Over the last couple of days, ESPN has released the fields and matchups for this year's holiday basketball tournaments. The full press release for ESPN-owned events is here, but there's more to all of these events than just initial matchups.
Here are 10 things that stood out to me when I combed through the event brackets:
1. The Charleston Classic has "one of those games" between UMass and Nebraska that could go a long way toward determining both teams' seasons. Nebraska has a new arena and new enthusiasm under Tim Miles. Massachusetts has the talent to do some damage in a weakened-but-still-very-competitive Atlantic 10. For both, the push for the NCAAs has to start in nonleague play, and the difference between winning this game and getting into the winners' bracket and losing it could be considerable. The winner probably draws Mountain West favorite New Mexico and a third good game. The loser sees a hole blown in its nonconference RPI. This is a prime example of a game that makes it hard to properly balance a schedule.
2. VCU has a major chance to bulk up its resume in Puerto Rico. The Rams open that event with Florida State, which won't be a walkover, and then could very well get an NCAA tournament rematch with Michigan in the semis. Georgetown lurks on the other side of the bracket. If the Rams are ready to go, they could notch some quality wins that will help carry through to March in terms of seeding and/or selection.
3. Creighton versus Arizona State in the Wooden Legacy quarters? At 11 p.m. ET on Thanksgiving night? If you can fight off the tryptophan, I guess that's a nice post-NFL tripleheader dessert, but despite the presence of Marquette and San Diego State, that could end up pitting the event's two best teams in the opening round. Like the Nebraska/UMass scenario, the winner gets itself a solid neutral-site W and some more good games.
4. The best Old Spice Classic game may very well happen before the full event even starts when Memphis visits Oklahoma State. Saint Joe's-LSU could be billed as a "Do we need to buy into either of you?" quarterfinal, but this isn't a tremendous field overall. Maybe Butler can be frisky.
5. The Diamond Head Classic is one of the sneaky best tournaments this year. Lots of uptempo teams and no obvious best teams in the field. Anyone up for an Iowa State-Boise State final on Christmas night? It's not last year's Arizona-San Diego State classic, but it would be really fun.
6. The Maui Invitational has a chance to be really good, with a potential Baylor-Gonzaga semifinal and Syracuse lurking in the other side of the bracket, meaning a great final is on the offing, too. Could Dayton pull the quarterfinal upset of the Zags and mess things up in a good way for their NCAA hopes?
7. It's somewhat weird to see Wichita State as the clear favorite in a four-team event that includes Texas, but that's the reality. The final of the CBE Hall of Fame Classic should be the Shockers vs BYU.
8. Richmond's Chris Mooney is one of the nicest guys around, even as a Princetonian [/PennGrad'd], but I would kindly ask him not to upset North Carolina so we can see the Heels and Louisville at Mohegan Sun in November's Hall of Fame Tip-off final. Nothing personal, Spiders fans, but college hoops needs as many heavyweight nonleague games as possible, even if the Heels may be a decent-sized underdog against the defending champs.
9. The Great Alaska Shootout, marginalized by ESPN's growing control of holiday tournaments, remains the longest-running Thanksgiving college event and one I enjoy peeking in on. However, the decision to match Harvard and Denver, very possibly the two best teams in the event, in a quarterfinal is odd. 10. Last but absolutely not least, the NIT season tip-off includes Duke and Arizona as regional hosts, with a very strong likelihood that those teams would meet in a monster final on the Friday of Thanksgiving week at Madison Square Garden. Hey, I'll be on Long Island that week, too. Yes, please.