Much like Spring Training has grown to be a big business in baseball, certainly more so what than I remember of it from growing up in Central Florida, the college basketball holiday tournament industry is booming now. Over the past few seasons, organizers have taken the lead of ESPN Events and the Maui Jim Maui Invitational in announcing the fields for their next editions early—in many cases before handing out the current season's trophy. Now that my 2016-17 College Basketball Early Season Tournaments And Neutral-Site Games page is live, I wanted to run through what we know about next November as this one wraps up.
Maui Jim Maui Invitational
At this point, Maui organizers have released the fields for both 2016 and 2017! Next year's event is highlighted by the return of three-time winner North Carolina and two-time champ UConn, who might be reunited with former Big East rival Georgetown at some point during the three days. Oklahoma State, Oregon, Tennessee, and Wisconsin, likely without current head coach Bo Ryan, are the other four Division I teams that will join host Chaminade in Lahaina next Thanksgiving week.
Battle 4 Atlantis
A whopping three of the eight teams in the 2017 Maui Jim Maui Invitational—LSU, VCU, and Wichita State—will feature in the sixth edition of the Battle 4 Atlantis. First-time visitors Michigan State and Baylor along with 2012 runner-up Louisville are the main attractions in a field that is rounded out by St. John's and Old Dominion, who represent host Conference USA.
Of the five ESPN-owned and operated eight-team events, we know the fields for four already, with the eight teams in the fifth—the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic—sure to be announced before that tournament ends on Christmas night.
This season's Advocare Invitational champion Xavier and two squads that will take the court in Honolulu in December, Northern Iowa and Oklahoma, will head to San Juan for the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. The Musketeers won the title here in 2008. Those three teams will be joined by a pair of Tigers—Clemson and Missouri—as well as Arizona State, Atlantic 10 contender Davidson, and Tulane.
Every four years, the College of Charleston Cougars can compete in the tournament hosted in their on-campus arena, the Charleston Classic. The 2016 edition of the event will have less of an East Coast-focus than recent ones, as Boise State and UTEP will head cross-country to participate, while Mississippi State, UCF, Villanova, Western Michigan, and especially ACC entrant Wake Forest won't have to travel quite as far.
Speaking of not having to travel a considerable distance for an exempt event, both the Advocare Invitational at Walt Disney World and the Directv Wooden Legacy in Orange County, California will be anchored by local favorites in 2016. I've already made my plans to be in attendance in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. next Thanksgiving weekend, as my alma mater, Florida, will finally participate in this event, which takes place about a 90-minute drive south of Gainesville. That's likely due to the O'Connell Center renovations that will turn the Gators into a barnstorming team for next year's non-conference schedule. UF will be joined by an impressive field that includes in-state rival Miami, two-time champion Gonzaga, fellow Westerners Stanford, Midwest representatives Indiana State and Iowa State, Seton Hall from the Big East and Quinnipiac, the host Metro Atlantic's contribution to the field of eight.
The UCLA participate in the Directv Wooden Legacy for the first time, having participated in its two predecessor events. The Bruins always participated in the John R. Wooden Classic, until it merged with the Anaheim Classic to create this tournament in 2013. UCLA's previous participation in what was known as the 76 Classic back in 2009 was not a positive one—Ben Howland's team went 0-3, capped by a loss to Long Beach State in the seventh-place game. Curiously, two of the teams that joined UCLA in that field—Portland and Texas A&M—will join them in 2016. So will Dayton, whose fans dominated at Walt Disney World this weekend, Nebraska, New Mexico, Virginia Tech, and Cal State Northridge, the Big West's traditional representative.
The 2016 Paradise Jam will add a new champion to the event's history, thanks to a field that mixes power conference squads Creighton, Ole Miss, North Carolina State, and Washington State with a quartet of teams from outside of the Power 6—Loyola of Chicago, Montana, Oral Roberts, and Saint Joseph's.
While we don't have complete fields for the majority of the split-bracket events for November 2016, we do know which schools will serve as hosts during the on-campus rounds and compete for titles in their nationally-televised showcase rounds.
The one exception is the Hall of Fame Tip-Off, which revealed all eight of its participants during the broadcast of this year's championship game between Florida and Purdue. Duke headlines the Naismith Bracket, and the Blue Devils will be joined by Cincinnati, Penn State, and Rhode Island. Those four teams will each host two teams from the Springfield Bracket group: Albany, Brown, Grand Canyon, and Marist. Out of the hosts, this will be the second trip for Penn State and Rhode Island, while Marist and Albany have participated as visitors in previous editions.
Michigan and SMU wrap up a home-and-home series on December 8th at Moody Coliseum, but the pair could meet before Thanksgiving next year, as they're reportedly set to serve as host schools in the 2K Classic Benefitting Wounded Warrior Project. This season's Legends Classic champion, Marquette, and Pitt, who anchors another Gazelle Group event, the Gotham Classic this December, round out the semifinalists.
Texas is reportedly set to make its third trip to the FanDuel Legends Classic, but the first one to Brooklyn, as the Longhorns won the 2007 event held in Newark and finished 0-2 at the Meadowlands in 2011. Colorado, Northwestern, and likely crowd favorite Notre Dame are also listed as participants at the Barclays Center.
Once every four years, you can bet that the Kansas Jayhawks will play in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City, conveniently located to Lawrence. In 2012, KU topped Saint Louis in the final, while four years earlier, Syracuse topped them after overtime. Based on the reported field, the Jayhawks will be heavily favored next November, as George Washington, Georgia, and UAB are set to join them in the semifinals on the Monday night before Thanksgiving.
Auburn, Purdue, Texas Tech, and Utah State are all set to travel to the Cancun Challenge for the first time. Such a scheduling move would mark their first participation in a neutral-site exempt event since the 2007 South Padre Invitational.
ESPN Events took over the organization of the NIT Season Tip-Off from the NCAA this season, and the event will now officially no longer be the 16-team behemoth it was up until 2014. Now with a modified split-bracket format, Florida State, Illinois, Temple, and West Virginia will head to Brooklyn for the semifinals next Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday afternoon. Of the four, only the Seminoles (1997) and Owls (2000) have reached the event's championship game before.
The Emerald Coast Classic looks to have its best group of hosts in its short three-year history, as Iowa, Memphis, Providence, and Virginia are signed up for the 2016 event in the Florida Panhandle town of Niceville.
Finally, three events in Las Vegas, Fox Sports' Las Vegas Invitational and Classic and the Global Sports Classic all reportedly have hosts set. Over Thanksgiving and Black Friday, 2015 Wooden Legacy participants Arizona and Santa Clara will be joined by Butler and Vanderbilt in the Las Vegas Invitational at Orleans Arena, while DePaul, Missouri State, USC, and Wyoming will anchor the Christmas week Las Vegas Classic there. The Cowboys will play in the Global Sports Classic in Vegas this season, highlighting a weakened field. Next year's edition will boast bigger names, as UNLV will host TCU, Washington, and Western Kentucky.
Now, as of today, we don't know much about a few other events: the Gulf Coast Showcase, Men Who Speak Up Main Event, Great Alaska Shootout, Barclays Center Classic, Corpus Christi Coastal Classic, and of course, the Diamond Head Classic. When I find out about these events, I'll update the Early Season Events page and likely post something separate on the front page.
Update 11/30/2015: According to Don Markus of the Baltimore Sun, Maryland will participate in the Barclays Center Classic next season along with Boston College, Kansas State, and either Arkansas or Richmond.