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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. 

(Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

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.

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

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.

(Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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?

College Basketball Top 25 Power Rankings: Duke back to No. 1 as the top reshuffles

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This week’s Top 25 is tough to put together because so many of the top teams in the country keep on losing.

The No. 1 team in the country lost at home to Evansville. That’s really all you need to know at this point. But since they had beaten the previous No. 1 team in the country in Michigan State, it makes trying to decipher the top of the sport just that much more difficult.

To be frank, I think this is going to end up being one of those seasons where there is never truly a “No. 1 team.” It’s the kind of season where there 15 teams that feel like they are good enough to be a “top ten team,” so to speak, but none of those 15 feel like they are good enough to be a “top three team.”

Put another way, there are a whole bunch of teams that feel like they are somewhere between pretty good and very good and no one that feels like they are remotely close to unbeatable.

We’ll see if that ends up being the way that everything plays out.

But for now, I think that it’s fair to say that you can have the top 10-12 teams in any order this week and it would be tough to argue against it.

So with that in mind, here is the Week 2 version of the NBC Sports Top 25:

1. DUKE (4-0, Last Week: 3)
2. LOUISVILLE (4-0, 2)
3. MICHIGAN STATE (2-1, 4)
4. KANSAS (2-1, 5)
5. KENTUCKY (2-1, 1)
6. GONZAGA (4-0, 6)
7. OHIO STATE (3-0, 24)
8. MARYLAND (3-0, 8)
9. VIRGINIA (3-0, 9)
10. TEXAS TECH (3-0, 10)
11. OREGON (4-0, 11)
12. ARIZONA (4-0, 14)
13. NORTH CAROLINA (3-0, 13)
14. SETON HALL (3-1, 12)
15. UTAH STATE (4-0, 15)
16. VILLANOVA (2-1, 6)
17. XAVIER (4-0, 17)
18. TENNESSEE (3-0, 23)
19. AUBURN (4-0, 22)
20. MEMPHIS (3-1, 20)
21. TEXAS (4-0, 25)
22. WASHINGTON (2-1, 21)
23. VCU (4-0, NR)
24. LSU (2-1, 18)
25. BAYLOR (2-1, NR)

NEW ADDITIONS: No. 23 VCU, No. 25 BAYLOR
DROPPED OUT: No. 16 SAINT MARY’S, No. 19 FLORIDA

Washington rallies, stuns No. 16 Baylor 67-64 in Alaska

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Isaiah Stewart made a go-ahead basket with 30 seconds left, Nahziah Carter scored 23 points and Washington beat No. 16 Baylor 67-64 on Friday night.

Carter hit a tying 3-pointer with 1:38 left. After Baylor missed a pair of 3-point tries, Stewart caught a pass in the lane and hit a short turnaround shot over a defender for Washington’s first lead since the opening minutes.

Stewart, a 6-foot-9 freshman playing his first collegiate game, had 15 points and seven rebounds.

Baylor failed to make a field goal over the final five minutes, allowing Washington to erase a 63-53 lead.

Carter shot 4 for 6 on 3-pointers the Huskies’ season opener at the Armed Forces Classic. He added seven rebounds.

Jaden McDaniels had 18 points and seven rebounds for Washington.

Jared Butler had 18 points for the Bears (1-1). Freddie Gillespie had 11 points and 11 rebounds.

The game was played before a crowd filled with active military personnel on a neutral court.

BIG PICTURE

Baylor: The Bears cruised in their opening 105-61 victor over Central Arkansas and figured to have a tougher time with Washington. Baylor was ready for the Huskies’ 2/3 zone defense and came out firing from long range. Washington responded down the stretch with more height on the perimeter.

Washington: The Huskies lost 80% of their scoring production from last year and hope to replace it with freshmen recruits Stewart and McDaniels.

UP NEXT

Washington returns home to face Mount St. Mary’s on Tuesday night.

Baylor has a week off and will face Texas State on Nov. 15 at home.

Best Bets: Previewing Auburn-Davidson, Baylor-Washington, Texas-Purdue

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As of this publication, the lines for the Friday games were the only ones posted. Games on Saturday and Sunday will be discussed using projections from KenPom.

