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Early Season Tournaments Part 1

My projections for 351 teams will be revealed by Sports Illustrated next week. But today I want to use those projections to compute the odds for this year's early season tournaments.

Puerto Rico Tipoff

Puerto Rico Tipoff

Semis

Final

Champ

Texas A&M

38%

12%

7%

Dayton

62%

26%

18%

College of Charleston

11%

2%

1%

Connecticut

89%

59%

45%

New Mexico

55%

26%

8%

Boston College

45%

20%

5%

George Mason

36%

16%

4%

West Virginia

64%

38%

13%

UConn is likely to use a 4-guard lineup with Ryan Boatright, transfer Rodney Purvis, JUCO Sam Cassell Jr, and five-star freshman Daniel Hamilton at times this year. I’m looking forward to seeing that lethal offensive attack unleashed.

Texas A&M's odds of winning the tournament got a lot better when it was announced that transfer Jalen Jones would eligible in November, but they have to go through two NCAA tournament teams from a year ago, Dayton and Connecticut, just to reach the finals.

Charleston Classic

Charleston Classic

Semis

Final

Champ

USC

52%

17%

7%

Akron

48%

15%

6%

Drexel

18%

7%

2%

Miami FL

82%

61%

39%

Penn St.

71%

38%

19%

Charlotte

29%

10%

3%

Cornell

10%

1%

0%

South Carolina

90%

51%

25%

Miami (FL) won't be 100% in this tournament as Ivan Uceda must sit out the start of the season and cannot play until January. But with transfers Sheldon McClellan and Angel Rodriguez leading the way, and redshirt freshman Deandre Burnett now healthy, they are still the tournament favorite.

I understand why Penn St. and South Carolina aren't getting more love nationally. After the way their teams have performed historically, people tend to write them off before the season starts. But both teams have veteran lineups with more skilled players than most people realize, and don't be surprised if one of those teams wins this tournament.

2K Sports Classic

2K Sports

Final

Champ

Texas

60%

40%

Iowa

40%

22%

Syracuse

64%

27%

California

36%

11%

Texas has a deep and talented frontcourt with Cameron Ridley, Myles Turner, Jonathan Holmes, and Connor Lammert. But so does Iowa. Aaron White, Jarrod Uthoff, Adam Woodbury, and Gabriel Olaseni aren't just going to roll over. Their first-round game is a great early season match-up.

Cal is an underdog in this field, but they have over a 50% chance of winning at least one game, and any victory in this tournament will resonate on Selection Sunday.

Paradise Jam

Paradise Jam

Semis

Final

Champ

Clemson

76%

42%

19%

Gardner Webb

24%

7%

2%

Seton Hall

70%

40%

19%

Nevada

30%

11%

3%

LSU

66%

45%

29%

Old Dominion

34%

18%

9%

Illinois St.

77%

33%

18%

Weber St.

23%

4%

1%

The bracketing here didn't do tournament favorite LSU any favors. First round opponent Old Dominion has a veteran team that should be much improved thanks to the addition of transfers Jonathan Arledge and Trey Freeman.

If Clemson and Seton Hall meet in the second round, it should be a great matchup. Clemson has a veteran team that plays outstanding defense while Seton Hall has a talented young recruiting class led by super-scorer Isaiah Whitehead.

Coaches vs Cancer

Coaches vs Cancer

Final

Champ

Stanford

66%

19%

UNLV

34%

6%

Duke

90%

72%

Temple

10%

3%

If you love watching elite freshman, this is the tournament to watch. Duke has Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow, and Grayson Allen, while UNLV has Rashad Vaughn, Dwayne Morgan, and Goodluck Okonoboh. Meanwhile Stanford has Reid Travis, Robert Cartwright, and Michael Humphrey. But all anyone will be talking about is the possibility of Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins facing his mentor Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Hall of Fame Tipoff

Hall of Fame Tipoff

Final

Champ

Massachusetts

40%

19%

Notre Dame

60%

36%

Providence

46%

20%

Florida St.

