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Pac-12 Offseason Reset: Arizona favored or bracing for wrath of NCAA?

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The grad transfer market is still in full swing, but for the most part, we know what the meaningful parts for the majority of the teams around the country will be.

That means that it is time to start talking about what is coming instead of what was.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at key personnel changes, the impact of the coaching carousel and the most important storylines heading into the 2019-20 season for each of college basketball’s top seven conferences.

Today, we are talking Pac-12.

KEY OFFSEASON STORYLINES

WHO IS GETTING HIT WITH NCAA SANCTIONS?: As much as Arizona and USC will have been hoping that this season would be all about basketball with the FBI’s investigation into college basketball now done and dusted, the truth is that it is just beginning for the schools themselves.

That’s because the NCAA is only just now getting involved.

According to a report last month from Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports, at least six basketball programs are going to receive a notice of allegations from the NCAA regarding Level I violations before the summer is over, and that there are at least two “high-profile” programs that could receive them by early July.

As of today, it is early July.

Which means that Arizona, and, to a point, USC, have as much to worry about as anyone in college basketball.

By now, you should know all about the involvement of those two programs. A pair of former assistants — Arizona’s Book Richardson and USC’s Tony Bland — plead guilty during the trials. Sean Miller’s name has been brought as much as anyone that wasn’t actually charged with a crime. Why does this matter? Because the NCAA is allowed to use any and all information that was dug up by the FBI and made public by these trials to punish the programs that were involved.

Andy Enfield (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

And the NCAA will have plenty of incentive to punish these programs, because unlike the scandals that came out of North Carolina and Penn State, a wannabe agent making under-the-table payments to assistant coaches is exactly the kind of cheating that sits in NCAA enforcement’s wheelhouse.

Richardson and Bland plead guilty to crimes that double as NCAA violations.

Head coaches are responsible for any violations that are committed by the people that work for them. Just yesterday, Kevin Ollie was given a three-year show-cause penalty for violations that were committed while he was the head coach at UConn. Part of that show-cause was the result of lying to the NCAA investigators, but he was charged with violating head coach responsibility rules. There is reason for Sean Miller and Andy Enfield to be worried.

The question, if we’re being frank, has more to do with how harsh will the punishments be, not whether or not the NCAA is going to be able to find something to punish.

WILL ANYONE PULL A SYRACUSE OR A LOUISVILLE?: In February of 2015, with an investigation staring them straight in the face, Syracuse self-imposed a postseason ban for that season. Louisville did the same the following year. It’s an easy way to try and get into the NCAA’s good graces and avoid a harsher, longer-term punishment — why create the recruiting disincentive by putting off a postseason ban that can be put into effect with the players already on the roster?

Will either USC or Arizona opt to go down that path this season?

HOW WILL MICK CRONIN’S COACHING STYLE FIT IN SOCAL?: Mick Cronin was not the first pick for UCLA this spring. In fact, the Bruins rolled through five, if not more, candidates before they landed on the former Cincinnati head coach, but don’t, for a second, think that that has anything to do with Cronin’s coaching acumen.

Cronin built the Bearcats back into a program that was, for the last nine years, an annual lock to get an NCAA tournament bid. They were always a threat to win whatever league they were in, and in the years where they did not enter the season in the top 25, they were, at the very least, under consideration. That’s not an easy thing to do at a school like that. Cronin knows how to win.

But what makes UCLA’s decision to hire him to replace Steve Alford such an interesting storyline is that he is the polar opposite of the kind of coach that you would think the flagship program in Southern California would need to hire. Cronin is tough, he’s no-nonsense, he’s intense and he preaches a brand of basketball that resembles rugby more than it does the pace-and-space era. He’s Ben Howland, only shorter and angrier, and Howland was run out of Westwood despite reaching three Final Four in ten years and winning the Pac-12 the year that he was fired.

It won’t be easy for Cronin to make the transition to the west coast, but it wasn’t easy to be the guy to try and rebuild Cincinnati after Bob Huggins.

(Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

JUST HOW GOOD WILL JADEN MCDANIELS BE THIS YEAR?: Washington is the x-factor in the Pac-12 race this season. Mike Hopkins lost a number of key pieces off of last season’s roster, but there is a ton of length and athleticism at his disposal, not to mention the two top ten prospects that are entering the program.

That would be Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels. Stewart, at this point, is more of a known commodity. At 6-foot-9 and 245 pounds, he should more than make up for the loss of Noah Dickerson to graduation, and there are some that believe he will be the most productive freshman in all of college basketball, more than James Wiseman or Cole Anthony.

McDaniels is a bit more of a question mark. His potential is through the roof. He’s 6-foot-11 with high level perimeter skills. He can handle, he can shoot and his ceiling is legitimately as high as anyone in the class of 2019. But he is a long way from being a finished product. He isn’t quite 200 pounds. He’s a guy that can make shots more than a shooter at this point in his development. He has the potential to be a big time shot-creator, but he’s still somewhat inconsistent and can be bothered by smaller players that climb up under him.

The reason that Washington is being picked as one of the teams that can win the Pac-12 this season is because they have two potential top five picks on a roster that is littered with solid role players. Whether or not they actually win the league, however, will likely come down to just how close McDaniels’ production as a one-and-done is to his potential.

