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Early Season Tournaments: Brackets, Observations, And Odds: Part 2

Today, I continue to preview the early season tournaments with printable bracket links, title odds, and commentary. Click here for Part 1.

Legends Classic Printable Bracket

Nov 19-20

 

Georgia

1.1%

Indiana

54.7%

Georgetown

9.0%

UCLA

35.1%

The Legends Classic might be the most highly anticipated early season tournament because of the potential finals matchup between Indiana and UCLA. Both highly acclaimed programs have had struggles in recent seasons, and with both teams returning to the top of the polls, this game will generate more than its normal share of interest.

Indiana should have an advantage early in the season since they can depend so heavily on last year’s starting lineup. But I would expect at least one new face to make a big impact for the Hoosiers. Whether it will be freshman Yogi Ferrell, Jeremy Hollowell, or Hanner Perea providing a key spark, or the oft-injured Maurice Creek, the joy for the Hoosiers will be seeing which new player helps take the team to a championship level.

For UCLA, adding Top-5 recruit Kyle Anderson will be a big help, but the key question will be how such a tall lineup can function effectively. Offensively, UCLA needs to worry about its spacing and figure out what to do when teams dare the Bruins to take threes. Defensively, UCLA may have to play more zone than Ben Howland has ever utilized because his players may not have the quickness to keep perimeter players in front of them. But as Georgetown showed last year, a zone with four players 6’8” or taller can be extremely effective.

CBE Classic Printable Bracket

Nov 19-20

 

St. Louis

30.8%

Texas A&M

3.9%

Kansas

59.6%

Washington St.

5.7%

The expectations for St. Louis are somewhat lower now that head coach Rick Majerus has left the team for health reasons. But the Billikens returning lineup still looks strong enough to win the A10, and early in the season they should be particularly dangerous. Last year ineligibility issues limited the Jayhawks, but this year’s lineup looks like what you would traditionally expect from a Bill Self team. There are the veterans with Final Four experience like Jeff Withey, Elijah Johnson, and Travis Releford who should anchor the team in difficult situations. And there is a talented group of newcomers like Perry Ellis and Ben McLemore who should provide the athleticism to compete against the elite teams. Washington St. lineup is not strong enough to hang with the Jayhawks, but look for Kansas transfer Royce Woolridge to try to have a big game against his former team.

Maui Invitational Printable Bracket

Nov 19-21

 

Marquette

16.7%

Butler

11.1%

North Carolina

23.5%

Mississippi St.

0.0%

Chaminade

0.0%

Texas

33.2%

Illinois

6.4%

USC

9.0%

I think that there is a misconception that teams are only exciting to watch if they have Final Four expectations. North Carolina may be in rebuilding mode, but in my eyes that actually makes them more fascinating to follow this year. Freshman Marcus Paige will likely take over at the point-guard slot, and given Roy Williams track record as a coach who lets his elite freshmen recruits play, the team may live or die by how ready Paige is to pilot the Tar Heels fast-break offense. But North Carolina doesn’t have to depend on Paige to win this year. Dexter Strickland has some experience as a point-guard from last season and I would expect him to play major minutes at point-guard as well. But the real key is that North Carolina doesn’t have to run-and-gun to win this year. All the returning talent at the 2-guard spot should mean that North Carolina has the profile of a team that will be lethal in the half-court. If they choose to go four-guards around James McAdoo, they could attempt to replicate what Missouri did last year, and be plenty effective.

More realistically, Roy Williams will try to develop a few more post players alongside McAdoo. And Tar Heels fans may have to wait patiently as freshmen forwards Brice Johnson and Joel James make their share of mistakes early in the season. But it is all part of the broader North Carolina strategy. While Mike Krzyzewski’s Duke teams are usually in top shape in November and prepared to dominate from the start of the season, Roy Williams runs his lineup to be peaking in March. And all the mistakes Paige, Johnson, and James make in November should be worth it late in the season.

As usual, Texas has high expectations because of its talent including seven players who were top 100 recruits coming out of high school. This year the hype is focused on freshman forward Cameron Ridley. But for a team that will be relying entirely on freshmen and sophomores, Texas is surprisingly experienced. Myck Kabongo, Sheldon McClellan, Jonathan Holmes, and Julien Lewis all played major minutes last year and should be poised for breakout seasons. Their experience could very well carry Texas to the Maui title.

