Source: USA TODAY
Two weeks into the 2013-14 season and we’re only wanting more.
College basketball has started off with a bang thanks to a talented freshman class living up to expectations and high-scoring sophomores lifting their teams to another level.
While there won’t be any matchups as tantalizing as the Champions Classic, there’s plenty of early season holiday tournaments that offer a crop of NCAA tournament-worthy teams pitted in the same field together and must-watch showdowns in the form of Duke-Arizona.
A handful of these preseason tournaments, which have already tipped off but are now entering championship rounds, don’t even take place on the U.S. mainland. But don’t let the palm trees and the leis fool you. The coaches use the premier events as a learning tool for young players and a barometer for their team’s potential.
“There’s not a whole lot of time to enjoy the weather,” said California coach Mike Montgomery, whose team plays Arkansas on Monday (3 p.m. ET) in the quarterfinals of the Maui Invitational. “Obviously, we’re going to a desirable place, but the real reason we’re here is for the best competition you can find early on in the season.”
The Maui Invitational, now in its 30th year, is again the headliner of the holiday madness.
“Maui is the premier event in the fall for a college basketball team and traditionally has the cream of the crop,” said Dayton coach Archie Miller, whose team drew Gonzaga in the quarterfinals Monday (11:59 p.m. ET). “For us, it’s not about the glitz and glamour, it’s an opportunity for us to learn about ourselves and get better as a unit.”
While much can happen over the course of the season, these early matchups are pivotal for teams’ NCAA tournament résumés, especially the mid-majors.
“These tournaments provide games for smaller schools against bigger ones on a neutral court and that’s something that resonates in March,” said Belmont coach Rick Byrd, whose team stunned North Carolina last week with an 83-80 upset in the campus round of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off.
Here’s a look at the best tournaments to feast on over the Thanksgiving holiday.
1. Maui Invitational (Lahaina, Hawaii Nov. 25-27)
The field: Syracuse, Gonzaga, Baylor, California, Arkansas, Dayton, Minnesota and Chaminade
Potential championship game: Gonzaga vs. Syracuse
Player to watch: Justin Cobbs, California
2. Battle 4 Atlantis (Paradise Island, Bahamas Nov. 28-30 | Campus sites Nov. 17-25)
The field: Kansas, Iowa, Villanova, Tennessee, USC, UTEP, Wake Forest, Xavier
Potential championship: Kansas vs. Iowa
Player to watch: Jordan McRae, Tennessee
3. Puerto Rico Tip-Off (Bayamon, Puerto Rico Nov. 21-24)
The field: Michigan, VCU, Georgetown, Kansas State, Charlotte, Florida State, Long Beach State, Northeastern.
Potential championship:Georgetown vs. Michigan
Player to watch: Juvonte Reddic, VCU
4. NIT Season Tip-Off (New York, N.Y. November 27-29)
The field: Arizona, Duke, Alabama, Canisius, Drexel, East Carolina, Elon, Fairleigh Dickinson, Georgia State, McNeese State, Metro State, Norfolk State, Rhode Island, Rutgers, Stillman, UNC-Asheville
Potential championship: Arizona vs. Duke
Player to watch: Frantz Massenat, Drexel
5. Hall of Fame Tip-Off (Uncasville, Conn. Nov. 23-24)
The field: Louisville, North Carolina, Fairfield, Richmond, Belmont, Hartford, Hofstra and Holy Cross
Potential championship: Louisville vs. North Carolina
Player to watch: J.J. Mann, Belmont
Off the bench (Other top tourneys with headliner teams): The Wooden Legacy (Arizona State, Marquette Creighton), Old Spice Classic (Memphis, Oklahoma State), Coaches vs. Cancer Classic (Michigan State, Oklahoma), CBE Hall of Fame Classic (BYU, Wichita State), 2K Sports Classic (Indiana, Connecticut), Charleston Classic (New Mexico, Davidson), Legends Classic (Stanford, Pittsburgh) Cancun Challenge (Wisconsin, Saint Louis), Great Alaska Shootout (Indiana State, Harvard), Diamond Head Classic (Iowa State, Boise State).
Scott Gleeson, a national college basketball writer/producer for USA TODAY Sports, is on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.