By Matt Norlander
The Battle 4 Atlantis is now on par with any exempt tourney out there, including Maui. (USATSI)The Battle 4 Atlantis is now on par with any exempt tourney out there, including Maui. (USATSI)
With all of our team and player and conference previews laid before you, now comes the time — with the start of the season just hours away! — to look ahead to the games we want to see most. On Monday, my colleague, Gary Parrish, gave you the best regular-season games to watch before Jan. 1. Do check out that list and plan your life accordingly.
Another aspect I love about college hoops: Its November/start of the season has gotten better and better in the past 10 years. College basketball’s myriad tournaments this month give the sport a true boasting point: We have the best start and finish of any major American sport. With all of these November events, more and more quality teams are playing each other, giving us all the more reason to tune and start paying attention early.
So with that in mind, here are the 12 best November multi-team events in college basketball. I’ve ranked these exempt events in the past few years, and this time, for comparison’s sake, I’m showing where an event falls on the list this year compared to where it was last season.
1. Champions Classic
When: Nov. 12
Where: United Center, Chicago
Who: Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan State
Last year’s ranking: Unranked due to my own silly stipulations. No more!
Thoughts: In my estimation, the best multi-team regular-season event in the history of college basketball. It’s that good. Kentucky vs Michigan State will give us the earliest No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup (AP rankings) in the history of college basketball. Oh, yeah, and the other game features Andrew Wiggins vs. Jabari Parker, who could possibly go on to be the two best players in the sport this year. These four blueblood programs have never been this good as a group at once, and the Champions pits them against each other. Perfect confluence for college basketball. It’s the best sporting event on the calendar outside of Thanksgiving football in the month of November.
2. Battle 4 Atlantis
When: Nov. 17-25; Nov. 28-30
Where: The Bahamas
Who: Kansas, Tennessee, Villanova, Iowa, USC, UTEP, Xavier, Wake Forest, Abilene Christian, The Citadel, Towson, West Alabama Tigers (D-II)
Last year’s ranking: No. 1
Thoughts: What can you say? This field every year is now one of the best in the sport, and it’s now a legitimate rival to the Maui Invitational, which for about 15 years was far and away the best November event in hoops. This competition is good for college basketball, which can use all the good teams playing each other it can get for the first few weeks. This year’s Atlantis event boasts Andrew Wiggins, but looking beyond Kansas, Tennessee, ‘Nova, Iowa and Xavier are all good enough to be playing in the big boy bracket come March. USC has the Andy Enfield factor now. Good field, and Kansas is no guarantee to win it, though it’ll be favored of course.
3. Puerto Rico Tipoff
When: Nov. 17, 21, 22, 24
Where: Finals at Coliseo Robert Clemente
Who: Michigan, VCU, Georgetown, Kansas State, Florida State, Northeastern, Long Beach State, Charlotte
Last year’s ranking: No. 3
Thoughts: Puerto Rico has done it again, and is sneakily becoming one of the most reliable exempt tourneys. A solid bracket, one that features three teams with Final Four dreams. (Georgetown now included since Josh Smith is going to be playing this season.) Michigan will still be a very good team, even without Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. VCU will have the defense once again. Florida State should be better than last year, when it was the biggest underachiever in college hoops. Those four alone make the event pretty solid, then throw in K-State, Charlotte, Northeastern and Long Beach State, all of whom are legitimate within their own leagues, and you’ve got a pretty great field here.
4. Old Spice Classic
When: Nov. 19, 24; Nov. 28, 29, Dec. 1
Where: Finals held at Disney World’s HP Field House
Who: Memphis, Oklahoma State, Butler, LSU, St. Joseph’s Purdue, Siena, Washington State
Last year’s ranking: No. 7
Thoughts: The Old Spice is usually fairly solid. Oklahoma State is the best team in the field, and I always welcome the opportunity to watch Marcus Smart. Memphis is usually a hoot in November, and the Tigers have what I think is the best/deepest selection of guards in the naiton. Butler will be worth tuning in for out of post Brad Stevens curiosity, but the Bulldogs won’t be too good. LSU is the sleeper pick to make the final.