54%

25%

This might be the most important holiday tournament this year. All four of these teams project as bubble NCAA squads and the winner of this tournament will pick up two critical non-conference wins. I have Notre Dame as the favorite as I think the return of Jerian Grant is going to improve the Irish substantially.

Maui Invitational

Maui

Semis

Final

Champ

Purdue

28%

4%

1%

Kansas St.

72%

19%

9%

Missouri

9%

3%

1%

Arizona

91%

75%

57%

Pittsburgh

99%

45%

13%

Chaminade

1%

0%

0%

BYU

32%

14%

3%

San Diego St.

68%

41%

16%

I’m looking forward to the contrast in styles between offensively dominant BYU and defensively dominant SDSU.  All seven of the D1 teams in the field have the talent to finish in the Top 100. Missouri is probably the worst of these squads, as they must replace almost all of last year's top scorers, but they have some quality recruits who are capable of pulling an upset.

Legends Classic

Legends

Final

Champ

Villanova

61%

44%

VCU

39%

24%

Michigan

66%

25%

Oregon

34%

8%

This looked like one of the best early season tournaments in the land, with four very talented teams. But the news that Oregon's Michael Chandler is injured and the news that JaQuan Lyle is ineligible makes the Ducks an underdog.

CBE Classic

CBE

Final

Champ

Arizona St.

28%

7%

Maryland

72%

32%

Alabama

27%

12%

Iowa St.

73%

49%

Iowa St. vs Alabama presents another great contrast in styles. Fred Hoiberg has been an offensive genius for the Cyclones while Anthony Grant has been a dominant defensive coach (with the exception of last year.)

MGM Grand Main Event

MGM

Final

Champ

Oklahoma St.

87%

47%

Oregon St.

13%

2%

Auburn

44%

21%

Tulsa

56%

30%

There are lots of new faces in this tournament. I'm looking forward to seeing how transfer Anthony Hickey fits in with Oklahoma St., how quickly new head coach Bruce Pearl can build Auburn into a winner, and how Tulsa adjust to new head coach Frank Haith.

Oregon St.’s roster is in terrible shape which makes Oklahoma St. the favorite even though they might not be an NCAA tournament team.

Cancun Challenge

Cancun Challenge

Final

Champ

Virginia Tech

35%

16%

Northern Iowa

65%

40%

Miami OH

30%

9%

Northwestern

70%

35%

If the MVC is going to get two NCAA bids this year, Northern Iowa must win here. Chris Collins begins year two of the Northwestern rebuild while Buzz Williams begins year one of the Virginia Tech rebuild.

LeBron At 30

As the new season gets underway, all eyes in the NBA are on LeBron James and his new team, just as they were four years ago. The 14-15 Cleveland Cavaliers have a lot in common with the 10-11 Miami Heat, from the massive spotlight they are playing under to a head coach without a lot of NBA experience and three star players learning to play together. The biggest difference between the two teams is their best player, who had to do a lot of growing up in the last four years.

LeBron James at 26 might have been the most impressive athlete in the history of the sport. He was a bundle of fast-twitch muscles who was bigger than the big men and faster than the guards. He was a seemingly indestructible basketball cyborg who could play all 48 minutes without any visible sign of wear and tear. Like most young guys, he thought he was invincible. Miami’s collapse in the 2011 NBA Finals humbled him and made him a better player.

LeBron at 30 isn’t quite the athlete he once was. He can’t play as many minutes and he can’t go as hard on both ends as he used too. He can still turn on the athleticism when necessary, but he doesn’t do it as often. It’s like an older sports car - you can still take it into high gear, but you probably don’t want to wear out the engine revving it through downtown traffic. What he’s lost in athletic ability, though, he has more than made up for in his grasp of the game.

