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Bracketology: Baylor leads, Big Ten reigns

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Here is the latest NCAA tournament bracketology projection.

One bracket decision was easy today: Baylor as the No. 1 overall seed.  The Bears are 5-1 against Quadrant 1 teams, have a win at Kansas, and haven’t lost since dropping a close game to Washington in early November.

Elsewhere, the Big Ten reigns, filling up the field with a dozen teams.  Much of that has to do with the strength and depth of the conference, with quality wins available almost every night and home teams rarely losing.  Another contributing factor is fewer contenders in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Big 12, and even the Southeastern Conference (SEC).   Whether those trends continue remains to be seen.  Ultimately, the Big Ten is more likely to end up with nine or ten bids.

In a close call, Butler remains the final No. 1 seed, but loses its Midwest route to Kansas.  The Bulldogs depth of wins against teams in the Field was the difference.  But one could make an equally compelling and accurate case for San Diego State.

The latest look at where our NCAA tournament bracketology projection stands …

UPDATED: January 17, 2020

FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
EAST REGION Minnesota vs. Virginia Tech
WEST REGION NC State vs. Washington
MIDWEST REGION  ROBERT MORRIS vs. NC A&T
SOUTH REGION PR VIEW AM vs. NO COLORADO

SOUTH Houston WEST – Los Angeles                   
Omaha Spokane
1) BAYLOR 1) GONZAGA
16) PV-AM / NC A&T 16) QUINNIPIAC
8) Illinois 8) Wisconsin
9) Florida 9) Oklahoma
Tampa St. Louis
5) Michigan 5) WICHITA STATE
12) LIBERTY 12) NC State / Washington
4) Auburn 4) Louisville
13) S.F. AUSTIN 13) NEW MEXICO ST
Albany Spokane
6) STANFORD 6) Iowa
11) Saint Mary’s 11) Houston
3) SETON HALL 3) Oregon
14) COLGATE 14) SOUTH DAKOTA ST
Greensboro Sacramento
7) Arkansas 7) Penn State
10) Purdue 10) Texas Tech
2) DUKE 2) SAN DIEGO STATE
15) NORTHERN COLORADO 15) UC-IRVINE
EAST – New York MIDWEST – Indianapolis
St. Louis Omaha
1) Butler 1) Kansas
16) ALBANY / ROB MORRIS 16) RADFORD
8) LSU 8) Marquette
9) Rutgers 9) Indiana
Sacramento Albany
5) Maryland 5) Ohio State
12) EAST TENNESSEE ST 12) AKRON
4) Colorado 4) Villanova
13) YALE 13) GEORGIA STATE
Cleveland Cleveland
6) Kentucky 6) Creighton
11) Minnesota / Virginia Tech 11) NORTHERN IOWA
3) DAYTON 3) MICHIGAN STATE
14) WILLIAM & MARY 14) WRIGHT STATE
Greensboro Tampa
7) Arizona 7) Memphis
10) Georgetown 10) BYU
2) West Virginia 2) Florida State
15) AUSTIN PEAY 15) CHARLOTTE

BUBBLE NOTES
Last 4 Byes Last 4 IN      First 4 OUT Next 4 OUT
Purdue Minnesota USC St. John’s
Texas Tech Virginia Tech Oregon State Arizona State
Houston NC State VCU Utah
Saint Mary’s Washington Xavier Georgia

Top Seed Line
Baylor, Gonzaga, Kansas, Butler
Seed List

Breakdown by Conference …
Big Ten (12)
Big East (6)
ACC (5)
SEC (5)

Big 12 (5)
Pac 12 (5)
American (3)

West Coast (3)
Atlantic 10 (1)
Mountain West (1)

College Basketball Top 25 Power Rankings: Duke, Baylor, Gonzaga round out top three

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A new college basketball top 25 is now live.

And in lieu of going through and talking about every single team my college basketball top 25 today, I have something that I want to say about rankings. The genesis of this stems from a conversation that popped up last week. Gary Parrish of CBS Sports and Poll Attacks fame brought to light the fact that the people that produce the AP poll have started releasing the individual ballots of voters on Tuesday morning instead of Monday afternoon, thus eliminating the relevance of the column.

This led to a discussion about whether or not Parrish was right to go after AP voters and eventually brought us to a place where I was having multiple conversations about the process when it comes to voting.

