Nothing beats March Madness, but this time of year is a close second for college basketball fans who crave a full plate of action.Beginning on Thursday morning, tournaments and exempt events dot the schedule for the next 11 days. There are games in the morning and games late at night. Games played on islands and in ballrooms.
Ranked teams will be tested on neutral courts. Under-the-radar programs can notch wins that might boost their resumes later. Coaches will learn more about their team, as it faces tense competition on consecutive days in a relaxed environment.
For a comprehensive list of every tournament, from Charleston to Alaska, be sure to check this list. Here are five worth watching closely:
(Matchups are listed as if in a bracket, going from top to bottom. Winner of game 1 plays Winner of game 2, etc.)
Tire Pros Invitational
Nov. 17, 18, 20
Lake Buena Vista, Fla. - ESPN Networks
Quarterfinals: Clemson vs. Davidson, Xavier vs. Missouri, Northern Iowa vs. Arizona St., Tulane vs. Oklahoma
The opener between Clemson and Davidson (11 a.m. Thursday, ESPNU) features two veteran stars who are sometimes overlooked amid all the fawning over freshmen. Davidson point guard Jack Gibbs (23.4 ppg last season) is expected to play after missing the opener with a shoulder injury. Wildcats coach Bob McKillop moves Gibbs around, but he’s particularly dangerous in pick-and-roll situations, ranking in the 84th percentile per Synergy Sports Tech. Clemson forward Jaron Blossomgame (18.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg) possesses a complete offensive package. He’s dangerous as a spot-up shooter (1.094 points per possession) or operating in the low post (1.059 ppp).
Projected Final: Xavier vs. Oklahoma
Hall of Fame Tipoff
Semifinals: Duke vs. Penn St., Cincinnati vs. Rhode Island
This is an eight-team event, but the heavy hitters are in the Naismith Bracket, which meets at the Mohegan Sun for two games over the weekend. Duke won’t be No. 1 next Monday after losing to Kansas 77-75 on Tuesday night. The Blue Devils won’t have freshman stars Marques Bolden, Harry Giles and Jayson Tatum either, so, Grayson Allen must shoulder the load. The Jayhawks harassed him into 4 of 15 shooting and a sub-100 offensive rating for only the fifth game in the last 40. They clogged driving lanes, shadowed him with an extra defender and eliminated open looks, providing the blueprint for defending the preseason Player of the Year.
Rhode Island, one of the favorites in the Atlantic 10, plays aggressive defense and counters with E.C. Matthews, who was sharp in his first two games back after missing last season due to injury. He hit 17 of 22 shots and scored 41 points.
Projected Final: Duke - Rhode Island
Maui Jim Maui Invitational
Quarterfinals: Tennessee vs. Wisconsin, Georgetown vs. Oregon, Oklahoma St. vs. UConn, North Carolina vs. Chaminade
Thanksgiving week wouldn’t feel right without seeing coaches and commentators in floral print shirts as thrilling hoops unfolds inside the cozy Lahaina Civic Center. Maui always attracts a strong field and provides a window into what lies ahead in the college hoops season. The best news here? Oregon forward Dillon Brooks (16.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg) has recovered from offseason foot surgery and is expected to make his season debut. The Ducks looked lost on offense without him Tuesday, mustering 0.82 points per possession in a 66-49 loss to Baylor. North Carolina’s attack is running in midseason form. The Tar Heels averaged 95 points per game in their first three victories and are third in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency (117.5) per KenPom.com
Projected Final: Oregon - North Carolina
Battle 4 Atlantis
Paradise Island, Bahamas
ESPN Networks and AXS
Quarterfinals: VCU vs. Baylor, Michigan St. vs. St. John’s, Wichita State vs. LSU, Louisville vs. ODU.
If you’ve been here (to this website, not Atlantis) before, you know how much we love theater lighting and ballroom basketball inside Imperial Arena on Paradise Island. Attracting a field of this caliber also makes the event easy on the eyes. The semifinals could feature four programs that have reached a Final Four since 2011 (VCU, Michigan St., Wichita St., Louisville). Don’t be surprised if rockfights break out. Wichita State and Louisville finished 1-2 in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency last season. The Cardinals stymied solid mid-majors Evansville and William & Mary to open the season (52.5 ppg, 0.72 ppp). Michigan St. is the best 0-2 team around, but coach Tom Izzo must be concerned with an alarming turnover rate (27 percent of possessions, 322nd in the nation).
Projected Final: Baylor - Louisville
Direct TV Wooden Legacy
Nov. 24-25, 27
Fullerton and Anaheim, Calif.
Quarterfinals: Texas A&M vs. Cal-State Northridge, New Mexico vs. Virginia Tech, Dayton vs. Nebraska, Portland vs. UCLA
The Wooden Legacy championship game, 9 p.m. Sunday the 27th, is one final reason to feel thankful. After a weekend filling our plates with turkey, dressing and (hopefully) a buzzer-beater or two, unlatch the belt, settle back in the easy chair and enjoy one last game before facing the reality of a post-holiday weekend Monday morning. This event gives Virginia Tech a chance to accumulate quality victories that could swing coach Buzz Williams’ senior-laden squad to the good side of the NCAA bubble. Zach LeDay is a beast in the paint. He hit 68 percent of 2-pointers and snagged 10.5 rebounds in the Hokies’ first two victories.
Projected Final: Va. Tech - UCLA