Ranking 2014-2015’s ten best early season tournaments

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The brackets for the major tournaments held November and December have been released this week. To help you plan out what you’ll watch on TV four months from now, we’ll rank the events for you:

1. Champions Classic (Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis)

  • When: November 18th
  • Why you will watch: The Champions Classic is not a tournament, but it’s still the best event of the fall in college basketball. As they’ve done the past three years, Duke, Kentucky, Kansas and Michigan State will all be playing in the same arena on the same night. This year, it will be Kansas squaring off with Kentucky in the nightcap and Duke taking on Michigan State in the undercard. The Spartans are a bit down this year, but the other three bluebloods will all be ranked in the top ten in every preseason poll.

2. Battle 4 Atlantis (Imperial Arena, Paradise Island, Bahamas)

  • When: Nov. 26-28
  • Why you will watch: We went over this in depth yesterday, but the Battle 4 Atlantis has become the premier holiday tournament in college basketball over the last four seasons, and this year is no different. The event will feature Wisconsin, Florida, North Carolina and Oklahoma, or three of the top ten and four of the top 15 teams in the country.

3. Maui Invitational (Lahaina Civic Center, Maui)

  • When: Nov. 24-26
  • Why you will watch: The Maui Invitational was the reigning “best holiday tournament” until the Battle 4 Atlantis swooped in and took over, and it’s still sitting in second place by a comfortable margin. This year’s event will feature Arizona, who will enter the season as one of a handful of title favorite, along with top 25 teams Kansas State and San Diego State. Pitt, BYU and Missouri should all be tournament teams this season as well. We also get a matchup between BYU and SDSU in the first round, the reincarnation of a rivalry that peaked when Jimmer Fredette and Kawhi Leonard led the Cougars and the Aztecs into the top five.

4. CBS Sports Classic (United Center, Chicago)

  • When: Dec. 20
  • Why you will watch: Because, like the Champions Classic, it features three bluebloods and a perennial top 10 program and Final Four contender: Kentucky, North Carolina, UCLA and Ohio State. The only problem? This year’s version of the event will feature Kentucky taking on the Bruins and North Carolina squaring off with the Buckeyes. In an ideal world, the one-day event would give up the two top ten teams — UK and UNC — going head to head.

5. 2K Classic (Barclays Center, New York)

  • When: Nov. 20-21
  • Why you will watch: For starters, Syracuse will be playing in New York, which all-but guarantees that the arena will be sold out, something that can’t always be said for the non-conference, neutral court games. But the other three teams that will be there — Texas, Iowa and Cal — should all be tournament teams as well. Texas will likely be in the preseason top ten, while Iowa and Syracuse should both sneak into the back end of the top 25. This is a four-team, two-day tournament, not just a one-day double-header.

6. Orlando Classic (HP Field House, Orlando)

  • When: Nov. 27, 28 and 30
  • Why you will watch: Formerly known as the Old Spice Classic, the Orlando Classic will be a four-day, eight-team tournament that will guarantee everyone three games and give you something other than football to watch on Thanksgiving. The first day of the event could get a bit boring, but Kansas and Michigan State look destined to square off in the final while we will also get our first chance to see how Donnie Tyndall and Steve Wojciechowski will do at Tennessee and Marquette, respectively .

7. Jimmy V Classic (Madison Square Garden, New York)

  • When: Dec. 9
  • Why you will watch: This is always a premier event simply because of the cause, but there should be even more intrigue this season given the participants. The undercard will be a good Villanova team squaring off with Illinois, who has a chance to make a run at a spot in the NCAA tournament this season. But that matchup will be dwarfed by Indiana taking on Louisville in a rivalry game that should be played every season and will definitely get the seats at MSG filled. Tom Crean is on thin ice with Indiana fans, and a win in this game could earn him a lot of leash heading into Big Ten play.

8. Legends Classic (Barclays Center, New York)

  • When: Nov. 24-25
  • Why you will watch: For starters, it has one of the best opening round matchups of any of the tournaments this season, as Villanova will be squaring off with VCU in a game that will feature a ton of quality guard play and potential champions of the Atlantic 10 and the Big East. The other half of the bracket features Oregon and Michigan, and while the Wolverines are a top 25 team again this season, Oregon’s had a bit of a rough offseason.

9. MGM Grand Showcase (MGM Grand Arena, Las Vegas)

  • When: Dec. 20
  • Why you will watch: Played on the same night as the CBS Sports Classic, these games will get significantly less hype but should be just as entertaining. Oklahoma, as we mentioned, is good enough to be a top 15ish team this season. They’ll be playing fellow run-and-fun program Washington. The other matchup will feature Utah, this year’s lock to be the “under the radar” club everyone talks about, taking on UNLV in Vegas.