If LeBron’s first stint in Cleveland was Young LeBron, what he was doing by the end of his time in Miami was Peak LeBron. The offensive efficiency numbers speak for themselves. LeBron averaged 29 points per game on 50% shooting in his last season with the Cavs - he was at 27 points on 57% shooting in his last season with the Heat. He became comfortable scoring out of the post and he turned himself into one of the best three-point shooters in the NBA.

Where you really saw that was in the playoffs, where he was able to score at will regardless of who he was playing against. Before last season, LeBron had never shot above 51% in the postseason. It makes sense - the game slows down and you are facing much better defenses with much bigger and more athletic defenders. In last year’s playoffs, he shot 56% from the field. Those are prime Shaq numbers and Shaq spent the whole game dunking on people.

That LeBron is able to score at that volume and efficiency while taking shots from all over the floor shows you how easy the game comes to him. In their first year with Miami, everything looked really difficult for the Heat. They had a hard time getting out of each other’s way on offense and they didn’t function all that well as a unit. LeBron at 30 is unlikely to have the same types of issues in Cleveland - he doesn’t make the game any harder on himself than it has to be.

When LeBron has the ball in his hands, he almost always makes the right decision. If the defense plays off him, he shoots. If they press up on him, he drives. If they send help, he finds the open man. He takes what the defense gives him and he doesn’t force the issue. If basketball is an equation, he has essentially solved it. As long as he can play in space, LeBron is one of the most unstoppable players in the NBA - the defense has to give up something.

The big difference for him in Cleveland is that he will have more support on the offensive side of the ball.

Kevin Love is a better three-point shooter than Chris Bosh and he gives them another dimension on the offensive glass, while Kyrie Irving won’t have to sit out games and have his minutes cut like Dwyane Wade. Part of the problem in Miami was that LeBron was using up so much energy trying to carry them on the offensive end of the floor, he had to take off possessions on defense.

By the end of the Spurs five-game rout of the Heat, LeBron just seemed worn out - Wade could no longer dominate on one knee, Bosh had been completely de-emphasized in the offense and none of the role players could do much of anything. Everyone needed LeBron to spoon feed them open shots. The Cavs, in contrast, have more guys on their roster - Dion Waiters, Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson - who know how to find their way into points.

If LeBron is able to ration his energy more effectively in the regular season, that could pay dividends in the playoffs. A couple of times in the 2014 NBA Finals, he reached into the tank and came out empty, most notably when he cramped up at the end of Game 1. That might not have happened were it not for an air conditioning malfunction in San Antonio, but it clearly had an effect on how he trained in the offseason, as he is at his lowest weight in years.

Dropping weight and playing with teammates who can carry the offense and allow him to take a step back are two of the biggest reasons for Tim Duncan’s amazing longevity in the NBA. The older a player gets, the harder it becomes for them to carry any extra pounds on their knees and the more susceptible they become to injuries. Injuries, not any significant decline in play, are what usually ends the careers of the greatest players, from Shaq to Kobe Bryant. 

Great players don’t age like basketball mortals. As they get older, they can adjust their game and remain effective, compensating for any loss in physical ability with a corresponding gain in mental ability. That’s the biggest difference between LeBron at 26 and LeBron at 30 - he can think the game on a whole different level, seeing two and three moves down the road. Everything he does is about setting himself up for two to three weeks in May and June.

LeBron’s game has changed a lot over the last four seasons and he will have to continue to reinvent himself to stay atop the NBA for the next four, if not longer. If his time in Miami was like Jordan’s first three-peat in Chicago, his second stint in Cleveland will have to be like the second. We are witnessing one of the greatest players of all-time at the peak of his powers. As the next stage of his career begins, everything is on the table, both for him and the Cavs.

Non-National NBA Games Of The Week (Oct. 28-Nov. 2)

Welcome back to Non-National Games of the Week! This should be another strong season of games not played on TNT, ESPN, ABC or NBATV. You can also read my League Pass team column. As much fun as the offseason has become, real games are so much better.

