On Tuesday and Wednesday, ESPN revealed the draws for most of next season's premier holiday tournaments. Now that the matchups are set, here's some initial thoughts, from the best and worst draws, to the most intriguing tournament, to the most appealing potential title game:
Most difficult draw: Missouri (Maui Invitational)
The departure of high-scoring guards Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson diminished Missouri's hopes for a special season, but the Tigers still probably aren't the weakest non-Chaminade team in the field. Therefore they cannot be thrilled about drawing tournament favorite and likely preseason top-three Arizona in the quarterfinals of the Maui Invitational. The intrigue will remain high in the next round for a Missouri team with five scholarship freshmen and four sophomores. The Tigers will either draw onetime Big 12 foe Kansas State or a Purdue team coached by former Missouri coaching target Matt Painter.
Most favorable draw: Washington (Wooden Legacy)
Either Lorenzo Romar called in a favor or Wooden Legacy organizers have a more favorable opinion of next year's Washington team than I do. How else would you explain the Huskies drawing the weakest quarterfinal opponent, San Jose State, which went 1-17 in the Mountain West last season? Or landing in the opposite side of the bracket as the other two strongest teams in the tournament, Conference USA favorite UTEP and Big East contender Xavier? Washington boasts a strong backcourt led by point guard Nigel Williams-Goss and wing Andrew Andrews. If Robert Upshaw and Jernard Jarreau can provide consistent interior play, there's no reason the Huskies shouldn't blow through San Jose State, get past Western Michigan or Long Beach State and at least make an appearance in the title game.
Most appealing potential title game, part I: Wisconsin-North Carolina (Battle 4 Atlantis)
This tournament is so ridiculously stacked that any combination of Florida, Wisconsin, North Carolina, UCLA or Oklahoma would probably make this list, but a showdown between the Badgers and Tar Heels might be the most appealing option. Both teams will begin the season in the top 10 in the polls, both have All-American candidates in Marcus Paige, Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker and then there's the history element. Folks at Wisconsin still haven't forgotten the jab Roy Williams took at Dick Bennett's deliberate style the year after Michigan State beat the Badgers at the 2000 Final Four in an ugly game that was 19-17 at halftime. Ex-Wisconsin athletic director Pat Richter tore into Williams three years ago in a radio interview, insisting Williams is afraid to come to Wisconsin in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge because "he's afraid the people are going to boo him."
Most appealing potential title game, part II: Kansas-Michigan State (Orlando Classic)
If the Orlando Classic were a novel, there's a good chance most of us would skip ahead to the ending. Yes, revamped Tennessee and Marquette could provide some intrigue and yes, Rhode Island is talented enough to put a scare into someone, but Kansas and Michigan State are the class of this field. Should both advance to the title game it would be a fun heavyweight showdown, albeit not a rare one since both have met at the Champion's Classic of late. Kansas boasts a top-five team highlighted by returners Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis and freshmen Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre, but the Jayhawks have questions at point guard. Michigan State lost standouts Gary Harris, Keith Appling and Adreian Payne from last year's Elite Eight team, but the Branden Dawson-led Spartans have enough returning talent to avoid a rebuilding season.
Most appealing potential title game, part III: Arizona-San Diego State (Maui Invitational)
The title of Best in the West has often been on the line when these two regional powers have met in recent years. Arizona won in the title game of the Diamondhead Classic two years ago when Nick Johnson came from nowhere to swat away Chase Tapley's game-winning layup attempt. The Wildcats won a close game at San Diego State last November and came from behind to squeak past the Aztecs in the Sweet 16 last March despite a horrific shooting night from Johnson. The revenge factor would surely be motivating for San Diego State should the Aztecs see the Wildcats once more. Arizona will again have a Final Four-caliber roster, while San Diego State adds an elite recruiting class but must find a way to replace the scoring and leadership of do-it-all star Xavier Thames.
Best opening-round game nobody will see: Florida-Georgetown (Battle 4 Atlantis)
To watch one of the best opening-round holiday tournament games, you'll either have to fly to the Bahamas and buy a ticket or find a channel you may not have even heard of before. Half the opening-round games at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament are on something called AXS TV including this quarterfinal gem between the Gators and Hoyas. The matchup would certainly be worth watching if you can find a cable package that offers it, however, because the Gators have top 10 talent and the Hoyas have one of the Big East's premier guards in D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera. Florida will be the favorite, but an upset is certainly possible since the young Gators will be getting used to new roles after losing senior standouts Patric Young, Scottie Wilbekin and Casey Prather from last year's Final Four team.
Best opening-round game everyone will see: UCLA-Oklahoma (Battle 4 Atlantis)
With all due respect to Arizona-Missouri or BYU-San Diego State in Maui, the can't-miss quarterfinal of this year's holiday tournaments is between the Bruins and Sooners. The Bruins lost first-round draft picks Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams and Zach LaVine from last year's Pac-12 tournament champion and Sweet 16 team, but they replenished their roster with a frontcourt-heavy recruiting class highlighted by McDonald's All-Americans Kevon Looney and Thomas Welsch. Those kids will be tested immediately by an experienced Oklahoma team that brings back four starters from an NCAA tournament team including leading scorer Buddy Hield and leading rebounder Ryan Spangler.
Most appealing tournament: Battle 4 Atlantis
With three potential preseason top 10 teams, five potential preseason top 25 teams and seven potential NCAA tournament contenders, the Battle 4 Atlantis is more loaded than any other tournament this year. Outside of the Champion's Classic doubleheader, there's no November and December college basketball event that is more must-see. But since I've spent so much time highlighting Atlantis and Maui already, it's worth noting that there's one other event that rivals both in quality. The Legend's Classic featuring Villanova, VCU, Michigan and Oregon has three teams capable of not only making the NCAA tournament but also doing some damage once they arrive. Oregon would be the fourth were it not for all the attrition it endured during a disastrous offseason.
Least appealing tournament: Charleston Classic
You can be forgiven for finding better things to do with your time this November than watching this year's Charleston Classic. An event that has boasted its share of marquee teams in years past lacks much name recognition this season. On one side of the draw is Akron-USC and Drexel-Miami — and believe it or not that's clearly the more compelling half of the bracket. The other side features Penn State-Charlotte and South Carolina-Cornell. Miami ought to be the class of this tournament thanks to the arrival of transfers Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan. USC's freshman class should help it take a step forward and Charlotte actually came out of nowhere to win the Puerto Rico Tip-Off last November. Still, this is a field that suggests there may be a few too many preseason tournaments these days because the quality is getting a bit watered down.
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