No. 24 AUBURN vs. DAVIDSON, Fri. 6:00 p.m. (CBSSN)

  • SPREAD: Auburn (-2.5)
  • TOTAL: 144.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Auburn 73.5, Davidson 71
  • KENPOM: Auburn 75, Davidson 72

This has all of the makings of a bet that I love to make in November. Davidson is one of the most well-coached and experienced teams in college basketball, bringing back their top six from last season. That includes Kellan Grady, who is now healthy, and Jon Axel-Gudmundsson. Grady was the Preseason Atlantic 10 Player of the Year last year as a sophomore. Jon-Axel Gudmundsson won the award. This is a top 25 basketball team.

And they’re taking on an Auburn team that lost their three best players on a neutral floor. I’m not sold on J’Von McCormick being the answer to their problems, and I’m not sure that Samir Doughty is going to be able to replace what they lost in Jared Harper or Bryce Brown. I do like Isaac Okoro and I think he’ll give the Wildcats some issues with his athleticism and versatility, but to me this is a pick-em. If you’re telling me I can get points – or a ML that is around +110 – on Davidson, I’m in.

PICK: Davidson (+2.5)

WASHINGTON vs. No. 16 BAYLOR, Fri. 9:30 p.m. (ESPN)

  • SPREAD: Baylor (-5)
  • TOTAL: 137.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Baylor 71.25, Washington 66.25
  • KENPOM: Baylor 71, Washington 66

Washington lost their top four scorers from a season ago and will replace them with a point guard that transferred in from Kentucky (Quade Green) as well as a pair of five-star freshmen. Isaiah Stewart is a monster, but I’m not sold on Jaden McDaniels stepping in and dominating as a freshman. Those two will be going up against a Baylor team with one of the biggest and toughest frontlines in America.

(You’re going to notice trend here.)

But I’m going to be on Baylor. They bring almost everyone back from last year’s 20-win team that went 10-8 in the Big 12, but in their season-opener on Tuesday afternoon, they started three guys – Tristan Clark, MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell – that did not play during Big 12 play last season. Clark was injured and the other two sat out due to transfer rules.

Oh, and should I mention that the Bears were second in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage last season while Washington plays a zone? With two freshmen on their frontline?

PICK: Baylor (-5)

ARIZONA STATE vs. COLORADO, Fri. 10:30 p.m. (ESPN2)

  • SPREAD: Colorado (-5.5)
  • TOTAL: 146.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Colorado 76, Arizona State 70.5
  • KENPOM: Colorado 78, Arizona State 72

I really do not have any feel for this game, but considering that it is being played in China and that it is the first game of the season for both teams, I think I lean towards the under here. But that’s it. I’m mostly just interested in figuring out what to make of both of these teams. Colorado brings everyone back from a 23-win team, while Arizona State has a roster with some talent that has done nothing but underperform against Pac-12 competition the last two years.

PICK: Under 146.5

TEXAS at No. 23 PURDUE, Sat. 7:00 p.m. (FS1)

  • KENPOM: Purdue 72, Texas 63

I don’t think that this line is going to open up at Purdue (-9), but if it does, then Texas seems like the easy play. We know they are going to be one of the nation’s best defensive teams, and getting nine points is a lot of points in a game that I think will be played in the high-50s or low-60s. Throw in the fact that Purdue lost their top two scorers from last season and this feels like the line should be closer to 4.5.

PICK: Texas (+9)

FLORIDA STATE at No. 6 FLORIDA, Sun. 1:00 p.m. (ESPN)

  • KENPOM: Florida 69, Florida State 65

The Seminoles are coming off of a loss at Pitt in their season-opener and will take on a Florida team that most people expect to be an SEC title contender that has a chance of winning a national title. I liked Florida State on the road (-4.5) against Pitt, but I do not like the Seminoles on the road in a rivalry game.

PICK: Florida (-4)

ILLINOIS at No. 21 ARIZONA, Sun. 9:00 p.m. (PAC-12)

  • KENPOM: Arizona 76, Illinois 70

This is going to be a nightmare road trip for the Illini, who are playing at Grand Canyon on Friday night and have to follow that up with a visit to Tucson on Sunday night. The Wildcats looked good their first time out, getting 20 points from Zeke Nnaji in a blowout win over Northern Arizona. Illinois got taken to overtime by Nicholls State at home.

