Playing in a two- or three-game non-conference tournament can sometimes provide the necessary wins a team needs comes Selection Sunday in March.
But the key is to get the right games in these fields. If you lose in a quarterfinal matchup and miss out on playing quality games in the next two rounds, the whole tournament can be a missed opportunity. These games are precious.
A number of tournaments have already been bracketed, but here in mid-June are still up in the air. Organizers and television executives are deciding on the best matchups for ratings and/or due to seedings.
Let’s start with the Myrtle Beach Invitational (Nov. 15-16 & 18).
The eight teams in the field are: Fullerton, Monmouth, Saint Joseph’s, UCF, Valparaiso, Wake Forest, West Virginia and Western Kentucky.
West Virginia should be the highest-rated team in the field. UCF has a legit shot to win the American. Saint Joseph’s should contend for a top four finish in the A-10. And Western Kentucky is likely going to be one of the favorites in CUSA. Those should be the four semifinalists in some order. UCF, Saint Joe’s and Western Kentucky cannot afford to lose their first-round game and miss out on the chance to play each other and/or West Virginia.
"They're going to go down as the best four-year backcourt in the history of West Virginia basketball, and that's saying a lot." - Bob Huggins on Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles Jr. #MarchMadness pic.twitter.com/xOB41EH8jV— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 24, 2018
If the organizers want to set this up the best scenario possible, then seed West Virginia at No. 1, Western Kentucky at No. 4, and UCF and Saint Joseph’s at Nos. 2 and 3, respectively.
Notice I did not mention Wake Forest in the top four. The Demon Deacons are going through a reshuffling this season. Wake should be seeded No. 5 in this scenario and could be the spoiler for the Hilltoppers. If this were to occur then it gives the ACC/Wake Forest quality games while Western Kentucky would likely miss out on gaining any potential power-rating pop.
The Charleston Classic (Nov. 15-16 & 18) is going on at the same time and has high-level field that may not get the national pub but has plenty of teams that could make the NCAA tournament. The teams are: Alabama, Appalachian State, Ball State, Davidson, Northeastern, Purdue, Virginia Tech and Wichita State.
The top five seeds should be: 1. Virginia Tech; 2. Purdue; 3. Alabama; 4. Davidson; 5. Wichita State. Alabama and Davidson could be switched, but either way they are both going to be in the hunt for an NCAA tournament berth. Alabama still has plenty of experience, despite losing Colin Sexton. I can even see an argument to move the Tide ahead of Purdue. Davidson is my pick to win the A-10 behind Kellan Grady. The Hokies have the most experienced team under Buzz Williams.
Purdue has the best player in this field, maybe the most important in the Big Ten, and a possible Player of the Year candidate in Carsen Edwards. The Shockers are retooling, but never doubt Gregg Marshall’s ability to get his team ready for a challenge. If Wichita State were to go on a run here, it would do wonders for its profile heading into the AAC. Davidson will play a challenging schedule but picking up wins against these teams will help its résumé tremendously. Still, getting semifinals of Virginia Tech vs. Davidson/Wichita State and Purdue vs. Alabama would produce quality games for all.
The Maui Invitational (Nov. 19-21) is back to being the best tournament of the non-conference with Arizona, Auburn, Duke, Gonzaga, Illinois, Iowa State, San Diego State and Xavier. There is no longer a spot in the main field for Chaminade. Here is how I would seed the field: 1. Gonzaga; 2. Duke; 3. Auburn; 4. Iowa State; 5. San Diego State; 6. Xavier; 7. Illinois; 8. Arizona. Wow. Think about this field for a second. In a given year these could be the top eight seeds in a regional. Gonzaga was my top pick for the pre-season Power 36. Duke will get plenty of love for being a top choice. But they still should be 1-2 in some order and be set up on opposite brackets for a possible Maui final.
Iowa State will be a sleeper in the Big 12 with the return of Lindell Wigginton. A quarterfinal matchup between Iowa State and San Diego State would be a high-level March game. And how about the other quarterfinals: Gonzaga-Arizona? Duke-Illinois? Auburn-Xavier? The organizers can’t go wrong with tweaking a few of the bottom four seeds. Gonzaga, Duke and Iowa State are going to have tremendous power-rating schedules based on non-conference games and/or conference slates in the ACC and Big 12 for the latter two. San Diego State is the one school here that can benefit the most by winning two games in this field.