WHAT HAPPENS IF MCKINLEY WRIGHT CAN MAKE IT THROUGH THE SEASON HEALTHY?: The best player in the Pac-12 that you have never heard of is Colorado point guard McKinley Wright. He’s spent the last two seasons putting up all-league numbers without getting the kind of attention or acclaim that players at bigger or more relevant programs have gotten. The Buffaloes bring back the just about every notable piece off of last year’s roster, and that includes Wright, who played much of last season with a shoulder injury that had to be surgically repaired this offseason. If he’s healthy, are the Buffs the biggest sleeper in the conference?

WHAT TRICKS DOES DANA ALTMAN HAVE UP HIS SLEEVE?: Altman is one of the few coaches who I trust to be able to find a way to make his team relevant regardless of what is actually on his roster, but he is going to have to make some magic happen this season if the Ducks are going to make it back to the NCAA tournament this season. He lost Louis King, Kenny Wooten and Bol Bol off of last year’s roster. He does return potential Pac-12 Player of the Year Payton Pritchard, as well as Will Richardson, who has a chance to be the league’s breakout star. There are also a number of key additions for this group — Anthony Mathis, C.J. Walker, Chandler Lawson, Chris Duarte — but overall, this does not exactly look like a team that is going to push Arizona and Washington for a league title.

McKinley Wright IV (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

WHO’S GONE

  • LOUIS KING and KENNY WOOTEN, Oregon: The Ducks may be bringing back a potential Pac-12 Player of the Year in Payton Pritchard, but it is hard to ignore what they are losing in King and Wooten. Wooten might be the bigger loss, because his combination of athleticism and rim protection anchored Oregon’s defense down the stretch of last season and mimics what Jordan Bell provided during their 2019 Final Four run. King’s loss will be felt as he was the perfect floor-spacing small-ball four for Altman’s offense. Combined, these two left five years of eligibility on the table. Both went undrafted.
  • LU DORT, Arizona State: Speaking on undrafted players, Dort spent the majority of the season drawing comparisons to Marcus Smart before he failed to hear his named called on June 20th. The Sun Devils not only lose Dort, but they will also saw Zylan Cheatam graduate. There are still plenty of talented pieces at Bobby Hurley’s disposal, but his life certainly would have been easier with Dort in the fold.
  • JAYLEN HANDS, KRIS WILKES and MOSES BROWN, UCLA: Everything about UCLA is going to look different next season. New head coach. New style of play. A new top three scorers. There will be a changing of the guard in Westwood, and based on the culture that enveloped that program in recent years, that may not be a bad thing.
  • KZ OKPALA, Stanford: Okpala was one of last year’s biggest risers, from a draft prospect perspective, but it didn’t turn into wins for the Cardinal. What that means is that for the second straight season, Jerod Haase will lose his best player despite that player still having eligibility remaining.

WHO’S BACK

  • MCKINLEY WRIGHT, Colorado: The best player out west that you don’t know about. He’s a darkhorse Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate, and the biggest reason that the Buffaloes are going to find themselves in the mix for an NCAA tournament bid.
  • PAYTON PRITCHARD, Oregon: If the Ducks are going to have any chance to make it back to the NCAA tournament next season, it is going to be because Pritchard is one of the best point guards in the sport. He’ll keep them relevant after the departure of Kenny Wooten and Louis King.
  • TRES TINKLE, Oregon State: He doesn’t get the recognition because he plays for Oregon State, but Tinkle is one of the best scorers in college hoops. He put up 20.8 points to go along with 8.1 boards and 3.8 assists as a junior, and he’ll return to a team that does have some interesting pieces next season.
  • LOTS OF TALENT, UCLA: Here’s the thing about this UCLA program — there are still some really good players in the mix. Tyger Campbell and Shareef O’Neeal will be healthy. Cody Riley and Jalen Hill are back. Chris Smith will have a chance to spread his wings, as will Jules Bernard and David Singleton. Even redshirt senior Prince Ali (fabulous he, Ali Ababwa) was a top 30 recruit coming out of high school. Whether or not those guys fit Cronin’s style of play or will be willing to buy in with a new coach in town is up for debate, but the cupboard isn’t bare.

WHO’S COMING

  • NICO MANNION and JOSH GREEN, Arizona: Remember when you thought that Arizona wouldn’t be able to recruit because of everything happening with the FBI investigation? All Sean Miller did was go out and land two five-star prospects that could end up giving the Wildcats one of the best backcourts in the country. Mannion and Green are the reason Arizona looks like the favorite to win the league this season.
  • ISAIAH STEWART and JADEN MCDANIELS, Washington: We discussed McDaniels earlier, so let’s talk about Stewart here. He’s an absolute man-child on the block, a low-post scorer that seems a pretty good bet to lead the conference in rebounding. I would not be surprised to look up in February and see Stewart averaging 15 points, 10 boards and 2.5 blocks for a top 20 team.
  • ONYEKA OKONGWU and ISAIAH MOBLEY, USC: The Trojans are going to look an awful lot like Dunk City West again this season. Okongwu and Mobley are both top 25 recruits that will share time in the frontcourt with Nick Rakocevic. There are a lot of really, really good big men on this roster.
Tres Tinkle (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-PAC-12 TEAM

TRES TINKLE, Oregon State (Preseason Player of the Year)
PAYTON PRITCHARD, Oregon
MCKINLEY WRIGHT, Colorado
NICO MANNION, Arizona
NICK RAKOCEVIC, USC

WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS

1. ARIZONA: There’s a reason that the Arizona administration is going to stand by Sean Miller for as long as they can, and that’s because the man knows how to build a basketball team. Arizona completely restocked a depleted roster that finished eighth in last year’s Pac-12, headlined by the addition of Nico Mannion and Josh Green. With UC Irvine grad transfer Max Hazzard, the return of Chase Jeter and Brandon Williams and a pair of sneaky-good freshmen bigs in Zeke Nnaji and Christian Koloko, the Wildcats have a nice combination of talent and depth.

