Grading the field for every major college basketball early-season tournament and event

The college basketball season is set to get underway on Friday, and with it, a flurry of fun events from mid-November deep into December to break in the casual fan as the sport welcomes viewers slowly merging from college football season.

There are dozens of events and tournaments throughout the season, but 16 before the end of 2017-- headlined by the Phil Knight Invitational and the CBS Sports Classic -- make the list of my top can't-miss events. Here, we list them chronologically and handed out grades for each.

State Farm Champions Classic

Date: Nov. 14
Location: United Center, Chicago
Matchups: Duke vs. Michigan State, Kansas vs. Kentucky
Last year's champion: Kansas, Duke
Grade: A+
Comment: One of the best games of last season came in this tournament in 2016, when Kansas and Duke battled down to the wire. Frank-sanity began after Jayhawks senior Frank Mason buried a go-ahead jumper in the final seconds, while Kentucky rolled a young Michigan State team that was ravaged by a brutal early season schedule. Kentucky-Kansas and Duke-Michigan State is a matchup to die for in any year, and especially in 2017, when all four have legit national title hopes.

Maui Jim Maui Invitational

Date: Nov. 20
Location: Lahaina Civic Center, Maui, Hawaii
Matchups: Marquette vs. VCU, Wichita State vs. California, Notre Dame vs. Chaminade, Michigan vs. LSU
Last year's champion: North Carolina
Grade: B
Comment: Lot of story lines in this one, not the least of which is seeing how new American Athletic Conference member Wichita State fares in its first action against (fellow) big dogs in the regular season. VCU is replacing its head coach but should be solid, and both Notre Dame and Michigan are in good shape to be pretty good this season. The Shockers are the favorite here, but the Irish are pretty darn talented behind Bonzie Colson. We could see them play in the championship game.

CBE Hall of Fame Classic

Date: Nov. 20
Location: Sprint Center, Kansas City, Missouri
Matchups: Creighton vs. UCLA, Baylor vs. Wisconsin
Last year's champion: Kansas
Grade: C+
Comment: UCLA won't have Lonzo Ball, but it's got a great returning backcourt lead by Aaron Holiday and incoming freshman Jaylen Hands. The Bruins also could have Ball's brother, LiAngelo, pending what happens with his bizarre shoplifting case in China. They will be tested by an experienced Creighton team lead by leading returning scorer Marcus Foster. In the second semifinal game, Baylor and Manu Lecomte face a Wisconsin team buoyed by Ethan Happ. The Badgers don't have a lot of returning known commodities — will Greg Gard and the system win out over an unproven, yet highly talented, Baylor team?

Legends Classic

Date: Nov. 20
Location: Barclays Center, New York
Matchups: Penn State vs. Pittsburgh, Oklahoma State vs. Texas A&M
Last year's champion: Notre Dame
Grade: C
Comment: The field for the Legends Classic is appetizing enough, with Pitt-Penn State and Oklahoma State-Texas A&M. Outside of Texas A&M, however, none of the field projects as an early season NCAA Tournament team. But there's plenty of intriguing talent in this field, headlined by OSU's Jeffrey Carroll and Texas A&M's Robert Williams.

GCI Great Alaska Shootout

Date: Nov. 22
Location: Alaska Airlines Center, Anchorage, Alaska
Matchups: Cal Poly vs College of Charleston, Central Michigan vs Sam Houston State, Idaho vs Santa Clara, CSU Bakersfield vs Alaska Anchorage
Last year's champion: Iona
Grade: C+
Comment: A once-great tournament now gone by the wayside, the Great Alaska Shootout has an eight-team field headlined by CAA favorite College of Charleston. If you watch nothing more from this event, check out College of Charleston -- you're going to see them in the NCAAs in March, barring a major upset.

