final. According to Memphis', the event will add an on-campus round featuring mid-majors this season. The Tigers host Samford from the Southern Conference. I'm sure more teams will be announced
How I'd Bracket The Field: This field is the most loaded one of the season, as Duke, Louisville, and Memphis should be in the preseason Top 10 and the other five teams are all serious NCAA contenders, at least. Obviously the Tigers and Cardinals will be on opposite sides of the bracket, meaning Memphis will likely face Duke in the semifinals, provided both make it. Missouri would be an interesting matchup for Louisville on the other side. Given the quality among the rest of the field, all four favorites will be challenged in the quarterfinals. Northern Iowa would be able to make an instant impact nationally by upsetting Louisville; Missouri-VCU would be an entertaining matchup of two teams that play a similar style; Minnesota will have Trevor Mbakwe back to face Memphis (and potentially Stanford later in what could be the second consecutive NIT championship rematch in an early season tournament). Meanwhile, a Mike Krzyzewski vs. Johnny Dawkins quarterfinal was too good to pass up.
That means my projected bracket looks like this...
Which of these tournaments are you the most excited about? What teams do you think can make some early national noise? Who will surprise/disappoint?
Editor's Note: And now back to our regularly scheduled Olympics posting, at some point in the coming days.