Early Season Basketball Tournaments

As fans, we were treated to a terrific opening few days of college basketball.  The unexpected upsets of Baylor and Wichita State to the obliteration that Duke laid on Kentucky made for one of the most memorable opening days of college basketball.  That was followed up by exciting games played throughout the week like Buffalo going on the road to West Virginia and winning in overtime.  The loss the Mountaineers incurred was the first home opening loss since the 1989 season.

The growth of early season tournaments in college basketball has rocketed in the past decade.  In quick succession of beginning the season, teams have only played a few games before they ship off to various destinations to compete in early season basketball tournaments.   It seems that this time of year has now becoming saturated with an outlandish number of tournaments.  In this write up, attention will be given to tournaments that have more at stake for the participating teams.  Tournaments where teams that are likely to make the NCAA tournament or those that I anticipate to be on the bubble will be discussed below.

Listed below are just a few of bracketed early season tournaments.  There are an equal amount of non-bracketed early season tournaments as well.  As far as previewing the tournaments, I have mentioned the dates games are played and the location.  For a majority of the tournaments, agreements were made that some teams participating will visit schools that are actually traveling to the tournament site.  Therefore, I have not listed every team that is participating in the actual tournament, only the teams that are traveling to the tournament site.

I look at potential match ups, likely results, and dark horses to win each tournament below.  You will also see a link you may click on that will take you directly to the tournament bracket.

Gildan Charleston Classic

Thurs-Friday and Sunday, Nov. 15-16 and 18 in Charleston, South Carolina. Bracket

Teams participating: Alabama, Appalachian State, Ball State, Davidson, Northeastern, Purdue, Virginia Tech, Wichita State.

As far as quarterfinal games that are of interest, the Alabama/Northeastern final may be a surprise.  Northeastern has a solid squad.  Their season opening loss at home to Boston University does raise some question marks.

Virginia Tech should handle a Ball State team that may surprise some people in the Mid American Conference this year.  The Hokies match up well against both Alabama and Northeastern and I see them moving onto the final against Purdue.

The possible match up between Purdue and Wichita State in the semifinals could be interesting.  However, with the way Wichita State has started the year, I will be surprised if they hang around with Purdue.

Ultimately, the Boilermakers have more play-makers than Virginia Tech does, and with Carsen Edwards leading Purdue, it will be a tough ask to slow him and his supporting offensive cast down.

Favorite to win: Purdue

Dark Horse: Northeastern

U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam

Friday – Monday, November 16-19 in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands  Bracket

Teams Participating: Eastern Kentucky, Kansas State, Kennesaw State, Missouri, Old Dominion, Oregon State, Penn, Northern Iowa

There is a clear favorite in this field and it is Kansas State.  Missouri and Old Dominion are the two teams that could challenge Kansas State, but I think that those two teams are a tier below.  Northern Iowa is in a down year, and the likes of Eastern Kentucky, Kennesaw State, Penn, and Oregon State are weak teams.

I think a semi final game between Old Dominion and Missouri would turn out to be a close game with the winner advancing to the final against Kansas State.

Favorite to win: Kansas State

Dark horse to win: Old Dominion

Cayman Islands Classic

Monday-Wednesday, November 19-21 George Town, Grand Cayman  Bracket

Teams Participating: Akron, Boise State, Clemson, Creighton, Georgia, Georgia State, Illinois State, St. Bonaventure

The two teams that are favorites heading into this tournament are Clemson and Creighton.  I anticipate both teams meeting each other in the winners bracket final.  There are a couple opportunities for Clemson or Creighton to slip up to their competition though.  If Clemson meets Illinois State in the semifinal, the Redbirds have a good chance of beating Clemson.  Likewise, Georgia State may sneak up on Creighton depending on how well the Panthers prepare for that game.  (It also means they beat St. Bonaventure).  Creighton shouldn’t struggle against either team due to their length and pace of play.