And that is what I want to discuss today.

Full disclosure: I am an AP voter this year. The top 25 that you see in this space is the ballot that I submit every week, and it frustrates me to no end when people don’t vote with the same goal in mind as I do. I’m looking to list out the top 25 teams in college basketball, full stop. Not the top 25 teams with the best wins, not the top 25 resumes. The best 25 teams in college basketball, in order, and for me, the thinking goes like this: The best team in the country is the team that would be favored on a neutral court against every other team in the country. The second best team is the one that would be favored against all but one team in the country, and so on and so forth.

Fundamentally, I do not believe that the outcome of a one possession basketball game should influence how good you think that a basketball team is. There are two prime examples of that this season. The first is Duke. The Blue Devils are sitting at 15-1 on the season, which is really good except for the fact that they lost at home to Stephen F. Austin in what was, at the time, one of the biggest upsets that we have ever seen in the sport. That game was decided by a coast-to-coast layup that was released with 0.1 seconds left on the clock; it had to be reviewed to determine whether or not the shot would count.

Now, the Lumberjacks have proven to be much better than anyone expected in the preseason, but this was still a very disappointing performance from the Blue Devils. Because of that loss, which happened two months ago, Duke could very well end up getting dropped out of the No. 1 spot in this week’s AP poll for Baylor. There is absolutely no chance that would happen if Nathan Bain’s game-winner in Cameron was waved off and Duke won in overtime.

You really think there are people that would be willing to drop one of the three remaining undefeated teams out of the top spot in the poll when they have wins over Kansas and at Michigan State when the gap between them and the No. 2 team in KenPom’s rankings is almost as big as the gap was between Kentucky and the No. 2 team in the country in 2015?

There wouldn’t be.

And the proof is what’s happening with San Diego State.

Back in December, the Aztecs played an absolutely horrid game at home against a San Jose State team that is significantly worse that the SFA team that beat Duke. Malachi Flynn hit a three with less than a second left so that the Aztecs avoided a humiliating loss that would be their only loss of the season. There is no chance that the Aztecs would be inching closer to the top five if they had a home loss to a sub-250 team on their resume. Absolutely none.

The point here is that the perception of just how good teams like Duke and San Diego State are should never, ever be impacted one possession in one 70-possession game when these teams have played 16 games and more than 1,000 possessions this season. Put another way, we knock Duke for losing to a lesser team at home in a game they played like crap but ignore the fact that San Diego State did the exact same thing.

The only difference was the way the last possession played out.

One, single possession.

To me, that is not a sharp way of thinking about the sport of basketball.

Now, there are two things I want to be crystal clear on here:

1. The point of this stream of consciousness is not to say that Baylor doesn’t deserve to be the No. 1 team in the country this week. If that’s the way you feel, you’re not wrong. The Bears have very much earned it. Picking who was No. 1 in my poll was not easy to do, and I think there are valid arguments to make for any one of Duke, Baylor and Gonzaga for the top spot.

The point is to say that if you’re picking Duke, who is the only team on KenPom with a top 10 offense and defense, to drop from the No. 1 spot because they lost on a buzzer-beater in November while keeping San Diego State in the top five because they won on a buzzer-beater in December, you’re being silly.

2. The fact that Duke lost and San Diego State won absolutely should factor into the things that actually matter. You can check the receipts. I was one of the people banging on the loudest about the fact that whatever metric the NCAA developed to replace the RPI must keep some kind of results-based influence in the algorithm. We cannot have the most important metric in our sport be a fully-predictive metric.

The reason for this is simple: What is the point of watching sports if the win doesn’t actually matter? What is the point of getting excited about a buzzer-beater if that buzzer-beater doesn’t have outsized influence on the season at-large? Duke absolutely, 100 percent should have that home loss to Stephen F. Austin ding them as the bracket is put together. And San Diego State should 100 percent be allowed to go up to the Selection Committee and point out how it’s January 12th and they still have not lost a basketball game.

Wins have to matter when seeding teams.

They have to.

But they should not matter in weekly rankings. Those are supposed to determine who are the best teams in the sport at this very moment. By definition, the best team is the one that would be favored to win a game played on a neutral court against every other college basketball team in the country. Anyone with any analytical sense or basketball IQ will understand that the outcome of a game that comes down to a final possession will have a negligible impact on spreads, KenPom projections and the things that are infinitely smarter than some person with an opinion.

