On Tuesday and Wednesday, ESPN revealed the draws for most of next season's premier holiday tournaments. Now that the matchups are set, here's some initial thoughts, from the best and worst draws, to the most intriguing tournament, to the most appealing potential title game:
Most difficult draw: You can make a case for VCU as either the best or second best team in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, but the Rams certainly shouldnt be worse than a No. 3 seed behind Michigan and Georgetown. That's why it was surprising to see VCU receive a draw in which it very well could face the three best teams in the field besides itself. Up first is a difficult opening-round game against a Florida State team with lots to prove, followed by a potential semifinal rematch against a Michigan team that blew out the Rams in the NCAA tournament last year. And looming on the other side of the bracket is a Georgetown team that will surely be preseason top 20. Don't weep too much for VCU though. That draw could be a nice strength of schedule boost with the Atlantic 10 weakened by the departures of Butler, Xavier and Temple.
Most favorable draw: On one side of the Wooden Legacy draw is powerful Creighton, much-improved Arizona State, a San Diego State team that should have the crowd on its side and a College of Charleston team with four starters back from a 24-win team. On the other side of the bracket is Big East contender Marquette and ... uh ... not much else. The Golden Eagles should have little trouble with host Cal State Fullerton in the quarterfinals, setting up a semifinal against middling George Washington or a Miami team that lost its top seven scorers from last year. Maybe the Hurricanes will reload rather than rebuild if they can get point guard Angel Rodriguez eligible right away, but there's still little excuse for Marquette not to at least reach the Wooden Legacy title game.
Most appealing potential title game: Unless either Richmond or Fairfield spring a massive semifinal upset, the title game of the Hall of Fame Tip-off in Connecticut figures to be one of college basketball's premier early-season games. It should be Louisville vs. North Carolina in a matchup between the defending national champions and a team with the firepower to topple them assuming P.J. Hairston is in uniform. A North Carolina team that likes to run, pound the offensive glass and shoot from behind the arc should be a good test for a Louisville program that prides itself on defense but must replace the leadership of Peyton Siva and the shot blocking prowess of Gorgui Dieng.
Most appealing potential title game, part II: This would be a good year for the 16-team NIT Season Tip-Off not to feature many upsets. That would ensure a title game pitting potential top-five teams Duke and Arizona. Seemingly always among the nation's best teams in November regardless of the talent on the roster, Duke will be loaded with perimeter talent next season thanks to shooting guard Rasheed Sulaimon and forwards Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood. Arizona will be young but talented as well because it's adding Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell at point guard and freshmen forwards Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. To advance to the title game, Duke and Arizona will both have to win three games apiece, including semifinal games potentially against fellow host schools Alabama and Rutgers.
Best opening-round game nobody will see: To watch one of the best opening-round holiday tournament games, you'll have to shun the family and avoid falling into a turkey-and-mashed-potatoes-induced coma. That's because Creighton and Arizona State tip off at 11 p.m. EST on Thanksgiving night in the first round of the Wooden Legacy tournament in Anaheim. The game could certainly be worth staying awake to see. Creighton returns four starters including All-American Doug McDermott from last year's 29-win team, while Arizona State brings back Pac-12 player of the year candidate Jahii Carson and enough of a supporting cast to make an NCAA bid a reasonable goal.
Best opening-round game more people will see: Even though Minnesota surely knew it would face high-level competition when it agreed to appear in the prestigious Maui Invitational, the Gophers probably didn't expect this rough an opening-round draw. They'll meet ACC contender Syracuse in easily the most intriguing of the four Maui quarterfinals and maybe the most appealing opening-round holiday tournament game anywhere. A trimmed-down Maurice Walker and the return of standout guards Andre and Austin Hollins give Minnesota a chance to spring an upset, but Syracuse returns its entire frontcourt from last year's Final Four team.
Under-the-radar opening-round game that means a lot: Saint Mary's isn't exactly known for playing powerhouse non-conference schedules under Randy Bennett, which is why the Gaels' opening-round Diamond Head Classic matchup with South Carolina could be crucial to their season. They need to win it to secure potential RPI-boosting games in the winner's bracket against Mountain West contender Boise State and perhaps NCAA tournament hopeful Iowa State. Should the Gaels fall to South Carolina, two games in the loser's bracket likely won't help them much. Host Hawaii would be their most likely consolation round opponent, probably followed by either Akron, George Mason or Oregon State.
Most appealing tournament: From the Maui Invitational, to the Battle 4 Atlantis, to the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, a handful of next year's tournaments feature intriguing fields. The best of all, however, may be the 2K Sports Classic, which boasts four intriguing teams in its four-team field. One semifinal pits New England rivals UConn and Boston College, neither of which have played since Jim Calhoun vowed never to schedule the Eagles after they left the Big East in 2005. The other offers a glimpse at a youthful but reloading Indiana team and a Washington team that returns star C.J. Wilcox and adds standout freshman point guard Nigel Williams-Goss. None of these four teams will win the national title, but all four are NCAA tournament contenders with much to gain from a strong early-season showing.
Least appealing tournament: Aside from the presence of defending Mountain West champion New Mexico and Atlantic 10 contender UMass, there isn't much to be excited about in this year's Charleston Classic. Davidson lost the core of its NCAA tournament team, Temple is rebuilding, Clemson and Nebraska lack star power and Georgia lost its best player, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, to the NBA. On the bright side, at least the New Mexico-UMass game would happen in the semifinals, making it less likely to be thwarted by an upset. A Chaz Williams versus Kendall Williams point guard matchup would be well worth two hours of couch time.
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