The do-or-die nature of college basketball's NCAA tournament is what makes the sport so special, especially in March. But its early season tournaments also set it apart from most sports, giving fans two months of intriguing non-conference matchups in the fall that likely wouldn't be played otherwise.
Here is a breakdown of the major college basketball early season tournaments and events, listed in chronological order.
Location: United Center, Chicago, Ill.
Date: Tuesday, Nov. 14
Player to Watch: Michigan State F Jaren Jackson Jr.
The Matchups: No. 1 Duke vs. No. 2 Michigan State; No. 4 Kansas vs. No. 5 KentuckyScouting Report: While not a tournament, the Champions Classic has been responsible for some of the best early season matchups since its inception in 2011. This year might bring the best games to date as the top two teams in the AP Top 25, No. 1 Duke and No. 2 Michigan State, square off in a clash of college basketball titans, followed by No. 4 Kansas vs. No. 7 Kentucky. This is must-see TV for any diehard college basketball fan.
Hall of Fame Classic
Location: Sprint Center, Kansas City, Mo.
Dates: Nov. 20-21
Player to Watch: Creighton G Marcus Foster
The Favorite: UCLA
Scouting Report: This four-team field features a quartet of 2017 NCAA tournament participants and two teams ranked in the preseason AP Top 25, No. 21 UCLA and No. 24 Baylor. The two other teams, Creighton and Wisconsin, each have an all-conference players talented enough to take over a game.
Creighton guard Marcus Foster scored 23 points on 13 attempts in the Bluejays' season opener and finished third in Big East scoring last season at 18.2 points per game. Wisconsin forward Ethan Happ was eighth in college basketball advanced statistics guru Ken Pomeroy's national player of the year rankings last season, after an efficient season at both ends of the floor.
Location: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Dates: Nov. 20-21
Player to Watch: Penn State G Tony Carr
The Favorite: Texas A&M
Scouting Report: After a season-opening blowout win over No. 11 West Virginia, Texas A&M looks like it's poised to make a run at the SEC title, and the Aggies will travel to Brooklyn with a very good chance to win the Legends Classic. They'll play Oklahoma State in the first round, with an in-state rivalry matchup between Penn State and Pittsburgh on the other side of the bracket.
.@TheAndyKatz looks at @aggiembk fresh off a huge win over West Virginia this past weekend. The Aggies will take on @OSUMBB @PennStateMBB & @Pitt_MBB in the Championship Rounds of the @Progressive #LegendsClassic, Nov. 20-21 at @barclayscenter. pic.twitter.com/o8kYY3m8XL— Legends Classic (@LegendsBBall) November 13, 2017
The Nittany Lions should take a step forward in the Big Ten this season and sophomore point guard Tony Carr could be a breakout performer this season. He had 33 points, nine rebounds and seven assists in Penn State's season-opener against Campbell.
Location: Lahaina Civic Center, Maui, Hawaii
Dates: Nov. 20-22
Player to Watch: Notre Dame F Bonzie Colson
The Favorite: Wichita State
Scouting Report: What's better than college basketball in an exotic locale with three days of strong matchups and Bill Walton broadcasting from the sidelines? This year's Maui Invitational field may not be as strong as in years past but the tournament bracket sets up a potential championship game between No. 6 Wichita State and No. 13 Notre Dame. Three of the teams have first-year coaches – California, LSU and VCU – and new Tigers coach Will Wade is on the opposite side of the bracket from the Rams, his former team, making for an intriguing storyline throughout the tournament.
Marquette, led by sophomore point guard Markus Howard, led the country in 3-point percentage last season, making the Golden Eagles a sleeper in Maui if they can get hot from outside the arc. While Michigan has to replace its top two scorers from last season – guards Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin – forward Moritz Wagner (12.1 points per game, 39.5 percent 3-point) and guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (9.1 points per game, 37.8 percent 3-point) return from an offense that ranked as the fourth-most efficient in the country last season. The Wolverines will also welcome transfer guards Charles Matthews (Kentucky) and Jaaron Simmons (Ohio).
