It's early August, which means that college football season is less than a month away. That's all well and good, but since this is a college basketball blog, that fact reminds us that hoops season will arrive more quickly than you think.
Today and tomorrow, ESPN is revealing the brackets for the events its carrying in late November and December. It's not quite as exciting as Selection Sunday or Championship Week, mostly because there isn't an "in and out" factor involved--we've known who's going to be in each of these events for several months. However, these announcements help schools place another opponent on their schedules, making them feel more complete. Plus, they give teams an idea of who they'll have to play to win fun, but ultimately meaningless trophies, while grabbing helpful wins--or suffering damaging losses--in their quest to make it to the field of 68.
After the jump, I'll take a look at the quintet of fields released today, not in the order that ESPN revealed them, but in their actual calendar order, based on when they end. First up, the 2K Sports (Coaches vs. Cancer) Classic.
St. John's gets two additional de facto home games by virtue of their participation in the 2K Sports Classic at Madison Square Garden, but Steve Lavin's team, which will be as young as last year's was experienced, may struggle to be victorious in either. While the Red Storm will no doubt be inspired by their coach, who's been fighting prostate cancer, they'll face a tough game in their Garden opener. The Johnnies face Arizona in the nightcap on November 17th, while Mississippi State and Texas A&M face off in the first game of the doubleheader. That contest will feature an interesting frontcourt contest, as the Bulldogs' Renardo Sidney will be tested by the Aggies' Khris Middleton and David Lobeau.
A rematch of the final between the Crimson Tide and Shockers is potentially in the semifinal cards, but both squads face hurdles in their first games. Alabama takes on Maryland who will be entering with little buzz in Mark Turgeon's first meaningful game at the helm. It's too bad they couldn't have put the Terps against Turgeon's former employer, but that's just another potential semifinal matchup. Wichita State takes on another former employee, former assistant Tad Boyle, whose Buffaloes narrowly missed out on being the Shockers' final opponent in New York last March 31st.
The top half features two interesting contests between NCAA Tournament fixtures and potential Cinderellas. Temple is not playing Western Michigan as part of their allotment of non-conference Mid-American Conference games necessitated by their football membership, freeing them up to play in the tournament opener, bright and early at 10:30 a.m. Eastern on November 17th. The afternoon game will see MAAC contenders Iona meet Purdue, in an early test for the returning Robbie Hummel.
When putting together the bracket for the Charleston Classic ESPN had to keep several teams who already scheduled regular season meetings apart for the first two days. Georgia Tech and Northwestern, who serve as two of the tournament's anchors meet in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge in Atlanta after Thanksgiving, while Western Kentucky plays both St. Joseph's and First Four-to-Final Four sensation VCU as part of its non-conference slate.
Shaka Smart's Rams, who lost a lot of talent to graduation in the spring, will open the night session against Seton Hall
This may be the first time ever Northwestern is favored to win a basketball tournament. An early meeting with Georgia Tech is a possibility, but I think the VCU-Seton Hall winner is a more likely opponent. But of course, since this is the Wildcats, don't hold your breath on them getting past the Bayou Bengals on Thursday afternoon.
Last Thanksgiving weekend, I went to a local sports bar expecting to be able to see Syracuse's Legends Classic semifinal against Michigan, only to find out that HDNet, which aired last season's event, is only available to residential customers of Directv. So, I ended up having to watch a pirated webstream (sshhhh!) of both Orange victories in Atlantic City.
This year, the event not only moves back to the New York City area after a two-year stay on the Jersey Shore, but it also switches broadcast providers, as ESPN will air the games, on ESPN3. Fans of the four participating schools better find a cable to connect their computers to their TVs before November 19, that or they'll have to do what I did last season, only with a higher-quality picture on offer.
As for the games themselves, if Texas and Vanderbilt don't meet for the championship on November 21st, it will be an early shock. The Longhorns will take on Oregon State in the semifinal nightcap two nights before, while the Commodores play Mark Gottfried's NC State squad in the opener.
The final bracket announced today is for the final event of 2011, Christmas week's Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu. With Kansas State likely going through a rebuilding period with both Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly gone, Clemson and Xavier look to be the favorites in this one. They anchor the opposite ends of the bracket.
The Tigers will likely to meet the Wildcats in the first semifinal, but Brad Brownell's team will have to top UTEP first, while K-State faces a Southern Illinois team that's looking to put itself back on the map with a good showing in Oahu.
In the bottom half, Xavier's test is also a stern one, as they open against a veteran Long Beach State team that's hoping to finally break through in an exempt event. The 49ers will be a conference mate of host Hawai'i next season. The Warriors open against Auburn, a team that will almost have to be better than they were in 2010-11.
As usual, I've placed the updated schedule information on the 2011 Early Season Events page. Four more event brackets will be announced Thursday, so expect a post on them tomorrow evening.