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.

VIDEO: Kenrich Williams posterizes West Virginia

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I am not sure what was more impressive tonight, Kenrich Williams going for 14 boards and six assists against No. 7 West Virginia, the fact that he played the point for them against that press … or this dunk:

It was the dunk.

Definitely.

Alex Robinson leads TCU past No. 7 West Virginia

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You’d be forgiven if you thought that TCU’s season was done and dusted when starting point guard Jaylen Fisher went down with a knee injury that will cost him the rest of the season.

Fisher was the team’s third-leading scorer at 12.3 points and ranked second in assists. He was shooting 43.9 percent from the floor. More importantly, he was backcourt defensive presence that doesn’t exist elsewhere on the TCU roster.

When the Horned Frogs lost Fisher, they were coming off of their second loss to Oklahoma in the span of two weeks and their fourth loss in the first five games of league play. With two games against both West Virginia and Texas Tech, and a trip to Allen Fieldhouse, left on their schedule, this had all the warning signs of a season in danger of sliding into oblivion.

On Monday night, in TCU’s third game without Fisher, Jame Dixon’s club put together their best performance of the season. They held No. 7 West Virginia to 33.3 percent shooting from the floor and led by as many as 20 points in an 82-73 win in Fort Worth, a win that puts an entirely knew feel on where this season can and will go.

The biggest reason for that may be Alex Robinson.

A 6-foot-1 hometown kid and a redshirt junior that transferred into the program from Texas A&M, Robinson has seemingly always been overlooked in this TCU program. Part of that is because he’s not a great scorer or shooter. Part of that is because he isn’t really a defender. And part of is, frankly, is because he never quite got his chance.

And now, with Fisher out, Robinson is not only getting his chance, but he is making the most of it.

TCU is 2-1 in their three games without Fisher, and Robinson has been the star, averaging 12.3 points, 4.7 boards and 10.7 assists. Against West Virginia, one of the nation’s most difficult defenses to deal with, Robinson finished with 17 points, nine assists and seven boards despite barely stepping foot off of the court. He got some help from Kenrich Williams, TCU’s best player, a 6-foot-7 forward that was a high school point guard and did the heavy-lifting when it came to breaking that press.

But that shouldn’t put a damper on how Robinson played on Monday.

And it shouldn’t take away from what he has been able to do with Fisher out.

Suddenly, TCU looks like a team that found themselves on the wrong side of lucky through the first seven games of Big 12 play. They lost five games during that stretch by an average of 3.3 points. Two of those losses came when the Horned Frogs missed game-winning shots at the buzzer.

They were and have been a top 25 team that found out the hard way how tough it is to win close games in this league.

And at this point it is probably fair to say that hasn’t changed despite having a new player running the point.

Monday’s Three Things to Know: TCU, Virginia Tech and Kansas State earn big wins

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1. VIRGINIA TECH EARNED ITS BIGGEST WIN OF THE SEASON

Virginia Tech has been considered by many to be a disappointment this season. The Hokies haven’t beaten anybody notable in the ACC and the non-conference schedule didn’t deliver any signature victories.

Which is why Virginia Tech’s win Monday night over No. 10 North Carolina is so critical.

The Hokies finally have a great win to hang their hat on for the committee. Where has this version of Virginia Tech been all season?

2. TCU ALSO EARNS A SIGNATURE WIN

Entering Monday night, TCU could have rolled over and called it quits on this season.

The Horned Frogs had dropped four of five games by a total of 15 points. Talented sophomore guard Jaylen Fisher was diagnosed with a season-ending injury for TCU.

But TCU stayed strong through some adversity as they pulled off a huge 82-73 Big 12 home win over No. 7 West Virginia. Leading for nearly the entire game, TCU did a great job of slowing down Mountaineer offense as West Virginia struggled to score in the half court.

3. KANSAS STATE PICKED UP THE NIGHT’S BIGGEST BUBBLE WIN

It’s time to start keeping track of the bubble.

With March Madness creeping closer, every night will feature games with big bubble implications. Besides for TCU and Virginia Tech beating top-1o teams, Kansas State beating Baylor for a Big 12 road win was the most important bubble win of the night.

The Wildcats have suddenly won four of their last five — including wins over Oklahoma, TCU and Baylor in their last three games. Not many people are talking about Kansas State in a loaded Big 12 but they’re playing as well as any team in the league right now.