GCI Great Alaska Shootout
Location: Alaska Airlines Center, Anchorage, Alaska
Dates: Nov. 22-25
Player to Watch: College of Charleston G Joe Chealey
The Favorite: College of Charleston
|First||Wed., Nov. 22||Cal Poly vs. College of Charleston||4 p.m. ET|
|First||Wed., Nov. 22||Central Michigan vs. Sam Houston State||6:30 p.m. ET|
|First||Wed., Nov. 22||Idaho vs. Santa Clara||9:30 p.m. ET|
|First||Thurs., Nov. 23||CSU Bakersfield vs. Alaska Anchorage||12 a.m. ET|
|Consolation semifinals||Thurs., Nov. 23||Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser||9:30 p.m. ET|
|Consolation semifinals||Fri., Nov. 24||Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 loser||12 a.m. ET|
|Semifinals||Fri., Nov. 24||Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner||9:30 p.m. ET|
|Semifinals||Sat., Nov. 25||Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner||12 a.m. ET|
|7th/8th place game||Sat., Nov. 25||Game 5 loser vs. Game 6 loser||4 p.m. ET|
|4th/6th place game||Sat., Nov. 25||Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner||6:30 p.m. ET|
|3rd/5th place game||Sat., Nov. 25||Game 7 loser vs. Game 8 loser||9:30 p.m. ET|
|Championship||Sun., Nov. 26||Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner||12 a.m. ET|
Scouting Report: While the casual college basketball fan may not realize it, College of Charleston should enter the Great Alaska Shootout as the clear favorite. After returning all five starters from last season, the Cougars are ranked No. 77 nationally by Pomeroy and were picked to win the Colonial Athletic Association by the league's coaches and media members. Led by senior guard Joe Chealey (17.8 points per game, 3.5 rebounds per game, 3.2 assists per game, 39.2 percent 3-point in '16-17), College of Charleston will be a mid-major team to keep an eye on this season.
Battle 4 Atlantis
Location: Paradise Island, Bahamas
Dates: Nov. 22-24
Player to Watch: Villanova G Jalen Brunson
The Favorite: Arizona
Complete Battle 4 Atlantis bracket: pic.twitter.com/qcPWaIZl39— The Wolfpacker (@TheWolfpacker) August 14, 2017
Scouting Report: Any tournament with the potential for a matchup between No. 3 Arizona and No. 5 Villanova in the championship game is must-watch television for college basketball fans. While the Battle 4 Atlantis is headlined by a pair of top 10 teams, the tournament is more than two teams deep. No. 19 Purdue, Tennessee and SMU have NCAA tournament aspirations.
Two of the top national player of the year candidates – Villanova guard Jalen Brunson (14.7 points per game, 4.1 assists per game, 2.6 rebounds per game in '16-17) and Arizona guard Allonzo Trier (17.2 points per game, 5.3 rebounds per game, 2.7 assists per game in '16-17) – will be in the Bahamas, but there are other potential all-conference players throughout the field, including Purdue forward Vince Edwards and SMU guard Shake Milton.
NIT Season Tip-off
Location: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Dates: Nov. 23-24
Player to Watch: Seton Hall F Angel Delgado
The Favorite: Seton Hall
Scouting Report: You could reasonably make a case for any of the four teams to have a path to claiming an NIT Season Tip-off championship after each team made the NCAA tournament last season. Seton Hall is the only team in the field to be ranked in the latest AP Top 25 Poll. The Pirates have great size, experience and balance. Rhode Island also boasts a ton of experience in its backcourt with four senior guards. Virginia is always stout defensively and Vanderbilt returns the bulk of its outside shooting from last year, when the Commodores finished in the top 10 nationally in 3s made.
Las Vegas Invitational
Location: Orleans Arena, Las Vegas, Nev.