PICK: Arizona (-6)

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

BINGHAMTON at No. 1 MICHIGAN STATE (-35); 141, Sun. 7:00 p.m.

Michigan State will be looking to bounce back after a loss in the Champions Classic. I don’t think that foul trouble will be much of an issue in this one.

EASTERN KENTUCKY at No. 2 KENTUCKY (-29.5); 149.5, Fri. 7:00 p.m.

Let’s see what Part II of the Tyrese Maxey Show has to offer.

UNC GREENSBORO at No. 3 KANSAS (-16); 144.5, Fri. 9:00 p.m.

It sounds like there’s a chance that Isaiah Moss plays in this one, and I fully expect the Jayhawks to bounce back from an ugly loss in a big way. I know UNCG is good, but Kansas I think Kansas is the best bet for a heavy favorite this weekend.

COLORADO STATE at No. 4 DUKE (-24); 146, Fri. 7:00 p.m.

Niko Medved is a good coach, Duke is built on their defense and the Baby Blue Devils will be playing their first game in Cameron. Let’s see if Coach K can work through some of these offensive issues against someone that isn’t a title contender.

YOUNGSTOWN STATE at No. 5 LOUISVILLE (-26); 150, Sun. 2:00 p.m.

Jordan Nwora was terrific in the opener. Now that the Cards aren’t playing ACC teams, let’s see if they can find a way to get their point guard play up to snuff.

RHODE ISLAND at No. 7 MARYLAND (-12); 146, Sat. 9:00 p.m.

Rhode Island is probably a top five team in the Atlantic 10 this season, and that actually carries some weight this year. The Terps struggled early with Holy Cross. I think the Rams make this a game.

ARKANSAS-PINE BLUFF at No. 8 GONZAGA (-32); 140, Sat. 8:00 p.m.

Gonzaga is banged up and thin in their backcourt. They should still roll.

No. 9 NORTH CAROLINA (-22.5) at UNC WILMINGTON; 161.5, Fri. 7:00 p.m.

Cole Anthony will take centerstage once again, this time playing his first true road game as a collegian. Credit to Roy Williams, who is not afraid to play in-state mid-major competition in their building.

JAMES MADISON at No. 11 VIRGINIA (-24); 126, Sun. 6:00 p.m.

Virginia just gave up 34 points to Syracuse. KenPom has JMU’s team total at 51. I think if I’m going to bet this game, I’ll bet that under.

STONY BROOK at No. 12 SETON HALL (-21); 143, Sat. 2:30 p.m.

The Myles Powell Show heads into game No. 2. Seton Hall rolled in the opener despite not having Kevin Willard on the sideline.

BETHUNE-COOKMAN at No. 13 TEXAS TECH (-28); 146, Sat. 8:00 p.m.

Texas Tech looked better than I expected in the opener for a team that is as young as they are. I’ll be very curious to see what Jahmi’us Ramsey’s progression looks like this season.

UIC at No. 14 MEMPHIS (-20); 156.5, Fri. 7:00 p.m.

James Wiseman will be back in action after popping off for 28 points in his debut.

BOISE STATE at No. 15 OREGON (-11); 139, Sat. 11:00 p.m.

Payton Pritchard popped off for a monster game in Oregon’s opener against Fresno State. They continue their tour of the Mountain West with a date against Boise State.

UMASS-LOWELL at No. 18 OHIO STATE (-24); 144, Sun. 4:00 p.m.

The Buckeyes went eight minutes without scoring to open up their season at home against Cincinnati. I don’t think they’ll have that issue against UMass-Lowell.

SIENA at No. 19 XAVIER (-20); 143, Fri. 7:00 p.m.

I really like Siena in this game. I have a lot of respect for Carmen Maciariello and his ability to coach, and the truth is that Siena might have the best player on the floor in Jalen Pickett. They’re not getting 20-pieced.

BOWLING GREEN at No. 22 LSU (-13); 156, Fri. 8:00 p.m.

I’m high on this LSU team, and I think that they are undervalued heading into this season. I’ll lay the 13 points.

NORTH TEXAS at No. 25 VCU (-16.5); 134, Fri. 7:00 p.m.