10. Diamond Head Classic (Stan Sheriff Center, Honululu)

  • When: Dec. 22, 23 and 25
  • Why you will watch: Because there won’t be much else to do on Christmas night? The matchups themselves get pretty intriguing in the semifinals. Wichita State, coming off of a perfect regular season and a Final Four the year before, is part of the event, as is the Big Ten’s “under the radar” program in Nebraska. Add in George Washington and Colorado, and there could be four tournament teams in this event.

The Pac-12 is foolish for scheduling Arizona-UCLA once during the regular season

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Last month, I wrote about one of the more troubling trends in college basketball: Teams steering away from playing the games that fans are going to care about the most.

It was the result of Georgetown head coach Patrick Ewing stating publicly that he was “not thinking about Maryland” after the rivalry between the DMV’s two most well-known programs went by the wayside.

Ewing isn’t the only coach that is culpable here. Kansas and Missouri don’t play. Kansas and Wichita State don’t play, either. Duke and Maryland don’t play. Ohio State doesn’t play Cincinnati, Xavier or Dayton. It goes on and on.

But the blame can no longer only be given to the coaches that schedule to protect themselves and/or their program.

The conferences deserve some criticism as well. Take, for instance, the Pac-12, who released their schedule recently after deciding that Arizona, a contender for the preseason No. 1 team in the country, should only play UCLA and USC, the only two teams that have a realistic chance of upending the Wildcats for the Pac-12 crown, once apiece.

Not only that, but the games will be played in Tucson, an incredible advantage for Sean Miller’s club as they pursue the league’s regular season title.

Look, I get it. There are 12 teams in the league and there is an 18-game schedule. Each team in the league is going to play four of their 11 league foes just once. It’s simple math. But the answer should never, ever be to schedule the Arizona schools and the Southern California schools just once.

The reasoning is simple: Arizona and UCLA are the two biggest brands in the league. When they play it will draw more interest than when any other two teams in the conference play, and that’s something the conference should be trying to capitalize on. It takes a lot to convince anyone on the east coast to stay up to watch a Pac-12 basketball game. I cover this sport for a living and I have a hard time making it all the way through a 10 p.m. ET tip. When a two-year old is going to be screaming at me to make breakfast at 6:30 a.m., do I really want to stay up to watch Arizona blow out Washington or UCLA to beat up on Cal?

The Pac-12 should do everything they can to ensure that Arizona and UCLA play twice every season.

That is even more true this year. Arizona might be the best team in the country and they might have the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft on their roster in Deandre Ayton. UCLA is a top 15 team that just so happens to have Liangelo Ball, the worst of the three Ball brothers and potentially the last one to matriculate through the college ranks. The seemingly inevitable LaVar Ball blow-up is something we all will be watching patiently to see.

Should I mention the simmering hatred between Sean Miller and Steve Alford as they continually compete for the best prospects on the west coast?

And that’s before you factor in that USC is the second-best team in the league, and anyone that UCLA plays twice, USC will also play twice.

I’ll be sure to watch a number of Oregon games this season, and I think that Stanford, Oregon State and Colorado all have the pieces to sneak up on some people this year. I’ll be sure to check in on them a couple times as well.

But the games that I’ll have circled on my calendar, the games I’ll be excited about watching, are between Arizona, UCLA and USC.

By scheduling the Arizona schools and the Southern California schools just once during the regular season, the Pac-12 cost themselves a third of that inventory.

That doesn’t seems like the smartest way to run a business conference.

But hey, if conference realignment and the development of conference-only networks taught us anything, it’s that major college athletics are all about competitive balance over those advertising dollars.

Vanderbilt lands commitment from Aaron Nesmith

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Vanderbilt landed their first commitment in the Class of 2018 with four-star wing Aaron Nesmith.

Nesmith is a native of South Carolina, and the Commodores beat out South Carolina for his services. At 6-foot-6, Nesmith is the kind of defensive presence and athlete that Vandy will need to replace Jeff Roberson, who will be graduating this season.

This is a critical class for Bryce Drew, who is squarely in the mix for five-star guards Darius Garland and Romeo Langford. Nesmith isn’t on that level, but he will be a nice piece for Vandy for four years.

Svi Mykhailiuk drops 20 pounds, makes weird Kansas roster even weirder

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Kansas is a weird team this season.