Dates: Nov. 23-24
Player to Watch: Xavier F Trevon Bluiett
The Favorite: Xavier
|Thursday, Nov. 23||Hampton vs. Northern Arizona||1:45 p.m. ET|
|Thursday, Nov. 23||Xavier vs. George Washington||5 p.m. ET|
|Thursday, Nov. 23||Kansas State vs. Arizona State||7:30 p.m. ET|
|Thursday, Nov. 23||Rider vs. UC Irvine||10 p.m. ET|
|Friday, Nov. 24||Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 4||2 p.m. ET|
|Friday, Nov. 24||Winner Game 2 vs. Winner Game 3||5:30 p.m. ET|
|Friday, Nov. 24||Loser Game 2 vs. Loser Game 3||8 p.m. ET|
|Friday, Nov. 24||Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 4||10:30 p.m. ET|
Scouting Report: Xavier is the only team in the field that is currrently ranked in the AP Top 25 poll and have topped the century mark in scoring in back-to-back contests. The Musketeers won the Tire Pros Invitational last fall and the Advocare Invitational in 2015, and they'll look to win their third consecutive early season tournament this fall.
Location: ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, Orlando, Fla.
Dates: Nov. 23-26
Player to Watch: Missouri F Michael Porter Jr.
The Favorite: West Virginia
Scouting Report: Missouri and West Virginia are on opposite sides of the bracket, setting up a potential championship game between one of the top freshmen classes in the country and one of the stingiest defensive systems in college basketball. The sky is the limit for Missouri freshman forward Michael Porter Jr.
However, don't count out UCF or St. John's. If UCF center Tacko Fall returns to full health, the Knights can be a nightmare matchup for opposing offenses and the Johnnies wield a backcourt in sophomore Shamorie Ponds and Marcus LoVett that averaged a combined 33.3 points per game last season.
Phil Knight Invitational
Location: Portland, Ore.
Dates: Nov. 23-26
Player to Watch: Michigan State F Miles Bridges
The Favorites: Michigan State (Victory Bracket), Duke (Motion Bracket)
Scouting Report: This may be the biggest early season college basketball tournament in the history of the sport. Sixteen teams, including many of the best programs, players and coaches in the country, will participate in 24 games over the course of four days. The event is split into two brackets – the Victory Bracket and the Motion Bracket. Michigan State and North Carolina headline the Victory Bracket while Duke, Florida, Gonzaga and Texas all represent the Motion Bracket. There will be no shortage of storylines, highlights and quality wins coming out of Portland.
Location: Titan Gym, Fullerton, Calif.
Dates: Nov. 23-26
Player to Watch: Saint Mary's C Jock Landale
The Favorite: Saint Mary's
Scouting Report: This year's Wooden Legacy field has some serious West Coast flavor as five of the eight teams are from California or Washington. Saint Mary's could win the West Coast Conference this year and the Gaels are ranked No. 21 in the latest AP poll. Led by center Jock Landale (16.9 points per game, 9.5 rebounds per game in '16-17), they'll be in the mix to win in Fullerton.
Emerald Coast Classic
Location: Destin, Fla.
Dates: Nov. 24-25
Player to Watch: St. Bonaventure G Jaylen Adams
The Favorite: TCU
|Friday, Nov. 24||Tennessee Tech vs. Omaha||11 a.m. ET|
|Friday, Nov. 24||Maryland Eastern Shore vs. Jackson State||1:30 p.m. ET|
|Friday, Nov. 24||New Mexico vs. TCU||6 p.m. ET|
|Friday, Nov. 24||St. Bonaventure vs. Maryland||8:30 p.m. ET|
|Saturday, Nov. 25||Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2||10 a.m. ET|
|Saturday, Nov. 25||Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2||12:30 p.m. ET|
|Saturday, Nov. 25||Loser Game 3 vs. Loser Game 4||3 p.m. ET|
|Saturday, Nov. 25||Winner Game 4 vs. Winner Game 4||6 p.m. ET|
Scouting Report: TCU won the NIT last spring in head coach Jamie Dixon's first season in Fort Worth, and the Horned Frogs can build on that experience with another tournament championship this fall. They didn't have any seniors among their top six scorers last season, meaning TCU should be able to improve upon its seventh place finish in the Big 12 last season. Maryland, led by a trio of sophomores in Justin Jackson, Kevin Huerter and Anthony Cowan, and St. Bonaventure, which has one of the best college basketball players you probably don't know about – guard Jaylen Adams (20.6 points per game, 6.5 assists per game in '16-17), could have enough star power to win the tournament.
