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College Basketball Preview: Ranking the November tourneys

By Matt Norlander | College Basketball Writer

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.

Grade: A+

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.

Grade: A

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.

Grade: A

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.

Grade: A-

5. Hall of Fame Tip-Off

When: Nov. 11-20; Nov. 23, 24

Where: Finals held at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.

Who: Louisville, North Carolina, Richmond, Belmont, Fairfield, Hartford, Hofstra, Holy Cross

Last year's ranking: N/R

Thoughts: When you've got two big-time programs, you've done your job as an early season event. On Nov. 23, North Carolina plays Richmond (noon, ESPN3) and Louisville goes up against Fairfield (approx 2:30 p.m., ESPN3). The title game will be the next day, on Nov. 24, at 1 p.m. on ESPN. UNC and Louisville will likely play each other on Nov. 24, offering up what could be a very good game. We STILL don't know if P.J. Hairston will play in this game or not.

Grade: B+

6. Maui Invitational

When: Nov. 15-19, Nov. 23-27

Where: Finals held at Lahaina Civic Center, Maui

Who: Syracuse, Gonzaga, Baylor, Arkansas, California, Chaminade, Dayton, Minnesota, Coastal Carolina, Louisiana, Oakland, St. Francis (N.Y.)

Last year's ranking: No. 2

Thoughts: As always, a good field with at least two Sweet 16-worthy teams. This year, Baylor could make for three. Even Cal and Dayton are set for solid seasons in their respective leagues. I enjoy Maui when it provides a few answers about teams, and I think it can and will do that. Random: Dayton is in this field for the first time since 2003, when it surprised everybody and won the event that year. The Maui Invitational is also celebrating 30 years with this tournament. Love it. And remember, this event also has remote matchups and games that take place on the mainland. Oakland, Louisiana-Lafayette, St. Francis (N.Y.) and Coastal Carolina will get in games against the big boys in the lead-up to the main event.

Grade: B+

7. 2K Sports Classic

When: Nov. 12-17; Nov. 21-24

Where: Finals held at Madison Square Garden

Who: UConn, Indiana, Washington, Boston College, Boston University, LIU-Brooklyn, UC Irvine, Detroit, Eastern Washington, Florida Atlantic, Stony Brook, Toledo

Last year's ranking: No. 6

Thoughts: Really solid field here, and it's a loaded one due to how many teams are actually involved. Part of that is because the 2K also raises money for the Wounded Warrior Project. The exempted finalist's for this year's field are Indiana, Washington, UConn and Boston College. The Nov. 21 games are UConn vs. Boston College and Indiana vs. Washington. The title and consolation games will be played Nov. 22, with the field filling up its contractual obligations between smaller teams on Nov. 23 and 24.

UConn-Boston College marks the first time those programs have played each other since BC left for the ACC a decade ago. A fracture between the two schools became cavernous and, though it has dwindled in recent years to a degree, it still exists. MSG will be a fun venue that night. The fans of the respective teams absolutely detest each other. A real, visceral northeast kind of hatred. The other game is just plain good. Indiana is a little down from last year, and Washington, I'd think, will be a little up. Nigel Williams-Goss is the U-Dub player to watch for.

Grade: B+

8. Wooden Legacy

When: Nov. 18, 25, 28, 29, Dec. 1

Where: Finals held at Honda Center, Anaheim, Calif.

Who: Marquette, Creighton, Arizona State, San Diego State, Miami, George Washington, Cal State Fullerton, College of Charleston

Last year's ranking: No. 11

Thoughts: This is a "new" event, so to speak. The Wooden Legacy was recreated from two other events -- the Wooden Classic and Anaheim Classic -- to get an eight-team field playing in two spots in southern California. On Nov. 28 and 29, teams will play in Fullerton, Calif.; on Dec. 1, the Honda Center in Anaheim hosts the championship. Most looking forward to Creighton vs. Arizona State, which could feature two players (Doug McDermott and Jahii Carson) that end up as First Team All-Americans. Elsewhere, Marquette's again going to be tournament-worthy, and San Diego State will be no slouch.

Grade: B

9. NIT Season Tip-Off

When: Nov. 18, 19, 27, 29

Where: Finals held at Madison Square Garden

Who: Duke, Arizona, Alabama, Rutgers, Rhode Island, Drexel, Elon, Fairleigh Dickinson, Georgia State, Canisius, UNC Asheville, McNeese State, East Carolina, Norfolk State, Stillman College, Metro State

Last year's ranking: No. 5

Thoughts: Always love this tournament for the fact it's not an exempt. You have to win your way to New York City. And getting Duke and Arizona is a coup, should both get to Manhattan -- and it's hard to see that not happening. Based off that potential, this one gets a nice boost, even if the NIT had to dip into a couple of non-Division I teams to complete its field.

Grade: B

10. Charleston Classic

When: Nov. 21, 22, 24

Where: TD Arena in Charleston, S.C.

Who: New Mexico, UMass, Temple, Georgia, Davidson, Nebraska, UAB, Clemson

Last year's ranking: N/R

Thoughts: This is a sturdy field. No one too dominating, but not a clunker in the bunch. I think UMass can make a Sweet 16, and UNM, Temple and Davidson are all NCAA tournament-worthy teams as of now. Nebraska, UAB and Georgia: all teams who should be better this season. Above all, I'm rooting for UMass-Temple to play each other. They're now no longer Atlantic 10 foes, so anything that causes the two to play, I'm all for it.

Grade: B

11. Las Vegas Invitational

When: Nov. 22-25; Nov. 28, 29

Where: Finals held at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas

Who: UCLA, Missouri, Nevada, Northwestern, Chattanooga, Gardner-Webb, IUPUI, Morehead State

Last year's ranking: No. 9

Thoughts: This exempt event will place UCLA vs. Nevada and Missouri vs. Northwestern on Nov. 28. Nov. 29 will see the teams swap opponents: Mizzou plays Nevada, UCLA plays Chris Collins' new Northwestern squad. UCLA vs. Missouri is the game that we deserve, and it's the matchup that we won't see -- because the teams are already scheduled to play later in the season. Decent four-team field. UCLA and Northwestern have new coaches. Frank Haith's Missouri team is moving on without Phil Pressey, Laurence Bowers, Alex Oriakhi and Keion Bell. Intrigue trumps all here.

Grade: B-

12. Legends Classic

When: Nov. 17-21; Nov. 25, 26

Where: Finals held at Barclays Center, Brooklyn

Who: Pittsburgh, Texas Tech, Stanford, Houston, Howard, Lehigh, South Dakota State, Texas Southern

Last year's ranking: No. 4

Thoughts: This is the seventh time the Legends Classic will be played. It's the second straight year it's being held in Brooklyn. Pittsburgh vs. Texas Tech and Stanford vs. Houston are the games on Nov. 25, the winners playing for the title the next day. Not an enticing field, but at least Stanford and Pittsburgh are possible NCAA tournament teams. Stanford has who could become the most underrated point guard in the nation in Chasson Randle.

Grade: C+

 
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