North Texas is bringing back four starters. VCU still can’t shoot and wins with their defense. I think Grant McCasland and the Mean Green can hang in there and keep this respectable.

‘I had no idea I’d end up being here’: Freddie Gillespie’s path from Division III to Baylor starter

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Freddie Gillespie sat gazing at the TV in the winter of 2017, seeing not just the team that would go on to win the national championship, but his future. 

Despite only having played a handful of years of organized basketball, suffering two broken ankles, a busted foot and a torn ACL and currently operating as a role player at a small Division III program in rural Minnesota, Gillespie looked at those All-Americans, highly-touted recruits and future first-round NBA draft picks and was undaunted by a sudden dream.

“I had an epiphany,” he told NBCSports.com. “I was watching a UNC game, and I saw the size and length that they had and athleticism, and I thought, ‘I’m comparable to that. With a little bit of coaching, I can do pretty well.’”

It would be a laughable thought for almost every player grinding away at the non-scholarship Division III level. Gillespie had hardly registered as a blip on recruiters’ radars while in high school. He was his college team’s fourth-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder. 

The basketball world, though, is sometimes surprisingly small, and Gillespie’s connections – and the fact that he was 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot-6 wingspan – helped get the word out he was looking to move up.

Eventually, that landed upon ears in Waco, Texas, where Baylor was willing to take on a player with Division III pedigree and an injury history as a walk-on and project.

“Usually the way it works is if they’re a 6-9 or 6-10 walk-on and they can walk and chew gum, you’re like, ‘Yeah,’” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “We’ve had players like Taurean Prince who was going to Long Island University, ranked 25th in the state, and ended up being drafted 12th in the world. You had Royce O’Neal who was a zero-star recruit and has a chance to be starting for the Jazz this year. We had a walk-on, Mark Shepherd, who started for us and helped lead us to the NCAA tournament. 

“We’ve had guys be successful, but no one came in as raw as he did.”

Two years later, Gillespie enters his senior year with the Bears not only as a scholarship player, but as a starter and key piece to Baylor’s 2020 Big 12 title hopes.

“He put in the hard work to get to where he’s gotten,” Drew said. “It’s a great story for anyone out there that maybe was overlooked early on.”

(Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)

Gillespie didn’t start playing basketball until he was an eighth grader. He didn’t even play during his freshman year at East Ridge High School in the Minneapolis/St. Paul suburbs. 

“At that point, the 10th grade coaches said, ‘Hey, it would be cool if you could play for us,’” Gillespie recalled. “I was pretty tall at that point. So I said OK. At that point, I’m just doing this to have something to do.”

Gillespie’s height may have drawn those coaches to him and him to the game, but that height also contributed to keeping him off the court.

“I was growing really fast,” he said, “so your bones aren’t really strong enough because I was growing two, three inches a year.”

Gillespie said he broke both his ankles, suffered a Jones fracture in his foot and tore his ACL during his prep career.

“He played high school ball completely immobile, and that’s if he played at all,” Ryan James, a Minnesota-based recruiting analyst for the Prep Hoops Network, said. “He was also a strong, well-skilled post with good footwork, but all the injuries took away all his mobility.”

Gillespie saw the floor enough, though, for some college recruiters to pay attention – just not at the Division I level. Ultimately, he landed 40 miles south of the Twin Cities in Northfield, Minn., at Carleton College, known more for its rigorous academic standards than its basketball tradition.

“A lot of D3 schools recruited me. I was big into academics so they tried to sell me on the academics of the school,” Gillespie said. “That’s what sold me.”

(Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images)

Gillespie apparently wasn’t able to sell himself initially to the coaching staff at Carleton. As a freshman, he played just 16 minutes.

“I was the most athletic, biggest guy in that whole conference,” Gillespie said. “So that was tough.”

His sophomore year brought considerably more success.

Gillespie started 23 games for the Knights, averaging 10 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game while shooting 53.2 percent from the floor. He was a second-team all-conference selection.

“My second year, it was tough too because I didn’t explore and grow,” Gillespie said. “I knew I had a lot of potential, but didn’t grow it like I wanted to. So it was tough. I tried to make the best of what I had there.”

That was the feeling that led Gillespie, after watching the likes of Justin Jackson, Joel Berry and Tony Bradley on TV for North Carolina, to aim higher.