Favorite to win: Clemson

Dark horse: Illinois State

Maui Invitational

Monday-Wednesday, November 19-21 in Lahaina, Hawaii   Bracket

Teams Participating: Arizona, Auburn, Duke, Gonzaga, Illinois, Iowa State, South Dakota State, Xavier

This should turn out to be an exciting few days of games.  In fact, regardless of who wins or loses games, every match up should be entertaining.  We’ll get a great look at what the Xavier Musketeers look like during this three day stretch.  Their opening game against Auburn will be a great test.  The winner of that game will likely play Duke in the semi-final.

Duke has demonstrated their value after their throttling of Kentucky on opening night.  Their semifinal opponent, whomever they play, will want to keep the game close.  That’s really all they can do at this point until trends develop in what coaches can find in Duke to attack their weak areas.

I think Gonzaga has an easy time with Illinois and meets Iowa State in the semi-final after the cyclones take care of a fumbling Arizona squad.

Duke shouldn’t struggle with either Xavier nor Auburn.  One of Duke’s strengths is their uncanny ability to finish in transition.  It will be unwise for either opponent to try and up their tempo.  I think Duke moves on to meet Gonzaga in the final.  Gonzaga, at least for mid-west and east coast college basketball fans, quietly put together another strong squad worthy of being ranked in the top 10.  Mark Few prepares his teams well for each opponent.  I think if Gonzaga and Duke play in the final, Gonzaga will give Duke more of a challenge for the full 40 minutes.

Favorite to win: Duke

Dark horse: Auburn

Battle 4 Atlantis

Wednesday-Friday, November 21-23 in Paradise Island Bahamas    Bracket

Teams Participating: Butler, Dayton, Florida, Middle Tennessee, Oklahoma, Stanford, Virginia, Wisconsin

The first game between Florida and Oklahoma looks to be closer than anticipated prior to the season beginning.  I mention that because of the drubbing Florida State put on Florida.  The Gators are comprised of a talented group of players, but they looked lost against Florida State.  If Oklahoma keeps the game close, they’ll likely face Wisconsin in the semi-final.

The Wisconsin Badgers will tip off against Stanford in the second quarterfinal of the day.  The Badgers look to Ethan Happ as their leader with strong offensive and defensive play this season.  They shouldn’t struggle with a weaker Stanford team.

Butler and Dayton square off in the first evening quarterfinal game.  Dayton had an up and down year last year, not winning nor losing more than two consecutive games in a row.  With LaVall Jordan at the helm of a Butler Bulldogs squad that looks to continue their success from last year, this will be an interesting game.

In the last quarterfinal of the day Virginia and Middle Tennessee will play what should be a decided outcome by halftime.  Virginia seems to be in midseason form already with allowing few points, yet not putting many points up themselves.  I see Virginia moving on to play Butler.

In the first semi final game of the winners side of the bracket, I think Wisconsin has a more put-together team at the moment which sees them advance to the final.

In the second semi final game on the winners side, I think Virginia moves on.  Butler’s experience with their coach and on court savvy to attack the zone defense is too much to overcome.  It will be a learning experience that they can take advantage of.  If they do win, it will be because they made a large percentage of the 3-pointers they shot and they didn’t settle for long 2-point jump shots.

I think Oklahoma beats Stanford in the semi final on the losers side of the bracket, and Dayton beats Middle Tennessee State.

Finally, I think Stanford leaves without a win and loses to MTSU and Dayton beats Oklahoma.

I believe the overall winner will be Virginia after a close game with Wisconsin.  Tony Bennett has developed a system that works so well with the players he recruits that he will consistently have a high winning percentage every season.

Favorite to win: Virginia

Dark horse to win: Wisconsin

NIT Season Tip-Off

Wednesday and Friday, November 21 and 23, in Brooklyn, New York    Bracket

Teams Participating: Kansas, Louisville, Marquette, Tennessee

The match up between Louisville and Tennessee should be great.  With Louisville still feeling the after effects of the FBI probe, recent sanctions, and introduction of new head coach, Chris Mack, it’s amazing to think that the Cardinals can still compete.  This will be a “down year” relatively speaking, but they will play teams tough during the entirety of the game.  I think Tennessee wins by single digits.