Tuesday

Orlando Magic @ New Orleans Pelicans: The first non-national game of the season features Anthony Davis and his new muscle Omer Asik. Orlando made a series of changes this summer and Jrue Holiday will provide a challenge on both ends for Elfrid Payton’s first game. Plus, any minutes of Aaron Gordon vs. Anthony Davis should be captivating.

Wednesday

Milwaukee Bucks @ Charlotte Hornets: A combination of the first game for the newly rechristened Charlotte franchise and Jabari Parker’s first regular season game. The Giannis / Jabari / Larry Sanders (not all caps…for now) front court will be worth checking in on the first few weeks and Lance Stephenson making his debut should be fun as well.

Washington Wizards @ Miami Heat: A nice opening week game featuring two teams that had some notable turnover this summer. Miami has to learn how to play without LeBron while Paul Pierce works to make his imprint on a Wizards team ready for more success. Since Washington has players suspended due to a strange brawln in the pre-season, Chris Bosh will have an opportunity to show what he can do against shakier opponents.

Atlanta Hawks @ Toronto Raptors: While other games on this list make it for storylines or debuts, this one should be a fun game to watch. Toronto was one of the NBA’s best surprises last season and Atlanta played well before Al Horford’s injury. These teams actually made a trade in the off-season that sent Louis Williams and rookie Lucas Nogueira to the Raps in exchange for cap flexibility so we could see Lou try for some fireworks against his former team.

Houston Rockets @ Utah Jazz: Dante Exum’s debut, Trevor Ariza’s return and Dwight Howard vs. Derrick Favors. Sounds good to me.

Thursday

Detroit Pistons @ Minnesota Timberwolves: There may not be two teams outside of Cleveland with more questions we need answered. Will Stan Van Gundy lay down the law and only play two of Drummond, Smith and Monroe at a time? Can Andrew Wiggins start his career strong? Will Gorgui Dieng and Zach LaVine get minutes? How many bad shots can Josh Smith take before SVG goes ballistic?

Friday

Philadelphia 76ers @ Milwaukee Bucks: After missing all of last season,  Nerlens  Noel should get a showcase here against the only team that ended last season with a worse record than the Sixers. We might get to see second round pick KJ McDaniels defend Jabari Parker at some point, which happened most recently in a thrilling ACC Tournament game.

San Antonio Spurs @ Phoenix Suns (Game of the Week): The Champs get Game of the Week honors and deservedly so with such a compelling week one matchup. The Suns added Isaiah Thomas to an already fun core and know how important each win will be. I also want to see how the Spurs handle Patty Mills’ extended absence and whether rookie steal Kyle Anderson gets any minutes.

Saturday

Dallas Mavericks @ New Orleans Pelicans: Two teams with substantial changes who should be right in the middle of the battle for playoff spots in the Western Conference. Chandler Parsons and Tyson Chandler make Dallas a more complete team but Omer Asik provides a defensive identity that New Orleans sorely lacked last season. Plus, Anthony Davis guarding Dirk Nowitzki will be thrilling each and every time down the court.

Denver Nuggets @ Oklahoma City Thunder: Russell Westbrook gets the reins of the Thunder in what should be a fast-paced game. Ty Lawson and the Nuggets added veteran depth in Arron Afflalo and young talent in Jusuf Nurkic and Gary Harris while the Thunder will have to survive without Kevin Durant and new addition Anthony Morrow.

Phoenix Suns @ Utah Jazz: This game has five Point Guards I want to see, six if you count Tyler Ennis who likely will not see much time. I also like it when coaches face teams they played on and Jeff Hornacek had great success in Salt Lake City. 

Sunday

Philadelphia 76ers @ Houston Rockets: This will likely only be worth watching for a quarter but Nerlens Noel manning up Dwight Howard should illustrate just how far the rookie’s body needs to develop if he wants to play center in the best league in the world. Plus, Harden could go for 40 or more.

Golden State Warriors @ Portland Trail Blazers: Must-watch NBA basketball on the first Sunday of the season. Just excellent. Damian Lillard has already had some big games against his hometown team and both franchises have making and winning playoff series in their sights already. This game also should be an early test of Steve Kerr’s defensive ethos since David Lee has lots of trouble defending LaMarcus Aldridge.

