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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

AP Photo/Ben McKeown
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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

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.

No. 18 Ohio State defeats Cincinnati

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Kyle Young had a career-high 14 points and 13 rebounds and No. 18 Ohio State beat Cincinnati 64-56 in the opener for both teams Wednesday night.

Young, a junior forward, made 6 of 7 shots from the floor and the Buckeyes rallied in the second half to spoil John Brannen’s Cincinnati coaching debut.

D.J. Carton added nine points and five rebounds for Ohio State, and Kaleb Wesson had eight points and 11 rebounds. Jarron Cumberland and Keith Williams each had 13 points to lead Cincinnati.

Cincinnati led 26-19 after a slow, rough first half. Ohio State failed to score for the first 7:45 until Young got a breakaway jam off Carton’s outlet pass. Up to that point, Ohio State had missed its first seven shots from the floor as well as its first four free throws while committing five turnovers.

Ohio State tied it at 15 on an Andre Wesson rebound basket. But Cincinnati closed the half on an 11-4 run, with Williams hitting a pair of wide open 3s.

Ohio State went on a 14-3 run to start the second half, with Kaleb Wesson stepping out to hit a pair of 3s. They surged ahead 33-29 with 13:16 left.

Carton had a reverse layup and hit a 3 from the left wing for a 49-43 lead with 7:35 left. A 3 by Luther Muhammad made it 52-43 with 7:11 left. Cincinnati twice got the lead down to two.

But Buckeyes freshman E.J. Liddell scored off a feed from Duane Washington Jr., and Carton hit a pair of free throws to make it 59-53 with 2:16 left.

Cincinnati’s Chris McNeal had a three-point play to cut it to 60-56 with 52 seconds left, and Ohio State’s Washington and C.J. Walker each hit a pair of free throws to help the Buckeyes ride it out.

BIG PICTURE

Ohio State: After a slow start, a good win for the Buckeyes, who were ranked in the preseason AP poll for the first time in five years.

Cincinnati: Brannen led Northern Kentucky to two NCAA Tournament appearances in the last three seasons before he was tapped to replace Mick Cronin, who left UC after 13 years to become the head coach at UCLA. The Bearcats stayed close most of the way but couldn’t finish.

INJURY UPDATE

Ohio State senior forward Andre Wesson left with 6 minutes left after being poked in the right eye on a rebound attempt. He did not return.

UP NEXT

Cincinnati: Hosts Drake on Monday.

Ohio State: Hosts UMass-Lowell on Sunday.

Three Things to Know: Syracuse scores 34; Buckeyes top Bearcats; Arizona gets promising freshman performance

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The glow of the Champion’s Classic has come and gone, but college hoops still had some entertainment in store for its follow-up act on the season’s second night.

Here’s what you need to know from Wednesday:

Virginia remains Virginia; Syracuse matches Cole Anthony’s scoring output

De’Andre Hunter is gone. Ty Jerome, too. Same with Kyle Guy.

Those are some serious departures, although the national championship trophy that now lives in Charlottesville seems like a fair trade. Still, given those losses, you wouldn’t fault Virginia if it took awhile for the Cavaliers to find themselves early this season.

Not surprisingly, the Cavs aren’t going to need a lot of self-discovery.

Tony Bennett’s team did what Tony Bennett’s program does, absolutely stifling Syracuse in a 48-34 victory.

Yes, Syracuse scored 34 points. In a regulation 40-minute game. Of basketball. In the ACC.

Which isn’t ideal.

Given that it was Virginia playing defense and slowing the pace, though, it’s at least understandable. Even if it’s unconscionable, ya know?

The Orange shot 13 of 55 from the field and 5 of 29 from 3. That’s 23.6 and 17.2 percent, respectively. They scored as many points as Cole Anthony in the freshman’s North Carolina debut. Usually, you want to outscore a freshman guard as a team. So Syracuse has some things to work on.

As for Virginia, its offense wasn’t exactly picture of efficiency. The Cavs shot 40 percent from the floor and a nasty 4 of 24 (16.7 percent) from 3. Given the new faces in new roles, it might take awhile before they get squared away on that end of the floor.