2. WASHINGTON: The Huskies are losing five of their top six scorers from last season, but there is a chance that they could end up being better next season than they were this past season. Mike Hopkins will have a nice combination of young star power — Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels — and good, veteran role players that can do a job in their system — Hameir Wright, Nahziah Carter and Quade Green. If they’re going to win the league, the Huskies will need a few of their youngsters to grow into supporting roles, but they have a chance.

3. COLORADO: McKinley Wright is the name that you need to know, but the Buffs are more than just a one man team. They bring back basically everyone of consequence, including another all-conference player in Tyler Bey, giving them a balanced, experienced and talented roster in a conference where that isn’t all that common.

4. USC: I’m actually buying the talent on this USC roster. Their frontline of Nick Rakocevic, Isaiah Mobley and Onyeka Okongwu will be as long and athletic as anyone. They added a bunch of shooting with a trio of grad transfers as well. The big question is going to be point guard play, but given what is going on in the rest of this league, I think they have enough to make a run at finishing top four.

5. OREGON: Losing Wooten is a major blow, as it will cost them defensively, but I do think that there will be enough scoring on this roster to keep them relevant with Dana Altman calling the shots. We know wht Payton Pritchard will be. The big question for me is going to be Will Richardson’s development, C.J. Walker’s impact and just how effective Anthony Mathis is as a shooter moving up a level.

6. UCLA: We’ve written plenty about UCLA in this preview, so I’ll leave it at this: I think the Bruins have NCAA tournament upside, but I would not bet on it happening this year.

7. ARIZONA STATE: Bobby Hurley has gotten a ton of hype over the last two seasons thanks to some impressive wins that his Sun Devils have been able to cobble together in non-conference play. But they’re a combined 43-23 in those two seasons, with a 20-16 record in league play and two NCAA tournament trips that produced last year’s play-in game win over St. John’s. There is some talent on this roster, but I’m going to have to see it to buy into it.

8. OREGON STATE: Tres Tinkle might actually have some help this season. Ethan Thompson returned to school, as did Kylor Kelley, while Payton Dastrup will be getting eligible. It would be a shame if a player as good as Tinkle had another All-American caliber season wasted.

9. UTAH: I am very much a believer in Larry Krystkowiak’s coaching ability, but this version of the Utes is going to be really, really young. Losing Donnie Tillman didn’t help matters. As it stands, the only upperclassmen on the roster is going to be a JuCo transfer.

10. STANFORD: Every year I manage to talk myself into the talent on Stanford’s roster and every year I find myself regretting it. There are some intriguing pieces in Palo Alto this season even with K.Z. Okpala in the NBA, but I’m not going to predict them to do much of anything until, you know, they actually do it.

11. WASHINGTON STATE: Everyone is going to talk about how difficult Mark Fox’s rebuilding job at Cal is going to be, but at least he’s not Kyle Smith at Washington State.

12. CAL: The Golden Bears went 16-47 overall and just 5-31 in the Pac-12 the last two seasons, and they now have a new head coach and lost most of their best players this offseason. Good luck, Mark Fox.

Tuesday’s Three Things To Know: Virginia holds off Lamb, Tillie’s back

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With November’s early season tournaments right around the corner, it was another fairly quiet night in the college basketball world on Tuesday night.

Unless you live in Charlottesville or Burlington. 

Then, there were some fireworks. 

Here are the three things you need to know after Tuesday’s college hoops action.

1. ANTHONY LAMB AND VERMONT ARE THE REAL DEAL, BUT VIRGINIA’S SCORING IS A PROBLEM

We told you on Monday that Vermont is the best mid-major program in the country, and they looked the part on Tuesday night. The Catamounts went into Charlottesville and game No. 7 Virginia all that they could handle. The final score ended up being 61-55, but UVM made a run in the second half that allowed them to take the lead with less than eight minutes remaining.

The hero was Anthony Lamb, UVM’s 6-foot-5 (ish?) forward and maybe the best mid-major player in all of the land. Lamb finished with 30 points, scoring 25 of his 30 points and hitting six of his seven threes in the second half. To put this into context, Syracuse scored 34 points as a team against Virginia in the Carrier Dome. The Wahoos hadn’t allowed more than 42 points in their first three games. Lamb had 30.

What was just as impressive was the way he was able to get out and guard on the perimeter. One of the issues UVM has had in the past is that Lamb wasn’t quite quick enough to create the mismatch against high major teams that he did against teams in his league.

I don’t think that will be the case quite as much this season.

So I’m in on Vermont. All the way in.

(Even though they cost me a cover against St. Bonaventure and the under on Tuesday night. I’ll get past it. Eventually.)

And while I love what I’ve seen from Virginia thus far, especially on the defensive end of the floor, I do think there is some reason to be concerned about how they are going to score. Mamadi Diakite had 19 points on Tuesday, which matched his career-high, and Braxton Key and Kihei Clark both knocked down some massive threes, but this team is a significant step backwards on that end of the floor when compared to Virginia’s best teams.

2. KILLIAN TILLIE RETURNED FOR GONZAGA

Killian Tillie returned to the floor for Gonzaga for the first time this season, which is massive news for a team that has already been steamrolling anything and anyone that gets in their way.

