Now that Thanksgiving week, AKA Feast Week, is over for 2017, it’s time to look ahead to 2018’s lineup of exempt tournaments. Thanks to a combination of press releases and reporting, primarily by Fanrag’s Jon Rothstein, we already have a good idea of who will be playing in the majority of next season’s bracketed tournaments. That means the 2018-19 Early Season Events page is now live.
I’ve been tracking these events in one form or another since 2010 and it seems like we have an idea of who’s participating in the next season’s tournaments earlier and earlier as the years pass.
With the Phil Knight Invitational off the calendar for November 2018 and its 14 upper-tier participants (sorry, Portland and Portland State) back in the pool, next season’s fields are stronger across the board than this year’s. And 32 teams from the Power 7 conferences aren’t yet confirmed as participating in an event as of this piece’s publication date.
So far, it looks like there are three new events on the 2018-19 season’s calendar, though only I’ve only listed two—the Vancouver Showcase, whose planned 2017 launch was postponed for a season, and the Suncoast Classic, which is scant on details (I’m guessing it’s going to be held somewhere on Florida’s West Coast). That’s because they already have teams tied to them. Next year’s other new addition—the Rocky Mountain Challenge lined up for the U.S. Olympic Committee’s training center in Colorado Springs—does not.
The only confirmed departures from the list of exempt tournaments are the PK80, planned as a one-time event, and the Great Alaska Shootout, which closed its record book after 40 editions.
Looking at the long roster of returning events, the biggest piece of news concerns the Maui Jim Maui Invitational. For the first time, the host Chaminade Silverswords will not participate in the main bracket of eight. Instead, the Division II squad will serve as one of the four Maui on the Mainland teams in 2018 and all future even-numbered years. That means that two of next year’s eight Division I main bracket teams will likely play on-campus games against the Silverswords, who will then play in the two-round Maui on the Mainland bracketed event. Chaminade will take its traditional place in the Maui bracket again in 2019 and then in subsequent odd-numbered years.
As a result, eight D1 powers will take the floor at the Lahaina Civic Center for the first time next Thanksgiving week, including the PK80’s Motion Bracket champ, Duke; West Coast powers Arizona, Gonzaga, and San Diego State; and perennial Big East contender Xavier. Auburn, Illinois, and Iowa State round out the field. A year out, that looks to be the strongest eight-team bracket out there, though the Battle 4 Atlantis lineup of Butler, Dayton, Florida, Middle Tennessee, Oklahoma, Stanford, Virginia, and Wisconsin is also rather impressive.
Of the five eight-team brackets organized by ESPN Events, only the Charleston Classic has a full lineup—one highlighted by the presence of the Alabama Purdue, Virginia Tech, and Wichita State Both the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, which we all hope will actually take place in the Commonwealth for the first time since 2015, and Wooden Legacy are one team short. As for the AdvoCare Invitational, it appears to be two short. The event website currently lists only College of Charleston, Florida State, LSU, Memphis, Oklahoma State, and Villanova as participants. However, on Thanksgiving Day, the logo of the Manhattan Jaspers appeared alongside those six. But it’s now gone. Plus, Thanksgiving Day’s press release announcing the field listed the UAB Blazers as a participant, with the eighth team TBA. Meanwhile, the Blazers’ logo still appears on the event’s Twitter page’s pinned tweet referencing the 2018 event’s field as of the morning of November 27th.
I’m guessing these conflicts are due to the signing of contracts and such, but this is something I’ll be keeping my eye on.
Editor’s update 11/29: Jeff Wilson, manager over at ESPN Events, emailed me to explain the discrepancy, which was due to a website issue. UAB is in the field, but Manhattan is not, so there are seven teams. I’ve updated the events page to reflect this change.
Curiously, the two sets of Tigers and Oklahoma State all participated in the 2013 event, when it was known as the Old Spice Classic, with Memphis defeating the Cowboys in the final—avenging an earlier loss in Stillwater in a non-bracketed game tied to the tournament.
Note that the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic’s full field will likely be announced during this season’s edition during Christmas week, as is the typical practice for an ESPN-run tournament. However, since that event’s host, Hawai’i, may participate in multiple exempt events each season to alleviate the scheduling difficulties a team located in the middle of the Pacific naturally faces, the Rainbow Warriors will also represent the host Big West Conference at the Wooden Legacy.
As for the four-team bracketed tournaments that give the four host teams a pair of home contests against mid-majors, the Fox-organized Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational has a standout lineup of PK80 Victory Bracket champion Michigan State and runner-up North Carolina, Texas, and UCLA. While this event has had some notable finals in its history, including a Kansas-Florida championship game in 2006, it’s never had a truly heavyweight semifinal lineup. In that edition 11 years ago, for example, Ball State and Western Kentucky rounded out the host-bracket semifinal lineup.
The two other four-team brackets that stand out to me are the NIT Season Tip-Off’s lineup of Kansas, Louisville, Marquette, and Tennessee and the 2K Classic’s roster of Iowa, Oregon, Syracuse, and UConn. But both of those groups aren’t quite on the level of the Vegas quartet.
Events that don’t yet have any teams tied to them (at least that I know of, anyway) are the Paradise Jam, Islands of the Bahamas Showcase, Gulf Coast Showcase, Cancun Challenge, MGM Resorts Main Event, Barclays Center Classic, Emerald Coast Classic, Savannah Invitational, Las Vegas Classic, and this season’s newcomers, the Cayman Islands Classic and Jamaica Classic Montego Bay. As always, if you have any info about these events shoot me an email at bloggingthebracket at gmail or tweet me.