November Madness: Ranking the top five early-season college basketball tournaments

With the season's opening week in the books, it is time to look ahead. With conference challenges and major non-conference tilts on the horizon, there are a number of great early season tournaments to get excited about as well. Whether the tournaments consist of top-ranked teams, up-and-coming teams, or high-level mid-major programs, November is set to be an exciting month.

If you are only able to catch a few of these tournaments, here are the top five to look out for. To make this list, there needed to be an eventual champion crowned. For example, the Champions Classic is just the two games on November 5. There is no bracket or champion. But here are the top five bracketed tournaments in the early season. 

1. Bad Boy Mowers Battle for Atlantis

November 27-29, 2019

First-round Games

What makes this exciting?
Everything. There are four teams in the AP Top 25, in North Carolina, Gonzaga, Seton Hall, and Oregon participating in this tournament, as well as three new coaches in Juwan Howard at Michigan, Jay Ladner at Southern Miss and Nate Oats at Alabama. There are a number of future first-round draft picks here, including that possible No. 1 pick in next year's NBA Draft, Cole Anthony of North Carolina.

Best First-Round Game
Seton Hall vs. Oregon: There was a temptation to look at UNC vs. Alabama here, but teams like Seton Hall and Oregon don't get together often. Two teams that are among the favorites in their respective conferences, highlighted by Seton Hall's Myles Powell, whose status is up in the air with an ankle injury, but is one of the country's best players and pure scorers. The Ducks counter with senior guard, Peyton Pritchard and a top-5 recruiting class, led by five-star freshmen, N'Faly Dante and CJ Walker.

Who wins? 
One may argue that there could be five or even six teams capable of winning this tournament. I think we will see a rematch of the 2017 national championship game, with UNC taking on Gonzaga. UNC is young and electric, and this could be Anthony's first chance to show the country how good he can be. Gonzaga is coming off a disappointing loss in the Elite Eight last year to Texas Tech, but has reloaded and is led by one of the country's best shooting big men in Killian Tillie, who hopes to return soon from knee surgery last month. While I believe the rematch will occur, the result will be different. Predicted champion: Gonzaga

2. Maui Jim Maui Invitational

November 25-27, 2019

First-round games

What makes this exciting?
Having two of the top-five teams in the country on hand in Michigan State and Kansas should be enough to make this an exciting tournament to watch. Beyond that, we will see two new head coaches in Mike Young at Virginia Tech and Mick Cronin at UCLA in action. The tournament also features four teams that are looking to get back to the NCAA Tournament in Dayon, Georgia, UCLA, and BYU. They happen to matchup against each other in two huge early season tilts.

Best first-round game: 
UCLA vs. BYU: When Yoeli Childs decided to return to BYU last spring, it immediately catapulted the Cougars to being a team to watch this season. The senior forward averaged 21.2 points and 9.7 rebounds last season, for a team that finished third in the West Coast Conference, behind NCAA Tournament teams, Gonzaga and St. Mary's. A new era begins in Westwood, as Cronin takes over as the team's head coach. After going 17-16 last season, the Bruins have a tremendous opportunity to start their non-conference off on a big note, with games against BYU and potentially Kansas and Michigan State.

Who wins? 
I'm going with an upset here. Not so much in the eventual winner, but in the runner-up. Georgia's Anthony Edwards is an NBA-level talent and will be a game changer for Tom Crean and the Bulldogs. This tournament is one of the most well-known early season tournaments in the country, and has been for quite some time. If Georgia gets by Dayton, which is no easy task, they have what it takes to pull the upset over Michigan State. On the other side, Bill Self and the Jayhawks seem to have the easier road to the championship game, and they are deep and talented. Devon Dotson, Udoka Azubuike, Silvio de Sousa, and company, will be too much for a Georgia team coming off an emotional high of an upset. Predicted champion: Kansas

3. Charleston Classic

November 21-24, 2019

First-round matchups:

What makes this exciting?
This tournament has a little bit of everything. A clear national championship contender in Florida, a talented, veteran team in Xavier, two high-level programs looking to return to the heights of the national stage in Miami and UConn, and a quality mid-major program in Missouri State. Florida is the class of this tournament. There's no doubt about that, but there are several teams that are capable of stringing a great three days together and walking away with a championship.

Best first-round matchup
Buffalo vs. Connecticut: This game is tough to predict and, of course, the Hurley connection to this game can't be understated. While Dan Hurley is the current coach of the Huskies, we can recall the brief, yet successful stint that his brother Bobby had at Buffalo. The Bulls welcome in a new head coach, as Jim Whitesell takes over for Nate Oats. Buffalo trounced Arizona State in the first round of last year's NCAA Tournament before falling to eventual runner-up, Texas Tech. While winning the MAC again and making noise in the NCAA Tournament may be a tough task for the Bulls, they still have a ton of talent and will give UConn everything they can handle, and more.