For the uninitiated, Tillie was Gonzaga’s leading scorer during the 2017-18 season, but he’s been battling knee and foot injuries ever since. Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke made it easy to forget about the fact that arguably the most talented player on that roster was not available.

Well, he is back now. In his first game of the season, Tillie started and put up 15 points and eight boards as the No. 8 Zags held on to knock off a scrappy UT Arlington team.

3. HOUSTON AND DAVIDSON LANDED KEY BOUNCE-BACK WINS

Davidson entered the year as the trendy pick to win the Atlantic 10 and Houston was considered by many, including the coaches, to be the best team in the American, but it has not been the easiest start to the season for either team. Davidson got worked over pretty good by both Auburn and Charlotte, while Houston is coming off of a home loss to a BYU team that was picked third in the WCC.

Davidson made a statement on Tuesday night. They blew out Nevada, 91-71, thanks to 24 points from Kellan Grady. Quentin Grimes was the spark for Houston, finishing with 32 points, nine boards and five assists in a 97-89 come-from-behind win against intra-city rival Rice on the road.

Diakite, No. 7 Virginia hold off Vermont, 61-55

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Mamadi Diakite scored 19 points and No. 7 Virginia withstood a 3-point shooting display by Anthony Lamb and beat Vermont 61-55 on Tuesday night.

The Cavaliers (4-0) trailed before Diakite’s basket gave them a 50-49 lead with 5:12 left and sparked a 9-0 run. Jay Huff scored twice in the spurt and Braxton Key hit a 3-pointer as Virginia held the Catamounts scoreless, and forced four turnovers, in a nearly four-minute span.

Lamb scored 30 for Vermont (4-1), including 25 in the second half, to nearly match the point total of the Cavaliers’ first two opponents of the season, who each managed just 34 points. Stef Smith added 11 points, but Virginia turned Vermont’s 13 turnovers into 20 points.

Kihei Clark scored 15 points and Key had 14 points for Virginia.

Virginia led 24-18 at halftime, but Vermont used a 10-2 run to start the half to take its first lead since the early going. Lamb had seven points in the run, including the last five, and tacked on his team’s next 12 points with four 3-pointers as the score was tied five times.

BIG PICTURE

Vermont: The Catamounts hang their hat on defense, too, and came into the game with a 107-9 record since the 2011-12 season when holding their opponents to 60 points or fewer

Virginia: The Cavaliers’ defensive excellence has been essential early in the season as they still are struggling to find an offensive rhythm. Highly regarded freshman guard Casey Morsell came into the game having made just 2 of 21 field goal attempts and was 1 for 6. Virginia has made 21 3-pointers in its first four games and allowed 31, including 12 by the Catamounts in 33 attempts.

UP NEXT

The Catamounts face Central Connecticut State on Saturday at Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut.

The Cavaliers face Massachusetts on Saturday at Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut.

Your guide to the 16 best early-season college basketball tournaments

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Starting next week, college basketball will be thrown back into one of the best weeks of the season. 

It’s Holiday Tournament time!

Afternoon college hoops means opportunities to gamble for 15 straight hours on college hoops.

So with that in mind, here is a ranking of the 16 best exempt events that will take place over the course of the next two weeks. 

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1. BATTLE 4 ATLANTIS

WHEN: Nov. 27-29

MATCHUPS

  • Michigan vs. Iowa State
  • No. 5 North Carolina vs. Alabama
  • No. 8 Gonzaga vs. Southern Miss
  • No. 13 Seton Hall vs. No. 11 Oregon

FAVORITE: In what should be far and away the best exempt event this year, we have four top 15 teams and as many as seven potential NCAA tournament teams heading to Atlantis. For my money, I think North Carolina and star freshman point guard Cole Anthony are the favorite to win this thing. On the one hand, they are the highest-ranked team in the event. On the other hand, they are on the side of the bracket where they will not have to play a top 25 team until the finals, if they get there. This will be a nice proving ground for the Tar Heels, who have relied quite heavily on their freshman point guard.

TEAM TO WATCH: There are quite a few, but I think Gonzaga is the team that I will be the most intrigued to see play in Atlantis. At this point, we more or less know how good UNC, Seton Hall and Oregon are. Gonzaga is tougher to peg. They have been utterly dominant through three games, but I’m not quite sure how much stock to put in their opponents. Even a 30 point win at Texas A&M is not all that impressive right now. Are their young bigs legit? Can a patchwork backcourt made up of grad transfers work? Is Killian Tillie still alive? There are a lot of questions that we need answered.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Myles Powell. I should not have to explain this one.

IDEAL TITLE GAME: I honestly don’t know if there truly is an ideal title game here. There are just so many good matchups throughout the event. Seton Hall-Oregon in the quarterfinals is, essentially, a battle of potential Final Four teams. One of those two teams playing Gonzaga in the semifinals is, again, a battle of potential Final Four teams. Even Michigan-Iowa State, and the winner facing off with, most likely, UNC, is going to be fun.

Me?

I think I’ll be rooting for a Seton Hall-North Carolina title game for no reason other than the fact that I want to see Powell and Anthony go shot for shot for 40 minutes.