They’re talented, they’re probably going to win the Big 12 again and I fully expect them to be in the national title picture come March, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re … weird.

25 percent of their scholarship players are transfers sitting out the year. That doesn’t include Sam Cunliffe, who won’t be eligible until December. So that’s unusual, as is the fact that Bill Self, a coach that had steadfastly remained dedicated to playing two big men together despite the gradual shift to small-ball, has three big men on his roster in total.

One of those three is Mitch Lightfoot, which means that there are just two big men on the roster that a potential Final Four team should feel comfortable having as a major part of their rotation. That would be sophomore Udoka Azubuike and freshman Billy Preston.

That makes it seem pretty clear that the Jayhawks will be going with another small-ball look, just as they did last season, right? But they don’t really have a piece to replace Josh Jackson, who was a perfect fit as a college four in a small-ball lineup. He was a natural wing that was athletic enough to block shots and tough enough to battle bigs on the glass.

So who plays that role this season?

Some thought it could be Svi Mykhailiuk, the 20-year old Ukranian senior, but he’s never really been that guy. Oh, and he just so happened to lose 20 pounds this offseason.

“I’m trying to stay light-weight this year, so it’s going to help me a lot,” Mykhailiuk told the Kansas City Star. “I feel like I’m faster with the light weight. I’m more athletic. It just helps me overall in the game.”

Which means … what, exactly?

Losing 20 pounds isn’t exactly going to help a player that has some question marks about his toughness and physicality battle with college fours in the paint. Does it mean he’ll be playing more on the wing? If so, who plays at the four? Will LaGerald Vick — all six feet, five inches and 175 pounds — be playing in the Josh Jackson role?

Or is Self going to use Preston as his new Perry Ellis, hoping that this five-star freshman becomes what his last five-star four-man — Carlton Bragg — never could?

My guess is that it will likely end up being all of the above, depending on matchups.

But it doesn’t make the Jayhawks’ weird roster any clearer.

Four-star forward commits to Wake Forest

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Danny Manning added another four-star recruit to his 2018 recruiting class.

Isaiah Mucius, a 6-foot-7 forward, committed to Wake Forest on Monday evening, giving the Demon Deacons another top-rated prospect alongside top-25 prospect Jaylen Hoard in 2018.

“I’d like to thank my family and my friends for having my back throughout all the tough times and good times,” Mucius said in a social media post. “I’d like to thank all the college coaches that recruited me through this process and believed in me and my talents.

“I’ll be attending Wake Forest University.”

Mucius, a consensus top-100 recruit, visited Wake Forest, which he visited this past weekend, over Xavier, which he visited earlier this month. The Brewster Academy product also had offers from the likes of Connecticut, Minnesota and LSU, among others.

Manning’s 2018 class now includes Mucius, three-star guard Sharone White and Hoard, a 6-foot-8 four-star forward who committed to the Demon Deacons last month.

“I am trying to win an NCAA Championship,” Mucius told Scout.com, “and I think having Jaylen (Hoard) on the wing with me, and we are trying to help get a point guard, and I think we can win a championship.”

Rhode Island staffer arrested at team facility

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A Rhode Island staffer has been placed on administrative after an arrest last week stemming from an incident at the team’s facility, according to reports.

Tyron Boswell, who joined Rhode Island last season as the director of operations, was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, both misdemeanors, following a verbal altercation with police, according to WPRI-TV in Providence.

From the police report, according to WPRI:

“Officers working a concert detail at the Ryan Center Thursday night responded to a reported fight in a men’s bathroom involving members of the basketball team. While trying to break up the disturbance, officers said Boswell started yelling and swearing at them. The officers told Boswell to leave, but said he kept yelling as he walked out of the bathroom.

Officers said Boswell’s outbursts agitated the crowd that had gathered outside the bathroom. Seeing that he was not going to leave peacefully, officers said they decided to place Boswell under arrest. However, police said Boswell kept yelling and struggled with officers as they put him in handcuffs and led him out of the building.”

Boswell was placed on administrative leave by the university.

“The University cannot comment further on the circumstances of the arrest, other individuals named in the arrest report or the details included in the arrest report until the investigation of the situation is complete,” a spokesperson for Rhode Island said in a statement. “The University is cooperating with the South Kingstown Police Department for the investigation.”

Boswell joined Rhode Island last year after previously being the director of operations for the grassroots program Expressions Elite. He reportedly was promoted to assistant coach at Rhode Island this year, according to Jon Rothstein of FanRag Sports. He remains listed as the director of operations on Rhode Island’s roster.