Early College Tournaments - A Betting Preview
by Trevor Whenham - 11/20/2007
Back in the good old days the college basketball season used to start with the Preseason NIT. Of course, the season didn't used to go on forever, either. Now there are so many tournaments in November that it's almost impossible to keep track of them all. They must make a lot of money or provide helpful exposure for sponsors or something, because new ones are popping up every year. Thanksgiving weekend is when the concentration of tournaments reach its peak.
The best way to approach handicapping the tournaments is to do basically the same things you would do for any normal game this early in the season. Based on what we see most years in these tournaments the best teams usually win. There are a few things you can keep in mind, though. Even in a short three-game tournament run, a team can capture momentum with a big win and ride that to surprising results. A team that isn't deep can be challenged by playing three games in a row, especially if one of those games is particularly hard-fought. A team that has traveled a long distance, like to Anchorage or Maui, may not be at its best if it is hasn't had enough time to adjust before the first game. Any of those factors can sometimes give you an edge in picking tournament games.
Once you have stuffed yourself with turkey until you almost explode, here's a guide to the highlights of the tournament weekend. This might come in handy while you are lying comatose on the couch.
NIT Season Tip-off - This is the granddaddy of preseason tournaments, but it has only been around since 1985. Last year's version was particularly notable because Butler stamped themselves as the power of the mid-major ranks with a win. The regional round, which took place last weekend, wasn't very deep, but the four strong teams in tournament all got through to Madison Square Garden. The two semi-finals should be pretty interesting. Washington and Texas A&M kick it off. That'll be a good chance to see how DeAndre Jordan, the budding superstar freshman for the Aggies, will handle the pressure of his biggest stage yet. The second game has the potential to be a real classic. The incredibly athletic Syracuse Orange, led by freshman guard Jonny Flynn, go head to head with the new look Ohio State Buckeyes and intriguing frosh prospect Kosta Koufos. Both of those games are Wednesday night, and the finals are on Friday.
Great Alaska Shoot-out - The NIT might be the best-known tournament, but the Great Alaska Shootout is older - it's been on since 1978. Though several teams dropped out this year, it's a very interesting field. Two ranked teams, Gonzaga and Butler, headline the tourney. Those teams played in the finals of the NIT last year, and the bracket is set up to allow a rematch. They are joined by teams with talent and questions - Michigan brings the new John Beilein system, Bobby Knight will take a break from the fishing he does in Alaska every year to see what his Texas Tech team has to offer, and Virginia Tech, Eastern Washington and Western Kentucky join host Alaska-Anchorage. The tournament starts Wednesday with the finals on Saturday.
Old Spice Classic - This tournament, which takes place at Disney World, is in its second year. Next year the field is fantastic, with Gonzaga, Memphis, Michigan State and others. This year it isn't as strong, but it will still be interesting. There are several teams full of potential, headlined by Michael Beasley and Kansas State. George Mason had an off year after their Final Four run in 2005, but they look to be much improved. Central Florida, North Carolina State, Penn State, South Carolina, Rider and especially Villanova are all teams that could pile up the wins if they can get their act together. The teams will all get three games, with the first two rounds taking place on Thursday and Friday, and the championship game tipping off Sunday night. George Mason and Kansas State meet up in the late game on Thursday in what should be a highlight of the tournament.
Anaheim Classic - This is the new kid on the block. Like the Old Spice Classic, this is not a single elimination tournament, so each of the eight teams are guaranteed three games. Unlike the Old Spice Classic, though, the field isn't particularly interesting unless you are a fan of the teams. The clear headliner is practically the hometown squad, the USC Trojans. This will be another chance to see if O.J. Mayo can live up to the impossible expectations set for him. Joining them are a bunch of potential interesting but flawed teams - Southern Illinois, Miami of Ohio, Mississippi State, UC-Irvine, San Diego, UT-Chattanooga, and South Alabama. USC plays San Diego in the last game on Thursday night, the second round goes Friday, and the finals are on Sunday.
Maui Invitational - This is another one of the old, established tournaments - it started in 1984. The eight-team showdown started on Monday night, and the first round basically went to form. The semi-finals are tonight, and the finals go on Wednesday. Marquette plays Oklahoma State and Duke plays Illinois. The Illini crushed Arizona State on Monday, but they will have their hands full with Duke. If the tournament keeps going to form then the Marquette-Duke final should be a very interesting game between two teams we will hear a lot more from before all is said and done this year.