Hoophall Miami Invitational
Location: American Airlines Arena, Miami, Fla.
Dates: Dec. 2
Player to Watch: Kansas G Devonte' Graham
The Matchups: Kansas vs. Syracuse at 5:30 p.m. ET | Miami vs. Princeton at 8 p.m. ET
Scouting Report: After many of college basketball's early season tournaments and events end in November, the Hoophall Miami Invitational provides a strong doubleheader in early December. National title contender Kansas will face off against Syracuse, followed by ACC contender Miami against Princeton. The Jayhawks and Hurricanes will enter with high expectations in their respective games, but a win for Syracuse or Princeton would carry significant weight on Selection Sunday.
Jimmy V. Classic
Location: Madison Square Garden, New York, N.Y.
Date: Dec. 5
Player to Watch: Gonzaga F Johnathan Williams
Scouting Report: This year's Jimmy V. Classic pairs two great programs from the east coast and two teams that have each played for national championship in the last two seasons. The Orange missed the NCAA tournament for just the ninth time in Jim Boeheim's tenure at Syracuse last year, and UConn has made the tournament just once in the three seasons since winning its last national championship. Villanova could have the pieces to make another Final Four, while Gonzaga hopes its returners, led by forward Johnathan Williams, can bottle the magic that the Bulldogs had in last season's runner-up finish.
Location: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Ind.
Date: Dec. 16
Player to Watch: Notre Dame F Bonzie Colson
The Matchups: Purdue vs. Butler at 12 p.m. ET | Indiana vs. Notre Dame at 2:30 p.m. ET
Scouting Report: This is a great annual event that brings together the four premier college basketball programs in Indiana, a state that loves the sport as much as any. Indiana and Butler both have new head coaches in Archie Miller and LaVall Jordan, respectively, which means this could be a rebuilding season in Bloomington and Indianapolis, while Notre Dame and Purdue should compete for top-four finishes in their respective conferences. Notre Dame forward Bonzie Colson is a First Team All-American candidate after averaging 18 points, 13 rebounds and five assists per game last season.
Highlights from the W last night... pic.twitter.com/mh4oANGOdu— Notre Dame MBB (@NDmbb) November 14, 2017
Diamond Head Classic
Location: Stan Sheriff Center, Honolulu, Hawaii
Dates: Dec. 22-25
Player to Watch: USC F Chimezie Metu
The Favorite: USC
Scouting Report: USC and Miami are on opposite sides of the bracket, potentially setting up a really fun championship game on Christmas but there are several sneaky mid-major teams in Middle Tennessee, Princeton and Davidson, who could play the role of spoiler.
CBS Sports Classic
Location: Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, La.
Date: Dec. 23
Player to Watch: Kentucky G Hamidou Diallo
The Matchups: Ohio State vs. North Carolina | Kentucky vs. UCLA
Scouting Report: Ohio State will likely undergo a rebuilding year under new coach Chris Holtmann, but the other three teams in this event are all ranked in the AP Top 25 Poll with all-conference-level players. Kentucky was pushed in its first two games of the season against Utah Valley and Vermont, so UCLA, along with Kansas and Louisville, will provide the Wildcats with a good non-conference test. North Carolina and UCLA both lost several starters from last season, meaning there are opportunities available for the key returners and freshmen. The CBS Sports Classic is a great event to cap off college basketball's non-conference schedule.