A few more wins like this and the Wildcats could play their way into the Field of 68.

Bates-Diop scores 20 as No. 13 Buckeyes slip past Nebraska

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Keita Bates-Diop scored 14 of his 20 points in the second half and No. 13 Ohio State beat Nebraska 64-59 on Monday night, the fourth victory for the surging Buckeyes in the last eight days.

The back-and-forth game had seven lead changes in the second half. A pair of foul shots by Nebraska’s James Palmer Jr. cut Ohio State’s lead to four with 2:19 remaining, but the Cornhuskers couldn’t pull any closer.

Jae’Sean Tate put the Buckeyes (18-4, 9-0 Big Ten) up by six with a layup with 1:02 left, and a pair of foul shots by Kaleb Wesson stretched it to eight. Palmer hit a 3-pointer with 12 seconds left, but Nebraska ran out of time.

Palmer had a career-high 34 points. Nebraska (14-8, 5-4) was fresh off a 20-point upset of then-No. 23 Michigan on Thursday.

Ohio State surpassed its win total for all of last season. Earlier in the day, it moved from No. 22 to No. 13 in the AP Top 25, its highest position since 2014.

BIG PICTURE

Nebraska: The surprising Cornhuskers knocked off a ranked team last week and are a better squad than last season with Palmer carrying the load, but couldn’t outlast the steady Buckeyes.

Ohio State: The Buckeyes may have been fatigued after a rugged traveling schedule and three straight games on the road. But they found a rhythm in the second half and picked up another critical Big Ten win over a good team.

NEXT UP

Nebraska: At Rutgers on Wednesday.

Ohio State: Hosts Penn State on Thursday.

Virginia Tech picks up most important win of the season over No. 10 North Carolina

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Virginia Tech picked up its most important win of the season on Monday night as the Hokies earned an 80-69 ACC home win over No. 10 North Carolina.

While the Hokies have been competitive against some good teams, they’ve never been able to get over the hump against a team as good as the Tar Heels this season. Virginia Tech had high hopes entering the year as a potential ACC dark horse and dangerous team in March. So far, they’ve largely fallen short of those expectations.

During Monday’s win over North Carolina, the Hokies ramped up the defensive intensity and looked like a team that could still be dangerous the rest of the season.

Playing better defense than they’ve shown for much of the season, Virginia Tech also knocked down enough big shots as they made plays on both ends of the floor against the Tar Heels. Neutralizing everyone on the North Carolina offense outside of Luke Maye and Joel Berry (23 points each), the Hokies had a balanced defensive effort that helped to shut down other options for North Carolina’s offense. The Tar Heels only shot 32 percent from three-point range as Virginia Tech’s perimeter defense looked more consistent than in other games during the season.

Virginia Tech has a top-35 offense (according to KenPom) this season. Scoring points and having enough weapons on that end has never been the issue. Virginia Tech knocked down 12 three-pointers, shooting 40 percent from distance as seven different players made threes for the Hokies. Even on a night where Justin Bibbs and Nickeil Alexander-Walker (eight points each) both struggled to consistently knock down shots, Virginia Tech had plenty of offense. Justin Robinson led the way with 19 points while Ahmed Hill (18 points) and Kerry Blackshear Jr. (16 points) both contributed plenty of offense as well.

The defense for the Hokies hasn’t been able to hold up against some of the elite teams on the schedule. With wins only over Pitt and Wake Forest before Monday night, the Hokies hadn’t picked up a win over a good ACC team thus far this season. And after allowing over 90 points in losses to Florida State, Louisville and Kentucky, Virginia Tech’s defense had a tendency to disappear against the best teams they faced on the schedule.

The North Carolina win was not only the signature victory that Virginia Tech could use at this point in the season. It was also a huge defensive improvement from what the Hokies have shown so far this season. Over the next month, Virginia Tech’s schedule remains difficult. They also don’t play any ranked teams until back-to-back road games on Feb. 10 and 14 against Virginia and Duke.

If Virginia Tech can put together a solid streak and continue to improve its defense, we can get a glimpse into how they could look during that important conference stretch in a few weeks. The Hokies looked like a NCAA tournament caliber team with its win over Monday night. Now can they put together a stretch to back that up and actually get in?

The North Carolina win also makes you wonder if this was a flash in the pan from an overrated team or a glimmer of hope in a turnaround effort.