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.

POSTERIZED: Wyoming’s Josh Adams takes flight

Josh Adams
Associated Press
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Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.

After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.

Video credit: Wyoming Athletics

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Monte Morris
Associated Press
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Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.