In the second game, Kansas is heavily favored to beat Marquette.  The Jayhawks will give Marquette trouble with their height, length, and their guard play.  However, Marquette is set to have one of their most successful seasons in years.  If the Golden Eagles are hitting their threes, win the rebounding battle, and play the transition game well, I think they will play Tennessee in the final.  That isn’t likely so I have Kansas moving on.

Favorite to win: Kansas

Dark horse to win: Marquette

Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational

Thursday and Friday, November 22-23 in Las Vegas, Nevada    Dates and Game Times

Teams Participating: Michigan State, North Carolina, Texas, UCLA

I couldn’t locate a bracket, but did find game times.  UNC and Texas will play in the first game followed by UCLA and Michigan State.  Winners of both games will play each other.  Losers will play against each other.  Michigan State showed some resolve against a deep Kansas team during their Champions Classic game.  Indy native, Kris Wilkes has put up impressive numbers for the Bruins.  I think that the Tom Izzo led Spartans triumph and take on North Carolina in the second game.

Texas saw a wonderful story unfold in seeing Andrew Jones return to the court after being diagnosed with and then beating leukemia.  Shaka Smart needs results as the coach of the Longhorns.  He’s muddled in the Big12 Conference the past few years.  I don’t see him beating North Carolina in their first game, however.  Texas is likely to depart Las Vegas with two losses.

In the championship, I expect a close game, one that the Tar Heels eventually win by single digits.  The key for the Spartans is to remain out of foul trouble.

Favorite to win: North Carolina

Dark Horse: UCLA

Early Season Basketball Tournaments

College basketball is in full swing and with Thanksgiving coming up, that must only mean one thing – the early season tournaments have arrived!  In this post, I will be exploring the potential matchups (or reviewing previous ones already played), expected winners and dark horse winners for most, but not all of the tournaments.

Tire Pros Invitational

November 17-18, 20: Lake Buena Vista, Florida (Bracket)

In the most magical place in the world, (according to family, most people of the western world, and especially the creator of the destination) Disney World hosts a solid group of basketball teams, especially with Xavier, Oklahoma, and Northern Iowa as favorites.  I have Xavier as the favorite and was surprised to see Missouri hang tough with the Musketeers through to the end.  A gaffe in decision making allowed Xavier to escape by 1 point.  Northern Iowa blowing out Arizona wasn’t surprising.  I figured they could take care of an Oklahoma team that, while missing Buddy Hield, still possesses great leadership and an ability to score the ball.  Davidson will be a team to watch carefully, especially come conference time.  I would consider them a middle of the pack A10 team that, if they are able to stay in some close games, could build a strong resume.

Championship Game: Nov. 20th, approx. 7:30p.m. (ESPN 2)

Favorite to win: Xavier Musketeers

Dark horse: Northern Iowa Panthers


Gildan Charleston Classic

November 17-18, 20: Charleston, South Carolina (Bracket)

Turning to a tournament with an elite team and handful of mid to low level teams, don’t be surprised with Villanova taking this one.  UCF should be able to take a couple wins to play against Villanova in the championship.  UCF’s height will create major problems for Villanova.  I would take Villanova’s experience over UCF’s height, however.

Championship Game: Nov. 20th, approx. 9:30 p.m. (ESPN 2)

Favorite to win: Villanova Wildcats

Dark horse: University of Central Florida Knights


U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam

November 18-21: St. Thomas, V.I. (Bracket)

In a place I’d rather be right now, the Creighton Bluejays are my favorites to win this tournament.  After a convincing home win against Wisconsin, the Bluejays should be able to handle their opponents, although they do have good competition among them.  It’s unfortunate to see NC State play Creighton before the final game, but I would have say that Montana could surprise some people.  The Griz have been on the cusp of great wins in the last couple of years and are due for a great result.  This is a good opportunity to do that.  Ole Miss can put up points and I have them as my dark horse to look for.

