One of the many great parts of the college basketball season is the preseason tournaments we are treated to around Thanksgiving. There are a lot, and some are duds, but the best of the tournaments deliver unconventional matchups and thrilling action. It’s a good early test of how teams stack up, and how they can handle pressure.
As we head into tournament season, here’s a primer of four of the best tournaments being offered:
NIT Season Tip-Off
The preliminary rounds are in the books, with the final four — Michigan, Kansas State, Pittsburgh, Delaware — meeting at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 21 and 23.
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Team to beat - Michigan. The top seed in this tournament is ranked fifth in the country, and their young freshmen have been wildly-impressive in three dominating wins over outmatched competition.
Best potential matchup - It’s an actual matchup here. Michigan and Pitt meet in the semis in a contest that will be a good measure of both where the two teams are and how the leagues stack up as well.
Classic underdog - Delaware, the 8th seed, upset Virginia on the Cavs’ home court in the quarterfinals. Now they face third-seeded Kansas State. Do they have another upset in them?
Reason to watch - MSG is the place where college basketball is meant to be played. It’s a temple, and great things always seem to happen on that court.
The eight-team championship round takes place in Maui from Nov. 19-21.
Team to beat - North Carolina. They are ranked 11th in the country, but the Heels lost four players to the draft and another to a Mormon mission. They have plenty of talent, but this will be a good test of whether they are ready for prime time.
Best potential matchup - North Carolina and USC would make an intriguing finals matchup. UNC would be by far the better team, but USC has tournament potential, and the Trojans should take a big step forward in the third year under Kevin O’Neill.
Classic underdog - Butler. They got manhandled by Xavier this week, but their young roster has strong potential and should bounce back from a disappointing year last year.
Reason to watch - Chaminade. The hopelessly outmatched home squad is easy to cheer for in this tournament. They are going to repeat their 1982 upset of Virginia at some point — just like the Generals will beat the Globetrotters sooner or later.
The final four teams — Indiana, Georgia, UCLA, and Georgetown — meet in the brand new Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Nov.19 and 20.
Team to beat - Indiana. The Hoosiers started the season ranked No. 1 in the country, so the target on their back is huge. They haven’t broken a sweat yet this year, so this tournament is their first test of their worthiness of the top seeding.
Best potential matchup - Indiana and UCLA in the finals won’t be as good as it could be unless the NCAA comes to their senses and lets Shabazz Muhammad play. The Bruins are still a very young but wildly talented team, though, and there could be fireworks.
Classic underdog - Georgetown. The Hoyas aren’t of the class of the top teams in the field, but they have big game experience and could catch UCLA off guard if the Bruins aren’t focused.
Reason to watch - It’s a shiny new stadium, and Jay-Z and Beyonce might be there.
CBE Hall of Fame Classic
Texas A&M, Washington State, Saint Louis and Kansas meet in the Sprint Center in Kansas City on Nov. 19 and 20.
Team to beat - Kansas. It was a an offseason of changes for the Jayhawks — key players leaving and assistant coaches moving on — but the Jayhawks are still ranked seventh overall and should be strong yet again.
Best potential matchup - Kansas and Texas A&M in the finals. The Aggies had a very rough season last year, but they have an easier path of things in the SEC this year, and have the talent and the focus to bounce back and be a much better team. A win over a power like Kansas is unlikely, but it would be a huge statement for this program. Coach Billy Kennedy — in his second season — is the real deal.
Classic underdog - Saint Louis. With Rick Majerus on the sidelines for the year with health issues, and following a loss to Santa Clara last time out, it is easy to dismiss the Billikens. Their adversity could be a rallying point for them, though, and there is some nice talent on the roster.
Reason to watch - The Jayhawks are one of those teams that can easily be overrated because of their high profile and continued success. This won’t be a great test for them — it is definitely their tournament to lose — but it should still give us clues about the readiness of this squad.
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