Connor's NCAA Hoops Preview: The Top Five Classics, Invitationals, and Tip-Offs

All throughout the weekend here on BTD I will be focusing on previewing the college basketball season. Today: A Look at the Top Five Early-Season Events. Enjoy!

5. Carrier Classic

This classic takes place on November 11th in San Diego, California between Michigan State and North Carolina. The game was designed as a tribute to the US Navy on Veterans Day, but it also got a pair of top twenty teams to play in the game, making this is a must-see for everyone around the nation. The game will be televised on ESPN and will take place on the USS Carl Vinson. The Spartans come into the season ranked #19 in the Rivals.com preseason poll, but a win here would jump them into the top five and make them a serious final four candidate with forward Draymond Green leading the way.  

North Carolina comes in ranked third in the nation and for good reason. The Heels return forwards Harrison Barnes, John Henson, and Tyler Zeller, giving them by far the best front line in the nation. They also signed two five-star prospects in James McAdoo and P.J. Hairston, the ladder of which will be counted on early and often this season for a team that struggled from three-point land last year.

I expect this one to be tight all the way through with North Carolina pulling away in the final few minutes. In the end, Carolina is just simply more talented and deeper than the Spartans and they will prove that down the stretch.

Prediction: North Carolina 82, Michigan State 75

4. Orange Bowl Classic

This classic takes place on December 17th in Sunrise, Florida. There will be a doubleheader of action, with the first game featuring Miami (Florida) and Florida Atlantic. For the first time in a while in Coral Gables there are some big expectations for the basketball team, and for good reason.

The Hurricanes hired former George Mason head coach Jim Larranaga after Frank Haith left the Canes to take the job at Missouri, and Larranaga will be welcomed by two of the best guards in the ACC, Malcolm Grant and Durand Scott. Grant and Scott both averaged in double-figures for points last year. Florida Atlantic will be no pushover either though, as the Owls return four of their starters from last season's NIT club. In the end, I expect Miami to win this one, but don't be surprised if the Owls pull off the upset

Prediction: Miami (Florida) 70, Florida Atlantic 63 

The second game of the doubleheader is the feature, pitting #11 Florida against #13 Texas A&M. The Gators are incredibly talented this year despite the loss of power forward Chandler Parsons. The only problem is that they are very young, which could lead to a slow start. I like this Aggies team a lot. They return their top two scorers from last year, Khris Middleton and David Loubeau, and they also add Washington transfer Elston Turner at guard, traditionally a thin position for them.

While both of these teams have talented scorers, this will be a defensive battle. For some reason, I just love this Texas A&M team and I think they pull out an overtime victory against a future conference-rival.

Prediction: Texas A&M 67, Florida 66

3. Puerto Rico Tip-Off

This tournament takes place on November 17-20 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Alabama, Colorado, Iona, Maryland, Purdue, Temple, Western Michigan, and Wichita State are in this year's field. All games will be televised on the ESPN Family of Networks.

Best Set Matchup - Maryland vs Alabama (Nov. 17, 2:00 PM PT, ESPN2)

Many people around the country are predicting the Terripans to struggle this season in the first year of the Mark Turgeon era. They will most likely be right, but Maryland can prove everyone wrong with a win over the #18 Crimson Tide in this one. However, Alabama is going to be tough to stop this year with do-everything forward JaMychal Green back for his senior season. In the end, I think the Alabama offense comes alive and takes advantage of a weak Maryland defense. Both teams will put up points, but I'm picking Alabama for a 71-64 victory.

Best Potential Matchup - Temple vs Alabama

This would most likely be the championship game of the tournament, pitting the 14th ranked Owls and the aforementioned Crimson Tide. Temple brings in one of the most balanced attacks in the nation with Ramone Moore and Juan Fernandez at guard and Michael Eric down low. Because of this balance and Alabama's off-and-on struggles from three-point land, I'm taking Temple with a 77-67 win.

PREDICTIONS

Champion - Temple
Runner Up - Alabama
Third Place - Purdue


Click the jump for a look at the top two early-season events

2. Maui Invitational

This tournament takes place on November 11-23 at different sites across the nation. Chaminade, Belmont, Duke, Georgia, Kansas, Memphis, Michigan, Middle Tennessee, Tennessee, Towson, and UNC-Greensboro are in this year's field. 15 out of the 23 games will be televised on the ESPN Family of Networks.

Best Set Matchup - Michigan vs Memphis (Nov. 21, 12:00 PM PT, ESPN2)

A Top 20 matchup to start the Championship round? Yes please. Tim HardawayJr. leads a balance Wolverine attack, but you can't beat the balance and experience of the Tigers roster. Memphis returns everyone from last season's team with the exception of starting center Will Coleman. Leading the Tigers into Maui will be forwards Tarik Black and Wesley Witherspoon, who are both very big and should lead Memphis in points all year. In the end, I like the experience that Memphis brings to the table, along with their big men. I'm taking the Tigers for a 78-73 win.

Best Potential Matchup - Duke vs Memphis

This will most likely be the first semifinal of the tournament, pitting the 6tth ranked Blue Devils against #9 Memphis. The Blue Devils graduated/lost Kyrie Erving, Kyle Singler, and Nolan Smith from last year's club, but Mike Krzyzewski has reloaded the roster and made Duke into a final four contender this year. Guard Austin Rivers is no doubt the preseason freshman of the year in the NCAA's, and Mason Plumee will balance out the Dukies offense with his size down low.

This will definitely be a team to reckon with come March, but in November, I think they will still be working out a lot of kinks. They have no doubt planned for this by scheduling two exhibition games, not to mention their four game summer tour and "Countdown to Craziness last week. Still, the Chinese Olympic Team and Bellarmine University are no Memphis, and I think the Tigers are able to sneak into the championship with a 70-71 upset.

PREDICTIONS

Champion - Memphis
Runner Up - Kansas
Third Place - Duke

1. Champions Classic

This classic takes place on November 17th in New York City, New York. There will be a doubleheader of action, with the first game featuring Duke and Michigan State. We've already looked at both of these teams today, but to recap:

  • Duke may be young, but they are incredibly talented. I think they will struggle early in the year, but will no doubt be a final four contender come March.
  • Michigan State is led by Draymond Green, a versatile forward that is the focal point of the Spartan offense.

This should be a great game. Like I said, Duke may struggle early in the year, but they just have too much talent to lose to Michigan State. Green is a great player, but he will need a lot of help from his guards on both offense and defense if the Spartans are to pull the upset here.

Prediction: Duke 74, Michigan State 62

While Duke-MSU is an incredible appetizer, the main course is even tastier; Kentucky vs Kansas. The Wildcats are my preseason favorite to win it all as no one in the nation can match their depth. Terrence Jones returns from the Wildcats, but the real story is in their recruiting class. Four five-stars will make their way into Lexington this season, including Anthony Davis, Mike Gilchrist, Marquis Teague, and Kyle Wiltjer.

On the other side of the court are the Jayhawks, who despite being depleted by graduation and early departures, still have high expectations for the 2011-2012 year. They are led by guard Tyshawn Taylor, who is the only returning starter on this year's team. They will also rely on Loyola Marymount transfer Kevin Young and freshman Ben McLemore to fill in the big shoes of Marcus Morris and Tyrel Reed at forward and guard, respectively.

In the end, I don't see how Kentucky loses this game. It's actually tough to see the Wildcats losing more than a couple games all year, especially against a young and inexperienced Kansas club early in the year.

Prediction: Kentucky 70, Kansas 65

--Connor

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