(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

2. MAUI INVITATIONAL

WHEN: Nov. 25, 26 and 27
TICKETS: Click here

MATCHUPS

  • Georgia vs. Dayton
  • Virginia Tech vs. No. 3 Michigan State
  • No. 4 Kansas vs. Chaminade
  • BYU vs. UCLA

FAVORITE: The two losers from the Champions Classic will headline the Maui Invitational. At this point, I’m going to call Michigan State the favorite to win this event. I had the Spartans at No. 1 in the preseason, I have them ranked higher than Kansas today and I believe they will have the best player on the court in Cassius Winston.

TEAM TO WATCH: BYU just picked up a win at Houston and Dayton looks like they could end up being a top 25 team this season, but UCLA is the team to watch for me. The Bruins have a new head coach in Mick Cronin, but they have actually looked pretty solid through their first three games.

PLAYER TO WATCH: I’m going to pick two here because I can. The first is Georgia’s Anthony Edwards. He’s the potential No. 1 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft and one of the best scorers in all of college basketball. Then there’s Dayton forward Obi Toppin, a 6-foot-9 athletic freak that is a potential first round pick in his own right. They will face off in the very first game of the tournament.

IDEAL TITLE GAME: I think that, come March, we are going to be saying that Michigan State and Kansas are the two best teams in college basketball, so if we can get them squaring off in the final of the Maui Invitational on that Wednesday night before Thanksgiving, that would be an ideal situation for everyone involved. What would be best individual matchup be: Cassius Winston vs. Devon Dotson or Udoka Azubuike vs. Xavier Tillman?

(AP Photo/Ben McKeown)

3. 2K EMPIRE CLASSIC

WHEN: Nov. 21 and 22
TICKETS: Click here

MATCHUPS:

  • Texas vs. Georgetown
  • Duke vs. Cal

FAVORITE: Duke is the No. 1 team in college basketball right now. I think that means the are the favorite to win this event.

TEAM TO WATCH: I’ve been high on Texas all offseason, and seeing the Longhorns go into West Lafayette and beat Purdue only reaffirmed what I believe. This will be their toughest test of the young season, and they get a talented-but-enigmatic Georgetown team in the opener with a shot to make a statement against Duke in the title game.

PLAYER TO WATCH: The most entertaining player in this field is going to be Georgetown’s Mac McClung, a YouTube sensation that throws down highlight reel dunks without a problem. The best story, however, is Texas guard Andrew Jones, who beat leukemia and has returned to play for the Longhorns after two years away from the game.

IDEAL TITLE GAME: Obviously, Duke needs to be involved here. I want to see Texas take on the Blue Devils, personally, mostly because I need the world to buy into Texas the way I am buying into Texas.

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4. EMERALD COAST CLASSIC

WHEN: Nov. 29-30 (Niceville, Fla.)
TICKETS: Click here

MATCHUPS

  • Florida State vs. No. 20 Tennessee
  • Purdue vs. No. 21 VCU

FAVORITE: In terms of sheer competitiveness, I don’t think that there is a better event than the Emerald Coast Classic. I can legitimately say that I have no great feel on who is actually the best team here. Tennessee probably has the most impressive win while VCU is coming off of a win over a ranked team as well. Florida State won at Florida. Purdue has one of the best coaches in all of college basketball running things. I think the Vols are probably the best team here, but I can see any of the four winning the event.

TEAM TO WATCH: All of them. The thing that makes this event so great is that all four of these teams are going to be in the NCAA tournament and all four of them have so many question marks still. Does Tennessee have any quality depth? Are their bigs really as good as they looked against Washington? Can VCU find a way to make perimeter shots at any point this season? Is there a go-to scorer on Florida State’s roster? Was their win at Florida simply a sign of how bad the Gators have been this season? Can Purdue really rely on Jahaad Proctor to be their best scorer and compete atop the Big Ten?

PLAYER TO WATCH: I love Tennessee’s Lamonte Turner. I think he is a difference-maker. Point guards that make big shots are killers at this level.

IDEAL TITLE GAME: Getting a rematch of Tennessee vs. Purdue would be fun, but I think I’d rather see VCUTennessee.

(Porter Binks/Getty Images)

5. CHARLESTON CLASSIC

WHEN: Nov. 21, 22 and 24 (Charleston, S.C.)
TICKETS: Click here

MATCHUPS

  • Miami vs. Missouri State
  • Florida vs. St. Joseph’s
  • No. 18 Xavier vs. Towson
  • UConn vs. Buffalo

FAVORITE: Despite a fairly slow start to their season, Xavier has to be considered the favorite to win this event. The Musketeers are a long way away from hitting their ceiling – that’s what happens when you go through the first four games shooting 20.4 percent from three – but there is enough talent on this roster to figure it out if those shots start falling. Will three games in four days in beautiful Charleston, S.C., cure what ails them?

TEAM TO WATCH: No team in college basketball has been more disappointing through the first two weeks of the season that Florida. The core of the issue? Florida cannot shoot, they aren’t playing fast and their defense isn’t forcing turnovers which means they have to try and execute against a set defense. It’s a mess, but it is also fixable. Can they right the ship this week?

PLAYER TO WATCH: If there is one guy in this field that can put together three games of 25-plus points and carry a team to a tournament win, it is Chris Lykes of Miami. The 5-foot-7 point guard is one of the most entertaining players in the country and certainly deserving of more attention than he is currently receiving.

IDEAL TITLE GAME: In theory, the ideal title game would feature Florida and Xavier. They are the two most talented teams in the event. They are also two of the worst shooting teams in America right now. If this ends up being the final, they are going to need to replace the rims after the final.