Bad Boy Mowers Battle 4 Atlantis

Date: Nov. 22
Location: Paradise Island, Bahamas
Matchups: Purdue vs. Tennessee, Villanova vs. Western Kentucky, NC State vs. Arizona, SMU vs. Northern Iowa
Last year's champion: Baylor
Grade: A
Comment: This is one of the best early season tourneys year-in and year-out, and 2017 should deliver once again on that notion. You've got Arizona, Villanova and Purdue -- three preseason top-20 teams -- all with a chance to potentially play one another. SMU, Western Kentucky, Tennessee, NC State and UNI round out a sneaky good field. I'd take Nova as the favorite assuming Arizona's Rawle Alkins is out with injury still, and I like UNI as a dark horse.

Advocare Invitational

Date: Nov. 23
Location: ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, Lake Buena Vista, Florida
Matchups: Missouri vs. Long Beach State, St. John's vs. Oregon State, UCF vs. Nebraska, West Virginia vs. Marist
Last year's champion: Gonzaga
Grade: C+
Comment: This will be a nice opportunity for hoops fans to get a look at some unicorns in action, starting in Game 1 when Missouri and Michael Porter Jr. take on Long Beach State, and followed up in Game 3 when 7-foot-6 big man Tacko Fall and his UCF squad takes on Nebraska. This will be appointment TV, regardless of whether you have a vested interest in the teams or not.

NIT Season Tip-off

Date: Nov. 23
Location: Barclays Center, New York
Matchups: Virginia vs. Vanderbilt, Rhode Island vs. Seton Hall
Last year's champion: Temple
Grade: A-
Comment: I'm in love with this field of teams. Rhode Island vs. Seton Hall is a matchup of stars in E.C. Matthews for the Rams and Angel Delgado for the Pirates; Virginia-Vandy should be a nice early season indicator as to how both teams should shape up in its respective conferences. All four should be headed to the NCAAs if they play to their projections in the preseason.

Phil Knight Invitational

Date: Nov. 23
Location: Portland, Oregon
Matchups: VICTORY BRACKET -- North Carolina vs. Portland, Arkansas vs. Oklahoma, Oregon vs. UConn, Michigan State vs. DePaul. MOTION BRACKET -- Portland State vs. Duke, Butler vs. Texas, Florida vs. Stanford, Ohio State vs. Gonzaga
Last year's champion: N/A
Grade: A+
Comment: This is the barn-burner you've waited for your entire college basketball fandom's life. As a celebration and tribute to company chairman Phil Knight on his 80th birthday, Nike is throwing a massive tournament with some of the best programs in the country. Joel Berry (UNC), Trae Young (Oklahoma) and Miles Bridges (Michigan State) are three of the big names you can expect to see in action for this one. Oh, and Marvin Bagley, Grayson Allen and Mo Bamba will also be here for this dual-bracket challenge broken up into the Victory Bracket and the Motion Bracket. (Please note Georgetown has been replaced by DePaul in the bracket below.)

Las Vegas Invitational

Date: Nov. 23
Location: Orleans Arena, Las Vegas
Matchups: George Washington vs. Xavier, Arizona State vs. Kansas State
Last year's champion: Butler
Grade: B-
Comment: This is traditionally a solid early-season tourney, and this season should be no different. Both Xavier and Arizona State project as NCAA Tournament teams, a matchup that could come to fruition in the title game. If the matchups don't entice you, the prospect of watching Xavier's all-everything Trevon Blueitt should be more than enough. He could be a contender for player of the year in the Big East.

Wooden Legacy

Date: Nov. 23
Location: Anaheim Convention Center, Anaheim, California
Matchups: Saint Mary's vs. Harvard, Saint Joseph's vs. Washington State, Georgia vs. Cal State Fullerton, San Diego State vs. Sacramento State
Last year's champion: UCLA
Grade: C
Comment: SEC preseason player of the year Yante Maten of Georgia is the name to watch in this year's field, and a close second is Saint Mary's big man Jock Landale. Both could be earning their paychecks from the NBA in the coming years, and both could meet in the championship game if all goes as expected which would make this a must-watch. The Gaels of Saint Mary's, the only team ranked in the field entering the season, are the favorite in this one.

