TOURNAMENTS TO PAY ATTENTION TO
Hall Of Fame Tip-Off: For my money, this is the best of the bracketed events this November. No. 1 Duke will head to Mohegan Sun where, after playing an opening round game against a Penn State team that lost to Albany, the Blue Devils will get the winner of No. 21 Cincinnati and No. 24 Rhode Island. And not only will Duke fans be in attendance, but the casino’s arena is about an hour from URI’s campus, meaning that Rhody’s fan base should be there in full force, making the environment of the building pretty awesome.
Tire Pros Invitational: Perhaps the most interesting game of the weekend will come in the semifinals of the Tire Pros event in Orlando, as No. 11 Xavier, who struggled with Missouri in the opener, faces off with a Clemson team who is legitimately good this season and who will have the best player on the floor in Jaron Blossomgame. The winner of that game will get the winner of Northern Iowa and Oklahoma, as the former beat the brakes off of Arizona State on Thursday night. The final will be played on Sunday afternoon.
Charleston Classic: No. 3 Villanova is the big name in this event. They’ll play Wake Forest on Friday afternoon for the right to get to the title game, which will feature the winner of UCF and Charleston. UCF is the intriguing team to keep an eye on here. They mollywhopped Mississippi State on Thursday night thanks to a 26-point, 12-rebound performance from 7-foot-6 Tacko Fall. Might the Golden Knights be a sleeper to track this season? We’ll certainly get a sense of that if they get a chance to square off with the defending national champions.
2K Classic: The cool thing about this event is that four teams entered that we really didn’t know much about. Pitt, SMU and Michigan hadn’t really played anyone, while Marquette had pasted Vanderbilt earlier in the year. Well, low and behold, while SMU and Pitt both looked solid in the opener last night, Marquette was on the wrong end of a beatdown from Michigan. Were the Wolverines for real or will they get a wake-up call against SMU?
Paradise Jam: The quarterfinal matchups for the Paradise Jam are kind of whatever, but Saturday’s semifinals have the chance to be pretty tasty, assuming that N.C. State and Creighton can get past Montana and Washington State, respectively. The Wolfpack and the Bluejays have two of the nation’s best back courts while Dennis Smith Jr. of N.C. State has a chance to be a top five pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. If all goes to plan, we’ll get a title game between one of those teams and Ole Miss, who is seemingly under-the-radar every year.
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FIVE STORYLINES FOR THE WEEKEND
1. Does Duke get their guys back?: The Blue Devils are making the trek from New York City up to Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut, to partake in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic. Is this the first chance that we are going to get to see the Blue Devils playing at full strength? Probably not, because there’s little-to-no-chance that Harry Giles III is in anything other than a suit at the end of the bench before the start of ACC play.
But at this point, I’m of the mindset that we need to start thinking about ‘Duke at full strength’ as Duke with Marques Bolden and Jayson Tatum in action. If Giles does happen to return, I would expect him to be on a Joel Embiid-esque “pitch count”. Tatum sprained his foot in late October and Bolden suffered a “lower-leg injury” in early November. Neither of the injuries were considered too serious, but both of those players were dressed in matching pall-bearer suits at the Champions Classic – along with Giles, the trio looked like bizarro world B2K – and it’s unclear if they’ll be in action this weekend. Even without a full squad, Duke looked the part of the national title favorites on Tuesday night.
2. What about Dayton’s health?: I really feel for the Flyer program. They’re heading into this weekend’s games against No. 17 Saint Mary’s – and, potentially, next week’s Wooden Legacy tournament in Anaheim – likely missing three key pieces. Josh Cunningham took a nasty fall against Alabama on Tuesday, Kendall Pollard has a thigh issue that he’s still working through and, last summer, they tragically had their starting center Steve McIlvene pass away. This is a team that entered the offseason with Sweet 16 potential, and it pains me to see them miss out on opportunities to take their mind off the loss of a friend and teammate.
3. This is the chance for the Gaels to prove themselves: That said, this game becomes all the more important for Saint Mary’s. The Gaels missed out on the NCAA tournament last season because they simply didn’t play enough games outside the state of California or enough quality opponents in the non-conference. A game at Dayton is going to be a good win on paper in March regardless of who is on the roster when they play. This is the chance that the Gaels needed to beef up their résumé to try and lock in an at-large birth to the NCAA tournament.
4. Who is the best team in the state of Texas?: Entering the year, everyone thought it would be Texas, who has been good but not great through the first week of the season. SMU has actually looked better than the Longhorns, picking off Pitt in the 2K Sports Classic on Thursday night. The Mustangs get Michigan in the title game late on Friday, which will come after we see Texas A&M face off with a good USC team in College Station. That should give us a good feel of what to expect from the Aggies, but we already know what to expect this season from Baylor, who looked fantastic in a win over Dillon Brooks-less No. 4 Oregon.