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6. MYRTLE BEACH INVITATIONAL

WHEN: Nov. 21, 22 and 24 (Myrtle Beach, S.C.)
TICKETS: Click here

MATCHUPS

  • No. 17 Villanova vs. Middle Tennessee
  • Mississippi State vs. Tulane
  • Ohio vs. No. 24 Baylor
  • Utah vs. Coastal Carolina

FAVORITE: On paper, the answer is probably Villanova. We all know what Jay Wright has built on the Main Line and the success that they have had over the course of the last six seasons. Last season was a down year for Nova and they still won the Big East regular season and tournament titles. The Wildcats were absolutely trucked by Ohio State last week, but they’ve looked really impressive in their other two games. I don’t know what that means in the big picture, but I think we’ll find out this week.

TEAM TO WATCH: I can be talked into the idea that Baylor is actually the favorite to win this event. They are big, they are tough and they are old. They can overwhelm Villanova on the glass and they may actually have the better guards. That said, we saw Baylor lose a game they dominated against Washington already this season, and in the process we got a look at Tristan Clark, who does not look like he is back to 100 percent just yet.

PLAYER TO WATCH: He may not be the best player in this event, but it will be our first chance to see Villanova freshman Bryan Antoine at the collegiate level. Antoine has been out of action since getting shoulder surgery over the summer, but he was medically-cleared to play. Just how much of an impact will the five-star freshman have? He has not played real basketball since the end of his senior season in high school, he had his serious surgery on his shoulder and Villanova’s system is notoriously difficult for freshman to pick up.

IDEAL TITLE GAME: There are two ranked teams in this event: Villanova and Baylor. That makes picking a perfect title game pretty easy. It will be interesting to see if the Wildcats can get past a potential semifinal matchup with Mississippi State. The Bulldogs are talented and have the kind of size inside that will give the Wildcats trouble.

(AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

7. ORLANDO INVITATIONAL

WHEN: Nov. 28, Nov. 29, Dec. 1
TICKETS: Click here

MATCHUPS

  • No. 6 Maryland vs. Temple
  • Texas A&M vs. Harvard
  • USC vs. Fairfield
  • Marquette vs. Davidson

FAVORITE: Maryland should be far and away the best team in this field. They are the only ranked team, and that’s because they are the most talented team. But there are certainly question marks about this group and whether or not Mark Turgeon is going to be able to get them to reach their ceiling. In an event where there are so many teams that have something to prove, this is a chance for the Terps to assert their dominance, so to speak. If you want to truly be looked at as a national title contender, you win this event.

TEAM TO WATCH: There are four teams here that need to be tracked.

  • Just how good is Marquette? They beat Purdue but got whipped by Wisconsin in a rivalry game.
  • Will Seth Towns and Bryce Aiken ever play for Harvard again?
  • Davidson was embarrassed by Auburn in their season-opener. Are they really an A-10 title contender?
  • USC is really, really talented, especially in their frontcourt. Can that translate to wins?

PLAYER TO WATCH: Everyone knows about Markus Howard by now, so I’m going to go with Onyeka Okongwu, the USC big man that is currently averaging 14.5 points, 10.5 boards ad 2.8 blocks.

IDEAL TITLE GAME: It will, of course, include Maryland. Personally, I think that Marquette is probably the second-best team in this event, so I’ll be hoping to see them face off in the final.

(AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

8. LEGENDS CLASSIC

WHEN: Nov. 25 and 26 (Brooklyn)
TICKETS: Click here

MATCHUPS

  • Wisconsin vs. Richmond
  • No. 19 Auburn vs. New Mexico

FAVORITE: Auburn has actually been pretty impressive throughout the first two weeks of the season. They overwhelmed Davidson and put up 116 points against Cal. State Northridge. Bruce Pearl may have lost his three best players off of last year’s roster, but he still has plenty of talent at his disposal. The Tigers are a threat.

TEAM TO WATCH: Wisconsin notched themselves a nice little win over archrival Marquette on Sunday afternoon, and while they have not exactly been the most hyped team entering the season, they have looked pretty good. The big question is whether or not they are going to get overwhelmed by the athleticism that Auburn has if they face off.

PLAYER TO WATCH: He is not the most well-known freshman in the country, but Isaac Okoro of Auburn has proven himself to be a potential first round pick with his play. He is to this team what Chuma Okeke was to last year’s team.

IDEAL TITLE GAME: AuburnWisconsin. They are clearly the two best teams in this field, and both of them are good enough to be a top six or seven seed in the NCAA tournament.

(Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

9. LAS VEGAS INVITATIONAL

WHEN: Nov. 28 and 29
TICKETS: Click here

MATCHUPS

  • No. 12 Texas Tech vs. Iowa
  • San Diego State vs. Creighton

FAVORITE: For the second straight season, Chris Beard has apparently found a way to keep Texas Tech amongst college basketball’s elite despite the fact that they lost just about everyone off of last season’s roster. They have yet to play anyone worth discussing this season – and they won’t until they get Iowa in the opener – but it is clear through three games that there hasn’t been much hangover from the trip to the national title game.

TEAM TO WATCH: I’m very intrigued by this Creighton team. Their frontline has been beaten up with injuries through the first two weeks of the season, but their backcourt is absolutely electric. I think they actually matchup pretty well with Texas Tech.

PLAYER TO WATCH: The key to everything for Texas Tech this year is lead guard Jahmi’us Ramsey. He is their star freshman built in the mold of a Keenan Evans or a Jarrett Culver, a big, powerful combo-guard that can operate in ball-screens. I will be intrigued to see what he can accomplish playing against some better competition.