“I was with my friend, we were just sitting there,” Gillespie said, “and I was like, ‘I’ve got what they have. I can do what they do. With a little bit of training and help, I can do what they do.’”

Once the connection to Baylor was made, Gillespie sat down with Drew, who was in Minnesota recruiting future-Duke star Tre Jones.

“He just asked my story, basically,” Gillespie said. “How was it at high school, at D3. He asked questions about my character, my academics. 

“He just asked about everything.”

Baylor wanted to due some due diligence on Gillespie before taking him in, even as a walk-on

“One of our coaches on our staff is from Minnesota, and we knew that (Gillespie) was looking at walking on,” Drew said, “because we knew his goal was to earn a scholarship, we wanted to make sure he had potential.”

Eventually, both sides decided to take the leap. Gillespie would head to Waco without a scholarship, but with a chance to prove he was right about that hunch he had while he sat parked in front of a television.

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

“When he first got in the gym,” Drew said of Gillespie’s arrival on campus, “he struggled to score by himself in the gym.”

Despite having the physical profile of a Big 12 player, Gillespie was miles behind from a skill standpoint, and it was apparent.

“Freddie, he didn’t seem like he was going to be any option for us,” Baylor senior Obim Okeke said. “Luckily for Freddie, Freddie was 6-9.”

Not only was it clear to his coaches and teammates that Gillespie wasn’t ready to contribute, he knew it himself.

“I didn’t feel like I belonged for a long time,” he said. “The athleticism was different. The physicality, the size of the players, the competitive level. The mentality, the way they play. 

“Everyone there was convinced that they’re the best, they’re unbeatable. It’s that competitive mindset. They’ve played against dudes in the NBA. One and dones. Played with them in high school. 

“I felt out of place.”

The only remedy was to stay in one place – the gym.

“It took him awhile,” Drew said. “He didn’t come in as a finished product. He came in as somebody that needed to get better and had potential. People are going to go to practice. People are going to do what’s required of them. It’s those people that do two or three times more that get better and reach their potential.

“That’s what he did.”

Gillespie sat out the 2017-18 season as a redshirt, but continued to work on his game. By the start of last season, Baylor began to believe that Gillespie, now on scholarship, might be able to contribute.

“In the second year, just seeing how far he progressed and seeing what he was able to do on the defensive end and rebounding, and to see how far his touch had come, you’re like, he’s got a chance,” Drew said. “And he plays so hard. You definitely have to see something in practice before you put people in a game, so as a coach, though, you’re never 100 percent convinced until you see him do it in a game.”

Initially, it didn’t translate into the game.

Gillespie played 18 minutes in Baylor’s opener against Texas Southern and then 22 the next game against Southern, but then saw his minutes diminish for the next three games before he didn’t even play in eight of the Bears’ next nine games. The only reprieve was 4 minutes in a 40-point blowout against New Orleans in late December.

“He didn’t have the confidence in himself,” Okeke said. “He felt like he was a D3 player.”

Gillespie, though, got a second chance in Big 12 play. He saw 13 minutes against Kansas in the conference opener. A week later, he played 20 minutes against Texas Tech. He had eight points and seven rebounds against Oklahoma to end January. He followed that with 11 points, seven rebounds and three blocks against TCU.

“He finally got his opportunity to show what he’d been working on every day,” Okeke said. “He probably has the best work ethic on our team. It ended up being shown to light when he started getting his time, the minutes he deserved.”

By Feb. 9, Gillespie was in the Bears’ starting lineup.

“He’s somebody that showed he’d made strides, was successful in practice,” Drew said, “and in the game, to his credit, he didn’t flinch. He got better and better with the minutes he got. That’s why  he got more minutes.”

Gillespie finished Big 12 play with the conference’s best in offensive rebounding percentage and third in 2-point shooting percentage at 64.7. In the Bears’ opener this season, he had 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting with seven rebounds, two assists and a block in 26 minutes.

He’s not only a contributor for the team picked by the league’s coaches to be Kansas’ top threat in the Big 12 this year, but a key component. 

“He lived in the gym, and ended up coming from a Division III player to someone starting in the Big 12,” Drew said. “Sometimes things turn out better than you expected, and I’ll be honest, I don’t think anybody would have seen – maybe besides him – him progressing as quickly as he did.”

