One of the many quirks of college basketball is the preseason tournament, the first of which, the NIT Season Tip-Off, kicks off the season on Monday. Over the past decade, the amount of preseason tournament has multiplied exponentially, in no small part due to the NCAA relaxing its rules on the number of non-conference games a team can play. These tournaments often can set the tone for a season and create buzz for Mid-Majors; case in point would be Butler’s run to the Preseason NIT final, and Southern Illinois’s victories over Arkansas and Virginia Tech last year. Follow me after the jump for your roadmap to the preseason tournament landscape.
The 2K Sports Hoops Classic:
Major Teams: Oklahoma, Memphis, Kentucky, and Connecticut.
This tournament will be extremely boring for the regional sites, and then very interesting once the semi-finals commence in Madison Square Garden. For Memphis, this will be a golden opportunity to solidify its lofty preseason ranking. A loss to any of these traditional powers would be unexpected. For UConn, this will be an important barometer for the progress that has been made in the offseason. While Kentucky is ranked and has high expectations, Billy Gillespie has an extremely young team which might not react well to the bright lights of MSG.
Mid-Major Upset Potential: Extremely unlikely. This tournament is devoid of any compelling mid-majors, essentially guaranteeing the top 4 teams a spot at MSG. The best of the bunch is Richmond, but don’t expect to see the Spiders stay within 15 points of Memphis, let alone upset them.
Prediction: Memphis will win over UConn, who will beat Kentucky in the semis in a close game. The domain name firebillygillespie.com will be registered minutes after the loss.
Major Teams: Missouri, Michigan St, Maryland, and UCLA
The CBE Classic could produce one of the best games of the early season if the chalk holds and Michigan St plays UCLA in the final. There is no reason to think that it won’t happen that way. Missouri is an intriguing team, but really not ready for the big stage just yet. Maryland is in a turnover year, having lost DJ Strawberry and Mike Jones.
Mid-Major Upset Probability: Slim to none. The best of the bunch, Weber St, is matched up against UCLA in the second round, which is the worst possible draw. Tulsa might have a shot on a neutral floor against Maryland, but forget it in College Park.
Prediction: Michigan St. takes the tournament in a mini-upset over UCLA.
EA Sports Maui Invitational
The granddaddy of the preseason tournaments checks in this year with a weaker field than most years. Highlighting the field are Marquette and Duke, with LSU and Oklahoma St meeting up in the “gee, I wish it were two years ago” battle. LSU again has great talent on the wings, but lacks a point guard. Marquette must come in as the tournament favorite, although Duke will present a challenge.
Mid-Major Upset Probability: Unlikely, but possible. The only real mid-majors here are Princeton and Chaminade (d-III). Princeton won’t beat Duke, but don’t be surprised if they take out Arizona St. in the consolation bracket. Of course, Chaminade will be looking for the miracle. Although, the last time Chaminade played a Big East school (Villanova), they pulled off the shocker.
Prediction: Marquette over Duke (boring, I know, but who is going to beat them? Illinois?)
NIT Season Tip-Off
Major Teams: Syracuse, Texas A&M, Washington, Ohio State
This tournament could really show which teams that lost major players last year are rebuilding effectively. Ohio State, Texas A&M, and Washington all lost lottery picks (Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Acie Law IV, and Spencer Hawes, respectively) last year. Of the three, Ohio State appears to be the best off, as it has 7 footer Kostas Koufos coming in, but this will be a wide open tournament.
Mid Major Upset Probability: Moderate. St Joseph’s could pull the upset on Syracuse in the East region. This tournament is filled with teams that would have been dangerous last year, but not so much this year. Oral Roberts and Delaware St figure to be in rebuilding years after losing Caleb Green and Jahsha Bluitt, respectively. Finally, Texas A&M Corpus Christi could pull the minor upset on UTEP in the first round.
Prediction: I think Washington will actually take this in an upset over Ohio State. I’m deferring to Pac-10 guru Johninho, who describes Washington as “scary loaded”. I’m just not so high on Texas A&M, but if the seeds hold for the semis, expect to see some very competitive basketball at MSG.
The Great Alaska Shootout
Major Teams: Gonzaga, Texas Tech, Butler
For my money, the most intriguing preseason tournament is the Great Alaska Shootout. Gonzaga and Washington State, highly touted coming into the year, each have a chance to get signature wins right off the bat. For Texas Tech, a team that has bubble written all over it, this tournament could provide the non-conference win that gets them over the top.
Mid Major Upset probabilty: Probable. This tournament field contains one of the best mid-majors in the country. No, not Gonzaga (they’re a major team in my eyes), Butler. Butler is back with most of its players from its Cinderella season last year. They play Michigan in the first round, and should be favored.
Prediction: Butler “upsets” Michigan and Virginia Tech in two great games on the way to the finals against Gonzaga. Gonzaga will win, but this tournament will validate Butler’s spot as a top-25 team. You probably won’t see many of these games played on Alaska time, but if you do, you will not be disappointed.