IDEAL TITLE GAME: I want to see Creighton get their shot at Texas Tech. Greg McDermott has developed into one of the best offensive minds in college hoops while Chris Beard’s exploits on the defensive end of the floor are no joke.

(AP Photo/Andrew Shurtleff)

10. HALL OF FAME TIP-OFF CLASSIC

WHEN: Nov. 23-24 (Mohegan Sun)
TICKETS: Click here

MATCHUPS

  • No. 7 Virginia vs. UMass
  • Arizona State vs. St. John’s

FAVORITE: Virginia has been one of the more impressive teams in college basketball through the first two weeks. The competition hasn’t been that great, but they have played Syracuse on the road and went more than 114 minutes of game-time before giving up their 100th point. We’ll see if they end up turning into a good team on the offensive end of the floor, but at least we know what they are defensively.

TEAM TO WATCH: I’m still curious to see what will happen with Arizona State this season. The Sun Devils have talent this year, like they do every year, but in Bobby Hurley’s tenure that has yet to turn into impressive results come March.

PLAYER TO WATCH: So the weird thing about this event is that there are actually two events happening at the same time – one involves high-major team and one involves mid-majors. The one that involves mid-majors includes Vermont, who is the best mid-major program in the country this season and one of the best mid-major players in college hoops in Anthony Lamb.

IDEAL TITLE GAME: The ideal title game would probably be a matchup between Virginia and Vermont, but since that isn’t going to happen, I think that getting the ‘Hoos paired up with Arizona State would be the best. We’ve already seen Vermont beat St. John’s in Queens.

(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

11. WOODEN LEGACY

WHEN: Nov. 28, 29 and Dec. 1 (Anaheim)
TICKETS: Click here

MATCHUPS

  • Providence vs. Long Beach State
  • Wake Forest vs. Charleston
  • UCF vs. Penn
  • Pepperdine vs. No. 14 Arizona

FAVORITE: Through the first two weeks of the season, Arizona has been one of the most impressive teams in college hoops. Their backcourt of Nico Mannion and Josh Green has been exceptional, while Zeke Nnaji has been one of the sport’s breakout stars. Considering that this game is being played on the west coast and that the second-best team in the event lost to Northwestern, I’d say the favorite is a pretty easy pick.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Arizona’s Nico Mannion has been one of the most exciting freshman in college basketball, even more so than Zeke Nnaji, his teammate and fellow freshman.

IDEAL TITLE GAME: I’m hoping for ArizonaProvidence because I think it will be the only matchup of tournament teams that we will get from this field.

(Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

12. HALL OF FAME CLASSIC

WHEN: Nov. 25-26 (Kansas City)
TICKETS: Click here

MATCHUPS

  • Butler vs. Missouri
  • Oklahoma vs. Stanford

FAVORITE: For my money, Missouri is the best team in this field. The Tigers have a couple of terrific guards, they really can defend and their former five-star center Jeremiah Tilmon has developed into one of the better big men in college basketball. There is a lot to like on that roster.

TEAM TO WATCH: Keep an eye on Oklahoma. This may be the season that they finally break out of their post-Trae Young doldrums. Lon Kruger can really, really coach.

PLAYER TO WATCH: I have always been a fan of Butler’s Kamar Baldwin. He is the best player on a Butler team that is going to sneak up on some people this season.

IDEAL TITLE GAME: I am totally here for a throwback Big 12 battle between Missouri and Oklahoma.

(Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

13. MGM RESORTS MAIN EVENT

WHEN: Nov. 24 and 26 (Las Vegas)
TICKETS: Click here

MATCHUPS

  • No. 23 Colorado vs. Wyoming
  • Clemson vs. TCU

FAVORITE: They aren’t getting all that much attention right now, but Colorado is one of the most intriguing teams in college basketball. We’ve seen Arizona, Oregon and Washington make statements on national television already this season. Will this event be Colorado’s coming out party?

TEAM TO WATCH: Other than Colorado? It’s probably TCU, who has one of the best players in the Big 12 that no one is paying attention to in Desmond Bane. They are coming off of a 23-win season and will be looking to get ready for another run through the Big 12 gauntlet.

PLAYER TO WATCH: The Pac-12 is loaded with talented point guards. Nico Mannion is the guy that has gotten all the hype at Arizona, Oregon’s Payton Pritchard is the veteran presence that everyone loves and Remy Martin of Arizona State is the guy with the hair and the name. But Colorado’s McKinley Wright might actually be the best of the bunch.

IDEAL TITLE GAME: I’ll be hoping to see Colorado take on TCU, but as long as we get the best version of the Buffaloes, I’ll be happy.

(Rich Barnes/Getty Images)

14. NIT SEASON TIP-OFF

WHEN: Nov. 27 and 29 (Brooklyn)
TICKETS: Click here

MATCHUPS

  • Ole Miss vs. Penn State
  • Oklahoma State vs. Syracuse

FAVORITE: Part of what makes the Preseason NIT so interesting this season is that it is hard to figure out who, exactly, is the favorite. It’s pretty easy to envision a scenario where any of the four teams playing can win two games in Brooklyn. The problem is that part of the reason that it is hard to determine who is a favorite is because the teams are not really all that good. Gun-to-head, I’d say Oklahoma State is the favorite. But who knows.