I’m reminded of one of my favorite Brad Stevens moments, seen in the clip below. Watch him at the end of this insane finish. As Roosevelt Jones is making the game-winning shot, he’s calmly turning and walking up the floor to shake Mark Few’s hand.

Butler guard Rotnei Clarke was asked about this.

“The outcome is irrelevant if [Stevens] thinks you played as well as you can,” Clarke said.

If you’re not going to listen to me, maybe you’ll listen to him.

Anyway, here is the rest of the NBC Sports college basketball top 25.



1. DUKE (15-1, Last Week: 1)
2. BAYLOR (13-1, 6)
3. GONZAGA (18-1, 3)
4. BUTLER (15-1, 7)
5. AUBURN (15-0, 5)
6. KANSAS (12-3, 2)
7. MICHIGAN STATE (13-4, 4)
8. SAN DIEGO STATE (17-0, 8)
9. DAYTON (14-2, 9)
10. OREGON (14-3, 10)
11. KENTUCKY (12-3, 13)
12. FLORIDA STATE (14-2, 14)
13. LOUISVILLE (13-3, 15)
14. WEST VIRGINIA (13-2, 16)
15. SETON HALL (12-4, 20)
16. OHIO STATE (11-5, 11)
17. TEXAS TECH (10-5, 12)
18. VILLANOVA (12-3, 23)
19. WICHITA STATE (15-1, 24)
20. MICHIGAN (11-5, 17)
21. MARYLAND (13-3, 19)
22. IOWA (11-5, 22)
23. CREIGHTON (13-4, NR)
24. ILLINOIS (12-5, NR)
25. MEMPHIS (13-3, 25)

DROPPED OUT: 18. Arizona, 21. Penn State
NEW ADDITIONS: 23. Creighton, 24. Illinois

No. 5 Kansas pulls away in second half, beats Stanford 72-56

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STANFORD, Calif. — Isaiah Moss made three straight 3-pointers during a decisive second-half stretch and finished with 17 points, and No. 5 Kansas overcame an inconsistent performance on both ends to beat Stanford 72-56 Sunday.

Udoka Azubuike grabbed 13 rebounds as the Jayhawks (10-2) held a big advantage on the boards, but he took just two shots to score two points and committed five turnovers. Kansas’ second-leading scorer at 14.0 points per game missed all five of his free-throw attempts in a a sub-par day with several NBA scouts in the stands.

Kansas bounced back from just its second defeat — the team’s two losses are by a combined three points — 56-55 at Villanova on Dec. 21 in spite of 21 turnovers.

It was certainly a strange outing for Azubuike considering the senior center, 7-feet and 270 pounds, had seven dunks against Stanford when the Jayhawks last played the series in Northern California two years ago, a 75-54 victory. He had his team’s first 10 points in that matchup and 24 in all. On Sunday, he didn’t take his first shot until 8:45 remaining in the first half despite his significant size advantage in the paint.

Kansas instead kept letting it fly from long range early, beginning 1 of 5 on 3-pointers.

Ochai Agbaji and Devon Dotson added 14 points each as Kansas won its fourth straight meeting with Stanford. That leaves Stanford coach Jerod Haase winless against his former school as the programs conclude a four-year agreement.

Oscar da Silva scored 19 points for Stanford (11-2) in front of a lively, towel-waving crowd at Maples Pavilion, where the large contingent of Jayhawks fans cheered loudly when Kansas took the floor and continued all afternoon.

The cold-shooting Cardinal had lost just once previously and by a single point to Butler on Nov. 26. They were off to their best start since also starting 11-1 in 2008 but haven’t been 12-1 since winning 26 consecutive games to begin the 2003-04 season.

Kansas jumped to a 7-0 lead before Stanford’s timeout at the 15:29 mark of the first half and missed its initial 14 shots — missing seven 3s — and went scoreless over the first 13 possessions with four turnovers. Oscar da Silva got the Cardinal on the board at last with a pair of free throws at the 12:11 mark.

Stanford finally made its first field goal at 8:12 when Isaac White scored on a follow-up jumper moments after Kansas had an 0-for-5 possession.

