Early Season Tournaments Provide Insight

8 Oct

During the first couple of months of the season tournaments give us a look at teams against competition we may not otherwise see before post-season play.  Here is a look at some of this year’s early-season tournaments other than the marquee Champions Classic which will again feature Kentucky facing Duke and Kansas battling Michigan State to finish off the Tip-Off Marathon.

The Advocare Invitational takes place Nov. 26-27, 29 and features Wichita State who could be poised for another deep run in March with the back court of Ron Baker and All-American candidate Fred Vanvleet.  The duo no longer has Tekele Cotton riding shotgun with them but they do welcome a couple of transfers, Anton Grady from Cleveland State should provide an inside presence for Gregg Marshall’s squad and Conner Frankamp who comes over from Kansas.  Also in the field are Dayton, Xavier, Notre Dame who have top 25 potential, Iowa, Monmouth and a couple of teams with intriguing coaches USC (Andy Enfield) and Alabama (Avery Johnson).

The Directv Wooden Legacy takes place at the same time.  This one features a match up everyone hopes to see; Michigan State vs. Arizona, Tom Izzo vs. Sean Miller, two top-level programs hoping for deep NCAA Tournament runs.  Both teams have exceptional talent, Michigan State with senior big man Matt Costello and guard Denzel Valentine, the duo is joined by West Virginia transfer Eron Harris.  At Arizona their senior duo is center Kaleb Tarczewski and guard Gabe York.  They are also joined by a transfer as Ryan Anderson leaves Boston College to head out west.  There are other teams hoping to spoil the party, namely Providence with guard Kris Dunn and Boise State with their senior sharpshooter Anthony Drmic.  Then there is Evansville who won 24 games a season ago and their secret weapon guard D.J. Balentine.

The Diamond Head Classic on Dec. 22-23,25 features a clear cut favorite in Oklahoma with Buddy Hield and three other starters returning from a squad that reached the Sweet 16 for Lon Kruger.  Aside from the Sooners, the tournament also features a Northern Iowa team that earned a 5 seed in last year’s NCAA Tournament and what should be the most fun on-the-court head to head with BYU’s Kyle Collinsworth facing off with Harvard’s Siyani Chambers in the first round.

The Jimmy V Classic on Dec. 8 has an undercard of West Virginia playing Virginia and Maryland taking on UConn in the night cap.  It is hard to call a game with Virginia the undercard as the Cavaliers could be national title contenders with their stifling defense and back court of Malcolm Brogdon and London Perrantes and senior big man Mike Tobey, but with a pre-season #1 team in Maryland and the other two years removed from a national title of its own in UConn, Virginia’s game with in-state rival West Virginia will be the warm up.  Maryland’s sophomore guard Melo Trimble is one of the best players in the country and should be a Player of the Year Candidate.  The veteran presence on the team is senior swingman Jake Layman who is a 6-9 big man who stretches the floor and rebounds.  Head Coach Mark Turgeon also landed on of the best recruits in the country when 7-1 Diamond Stone committed to Maryland.  Also joining this group is Duke transfer Rasheed Sulaimon.  As for UConn Ryan Boatright is gone but in steps top recruit Jalen Adams sophomore Daniel Hamilton should continue to improve.  NC State transfer Rodney Purvis needs to improve off a disappointing first season in Storrs.  Amidah Brimah returns as the nation’s best shot blocker and Sterling Gibbs a playmaking transfer from Seton Hall should help the Huskies score the ball.

The reason to watch the Legends Classic Nov. 23-24 is easy, LSU.  The expectations for the Tigers are as high as they have been in a long time and that is because of the recruiting class.  Johnny Jones landed three top 40 recruits headed by #1 Ben Simmons who is a 6-9 do everything forward.  He is joined by fellow freshmen standouts Antonio Blakeney and Brandon Sampson.  Marquette has its own freshman building block to boast about when coach Steve Wojciechowski landed top 5 recruit power forward Henry Ellenson.  LSU will see a familiar foe as Cat Barber and N.C. State are also in this tournament.  It was Barber’s 17 points that helped erase a 16-point halftime deficit eliminating LSU from the NCAA Tournament.

The Battle 4 Atlantis has possibly taken over as the must-watch early-season tourney.  This year’s field includes UConn and former Big East foe Syracuse, Michigan and Texas A&M both of whom are looking to climb into the upper tier of their respective conferences, Texas and Charlotte both made high profile coaching changes; Charlotte hiring former NBA star Mark Price and Texas luring Shaka Smart away from VCU and last there is Gonzaga who is long past the mid-major moniker and now simply retools like a lot of the major programs across the country.  The storylines in this tournament are aplenty besides the ones mentioned above, how about Washington who saw the transfer flood gates open this offseason and its best player Nigel Williams-Goss who is now sitting out the season but will see his former teammates as he is now enrolled at Gonzaga.  This is one of those tournaments where it doesn’t matter when you watch, there will be something worth watching.

The Maui Invitational Nov. 23-25 will feature the likes of Kansas, Indiana, UCLA, UNLV, St. John’s, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest joining host Chaminade.  Kansas leads this field with seniors Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden being joined guards Frank Mason III and Sviatoislav Mykhailiuk  and freshman Cheick Diallo.  Yogi Farrell’s Indiana Hoosiers are looking play more up tempo this season with their top five scorers from last season’s team that averaged over 77 points a game returning.  UCLA lost some firepower off its Sweet 16 team from a year ago but senior Tony Parker returns hoping build upon that success with a much younger roster.   Dave Rice’s tenure at UNLV has been up and down; the Rebels have won games but have had no success in the NCAA Tournament when they have reached it .  During the regular season one thing that has plagued Rice’s squads has been the inability to win marquee games to help solidify their March resume.  This tournament can provide them a chance to do so.  The addition of 7-foot freshman and St. John’s transfer Chris Obekpa should help.  Speaking of St. John’s they have a new coach in former Red Storm legend Chris Mullin who will be on display in Maui.

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