Emerald Coast Classic

Date: Nov. 24

Location: Northwest Florida State College, Niceville, Florida

Matchups: Tennessee Tech vs. Omaha, Maryland Eastern Shore vs. Jackson State, New Mexico vs. TCU, St. Bonaventure vs. Maryland

Last year's champion: Virginia

Grade: C+

Comment: A top-heavy field this season headlined by TCU, St. Bonaventure and Maryland make this tourney a must-watch. St. Bonaventure vs. Maryland in the third round is a legitimate toss-up, and an early look at TCU - a trendy pick to finish in the top tier of the Big 12 - will be well worth your time. Coming off an NIT championship last season, Jamie Dixon's Horned Frogs are primed to make a leap in 2017 and might be good enough to win this event behind sophomore guard Jaylen Fisher and senior big man Vladimir Brodziansky.

Hoop Hall Miami Invitational

Date: Dec. 2
Location: American Airlines Arena in Miami
Matchups: Kansas vs. Syracuse, Miami vs. Princeton
Last year's champion: N/A
Grade: C
Comment: There are a number of Hoop Hall events, due to it being "exempt," as my colleague Matt Norlander explains, meaning you will see teams participating in several of them because it is not a true tournament format. But the best of them is the Dec. 2 showing between KU-Syracuse and Miami-Princeton. If only it was a tourney format, KU-Miami would be tasty.

Jimmy V. Classic

Date: Dec. 5
Location: Madison Square Garden, New York
Matchups: Gonzaga vs. Villanova, Syracuse vs. UConn
Last year's champion: Duke over Florida, Purdue over Arizona State
Grade: B+
Comment: Can't ask for much more in this classic tournament at a classic venue than Gonzaga-Villanova, two modern college hoops powers who will tip off this event in Game 1. It's followed up by a Syracuse-UConn matchup in what is sure to have a nice nostalgic feeling in a rivalry that goes back to the 1950s.

Crossroads Classic

Date: Dec. 16
Location: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis
Matchups: Purdue vs. Butler, Indiana vs. Notre Dame
Last year's champion: Purdue over Notre Dame, Butler over Indiana
Grade: A-
Comment: This is the epicenter of college basketball in Indiana. Four of the best in the great state square off in this epic Crossroads Classic. Butler's only lost once since the event began in 2011, meanwhile Purdue's only won once. On the other side, Indiana and Archie Miller face a battle-tested Notre Dame squad that features one of the top players in the country in Bonzie Colson.

Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic

Date: Dec. 22
Location: Stan Sheriff Center, Honolulu
Matchups: Middle Tennessee vs. Princeton, Southern California vs. Akron, Davidson vs. New Mexico State, Miami vs. Hawaii
Last year's champion: San Diego State
Grade: B+
Comment: The field this season is tenfold more entertaining than last season, with Miami, USC and MTSU the top teams to watch here. USC might give Arizona a legit run for the Pac-12 title, Miami could make waves in the ACC, and MTSU is probably going to be the best team in the Conference USA because Giddy Potts is incredible.

CBS Sports Classic

Date: Dec. 23
Location: Smoothie King Center, New Orleans
Matchups: Ohio State vs. North Carolina, UCLA vs. Kentucky
Last year's champion: Kentucky over UNC, UCLA over Ohio State
Grade: A
Comment: It's going to be next-to-impossible to top an epic 103-100 thriller we saw from Kentucky and UNC last season, but the field is absolutely as intriguing with reigning national champion North Carolina as the headliner set to take on Chris Holtmann in his first season as the Ohio State coach. UCLA-Kentucky should be interesting, too -- a Sweet 16 rematch won by the Wildcats in March.

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