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2011 Early Season Tournaments Day 1: Action Starts In San Juan, Charleston, And NYC

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(looks at calendar)'s been quite awhile since I posted here, thanks to lots of activity at my place of gainful employment. That means it's time for an apology for my absence and a piece of housekeeping before I get into actual blogging goodness. As the season moves on, particularly after the New Year, my efforts will be focused on bracketology over at SB Nation, not just through bracket and bubble features, but also commentary. My efforts here at Blogging the Bracket will be less frequent, particularly as I don't have the time to compose nightly previews/recaps in the manner in which they should be written.

OK, on to the beginning of the third most wonderful time of the year (No. 1 is of course the Tournament itself, and second-ranked Championship Week(s)), the annual flood of early season tournaments. (Read on for a lot more...)

Starting today and going straight through Monday, November 28, I will temporarily return to my past blogging to bring you all of the results and TV information for the day's tournament action, along with any potential early (and therefore, dicey) bracket impacts in the slate. That includes the time I spend in Manhattan next week for the NIT Season Tip-Off semifinals and finals. Of course, I'll be on Twitter as well, though thanks to work and travel, I won't be watching quite as many games as usual.

Let's begin with a look at the three events on tap for today, starting in San Juan.

Puerto Rico Tip-Off Quarterfinals

Temple Owls (1-0) vs. Western Michigan Broncos (0-1), 10:30 a.m. ET (ESPNU)
The Owls needed overtime to beat Penn in their Big Five opener on Monday night, while the Broncos, a MAC football rival, were stunned at South Dakota State last Saturday. Look for Temple to be tested, but ultimately advance to the semifinals.

Purdue Boilermakers (2-0) vs. Iona Gaels (0-0), approx. 1 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Robbie Hummel is back for the Boilermakers, who looked unbelievably good in dispatching Northern Illinois in their opener, and very average in a two-point win over High Point on Monday evening. This is the Gaels' opener, meaning its the first chance to see senior Scott Machado and Arizona transfer MoMo Jones together in the backcourt. An upset over Purdue would be vital for Iona's slim at-large chances, but I'd like them more if they had played a game or two already.

Maryland Terrapins (1-0) vs. Alabama Crimson Tide (2-0), 5 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
It will likely be a transition year for the Terps, led by new coach Mark Turgeon, and they opened Sunday with a nine-point win over UNC Wilmington. Meanwhile, the Crimson Tide looked good, particularly on defense, in defeating North Florida and Oakland, as they attempt to improve on last year's NIT runner-up finish.

Wichita State Shockers (1-0) vs. Colorado Buffaloes 1-0, 0-0 vs. Division I), approx. 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
The team that defeated Alabama in the NIT final is one of the trendy Missouri Valley favorites (alongside Creighton), and they open their Puerto Rico slate with a game against the team the Crimson Tide knocked out in the semifinals in Madison Square Garden, Colorado. Neither team has really been tested as of yet, as they oddly enough each chalked up matching 85-57 wins in their respective openers. The Shockers handled Charleston Southern last Sunday, while the Buffs, who lost most of their key contributors from a season ago, handled Division II Fort Lewis.

Semifinal predictions: Temple vs. Purdue and Alabama vs. Wichita State

Charleston Classic Quarterfinals

Tulsa Golden Hurricane (2-0) vs. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (1-1), 12:30 p.m. ET (ESPN3)
Early on, the Golden Hurricane look like an excellent defensive team (50.5 ppg allowed, 22nd in KenPom's eFG% defense metric), while the Hilltoppers have struggled to put up points (306th(!) in eFG%). Curiously, WKU's loss came at the hands of St. Joseph's, who sits on the other side of the bracket, alongside VCU, who the Toppers host next Wednesday.

LSU Tigers (1-1) vs. Northwestern Wildcats (1-0), approx. 3 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
The Tigers already have an embarrassing loss on their resume, as they came out to South Carolina a couple of days early and lost at Coastal Carolina by eight. Meanwhile, the Wildcats began their quest for that elusive first NCAA bid with a 24-point victory over Texas-Pan American that was unusually efficient (by Northwestern standards) on both ends of the floor.

VCU Rams (1-0) vs. Seton Hall Pirates (1-0), approx. 5:30 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
In yet another early season tournament curiosity, both the Rams and Pirates opened with one of the Northeast Conference's St. Francis schools, with each grabbing a very close win. National semifinalist VCU took out St. Francis University, the one in Pennsylvania, by six at home on opening night, while Seton Hall needed overtime to top St. Francis College, from Brooklyn, 24 hours later. While Shaka Smart's team may be the marquee name in this field, it's no guarantee they make it into the winner's bracket.

St. Joseph's Hawks (1-0) vs. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (2-0), approx. 8 p.m. ET (CSS/Comcast Network/ESPN3)
While the Yellow Jackets boast a better record, the Hawks appear to be the more marginally tested team, thanks to that win at WKU. Brian Gregory's team feasted on two MEAC squads Florida A&M and Delaware State to open the campaign. A win over the Ramblin Wreck would do wonders for Phil Martelli's team, who could surprise in the Atlantic 10.

Semifinal predictions: Tulsa vs. Northwestern and VCU vs. St. Joe's

2K Sports Classic Semifinals

This event resumes at the semifinal stage, after three of the four teams played two regional round games at home. Texas A&M just got one, thanks to the difficulties Gazelle Group had in landing a final Division I team.

Texas A&M Aggies (2-0) vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs (2-1), 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
The Aggies have actually played and won twice--topping Liberty in a 2K Sports Classic regional round game without head coach Billy Kennedy, recently diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, on the bench, and defeating Southern in his return. It's not clear if Kennedy will be on the bench in New York tonight (update: he will be), as the Aggies take on a Mississippi State team that's bookended wins over Eastern Kentucky and South Alabama with a dispiriting loss to MAC contender Akron. Since this is a Gazelle Group event, the loss to the Zips didn't matter in terms of the bracket, as the four host schools were guaranteed a place in New York.

St. John's Red Storm (3-0) vs. Arizona Wildcats (3-0), approx. 9:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Like Billy Kennedy, St. John's head coach Steve Lavin missed his team's first game, a win over William & Mary, due to health issues, prostate cancer in his case, but he returned to oversee wins over a plucky Lehigh team and UMBC. Tonight, the young Red Storm visit their second home court, Madison Square Garden, for the first time this season, as they take on an Arizona team that's been pegged by many (including myself) as a Pac-12 favorite, but who's looked far from impressive in grabbing victories over Valparaiso, Duquesne, and Ball State. There could be a lot of unforced errors in this one, and emotion too, as the Wildcats' junior star Kevin Parrom, who lost his mother and grandmother this offseason--and who was shot in the right leg and left hand in late September, while he was in the Bronx visiting his mother

Final prediction: Texas A&M vs. Arizona

Please share your thoughts about today's action in the Comments.

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