Through major injuries and serious detours, Gillespie proved himself. A game he didn’t start seriously playing until high school, followed to Division III and then became convinced he could play at the highest levels. 

It became his dream. One he’s now living.

“I fell in love with it,” he said, “and I thought I started too late so I wouldn’t have a chance. 

“I had no idea I would end up being here.”

(Photo by Boyd Ivey/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Butler’s 30 points lead No. 16 Baylor to 105-61 win over UCA

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WACO, Texas — Jared Butler and Baylor’s guard-oriented lineup quickly helped ease coach Scott Drew’s usual nervousness about a season opener.

There wouldn’t be another upset.

Butler scored 30 points with a career-high eight 3-pointers, MaCio Teague had 18 points and 10 rebounds in his Baylor debut and the No. 16 Bears opened Drew’s 17th season by scoring the first 19 points on the way to a 105-61 victory over Central Arkansas on Tuesday.

“It’s a great feeling (after) last year and what happened, and how we felt going into the locker room after the game,” Butler said, referring to last year’s opening loss to Texas Southern. “Man, it’s great that we got off to a great start. I think it’s really important. But with that being said, it doesn’t matter how you start, it’s how you finish.”

The Bears overcame several injuries and won 20 games last season, getting to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Big 12 coaches picked them this preseason to finish second in the conference behind Kansas.

Baylor’s first five baskets were scored by five different players, including transfer starters Teague and Davion Mitchell. The game began at 11 a.m. — no other college basketball game started earlier on the first day of the season — and was played before a crowd filled mostly with elementary school students.

“Won’t guarantee we’ll always shoot 55%, but when you do and you have 25 assists and you defend and rebound like we did today, obviously not a lot to be upset with,” Drew said.

Teague, a transfer from UNC Asheville who had to sit out last season, had four 3-pointers.

“I was pretty anxious going into the game. I had a little bit of trouble sleeping last night,” Teague said. “But it felt great to go out there and join the team, join my brothers and play against a different team.”

Devonte Bandoo added 15 points and Freddie Gillespie 14 for the Bears, who shot 56% overall (40 of 71) and finished with a 51-30 rebounding edge. Baylor shot 55% on 3s, the 18 (of 33) being the most in a home game and two short of the overall school record.

Rylan Bergersen, a transfer from BYU, had 17 points in his Central Arkansas debut. Eddy Kayouloud added 13 points and top returning scorer Hayden Koval had 12.

“In these Power Five games, we’ve won one … you know the reality of it. You never go into the game thinking that you don’t have a chance because basketball’s a funny game,” sixth-year UCA coach Russ Pennell said. “But I think the thing that we try to do in these games is try to find the good minutes.”

CLARK’S RETURN

Baylor’s preseason All-Big 12 forward, Tristan Clark, had three points and four rebounds in his return after missing the second half of last season with a knee injury. Clark had two early fouls and played only five minutes in a scoreless first half. He finished 1-of-3 shooting in 16 minutes overall.

“We’ve seen in practice, he’s had moments where he was the Tristan of old and then he’s had moments where he’s still getting the rust off,” Drew said. “It’s a long process for him. He will keep getting better and better with time.”

QUICK 10

Bandoo had 10 points in span of 1:40 in the first half. He drove for a reverse layup that made it 11-0 and drove for a dunk 15 seconds later. His consecutive 3-pointers, sandwiching the first basket by UCA, put the home Bears up 22-2.

BIG PICTURE

Central Arkansas: The Bears from the Southland Conference got down so much so quick that it took time for them to settle in and just play. They do have four returning starters.

Baylor: A good start for Baylor, which had two Division I transfers in its starting lineup that had to sit out last season: point guard Mitchell (Auburn) and Teague. Clark, who was the nation’s top field goal shooter in the 14 games he played last season, will have plenty of time to get back into a groove before conference play starts.

UP NEXT

Central Arkansas returns home to Conway, Arkansas, to play crosstown rival Hendrix College on Thursday night. Their campuses are about 2 1/2 miles apart.

Baylor took off after the game to head to Alaska, where the Bears will play Washington at a military base Friday night.