Hurley is looking to get UConn back to national prominence, and eventually, back to national dominance. Many believe this Husky team will be squarely on the bubble come March. Losing to a Buffalo team that may not even win their conference, could damage that bubble early. The Huskies will return to the Big East next season, but for now, they remain in the American. While the American boasts strong programs and the potential for resume-building wins in Cincinnati, Houston, and Memphis, it still isn't the Big East. The Huskies need this one. If they get it, they will likely get their shot at Xavier.

Who wins?
If there's a team that can crash the potential Florida-Xavier party in the final, it's likely to be UConn. Dan Hurley would love to play that role. That said, it isn't going to happen. Florida is too talented in the top part of this bracket. Kerry Blackshear Jr. and Andrew Nembhard, join top-100 freshmen, Scottie Lewis, Tre Mann, and Omar Payne, for what could be an exciting and explosive Mike White led Gator team.They will be challenged, but won't slip up.  

On the bottom side of the bracket, it's hard for me to bet against Travis Steele and this Xavier team. Led by veteran forward Naji Marshall, Xavier returns three other starters to go along with immediately impactful graduate transfers, Jason Carter and Bryce Moore. The Musketeers have their critics, but I think this is a team that could win the Big East. 

The Florida-Xaiver collision course is likely to occur here. I'll go with the Gators. Too talented, too deep, too good. Predicted champion: Florida

4. Empire Classic

November 21-22, 2019

First-round matchups

What makes this exciting?
The Duke freshmen class will be on full display here, as Vernon Carey Jr., Matthew Hurt, Wendell Moore and Cassius Stanley will play at Madison Square Garden for the second time in the month of November. Along with that terrific group of freshmen, the Blue Devils return one of the best point guards in the country in Tre Jones. Texas boasts three top-100 freshmen of their own in Will Baker, Kai Jones and Donovan Williams, while Georgetown looks to sophomore sensations Mac McClung and James Akinjo in an attempt to pick up two huge, early season wins, and a championship trophy.

This classic also boasts great coaches as Shaka Smart, Patrick Ewing, and first-year California coach Mark Fox, join one of the best coaches of all-time in Mike Krzyzewski

Best first-round matchup
Texas vs. Georgetown: Both of these teams are relatively young, but extremely talented. I'm all in on the Shaka Smart vs. Patrick Ewing coaching matchup on the sideline as well. Georgetown might be the Big East's biggest sleeper team, in a conference that is one of the nation's best. Ewing will try and get the Hoyas back to the NCAA Tournament in his third year at the helm. 

The seat is a bit hotter for Smart and the Longhorns. Smart has led Texas to the tournament twice in four years, but missed it last year, a year in which they went on to win the NIT. This is a huge early season tilt for both teams, as come March, we could be talking about both Texas and Georgetown being on the bubble. Big one for both, but much bigger for Smart and the Longhorns.

Who wins?
Duke is the most talented team here, by far, and Coach K loves the early season back-to-back games at The Garden. Duke will beat a tough and rejuvenated Ewing-led Hoyas team in the final. Predicted champion: Duke

5. Orlando Invitational

November 28-December 1, 2019

First-round matchups

What makes this exciting?
For me, there are a few teams here for which I just don't know what to expect. How good will Marquette and USC actually be this season? Is Maryland a legitimate national championship contender? Or are they simply a Sweet 16 team? Could Davidson or Harvard be this year's Loyola-Chicago and get all the way to the Final Four in Atlanta? There are a number of storylines that are intriguing to me about this tournament. There is no easy path to a championship in this one. Great players, tremendous coaches, impact freshmen, and high-level mid-major programs make this tournament a must-watch.

Best first-round matchup
Texas A&M vs. Harvard: Buzz Williams is one of my favorite coaches to watch, but that's not why I selected this game. It's going to be difficult for Williams and the Aggies to get back to the NCAA Tournament this year as currently constructed, but history tells us that it won't be long before they are back and contending near the top of the SEC. This game is intriguing, because Harvard should be the clear favorite here. Bryce Aiken returns for Tommy Amaker's squad, and they should also have Seth Towns back fully healthy. In the late summer, I wrote about this Harvard team, as being one that didn't make the tournament last year, but could make a run to the Final Four this season. While that may be a stretch, believing that the Crimson could make a deep run in March may not be. If they get past the Aggies, a likely matchup with Maryland awaits.

Who wins?
The temptation to pick Harvard to win this tournament is high, but I can't do it. Maryland is extremely talented, and the fact that they will get a tough run in the opener against Temple is a very good thing for this Maryland team. They should get by both Temple and either the Aggies or the Crimson to get to the final. On the other side of the bracket, the most dangerous team might just be Davidson. That said, USC might be the most talented. I'm taking USC to get to the final and go up against Maryland, with the Terps taking home the crown. Predicted champion: Maryland

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