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Sunday, August 19, 2007

From Luke Winn's College Basketball Blog

Talk hoops all year long in Luke Winn's blog, a journal of commentary, news and reader-driven discussions about the college game.

8/17/2007 05:16:00 PM
Converging On The City

See if O.J. Mayo is all he's hyped up to be at the Jimmy V. Classic on Dec. 4 at Madison Square Garden.

New York is not necessarily the best place for a college basketball writer (like myself) to live during January, February and March. Given that none of the city-area teams (St. John's, Seton Hall, Columbia, Manhattan and even Rutgers) is particularly relevant on a national scale, everything requires travel. Trains to D.C. for Georgetown games. Flights to RDU for North Carolina and Duke. Five-hour, cross-country jaunts to LAX for UCLA and USC.

In November and December, however, a wonderful phenomenon occurs: the best of college hoops simply comes to us in Manhattan. I spent this morning -- once I finished my last college football preview piece, that is -- looking through hoops schedules with the intention of returning to regular blogging. And I've come to the pleasant realization that the top three early-season events are all at Madison Square Garden, just a short subway ride away. There's an absurd number of these tournaments/invites/classics in '07-08 -- 15, by my count, not including the Big Ten/ACC, SEC/Big East and Big 12/Pac-10 jamborees -- and I've ranked them in order of quality:

1. JIMMY V CLASSIC, Dec. 4, Madison Square Garden
Games: Kansas State vs. Notre Dame, USC vs. Memphis

This is the premier freshmen showcase -- basically, the '07-08 equivalent of putting Greg Oden, Kevin Durant and Brandan Wright on the same bill in the first month of the season. In forward Michael Beasley (of K-State), O.J. Mayo (of USC) and Derrick Rose (of Memphis), the Jimmy V will boast three top-five picks for '08. The headlining matchup between the Trojans and Tigers, who are both rather freewheeling on offense, could be one of the top games of the non-conference slate.

2. COACHES VS. CANCER CLASSIC, Nov. 15-16, Madison Square Garden
Final Four picks: Kentucky, Memphis, Oklahoma, UConn

The CvC is the closest thing we have to an opening day in college hoops. And this year it'll offer us a number of important, early looks at the following:
- Billy Gillispie's impact on UK, plus super-recruit Patrick Patterson
- Memphis' chances for a title run, as well as if Rose's skills live up to Joey Dorsey's billing
- Oklahoma's freshman savior, Blake (little bro of Tyler) Griffin- The progress of UConn center Hasheem Thabeet, who could be a lottery pick if he develops even a minimal offensive repertoire.

3. NIT SEASON TIP-OFF, Nov. 21 and 23, Madison Square Garden
Final Four picks: Syracuse, Ohio State, Washington, Texas A&M

The preseason NIT was memorable as the stage for Butler's coming-out party in '06. But this time around, rather than a mid-major surprise, we're more likely to get an idea of whether Syracuse, with its talented underclassmen trio of Johnny Flynn, Paul Harris and Donte Greene, is ready to contend in the Big East or is still another year away.

4. CBE CLASSIC, Nov. 19-20, Kansas City Sprint Center
Final Four picks: UCLA, Maryland, Michigan State, Missouri

At this summer's Pan American Games trials, I had hoped to see UCLA's Darren Collison square off against MSU's Drew Neitzel in a battle of All-America-caliber point guards. Alas, Neitzel was the only one of the two invited to camp, and he, Villanova's Scottie Reynolds and Washington State's Derrick Low handled floor-general duties in Brazil. We'll have to settle for a Darren-vs.-Drew battle in KC, with both teams likely ranked in the top 10 of the polls.

5. MAUI INVITATIONAL, Nov. 19-21, Lahaina Civic Center
Field: Arizona State, Duke, Illinois, LSU, Marquette, Oklahoma State, Princeton, Chaminade.

This is a far cry from the Maui field of 2005, which was won by a loaded UConn team and included an epic battle between Adam Morrison and Michigan State. While this Invitational could still provide a decent finale between the Dukies and Golden Eagles, it's tough to see anyone knocking off Marquette. The Blue Devils' perimeter posse of Greg Paulus, Jon Scheyer and Kyle Singler will be decent -- but can they really play enough D to stop Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wes Matthews, who took down Coach K's boys last season in Kansas City?

6. LAS VEGAS INVITATIONAL, Nov. 17-24, Las Vegas
Field: BYU, Hartford, Iona, Jackson State, Louisville, North Carolina, Old Dominion, South Carolina State

The overall strength (or lack thereof) of the Vegas field is irrelevant: the whole point is to generate a UNC-vs.-Louisville title game on Thanksgiving weekend.
Most of us pundits have been speculating, based on their late-season surge and near-upset of Texas A&M in the NCAA tournament, that Edgar Sosa and the Cards could be a Final Four team. But can they run with a Carolina squad that has all the pieces in place to win a national title? This could be a near-equivalent of the Florida-Kansas bout in Vegas last November -- and Louisville's prime opportunity to jump into the top five of the polls.

7. OLD SPICE CLASSIC, Nov. 22-25, Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Field: Villanova, Central Florida, George Mason, Kansas State, N.C. State, Penn State, Rider, South Carolina

The deodorant/aftershave invitational does not have a real headliner, but some intruiging storylines may develop. There's a chance N.C. State could emerge looking like the favorite to finish second -- ahead of Duke, Virginia or Virginia Tech -- in the ACC. And this would also be a nice stage for South Carolina's backcourt transfer duo of Devan Downey (Cincinnati) and Zam Frederick (Georgia Tech) to remind the nation of their talents, and establish the Gamecocks as a darkhorse in the SEC.

8. HALL OF FAME CLASSIC, Dec. 1, Boston
Games: UConn vs. Gonzaga, Providence vs. Boston College

Gonzaga consistently has more cojones than any other team when it comes to non-conference scheduling, last year taking on Duke, Washington State, Texas and North Carolina out of conference, to name a few. Throttling UConn on the Huskies' home coast -- something the Zags are capable of doing with Josh Heytvelt in the lineup -- would go a long way in justifying their return to the top 25 after a turbulent down year.


9. WOODEN TRADITION, Dec. 15, Indianapolis (Purdue vs. Louisville, Butler vs. Florida State)

10. PARADISE JAM, Nov. 16-19, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands (Georgia Tech, Notre Dame, Illinois-Chicago, Charlotte, Winthrop, Baylor, Wichita State, Monmouth)

11. ANAHEIM CLASSIC, Nov. 22, 23, 25, Anaheim Convention Center (USC, San Diego, Mississippi State, UC Irvine, Southern Illinois, Tennessee-Chattanooga, Miami of Ohio, Southern Alabama)

12. SOUTH PADRE INVITATIONAL, Nov. 23-24 (Vanderbilt, Iowa, Austin Peay, Bradley, Valparaiso, Maryland-Eastern Shore, Florida Gulf Coast, Utah State)

13. TOP OF THE WORLD CLASSIC, Nov. 15-18, Fairbanks, Alaska (Alaska-Fairbanks, Akron, Colorado State, IUPUI, Oregon State, Tennessee State, South Carolina Uptate, Portland State)

Check back to see if these are worth roadtripping (or turning on the tube) for: BB&T CLASSIC (Maryland, George Washington, George Mason, plus three more TBA), WOODEN CLASSIC (UCLA vs. Davidson, other game TBA)
Labels: Duke, Illinois, Jimmy V, Kansas State, Memphis, Michigan State, NIT, UCLA, UConn, UNC, USC

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