Viewer’s guide to November hoops tourneys

‘Tis the time for early season college basketball tournaments.

If you’re like us, you’ll spend the next two weeks glued to the TV, watching every game you can and trying to figure out a way to DVR the rest. In fact, there’s so much basketball to watch, it’s too much for one person to properly describe. That means it’s time for back-forth between me and Rob Dauster. We’ve got you covered.

Can’t miss tournament

Mike: The CBE Classic might feature more NCAA tournament-worthy teams (Duke, Gonzaga, K-State and San Diego State among them), but the Maui Invitational is the biggest deal. The field’s solid (Michigan State, UConn and Wichita State), but the potential semifinal matchup between Washington and Kentucky is as good as it gets this fall. When Terrence Jones intially committed to Washington in May, then immediately changed his mind and eventually headed to Lexington, it set off a mini-recruiting war of words between each program’s supporters. The players also want a piece of each other. Huskeis guard Isaiah Thomas said as much on Twitter.

Rob: The CBE Classic is certainly loaded at the top, but in my humble opinion, it does not qualify for this category. You see, this is the Can’t Miss “Tournament” category, and the CBE

Classic is not a tournament. Let me explain. The four “hosts” — Duke, Marquette, Kansas State, and Gonzaga — automatically make it to the round of four, which is held in Kansas City. For these early season tournaments, that generally isn’t a huge issue, but one of the early matchups in the CBE is between Gonzaga and San Diego State. There are some that would argue SDSU and Gonzaga the two best teams on the west coast, but if the Aztecs win — in Spokane, nonetheless — the Zags still advance? That’s not a tournament!

(Excuse me while I step down from my pedestal.)

Back to the point, I’m going to go with the Puerto Rico Tip-off simply because I apparently have no desire to agree with you in this category. North Carolina gets Hofstra and Charles Jenkins in the first round and looks destined to play an underrated Minnesota team in the second round. On the other side of the bracket, tourney teams Vanderbilt and West Virginia loom while Sun Belt favorite Western Kentucky is fresh off of a 28 point beatdown of St. Joe’s.

Mike: OK, it’s settled. You head to Puerto Rico, I’ll head to Maui — in late November. It’s a win-win!

Breakout player


Rob: One thing that is great about the Coaches vs. Cancer is that it happens at a time when most people will be able to tune in. That means that those people are going to get a chance to see Pitt’s Brad Wanamaker play. When you think about the Panthers, the first kid that comes to mind is Ashton Gibbs, their leading scorer and a potential first team all conference player. And while Gibbs is listed as a point guard, he really is the scoring guard for that team. Wanamaker is the playmaker. He’s the guy that facilitates that offense. He looks like he has streamlined his body and gotten more explosive in his senior season. Through three games he is averaging 19.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg, and 6.3 apg while shooting 65 percent from the floor. Don’t be surprised when he makes a name for himself at Madison Square Garden.

Mike: I do like Wanamaker, and that whole Pitt team. Wanamaker reminds me of how college hoops used to be — a guy would stay in school four years, improving each season. By the time they’re seniors, it all pays off. Of course, Wisconsin’s Jon Leuer doesn’t fit that stereotype given everyone’s known he’s a big-time talent for years. And if they haven’t, they’re not paying attention. The 6-10 senior forward is smooth and efficient offensively, hits the defensive glass and doesn’t commit turnovers. He’s perfect for Bo Ryan’s offense — or any offense, really. He’ll help the Badgers take the title in the Old Spice Classic and propel himself into the national spotlight early.

Or, if you prefer your stars to play above the rim, try the Preseason NIT on Monday night. Pepperdine’s Keion Bell is bound to have at least three (nasty) dunks on UCLA players.

Rob: That’s the Keion Bell that did this, right? Right.

Team in for a rude awakening

Mike: I would pick on your Hoyas, but after their scare at ODU, I think they’ll be ready for Wofford in the Charleston Classic semifinals. (He writes without much conviction.) Wake Forest, on the other hand, should be shaking at the thought of playing Virginia Commonwealth in the Preseason NIT. The Demon Deacons are supposedly the No. 3 seed in the event, but the odds of them advancing to NYC aren’t good. Not with VCU’s underrated offense coming to Winston-Salem. Jeff Bzdelik doesn’t have the players to beat ACC foes yet, let alone top-flight non-BCS schools like VCU.

Rob: Can Wake Forest be rudely awoken again? They just got smacked at home by Stetson, losing their starting point guard in the process. I think it is safe to say this team is going to be at the bottom of the ACC this season.

Mike: Fair enough. What if I stick in the ACC and tell everyone to keep a close eye on UNC? You’ve already mentioned the Tar Heels’ opponents (Hofstra and likely Minnesota), which only adds to the steep learning curve Roy Williams’ team has this year.

Rob: I’ve got two teams for you. I’ll stay in the Big East for the first one and go with the UConn Huskies. Don’t get me wrong, I see this UConn team having some potential this season. I love Kemba Walker, and Alex Oriakhi looks well on his way to becoming a bigger Jeff Adrien after corralling 18 boards in their opener on Friday. But beyond that, the Huskies are young. Talented? Yes. Athletic? Yes. But they are very inexperienced and will be going up against a Wichita State team that is loaded with experience, plays tough defense, and is the favorite to win the MVC. Should they manage to win that game, UConn gets Michigan State in the second round. That could get ugly.

The second team is Kansas State. Wildcat fans may not agree with this pick, but I think that K-State is a bit overrated right now. Its not that they don’t have the talent, but I think that there are a lot of question marks — things like Curtis Kelly getting benched, a lack of scoring on the wings, a back court mate for Jacob Pullen — that need an answer. An early season matchup with a team as good as Gonzaga or potentially Duke could expose K-State.

Skip it

Mike: Unless you’re a Missouri fan dying to see the Tigers run up the score on sub-par teams, skip the Cancun Challenge. If the teams are smart, they’ll blow off the games and go sit on the beach.

Rob: You weren’t joking. The Cancun field is terrible. Other than Missouri, the only potential tournament team is Morgan State, and that is because they are the favorite to win the MEAC, which may be the worst conference in the country. I’d recommend skipping the Legends Classic as well. Syracuse should be pretty good, but Georgia Tech and Michigan are down, and UTEP just lost to Pacific.

Most vivid memory 

Rob: Simple. Gonzaga knocking off Michigan State 109-106 in the Maui Invitational in 2005. Three OT’s, Adam Morrison going for 43, buzzer beaters, future NBA players, two of the best coaches and the best programs in the country, and a missed layup that could have won the game with 4 seconds left in the third OT. It was terrific. The lasting image I have from that game comes courtesy of Maurice Ager. Ager led the Spartans rally at the end of regulation by hitting five threes in the last 7:10. The fifth came at the buzzer in regulation, and after hitting the shot, Ager stood at center court, screaming to the ceiling while pounding his chest before getting enveloped by his teammates.

That is what college basketball is all about. I still get chills watching the YouTube highlights.

Mike: That’s one of mine, too. I remember thinking we were bound to see a Final Four rematch, but it wasn’t to be.

My most vivid memory isn’t a fond one. A year after I graduated from Kansas, the Jayhawks played Ball State at Maui – and came away with a numbing 93-91 loss. It didn’t mean much that season (Kansas went to the Final Four and Ball State landed in the NIT), but it was a sight to see KU players on the sidelines nursing cramps and getting beaten badly on defense. It’s just one of the reasons why the early season tourneys can be so fun – sometimes, the unexpected happens, just like in March.

Mike Miller’s also on Twitter @BeyndArcMMiller, usually talkin’ hoops. Click here for more.