But defensively, Bennett has proven time and again that whoever is on the roster, his teams will defend. Not only defend, but defend as well as anyone in the country. This year doesn’t look any different. And just like years past, that makes Virginia a contender. Last season’s departures and tonight’s offensive ugliness notwithstanding.

Buckeyes outlast Cincy

It’s not Cincinnati-Xavier, but Cincy-Ohio State provides a nice little intrastate matchup to begin a season for the second-consecutive year. And for the second-straight season, the Buckeyes prevailed.

Ohio State outscored Cincinnati by 15 in the second half to claim a 64-56 victory over the Bearcats in Columbus.

It’s a nice win for the Buckeyes against Cincinnati, which will be competing for an AAC title this winter, with what is likely going to be a nice resume-booster come March.

Kyle Young was 6 of 7 from the floor for a team-best 14 points while adding 13 rebounds for the Buckeyes, who also got eight points and 11 rebounds from Kaleb Wesson.

Jarron Cumberland and Keith Williams both had 13 points for John Brannen in his debut on the sideline for the Bearcats.

Zeke Nnaji goes for 20 in Arizona debut

Nico Mannion, a top-10 recruit, was the prize of Sean Miller’s 2019 recruiting class, but it was another freshman who starred for the Wildcats in their 91-52 thrashing of Northern Arizona.

Zeke Nnaji, a 6-foot-10 four-star prospect from Minnesota, was 9 of 12 from the floor for 20 points in his Tucson debut.

Mannion, meanwhile, went 2 of 6 from the floor to finish with nine points along with four assists. Josh Green, another top-50 freshman in the class, joined Mannion and Nnaji in the starting lineup and finished with 10 points, six rebounds, two steals and two assists.

Miller might not have the best freshmen core in the country, but it looks like there’s a nice foundation of talent there.

The 14 bold predictions that are guaranteed to come true

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PREVIEW SZN is over.

We’ve given you the Preseason Top 25. We’ve given you the Preseason All-American teams. We’ve told you who can actually win a national title, and why there are a handful of teams who you need to bet on to do exactly that.

We ranked the top 100 players and then broke it all down by position – guards, wings, bigs and the mid-majors. We looked at this year’s breakout stars, as well as the x-factors and fatal flaws for every team in the top 25.

We’ve given you more content than you can handle.

So it’s time to double-down.

Here are 14 bold predictions that are guaranteed to happen.

KANSAS WINS THE NATIONAL TITLE

I know this isn’t exactly bold, but I wanted to get this on the record before the season begins. Given the injuries that Michigan State is currently dealing with, the youth movements on the rosters of Duke and Kentucky and the point guard question marks that exist on Louisville’s roster, I think that Kansas is probably the best team in the country right now. I think that after the Champions Classic comes to an end on Tuesday night, that will become the national consensus.

So let’s get out in front of it.

The Jayhawks win it all.

And Bill Self lives to coach another day.

NO ACC TEAMS GET TO THE FINAL FOUR

The ACC is weird this year. I think there is a very clear-cut top four in the league – Duke, North Carolina, Louisville and Virginia. But all four of those teams are dealing with some serious question marks. Virginia is replacing three NBA players and integrating a number of new pieces into their system. (More on them in a minute.) North Carolina lost their top five players from last season and is heading into this season built around Cole Anthony. Recent high-volume one-and-done guards have not had all that much success at the collegiate level. I’ve spent too much time talking about Duke and some of their flaws this season, so I’ll leave it at this: I find it hard to see how they are going to be able to field a team that can simultaneously be good defensively and capable of being elite offensively.

That leaves Louisville, and while I love Jordan Nwora and Chris Mack, I tend to err on the side of caution when dealing with teams that have question marks at the point guard spot. Last week, Louisville started Darius Perry – not Fresh Kimble – at the point guard spot while David Johnson continues rehabbing a shoulder injury. That’s not ideal.

TEXAS FINISHES SECOND IN THE BIG 12

Kansas is very clearly the best team in the Big 12, but after that, things open up. Baylor and Iowa State are good but not great. I’m not sold on Texas Tech. (See below.) After that, the next team in the league that’s worth talking about is … Oklahoma State? I think?