The Jayhawks also began the game with a 12-4 rebounding advantage with 5-0 edge on second-chance points.

But 14 first-half turnovers hurt as Stanford pulled within 28-18 at halftime.

OOPS

Daejon Davis made the front end of a 1-and-1 free throw opportunity 5:45 before halftime before the officials reviewed who should be shooting, took away the point and sent Lukas Kisunas to the line instead. He missed.

FACING RANKED TEAMS

Haase is just 1-18 against top-25 opponents overall in his four seasons at Stanford.

Stanford hasn’t beaten a top-five non-conference opponent since Dec. 6, 2003, at Anaheim — a 64-58 win against then-No. 1 Kansas. The Cardinal’s last win vs. a top-five opponent was Jan. 28, 2007, at home over UCLA.

Stanford last topped a ranked opponent on Jan. 17, 2018, against Arizona State.

BIG PICTURE

Kansas: The team improved to 95-13 following a loss under coach Bill Self. … The Jayhawks overcame a 75-72 deficit in the final 13.3 seconds to force overtime and go on to win 90-84 in last season’s meeting at Lawrence. The teams played at the Sacramento Kings’ Golden 1 Center on Dec. 21, 2017. … Kansas leads the series with Stanford 12-3. … The Jayhawks, who came in averaging 13.8 turnovers, committed 28 turnovers vs. Duke, a 68-66 season-opening loss Nov. 5.

Stanford: The Cardinal shot 22% (5 of 23) in the first half, going 1 of 9 from long range. … Stanford was outrebounded 44-25. … The Cardinal had 19 turnovers, eight by da Silva. … Stanford didn’t win its 11th game until Feb. 3 last season and its 12th victory came Feb. 7.

UP NEXT

Kansas: Hosts West Virginia on Thursday night in its Big 12 Conference opener.

Stanford: Hosts Bay Area rival California on Thursday night in its Pac-12 Conference opener.

Best Bets: Previewing Louisville-Kentucky and West Virginia-Ohio State

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The Vegas lines for these games were not released at the time of this publishing. Score projections from KenPom, Torvik and Haslametrics were used in their stead. 

No. 3 LOUISVILLE at No. 19 KENTUCKY, Sat. 3:45 p.m. (CBS)

  • KENPOM: Louisville 66, Kentucky 65
  • TORVIK: Louisville 66, Kentucky 63
  • HASLAMETRICS: Louisville 69, Kentucky 62

It’s going to feel pretty gross, but I think the smart money here will be on Kentucky.

We’ve seen this story before with the Wildcats. They struggle throughout the first two months of the season before they put together one, statement performance that lights a fire under the program and turns the season around.

I think this is going to be the performance.

Kentucky is coming home after five days and two losses in Vegas. They are going to be playing their first meaningful game in Rupp Arena this season, and it just so happens to come against their arch-rival Louisville.

I also think this is going to be a tough matchup for the Cardinals. They struggled against Texas Tech when the Red Raiders were able to get out and pressure Louisville’s ball-handlers. They beat Michigan at home, but that win was a product of Louisville’s defense. They only managed to score 58 points on 66 possessions. This is also going to be their first road game since the first game of the season, a win over Miami.

BEST BET: I’m hoping to be able to get this at Kentucky (+3), in which case I’d probably just end up on the Kentucky ML. What will worry me is if the line ends up around a pick-em or with Kentucky laying points. The major concern here is that the Cardinals are the second-best defensive team in the country, according to KenPom, and Kentucky has not exactly proven to be good offensively this year.

No. 22 WEST VIRGINIA at No. 2 OHIO STATE, Sun. 12:00 p.m. (FS1)

  • KENPOM: Ohio State 72, West Virginia 65
  • TORVIK: Ohio State 70, West Virginia 66
  • HASLAMETRICS: Ohio State 74, West Virginia 60

West Virginia has quietly put together a pretty impressive resume this season. They sit at 10-1 overall with wins over Pitt, Northern Iowa, Wichita State and Rhode Island, all of which are top 100 wins on KenPom. They are top 25 in the AP Poll and on KenPom.

The strength of this team is their frontcourt, where Oscar Tshiebwe and Derek Culver are both threats to go for a double-double on a nightly basis. They pound the offensive glass, they erase the paint defensively and they are as good as anyone in the country at running opponents off of the three-point line.

This matters in this matchup, because the Buckeyes are a team that ideally wants to have four shooters on the floor surrounding Kaleb Wesson, who also happens to be a 46 percent three-point shooter. The trouble this causes is that this will pull one of their big men away from the bucket, and they can do it even if they are forced to play with Wesson and Kyle Young for the majority of the game.

BEST BET: Without knowing what the line is this is tough to project. If it is Ohio State (-4), as Torvik projects, then the value is on Ohio State. If it’s West Virginia (+14), as Haslam projects, then the value is on the Mountaineers. And if it is Ohio State (-7), than I’d lean the Buckeyes, but it will probably be a stay-away for me.

No. 5 KANSAS at STANFORD, Sun. 3:00 p.m. (ABC)

  • KENPOM: Kansas 69, Stanford 64
  • TORVIK: Kansas 70, Stanford 63
  • HASLAMETRICS: Kansas 70, Stanford 60

This is a sneaky game for the Jayhawks, who played on the road in their final pre-Christmas game – a loss at Villanova – and will start out their post-holiday run with a road game on the other side of the country.

The Cardinal have not exactly played a loaded schedule this season, but they’ve looked really good in the games that they have played. Their best win is over Oklahoma on a neutral, and they played Butler to a one-possession game in Kansas City, but those are the only two high-major programs they’ve faced. In the week before Christmas, the Cardinal had closer-than-expected wins over San Francisco and San Diego.

The key here is going to be how well you think the Cardinal can score against Kansas and whether or not Marcus Garrett plays. Let’s start with the latter: Garrett practiced on Thursday and, at this point, the Jayhawks staff believes they are going to have him available on Saturday afternoon. That’s big, He is not only the secondary playmaker and the best perimeter defender on the Stanford roster, but he is one of the guys that lets them play small.

He’s one of the biggest reasons the Jayhawks have been a top five defense in the country this season, which brings me to the other point: Stanford’s strength this season has been on the defensive end. They have not been great offensively despite shooting the ball really well because they turn the rock too much and fade the offensive glass.

BEST BET: It’s hard to make a pick here without knowing what the line is going to be. Assuming it is Kansas (-5), which is what KenPom’s projections list, I lean the Kansas side but will personally be staying away. If the line is Stanford (+10), as Haslametrics projects, then there is value on the Cardinal and I’ll be on Stanford.

WISCONSIN at TENNESSEE, Sat. 1:30 p.m. (CBS)

  • KENPOM: Tennessee 62, Wisconsin 57
  • TORVIK: Tennessee 59, Wisconsin 56
  • HASLAMETRICS: Tennessee 59, Wisconsin 56

I’ve included Wisconsin-Tennessee here because I think that it is worth noting that this is the first game that the Vols have played since losing point guard Lamonte Turner. He has not been healthy for the majority of the season when he has played, and his ineffectiveness was a major reason why the Vols had been struggling to score of late.

The Vols have a freshman point guard from Uruguay coming in, Santiago Vescovi, but he only just enrolled and will not arrive in Knoxville until Saturday morning. That means that the only player that can even pretend to be a point guard on the Tennessee roster is five-star freshman Josiah-Jordan James.

That’s not an ideal situation.

And neither is betting on a Wisconsin team that has lost four of their last six games and is 0-5 in games away from the Kohl Center.

BEST BET: If the line ends up being Wisconsin (+5), which is where KenPom has it, I think that’s where the value is. But I’m going to assume that this will open lower and get bet towards the Wisconsin side, at which point I’ll be on Tennessee, hopefully somewhere around a pick-em.

I also think the under is in play if the total opens at 119. The Vols already were a really good defensive team that is only going to get better now that they’ll be playing five guys 6-foot-6 or taller.

LIBERTY at LSU, Sun. 1:30 p.m. (SECN)

  • KENPOM: LSU 70, Liberty 66
  • TORVIK: LSU 68, Liberty 66
  • HASLAMETRICS: LSU 69, Liberty 66

Wherever this line opens up, I think I am going to be on Liberty here. This is a chance for the Flames to really make a statement. They are currently undefeated on the season, but they only have one win over a high-major opponent, and it came against Vanderbilt, which may not even count. Ritchie McKay is one of the best x’s and o’s coaches in the sport – ask Mississippi State, who lost in last year’s NCAA tournament to Liberty – and while I do respect Will Wade’s coaching acumen, he does not exactly have the most disciplined team.