Championship Game: November 21st: 8:30p.m. (CBSSN)

Favorite to win: Creighton Bluejays

Dark horse: Ole Miss Runnin’ Rebels

Hall of Fame Tip-Off

November 19-20: Uncasville, Connecticut (Bracket)

I was slightly confused by this bracket layout, but after investigating, it made more sense to me, slightly.  There are two brackets – the Naismith bracket seems to have better caliber teams including Duke, Penn State, Cincinnati, and Rhode Island.  The Springfield bracket has teams that wouldn’t stand much of a chance against the teams listed prior.  The Springfield teams include Marist, Brown, Grand Canyon, and Albany.  Of those teams, I would pick Grand Canyon because they have the ability to put up points quickly.  In the Naismith bracket, I have Duke as the favorite, but Rhode Island could be the dangerous team.  As I wrote in my previous post, Rhode Island has a strong team this year that could bust some brackets come March.  I just watched the Rams overcome a 12 point deficit to Cincinnati.  The Bearcats possess a strong defense and efficient offense that can cause problems for any team.

Naismith Championship: November 20th, 1p.m. (ESPN)

Favorite to win: Duke Blue Devils

Dark horse: Rhode Island Rams

Springfield Championship: Nov. 20th, 8:30p.m. (ESPN3)

Favorite to win: Grand Canyon Antelopes

Dark horse: Albany Great Danes

Maui Invitational

November 21-23: Lahaina, Hawaii (Bracket)

This deep field will not have a shortage of great games.  With Wisconsin, Oregon, and Georgetown headlining the tournament (the last seems to be questionable now with an awful loss to Central Arkansas at home), My choice as the favorite is North Carolina.  The Badgers will slow teams down and play at their pace, but it will have to hang tough with some strong offensive firepower, especially North Carolina.  With a few new faces in the rotation, Nigel Hayes and company will be tested.  I think the final is Wisconsin vs. UNC with the Tar Heels taking it.  I want to put a plug in for the most disappointing team in NCAA at the moment is also in this field.  Will the Connecticut Huskies be able to turn things around in Maui and upset a few teams?

Games to watch:

November 21st, 4:30p.m. – Georgetown vs. Oregon

Potential and Exciting Matchups

November 22nd, 8p.m. – Wisconsin vs. Oregon/ Wisconsin vs. Georgetown

November 23rd, 9:30p.m. – Oregon vs. North Carolina/ Wisconsin vs. North Carolina

Championship Game: Nov. 23rd, 10:00p.m. (ESPN2)

Favorite to win: North Carolina Tar Heels

Dark horse: Wisconsin Badgers

Battle 4 Atlantis

November 23-25: Paradise Island, Bahamas (Bracket)

Headlining this tournament are the likes of Baylor, Michigan State, Wichita State, and Louisville.  A talented and young St. John’s team will push the pace and increase the number of possessions.  Their youth and length will breed upset or disaster most likely.  Wichita State has been impressive in their wins this season, having only blowouts to account for on their unblemished record.  Their opponents would seem to be gutter teams, but they beat a Long Beach State team that was touted as a tough team to beat.

Games to watch:

November 23rd, 7p.m. – Michigan State vs. St. John’s

If the Red Storm can make their 3’s, this will be a much closer game than Sparty would like.  I see the Spartans moving on though.

Potential and Exciting Matchups:

November 24th, 2:30p.m. – Wichita State vs. Louisville

Favorite to win: Michigan State

Dark horse: Wichita State

Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational

November 24-25: Las Vegas (No Bracket Available)

A similar format to the Hall of Fame Tip-Off tournament, there are separate brackets, a Hosts’ bracket and a Visitors’ bracket.  The Hosts’ bracket includes Arizona, Butler, Santa Clara, and Vanderbilt.  The Visitors’ bracket includes Bucknell, Norfolk State, Northern Colorado, and Sacred Heart.  Arizona comes in as a heavy favorite to make it to the final as they play Santa Clara in the semifinal.  If Santa Clara wants to upset Arizona, they’ll have to go back a few years, recruit different players, make a lot of 3’s in the game and play incredible defense.  As the first part is impossible to do, they will have to rely solely on grit and play a slow paced game.  I see Butler joining Arizona in the final, beating a Vanderbilt team with a new, yet intelligent coach.  Bryce Drew will look to build off a fresh start with the same intensity from his players to take on the best teams.