Put another way, this is does not shaping up like a season where there are going to be many contenders to the Big 12 crown. That brings me to Texas. When it comes to on-the-court stuff, I think we can safely assume that the Longhorns are going to end up being one of the best defensive teams in the country. That has been their strength since Day 1 of the Shaka Smart era, and this offseason they hired Luke Yaklich, the mastermind behind Michigan’s emergence as one of college basketball’s elite defensive forces. They are going to guard the hell out of you.

Where Texas has struggled is with offensive efficiency, and I think they are going to be better this year. For starters, they have some shooting on the roster. Jase Febres shot 37.2 percent from three last season. Courtney Ramey shot 38.6 percent from three. Matt Coleman is at least dangerous enough that he has to be guarded out to the three-point line, while Kamaka Hepa should be in like for a big bump in minutes as a sophomore. Throw in the fact that Andrew Jones is back and looks to be in line for some significant minutes. Throw in bigs Jericho Sims, Kai Jones and Will Baker, and there is a lot to like.

But I think there’s a narrative here that needs to be discussed. Smart built a culture at VCU. He took over a program that ran itself and turned it into something special. He had guys that stayed for four years, that loved the university, that loved their teammates and that were 22 year old men by the time that they left. This will be the first time at Texas that he has had this many players with this much sweat equity in his program. I don’t think that’s something we can overlook.

BOTH TEXAS TECH AND VIRGINIA FALL SHORT OF SWEET 16

Virginia’s issues are obvious. This is a program that lost three NBA players off of last year’s roster. That can be mitigated at a place that churns out one-and-done talent. That’s not easy to navigate at a place that has to develop pros, that relies on roster continuity to win. Ask Villanova. They entered last NCAA tournament as a No. 6 seed, and I think that Virginia might end up in that same boat this year.

The problems at Texas Tech are a bit different. Chris Beard is no stranger to turning over a roster and building from scratch, but the key to making that happen is buy-in. The word out of Lubbock is that has not been as easy this season as it was last season. The key, beyond vets like Davide Moretti and Chris Clarke taking control of the locker room, is Jahmi’us Ramsey. He is the big, versatile combo-guard that Beard loves. He, in theory, should be this year’s Keenan Evans or Jarrett Culver. As of today, I’m not convinced that will become a reality.

THERE ARE AT LEAST TWO FINAL FOUR TEAMS THAT ARE FIVE SEEDS OR LOWER

The teams at the top of the polls this season just aren’t all that intimidating. Michigan State is supposed to be the veteran-laden team, but without Josh Langford, just three scholarship players are upper-classmen, and one of them – Kyle Ahrens – is already banged up. Kentucky’s frontcourt consists of E.J. Montgomery, Bucknell transfer Nate Sestina and the already-injured Nick Richards. Duke’s fit is a concern, so is Louisville’s point guard play. Virginia is young. Villanova is younger. Gonzaga has two guards on the roster and their best big, Killian Tillie, is perpetually hurt. Florida’s rise to prominence is built around a 23-year old from Virginia Tech. Maryland is Maryland.

Put another way, there is a way to poke holes in seemingly every single team in the top 25. No one is all that good, which means that the teams at the top of the bracket are not going to be all that much better than the teams at the bottom of the bracket. Upsets and Cinderellas will shine this March.

AT LEAST SEVEN BIG EAST TEAMS GET TO THE NCAA TOURNAMENT

The Big East is the most interesting league in the country this season. There are three teams that can legitimately be called the favorite to win the regular season title today – Seton Hall, Villanova and Xavier. The best player in the conference, Markus Howard, isn’t on any of those three teams, and while Marquette lost the Hausers, they could realistically win the league title. Providence has Alpha Diallo, a talented sophomore class and a grad transfer to take over the point guard spot. Gerogetown brings back their backcourt of Mac McClung and James Akinjo and pairs them with Omer Yurtseven. Creighton has arguably the best overall backcourt in a league that has Howard and Myles Powell.

Put another way, there are seven teams in this conference that deserve top 25 consideration, and there’s no clear-cut answer to who is the best. I think all seven will get a bid to the tournament.

OREGON EARNS A NO. 2 SEED

I’m very high on Oregon this season. I think they are going to win the Pac-12, and given how strong their non-conference schedule is, winning the Pac-12 should be enough to get them at least into the discussion for a No. 1 seed. They play Memphis in Portland. They get Houston at home. They open up with Seton Hall in the Battle 4 Atlantis and, if they win, draw Gonzaga in the semifinals. They play at Michigan. They’ll be battle-tested for league play.