BEST BET: I like the Liberty side, and anything less than (+2.5) I’ll be betting the money line.

Three Things To Know: Stanford is good, Virginia Tech is better, big night for the Atlantic 10

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It was looking like college basketball was going to have a relatively quiet night even with the start of the Maui Invitational, but that plan was shot to hell thanks to Virginia Tech and Mike Young.

Here is everything you need to know from the night in college basketball.

1. VIRGINIA TECH RUINED OUR SHOT AT A TOP FIVE MAUI TITLE GAME

No. 3 Michigan State is not playing well right now. I think that much is very clear, and we’ll have something coming on Michigan State in the near future.

But that’s not what we are talking about right now.

Because as flawed as Michigan State is at the moment, they are still one of the best teams in the sport and Virginia Tech went out and beat them in a pretty convincing matter. Yes, the final score was 71-66 and no, this was not a blowout win by any stretch of the imagination.

My point is that this wasn’t a fluky loss. Virginia Tech is a good team that is exceptionally well-coached, executes and, on Monday night, played about as well as they can. Landers Nolley put on a show. When Virginia Tech needed a bucket down the stretch it was Nolley that they went to, and he delivered, beating Aaron Henry on back-to-back possessions for a floater and a three that kept the Spartans at bay.

Wabissa Bede played well. So did P.J. Horne. The thing that I like about this team more than anything else is that they understand what they are and what they are not. They are a team with a ton of shooting that can space the floor and make opposing defenses uncomfortable with the sets that they run. They are a team that has enough good individual defenders to be tough enough on that end of the floor to execute a game-plan. They are not a group that will let you get them playing at a pace they aren’t comfortable with, and they are not a team that is going to beat themselves.

I did not expect much from this team this season. I don’t think anyone did. But after this win in Maui, the Hokies are sitting at 6-0 on the season.

Credit where it is deserved: Mike Young has done a terrific job to date.

Now if he only could have held off on this breakout until after we saw No. 3 Michigan State and No. 4 Kansas play for the Maui title.

2. DAYTON AND RICHMOND SHOW OUT FOR THE ATLANTIC 10

We knew that the Atlantic 10 was going to be better this season than it has been in the past, and Monday night certainly did not change that feeling.

The win that everyone is going to be talking about tomorrow was Dayton knocking off Georgia and potential No. 1 pick Anthony Edwards. That’s because it came in the first game of the Maui Invitational and featured another potential first round pick in Obi Toppin popping off for 25 points and four boards on national television in a game every college basketball fan was locked in on.

But the team that might have actually landed a more impressive win was Richmond.

Now, it was not that long ago that Richmond fans were protesting the fact that head coach Chris Mooney had not been fired yet. I think they are going to come to regret that, because on Monday night, the Spiders went into the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and knocked off Wisconsin, 62-52. Blake Francis had 19 points and six assists to lead the way while Grant Golden chipped in with 16 points and 12 boards.

The Spiders now have a date with Auburn on Tuesday night, and it was these Auburn Tigers and lit the soul of Davidson on fire earlier this month.

I still think VCU is probably the best team in the Atlantic 10 – they have yet to do something to convince me otherwise – but Dayton has proven themselves to be damn good, and Richmond is not all that far behind.

It may not be exactly the teams we expected, but it turns out the A-10 is pretty top heavy after all.

3. STANFORD MIGHT BE FOR REAL

I’ll be honest. I did not expect anything out of Stanford this season. That might end up being a mistake. The Cardinal improved to 7-0 on the season by beating previously undefeated Oklahoma by 19 points, 73-54, in the Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City on Monday night.

Tyrell Terry led the way with 20 points and 11 boards for Stanford. A 6-foot-1 freshman from Minneapolis, Terry has been awesome Jeron Haase to date, averaging 15.2 pints, 4.2 boards and 3.3 assists. His addition has allowed Haase to play small-ball and move Daejon Davis to an off-guard spot.

The Sooners get Butler tomorrow night. That will be a nice test for both teams.

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?