Games to Watch:

November 24th, 8p.m. – Vanderbilt vs. Butler

Potential and Exciting Matchup:

November 25th, 10:30p.m. – Arizona vs. Butler

Favorite to win: Arizona

Dark horse: Vanderbilt

There are many more tournaments, both bracketed and non-bracketed.  However, I covered ones that will most likely get the most coverage.  Also, I don’t have a lot of time to cover others because of life’s responsibilities.  I do enjoy writing about college basketball and plan to do it more frequently this year.  Inspired by Ken Pomeroy, a statistician that many players and coaches across college basketball use.  He provides incredible scope and detail into the fun and unexplored intricacies of the sport of college basketball.

Least Likely Wins

To date, the least likely win of the season comes from Arkansas State.  Their foe: the Georgetown Hoyas.  Kenpom’s formula for chance of winning a game gave Arkansas State a 2% chance of winning.  In fact, depending on where you look, Georgetown was a 22 or 23 point favorite to win that game.  At one point, Arkansas State was up by 23 points.

Fastest and Slowest Games of the Week

Something I will track week to week throughout the 2016-2017 college basketball season are the fastest and slowest games.  Games between Division I teams are the only ones that will be considered in this research.  Numbers will come from Ken Pomeroy’s website.  Usually depending on timing, I am striving to get this information out either on Saturday or Sunday.  These numbers will date back a bit further to the start of the season, Friday, November 11th.

Fastest Games of the Week

Iowa State 113 vs. Savannah State 71, 97 possessions

The Citadel 116 vs. Stetson 112, 93 possessions

Slowest Games of the Week

South Carolina 81 vs. Holy Cross 49, 56 possessions

Syracuse 90 vs. Holy Cross 46, 56 possessions

In an impressive feat, Holy Cross claims two of the lowest scoring point totals of the season in the two slowest games of the season thus far. Holy Cross is allowing their two opponents 70.4% shooting and over half of their opponents are grabbing missed shots at a clip of 51%.  Basically, you could throw a ball up at the rim 10 times, and you can be confident your teammate will come down with it 5 times.  To be fair, Holy Cross’s two opponents have incredible length.  Ironically, Holy Cross had more offensive rebounds than Syracuse, holding a 16-15 advantage.

Butler Bulldogs

As I mentioned last year when I began this blog, my passion for college basketball was fueled by a variety of people and experiences.  My shared experiences with my grandfather at Hinkle Fieldhouse watching the Butler Bulldogs over a period of fifteen-plus years cemented my passion and support for the Bulldogs and the sport of college basketball in general.  I will provide my own thoughts which will definitely vary from others because we are all entitled to our own opinions.

I’m encouraged and impressed with Tyler Lewis’s leadership on the court.  He has maintained his push the pace style, yet has improved his passing and decision making to begin this season.  The addition of Kamar Bladwin at the point guard position provides depth and an athletic complement to Kelan Martin when both are on the floor.  Baldwin’s intensity on defense allows for transition points for himself and others on the floor.  I anticipate Baldwin playing a major role for the Bulldogs as the season progresses.  Andrew Chrabascz is probably one of the most fun players to watch mainly because of his reactions to plays.  His intensity on the court from one play to the next provides encouragement to others.  He knows when he is in the wrong and quickly wants to make it right.  His desire to create space in the lane for his shots will continue to be rewarded throughout the season.  Maybe not in points, but he can increase the number of assists by finding the extra pass to a player cutting to the basket.

The Bulldogs will play Norfolk State on Monday this week and then travel to Las Vegas to take on Vanderbilt in the semifinal of their tournament on November 24th.  The Dawgs will play either Santa Clara or Arizona the following day.  I expect Butler to handle Norfolk State easily.  I think the Bulldogs will play a close game with Vanderbilt before winning by double digits and then keep it close with Arizona before falling.  Once the Bulldogs find their identity this season, they will be tough to beat.