TEAM TO WATCH: Is this the year that Penn State finally makes the leap to relevance? We’ve been waiting for them to do it for more than five years now, but it may actually happen this season. Lamar Stevens is awesome, and Myreon Jones looks like one of college basketball’s breakout stars.

PLAYER TO WATCH: The two best players in the NIT this year are Lindy Waters from Oklahoma State and Penn State forward Lamar Stevens. What that means is that …

IDEAL TITLE GAME: … the ideal title would feature a matchup between Penn State and Oklahoma State, which would let us see Waters square off with Stevens.

(Elsa/Getty Images)

15. CANCUN CHALLENGE

WHEN: Nov. 26 and 27

MATCHUPS

  • Wichita State vs. South Carolina
  • Northern Iowa vs. West Virginia

FAVORITE: Heading into the season, I probably would have said that Wichita State was the favorite to win this thing, but after seeing West Virginia go into Pittsburgh and do what Florida State could, I think I lean the Mountaineers at this point. This group is hardly the Press Virginia of old, with Derek Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe in the frontcourt, Bob Huggins has a roster with as much strength inside as anyone.

TEAM TO WATCH: I still think Wichita State is good enough to make a run at an NCAA tournament bid, but they have not had the smoothest start to the season, struggling to put away the likes of Nebraska Omaha and Texas Southern. I do think there’s an argument to be made that Dexter Dennis and Erik Stevenson are the best backcourt in this event.

PLAYER TO WATCH: The best NBA prospect in Cancun will be South Carolina guard A.J. Lawson. He’s a borderline first round pick that has gotten off to a solid start this season.

IDEAL TITLE GAME: Frank Martin was an assistant under Bob Huggins when Huggy Bear was at Cincinnati and Kansas State. His coaching career really took off when Huggs left Kansas State for West Virginia one year after arriving in Manhattan and Martin was given the job. So obviously, I want to see South Carolina square off with West Virginia in the title game.

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

16. PARADISE JAM

WHEN: Nov. 22, 23 and 25 (Virgin Islands)

MATCHUPS

  • Valparaiso vs. Grand Canyon
  • Nevada vs. Fordham
  • Cincinnati vs. Illinois State
  • Western Kentucky vs. Bowling Green

FAVORITE: At this point, Cincinnati has to be considered the favorite to win the event, but do we know how good the Bearcats actually are right now? They haven’t beaten anyone of note to date, and their best player – Jarron Cumberland – missed the last game because of issues between him and head coach John Brannen.

TEAM TO WATCH: The two teams that I am the most interested in learning about are Bowling Green and Western Kentucky. Both have looked pretty good throughout the first two weeks of the season

PLAYER TO WATCH: If Brannen decides to let him play, the answer is Jarron Cumberland.

IDEAL TITLE GAME: If the Paradise Jam happens and no one notices, does it actually count?

Three Things To Know: Auburn’s rolling; Kentucky’s struggling; Mizzou’s tough

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It was a relatively quiet night in college hoops, but there were still three things that were worth discussing.

1. IS AUBURN THE BEST TEAM IN THE SEC?

I’m trying to come up with a reason to argue otherwise, and it’s just not working.

Despite the fact that they lost their three best players from last season’s Final Four team, the Tigers look like they are going to once against have a shot of getting back to the final weekend of the college basketball season.

This year’s group is a little different than last season. They’re not forcing as many turnovers as they did last year, but they are running the floor and they are shooting up a ton of threes and, right now, they are playing with as much swagger and confidence as anyone in the country. Colgate is a solid, veteran mid-major team and they were absolutely mollywhopped by Auburn. The final score was 91-62, but don’t forget that Auburn led 53-21 at halftime. The spread of 16 points. Auburn was covering midway through the first half.

Now, if we’re going to talk about them in terms of being the best anything, it’s important to note that they haven’t really played anyone yet. Colgate and South Alabama are fine. Davidson was, apparently, entirely overrated. Hopefully Auburn will get a showdown with Wisconsin in the final of the Legends Classic, otherwise we may not see them face a tournament team until they host N.C. State.

In other words, expect a lot of wins from Auburn in the month of December.

2. KENTUCKY CERTAINLY ISN’T, NOT RIGHT NOW

We have already spent quite a bit of time on Kentucky in this space. The Wildcats struggled with a mid-major foe in Rupp Arena for the second straight game. They did not lose on Monday night, but they did leave us asking the question: Can Kentucky actually cure what is ailing them this season?

3. MISSOURI IS GOING TO BE A TOUGH OUT ALL SEASON LONG

I’m not sure there is a team that is flying further under the radar than Missouri right now. The Tigers improved to 3-1 on the season with a 75-56 win over Wofford on Monday night. They’ve also beaten Northern Kentucky and took No. 18 Xavier to overtime in Cincinnati.

As of today, they are a top ten team defensively, according to KenPom. They are ninth nationally in defensive effective field goal percentage. They have an assembly line of talented perimeter players that can all get out and pressure while Jeremiah Tilmon has embraced being the defensive anchor for this group while also becoming an efficient catch-and-dunk offensive weapon that can draw fouls.

I’m going to hold off on going all-in on Missouri until we see them in the Hall Of Fame Classic next week (they open with Butler, another sneaky-good team) but at this point, it looks like the Tigers should be a tournament team.

Cassius Winston addresses Michigan State crowd: ‘I lost a piece of my heart’

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Michigan State guard Cassius Winston spoke publicly for the first time since his younger brother died by suicide nine days ago.

He thanked the crowd at the Breslin Center: