The 2015-16 college basketball season starts in three weeks, ain't life grand. The schedule on Friday, Nov. 13th is impressive in volume alone. There are 153 games on the slate, meaning that 80 percent of the 351 Division I teams play on the opening night of the regular season. Included are intriguing matchups such as UAB - Auburn, Colorado - Iowa St., and Pittsburgh - Gonzaga; not to mention inner-city rivalries like Boston - Northeastern or St. Joe’s - Drexel.
After a seven-month offseason, just watching the star freshman score or the new coach lead are pleasant sights on a high definition screen.
The schedule remains steady through the rest of the week, with matchups that run the gamut on the competitive scale. The power conference school searching for an identity should beware a confident, efficient mid-major (Belmont - Arizona State). Tilts like Tennessee - Georgia Tech are cool regional treats. ESPN’s annual 24-hour hoops marathon always delivers. Baylor and Oregon kick things off on Nov. 16th in what will surely be a colorful affair. Kansas and Michigan State wrap it up late on the 17th, with Duke - Kentucky and Georgetown - Maryland tucked in between.
Then, as we approach Thanksgiving each year, the college basketball season enters a heavenly 10-day stretch where there might not be a game on every minute of the day, but it certainly feels that way. And it feels good.
Preseason tournaments span the hemisphere, from the smooth white sand in Hawaii to the lowcountry boil in Charleston. Teams pack parkas and head off to Alaska, or hop to the tropics - San Juan, St. Thomas, Paradise Island, any beach will do. Coaches wear golf shirts or floral prints. Fans follow along, happy to burn vacation days and escape the cold temperatures back home.
Although the attire and attitude may be relaxed, these tournament games in a three or four day window provide a competitive lens to view a team’s weaknesses and what it can become. Breakout performances can lead to all-conference seasons. Hoisting the tournament trophy can boost a team’s confidence, or form a habit that sustains through the postseason. Winning two of three games in a neutral setting can make a difference to the NCAA tournament selection committee in March.
Here are five eight-team tournaments to watch while preparing the holiday feast or nibbling on leftovers (for a comprehensive list of early season tournaments visit bloggingthebracket.com).
Puerto Rico Tipoff, San Juan, PR, Nov. 19, 20, 22 - (ESPN networks)
Participants: Butler (Big East), Miami (ACC), Minnesota (Big Ten), Mississippi State (SEC), Missouri State (MVC), Temple (American), Texas Tech (Big 12), Utah (Pac-12)
The Skinny: The bracket sets up a Butler - Utah final, but Miami (Fla.) is capable of playing the spoiler by tripping up the Utes in the semifinals. Butler returns preseason All-Big East selections Kellen Dunham (16.5 ppg last season) and Roosevelt Jones (12.7 ppg). Utah won 26 games and lost to Duke in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. The Utes return four starters, including Jordan Loveridge and Brandon Taylor, who both shot 43 percent from 3-point range last season.
Gildan Charleston Classic, Charleston, SC, Nov. 19, 20, 22 - (ESPN networks)
Participants: Bradley (MVC), George Mason (A 10), Long Beach State (Big West), Oklahoma State (Big 12), Ole Miss (SEC), Seton Hall (Big East), Towson (CAA), Virginia (ACC)
The skinny: Virginia and Oklahoma State are the favorites in this tournament that matches four power conference schools against mid-level opponents in the opening round. George Mason has a new coach, Dave Clausen formerly of Bucknell, and an impact big man in Shevon Thompson.
Maui Jim Maui Invitational, Lahaina, HI, Nov. 23-25 - (ESPN Family)
Participants: Chaminade (DII, host), Indiana (Big Ten), Kansas (Big 12), St. John's (Big East), UCLA (Pac-12), UNLV (Mountain West), Vanderbilt (SEC), Wake Forest (ACC)
The skinny: This is the grandfather of Thanksgiving week college basketball tournaments. Once again the cozy Lahaina Civic Center on Maui will play host to a premier field plucked from the mainland's best conferences. Kansas, led by slick point guard Frank Mason and steady forward Perry Ellis, is the favorite. But don’t expect Vanderbilt and Indiana to leave the island without a fight.
Battle 4 Atlantis, Paradise Island, Bahamas, Nov. 25-27, (ESPN & AXS.TV)
Participants: Charlotte (C-USA), Connecticut (American), Gonzaga (WCC), Michigan (Big Ten), Syracuse (ACC), Texas (Big 12), Texas A&M (SEC), Washington (Pac-12).
The skinny: This tournament began in 2011 and has consistently attracted a sterling field to Imperial Arena, a unmistakable venue featuring a low ceiling and theater lighting. Ample drama should occur there again. Charlotte (Mark Price) and Texas (Shaka Smart) are breaking in new coaches, while upper crust programs Syracuse, Michigan and Connecticut aim to rebound from a disappointing 2014-15 season.
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Advocare Invitational, Lake Buena Vista, FL, Nov. 26-27, 29 (ESPN Family)
Participants: Alabama (SEC), Dayton (A 10), Iowa (Big Ten), Monmouth (MAAC), Notre Dame (ACC), USC (Pac-12), Wichita State (MVC), Xavier (Big East)
The Skinny: Down in the land of Disney these teams might find time to ride Space Mountain or hear a lion roar, but the real thrill comes on the court as they pursue a resume boosting title. Veteran guards Fred Van Vleet and Ron Baker make Wichita State the clear favorite to rule Mickey Mouse’s house. But Xavier and Notre Dame will certainly be a factor. USC coach Andy Enfield hopes to make a splash in his third year on the West Coast and Dayton is always a threat under Archie Miller.