The Hall of Fame Classic has four teams in Kansas City (Nov. 19-20) with Missouri State, Nebraska, Texas Tech and USC. Here’s how they should be seeded: 1. Nebraska; 2. Texas Tech; 3. USC; 4. Missouri State. The Huskers ideally would like to play both Texas Tech and USC to help its cause. But Nebraska should be the top seed and play Missouri State, a game Nebraska has to win to get either Texas Tech or USC. Texas Tech and USC are going to have plenty of opportunities this season. Nebraska will too in the Big Ten, but non-conference misses last season cost the Huskers.
The Battle 4 Atlantis (Nov. 21-23) includes Butler, Dayton, Florida, Middle Tennessee, Oklahoma, Stanford, Virginia and Wisconsin on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. This is how it should be seeded: 1. Virginia; 2. Florida; 3. Wisconsin; 4. Butler; 5. Oklahoma; 6. Stanford; 7. Dayton; 8. Middle Tennessee. Once again, this is a field where there are no given games, all eight teams could find themselves in the postseason. If the seeds were to hold then the semifinals of Virginia vs. Butler/Oklahoma would be an elite game as would a rematch of the 2016 Sweet 16 game between Florida and Wisconsin. The top four teams shouldn’t be on the bubble, but if for some reason things go sideways later in the season then this tournament could come back to help them. Dayton and Middle Tennessee would definitely need two quality wins here to put on the shelf for the season.
The NIT Season Tip-Off (Nov. 21 & Nov. 23) is loaded in Brooklyn. The four teams should be seeded like this: 1. Kansas; 2. Tennessee; 3. Marquette; 4. Louisville. Seriously, semifinals of Kansas-Louisville and Tennessee-Marquette need to happen. Louisville is the one school amid the four that has a bit of an uphill climb to be an NCAA team, but don’t dare dismiss Chris Mack’s ability to pull it off in year one. Marquette has the best scoring player in this field in Markus Howard. The Vols are coming off a co-SEC title. Kansas will be the favorite to win the Big 12 yet again and get back to a Final Four. Kansas vs. Tennessee would be the highest-profile final but if Marquette can get a shot at the Jayhawks it will do wonders for its profile.
The Invitational at ESPN’s Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex (Nov. 22-23 & 25) in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., is another hidden gem. The teams should be seeded: 1. Villanova; 2. Florida State; 3. LSU; 4. Oklahoma State; 5. Memphis; 6. UAB; 7. College of Charleston; 8. Canisius. How the organizers want to handle seeds 6-8 is moot. But getting the top five will be important. Memphis will need this tournament to jump start its season and make a case for the NCAA tournament if it can finish in the top three in the AAC. Oklahoma State missed out on the NCAAs last season by a game or two. LSU is going to be a riser in the SEC behind Tremont Waters. I could see my pick of LSU at No. 3 being challenged, but the Tigers are legit. And a semifinal of LSU-Oklahoma State/Memphis would be a hit. A Villanova-Florida State final between the defending national champ and an Elite Eight team would be a high-level game.
The Wooden Legacy (Nov. 22-23 & 25) in Fullerton should be seeded like this: 1. Miami; 2. Seton Hall 3. Northwestern; 4. Utah; 5. Hawaii; 6. Fresno State; 7. La Salle; 8. Grand Canyon. There is plenty of room to quibble over the seedings here based on who is returning and who is not. But the top four need to reach the semifinals to ensure they get the maximum pop out of this tournament. Miami probably won’t need to worry about its power-rating or quadrant 1 or 2 wins come March. The other three may sweat things out yet again. So getting two quality games out of this field would do wonders for their profile. The bottom four could easily play spoiler here and mess up the opportunities for quality wins by reaching the semifinal or final.
Michigan State, North Carolina, Texas and UCLA are in the Las Vegas Invitational (Nov. 22-23) and seeding this one should go like this: 1. North Carolina; 2. Michigan State; 3. UCLA; 4. Texas. This tournament can’t make a major mistake here. But a UNC-Michigan State final would be ideal. Of course, Texas and UCLA are more than capable of upsetting either of the top two on a neutral court. All four should be in the NCAA tournament, with Texas and UCLA likely needing wins here more than the top two.
The Diamond Head Classic comes right before conference play (Dec. 22-23 & 25) in Honolulu. The teams involved are: Bucknell, Charlotte, Colorado, Hawaii, Indiana State, Rhode Island, TCU and UNLV. The top four seeds should be: 1. TCU; 2. Colorado; 3. Rhode Island; 4. UNLV. A TCU-Colorado final is what would be best for both schools and for the tournament. But host Hawaii always is a spoiler in this event. The Buffaloes should be an NCAA tournament team and will need as many high-profile wins as possible before the Pac-12. If URI wants to get back to the NCAAs under first-year coach David Cox then winning two in this event is a must. UNLV would do wonders for its cause if it could do the same.