14-15 Euroleague Power Rankings: Small Forwards

Emir Preldzic, Alessandro Gentile, Sonny Weems, Andres Nocioni and Nemanja Bjelica headline the best players in Euroleague at small forward.

Draft Kings' $30,000 1-Day Fantasy Contest For Opening Night

Assembling a winning team while staying under the salary cap allows RealGM readers to take advantage of their deep NBA knowledge with Draft Kings' 1-Day fantasy basketball.

Coach's Corner: Rockets' Big Man Rotation, Utah's Shot Tweeners

The Rockets find themselves now with more questions than answers when it comes to their depth, while we also examine "shot tweeners."

Draft Kings' $30,000 1-Day Fantasy Contest For Opening Night

Assembling a winning team while staying under the salary cap allows RealGM readers to take advantage of their deep NBA knowledge with Draft Kings' 1-Day fantasy basketball.

A Solution To The NBA Draft Lottery

The answer is to keep the current system in place, while implementing rules that prevent teams from getting top picks in successive seasons to prevent sustained tanking.

The Torture Chamber

The Warriors possess a compelling combination of pieces that can be mixed and matched to create problems for their opponents and the Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut five should be the crown jewel sooner rather than later.

Coach's Corner: Celtics' Open Offensive System, LeBron's Lab, Malik Rose

Why Brad Stevens' system will maximize the skill sets of Boston's ecletic group of players, how LeBron experiments in preseason and fallout from Philadelphia's tanking.

Internal Improvement Candidates: Atlantic Division

The Raptors were the poster boys for the benefits of internal improvement last season. Terrence Ross, Iman Shumpert, Mason Plumlee, Michael Carter-Williams and Tyler Zeller can offer their teams improvement from within.

Mavericks Regained Contender Status With Nostalgic Summer

The Mavericks enter the new season with a revamped roster and high expectations, thanks to the addition of Chandler Parsons and the trade to bring back Tyson Chandler.

14-15 Euroleague Player Rankings: Power Forwards

Dario Saric, Viktor Khryapa, Georgios Printezis, Linas Kleiza and Jan Vesely headline the top power forwards in Euroleague this season.

Internal Improvement Candidates: Northwest Division

All five teams in the Northwest have committed to building through the draft and Steven Adams, Kenneth Faried, Will Barton, Gorgui Dieng and Trey Burke are young players that can offer their teams improvement from within.

Coach's Corner: Warriors' Change Of Tempo Style, The Triangle's True Difficulty

The Warriors played fast last season, but any player has the freedom to "rip-and-run" under Steve Kerr, while the Triangle could be a bad fit for Derek Fisher and the Knicks even if they run it right.

College Basketball Preview Summary And Updates

Over the past 12 weeks, we've released a number of conference previews for the upcoming 14-15 college basketball season. Here are a few updates on what's changed since that project began.

Internal Improvement Candidates: Southwest Division

Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Terrence Jones, Jae Crowder and Jon Leuer represent the Pelicans, Spurs, Rockets, Mavs and Grizzlies as young players who are poised to grow and assume bigger roles this season.

Thunder Finally Approaching Prime Contention Seasons

With two of the top-5 players in the NBA and an elite defensive big, the Thunder aren’t just set up to win a championship this season - they are set up to win the next few.

Top-5 Non-National Teams For 14-15

The top teams to watch on League Pass have to have entertainment value on a game to game basis and fascinating pieces in the form of young talent or new additions. Each of these squads fits that bill and there were a few tough omissions as well.

Why The Mavs Have A Shot Again

Even at this stage in their careers, Dirk Nowitzki is the best offensive 7’0 in the NBA and Tyson Chandler is one of the best defensive 7’0. Chandler covers up Dirk’s flaws on defense and Dirk makes Chandler a much better offensive player.

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