Marquette also has a number of quality pieces if only Buzz Williams can find a way to put them all together. How will he best utilize a roster of offensive specialists (like Davante Gardner) and defensive specialists (like Chris Otule) will determine how far the Golden Eagles can fly. But Buzz Williams has proven he can fill in for major losses year after year, and I would expect nothing less this season.

On paper, Marquette’s season outlook isn’t much worse than that of North Carolina or Texas. But this tournament ‘s title odds aren’t based on team quality as much as they are based on match-ups. Texas gets the favorable draw on the south side of the bracket with non-D1 Chaminade and offensively challenged USC or Illinois in the semis. Meanwhile North Carolina gets a favorable first round match-up with a decimated Mississippi St. roster but will face a tough semi-final matchup. On the other hand, Marquette gets the worst of all worlds, likely needing to beat a much improved Butler team to even get a crack at the semis.

Cancun Challenge Printable Bracket

Nov 20-21

 

Wichita St.

15.5%

DePaul

25.8%

Western Kentucky

8.8%

Iowa

50.0%

Iowa and DePaul are both slowly improving, but not at a rate that would perk any national interest.

Great Alaska Shootout Printable Bracket

Nov 21-24

 

Alaska-Anch.

0.0%

Belmont

52.7%

UC Riverside

0.3%

Northeastern

21.0%

Loy.-Marymount

5.2%

Oral Roberts

14.9%

Texas St.

3.0%

Charlotte

2.8%

The two most intriguing teams are teams that are switching conferences this year. Oral Roberts is joining the Southland conference where they will immediately be the favorite. And Belmont has dominated the ASun prompting the move to the OVC this year. Look for those two teams to meet in the final.

Battle 4 Atlantis Printable Bracket

Nov 22-24

 

Northern Iowa

4.6%

Louisville

23.4%

Stanford

8.4%

Missouri

12.7%

VCU

4.1%

Memphis

13.5%

Minnesota

8.8%

Duke

24.6%

Last year’s Maui invitational may have had more big names. But the 2012 Battle 4 Atlantis tournament may very well be the strongest early season tournament that we have seen in a long time. It would not be a surprise for all 8 of these teams to make the NCAA tournament at the end of the year.

I have already explained why Duke should expect a bounce-back season. And while Louisville might have the best defensive team in the nation, the team has enough questions on offense to keep Rick Pitino up at night. I have already written about Missouri’s talented transfer class. And Josh Pastner is becoming a better coach as his roster of talented players matures into upperclassman.

But the real story here is the first round underdogs that could still make a deep run. Minnesota brings back all its key players from last year’s NIT runner-up team and adds Trevor Mbakwe back into the mix. Mbakwe was arguably Minnesota’s best player prior to his injury, and so his return is huge for the Gophers. Former Blue Devil assistant Johnny Dawkins is sadly on the opposite side of the bracket as Duke. But behind superstar sophomore Chasson Randle, Stanford might just be able to steal a couple of wins to give Dawkins a shot at his mentor.

Northern Iowa head coach Ben Jacobson took a veteran team to the NCAA tournament and upset Kansas three years ago, and he has a veteran team again this year. With all but one key rotation player returning, this looks like the year Northern Iowa makes some noise again. Finally, leading scorer Bradford Burgess is gone which will mean VCU will be searching for a new identity early in the year. But you can never count Shaka Smart out in a tournament setting.

Old Spice Classic Printable Bracket

Nov 22-25

 

Marist

0.3%

West Virginia

19.9%

Davidson

21.1%

Vanderbilt

0.4%

Oklahoma

14.4%

UTEP

2.9%

Gonzaga

37.2%

Clemson

3.6%

This is another tournament where the mid-major squads should dominate. I can’t quite decide which under-the-radar player nationally I am more excited to see, Gary Bell Jr. of Gonzaga or Jake Cohen of Davidson. All Bell did last season was make 48% of his threes as a freshmen. And he almost single-handedly kept Gonzaga in its NCAA tournament game against Ohio St. last year. On the other hand, on a points per minute basis, few players are as productive as Davidson senior Jake Cohen. Cohen has never averaged worse than 12 PPG, despite never playing more than 62% of his team’s minutes. But when the season was on the line last year, he came up the biggest. Louisville’s defense was extremely stingy last season but all Cohen did was score 24 points against Louisville in the first round of the tournament.

 

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