LSU WINS A SHARE OF THE SEC TITLE.

On paper, I think LSU is one of the most underrated teams in the country. Much of it depends on how well Trendon Watford adapts to the collegiate level and whether or not Will Wade can navigate this roster through the rough waters of an NCAA investigation, but in terms of talent on a roster, the Tigers can more or less match Florida and Kentucky. The difference is in their league schedule. The Tigers play Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Alabama and Arkansas twice. They do get Florida twice as well, but they only play Kentucky, Auburn and Tennessee once each. That’s a favorable schedule for the reigning SEC regular season champions.

MARYLAND FINISHES OUTSIDE THE TOP FIVE IN THE BIG TEN

On paper, Maryland should be a top ten team. But when has a Maryland team lived up to or exceeded expectations under Mark Turgeon? If Anthony Cowan avoids a six-week swoon like he had last season, if he can go an entire season playing like an All-American, and if the Terps’ sophomore class – Jalen Smith, Aaron Wiggins, Eric Ayala, Ricky Lindo – all take a step forward, Maryland will be one of the best teams in the Big Ten. That’s a lot of ‘ifs’ for one roster.

MEMPHIS ENTERS THE NCAA TOURNAMENT AS A SIX SEED OR LOWER

I’ve said for months that we should have some real concerns about whether or not this Memphis team is among the nation’s elite. That’s what happens when you put seven freshmen on a roster and none of those freshmen are Zion Williams or R.J. Barrett.

To be clear, I think the Tigers will be good. I can see them winning 23 or 24 games before the postseason starts. I think that they have the talent to make a run in March possible. Hell, I’m holding a 50-1 ticket on their national title odds. But with this much youth and a schedule that includes just one top 25 opponent on KenPom (No. 19 Tennessee) and five sub-250 opponents, I think getting a top four seed is going to be tough.

Oh, and should I mention that we haven’t actually seen James Wiseman play for the Tigers yet? He missed their overseas tour and both exhibition games.

HOUSTON WINS THE AMERICAN

Everything is lining up for the Cougars to be the best team in the AAC once again. Memphis is young. Cincinnati is undergoing a coaching change. South Florida’s best big man just had his season come to an end. Wichita State and UConn both look like they’re a year away from hitting their peak.

Houston?

They just found out they’re going to have Quentin Grimes, a former top ten recruit and McDonald’s All-American, eligible for this season. That’ll do.

HARVARD FINISHES THE SEASON WITH NO MORE THAN THREE LOSSES

The Crimson look like they’re going to be the runaway favorites in the Ivy League this year. They bring back basically everything from a team that went 10-4 in the Ivy and came a loss at Yale away from getting to the NCAA tournament. They also will, potentially, add a healthy Seth Towns, an Ivy Player of the Year candidate that missed all of last season with an injury. Their non-conference schedule, frankly, sucks, and given the fact that Fairfield is on the opposite side of their bracket in the Orlando Invitational, it seems very unlikely that they will lose more than two games in that event.

SAINT MARY’S WINS THE WCC

Gonzaga is a bit of a mess right now. Their backcourt is, essentially, a pair of grad transfers – Admon Gilder and Ryan Wooldrige – now that Brock Ravet has taken a leave of absence. Killian Tillie seems to always be banged up, and beyond that, they are young. Saint Mary’s has the best player in the WCC in Jordan Ford. They have size (Aaron Menzies), athleticism (Malik Fitts) and plenty of shooting. They are coached by Randy Bennett, the only man since Mark Few’s first season as a head coach in 1999-2000 to beat Gonzaga to a WCC regular season title. It all adds up.

THREE ATLANTIC 10 TEAMS WIN A TOURNAMENT GAME

The Atlantic 10 is loaded this year, particularly at the top of the league. I think there’s an argument to be made that three different teams can be put into the preseason top 25 — VCU, Davidson and Dayton. It’s going to take some work in the non-conference from the league as a whole to ensure that all three are in a position to get at-large bids, but I do think that all three are good enough to win at least one game