Most of the top holiday tournaments next season released their brackets on Thursday. Here's a look at the brackets, who got the toughest and easiest draws and some initial thoughts on each tournament:
Dates (Site): Nov. 19-21 (Lahaina)
Matchups: Butler vs. Marquette; Mississippi State vs. North Carolina; Texas vs. Chaminade; USC vs. Illinois
Toughest draw: Rebuilding Mississippi State's first two games will be against North Carolina and either Butler or Marquette. Plan on being in the seventh-place game against Chaminade, Bulldogs.
Most favorable draw: Texas should be thrilled to not only get host Chaminade in the first round but also to be on the opposite side of the bracket from North Carolina, Butler and Marquette.
Parting thoughts: It's not as potent a field as past editions, but it will be wide open with six teams that have realistic hope of winning the tournament. North Carolina must replace four first-round draft picks. Marquette is beginning life without Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder. Texas must find a go-to scorer to replace J'Covan Brown. USC welcomes a handful of key transfers. Illinois has a new coach. And Butler must prove it can shoot the ball thanks to the addition of transfer Rotnei Clarke and recruit Kellen Dunham.
Dates (Site): Nov. 19-20 (Kansas City)
Matchups: Texas A&M vs. Saint Louis; Kansas vs. Washington State
Toughest draw: A semifinal against Kansas in front of a pro-Jayhawks crowd was the nightmare scenario. Good luck, Washington State.
Most favorable draw: Kansas plays in front of a partisan crowd and avoids facing A-10 favorite Saint Louis until the title game. The Jayhawks couldn't have asked for more.
Parting thoughts: Since rivals Missouri and Kansas won't be playing one-another next season, a potential CBE Classic Title Game between the Jayhawks and Saint Louis may be as close to the Border War as we're going to get. The defensive-oriented Billikens return every key piece of last year's NCAA tournament team besides forward Brian Conklin. They'll have a tougher semifinal than Kansas, however, against a Texas A&M team that is formidable down low and features Elston Turner on the perimeter.
PUERTO RICO TIPOFF
Dates (Site): Nov. 15-18 (San Juan)
Matchups: Akron vs. Oklahoma State; UNC Asheville vs. Tennessee; NC State vs. Penn State; UMass vs. Providence
Toughest draw: A Providence team that definitely won't have Kris Dunn (shoulder) and may not have Ricardo Ledo (academics) would have benefited from a more favorable first-round matchup. UMass returns the core of a team that made the NIT Final Four last season.
Most favorable draw: Had Tennessee drawn UNC-Asheville last season when the Bulldogs had one of the nation's better mid-major backcourts, this would have been a difficult opening-round test. With guards Matt Dickey and J.P. Primm having graduated, however, the Vols should ease their way into the semifinals.
Parting thoughts: If NC State is worthy of its preseason hype as the ACC favorite, this is a tournament the Wolfpack should win. Oklahoma State has plenty of young talent and Tennessee is a potential top-three SEC team, but neither of those teams have the firepower of an NC State team that made the Sweet 16 last year and adds one of the nation's best recruiting classes.
Dates (Site): Nov. 19-20 (Brooklyn)
Matchups: Indiana vs. Georgia; UCLA vs. Georgetown
Toughest draw: No matter what Georgia wasn't going to have it easy in this field, but drawing the likely preseason No. 1 team in the semifinal was the worst-case scenario.
Most favorable draw: Indiana, UCLA and Georgetown probably each hoped to draw a semifinal matchup against Georgia, which went 15-17 a year ago. The Hoosiers were the lucky (and deserving) winner.
Parting thoughts: The biggest question this tournament will help answer is how good is UCLA? Expectations in Westwood increased with the arrival of a ballyhooed freshman class that includes top-five recruits Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson, but it will be interesting to see how that group jells with the Bruins' returners. The guess here is UCLA is talented enough to get past Georgetown but not to upset a deep, strong Indiana team that has far more big-game experience.
DIAMOND HEAD CLASSIC
Dates (Site): Dec. 22-25 (Honolulu)
Matchups: Ole Miss vs. Indiana State; San Diego State vs. San Francisco; Arizona vs. East Tennessee State; Miami vs. Hawaii
Toughest draw: Between a likely late-night start time and a partisan home crowd, Miami's quarterfinal against Hawaii could be tricky.
Most favorable draw: Tournament favorites Arizona and San Diego State should both be pleased with their draws. They ended up on opposite sides of the bracket from one-another and play opening-round opponents who aren't likely to pose a threat.
Parting thoughts: Anything besides an Arizona-San Diego State title game would be a huge disappointment. The Aztecs beat the Wildcats last season in Tucson, but both teams will be better this year. San Diego State adds frontcourt depth in the form of several key transfers and freshmen to complement a star-studded backcourt headlined by Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley. Arizona brings back standouts Solomon Hill and Nick Johnson and welcomes one of the nation's top freshman classes.
2K SPORTS CLASSIC
Dates (Site): Nov. 15-16 (New York)
Matchups: Alabama vs. Oregon State; Villanova vs. Purdue
Toughest draw: These are four evenly matched teams with a lot to prove. Nobody has much reason to gripe or celebrate.
Most favorable draw: See above.
Parting thoughts: This isn't an especially engaging tournament, but what it will tell us is which of these four teams has the best chance to be nationally relevant. Can Oregon State finally end its NCAA tournament drought even without Jared Cunningham? Will Alabama be better without ex-stars Tony Mitchell and JaMychal Green? How will life without Robbie Hummel treat Purdue? And is Villanova headed for a second consecutive down season, or will the loss of Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek be addition by subtraction? We won't know the answers after this tournament but it will provide an early indication.
OLD SPICE CLASSIC
Dates (Site): Nov. 22-25 (Orlando)
Matchups: West Virginia vs. Marist; Vanderbilt vs. Davidson; Oklahoma vs. UTEP; Gonzaga vs. Clemson
Toughest draw: Since Gonzaga requests as tough a draw as possible at tournaments like this one to counterbalance its WCC schedule, the Bulldogs did not get a routine first-round matchup in Orlando. Clemson had defensive issues last year, but the Tigers do boast a solid frontcourt duo in Devin Booker and Milton Jennings.
Most favorable draw: Not only did West Virginia land on the opposite side of the bracket from Gonzaga, the Mountaineers drew by far the weakest team in this tournament in Marist in the first round. That's good news for Bob Huggins, who will have to help his team learn to play without Kevin Jones.
Parting thoughts: Gonzaga is clearly the best team in the bottom half of the bracket and should make the final barring an upset. What will be interesting is to see who the Zags' opponent will be. Could it be a Vanderbilt team which must replace all five starters including three NBA draft picks? Or a Davidson team that promises to again be dangerous from behind the arc? Or West Virginia, which won't have Jones or Truck Bryant but does welcome transfers Juwan Staten (Dayton) and Aaric Murray (LaSalle) to go with Deniz Kilicli down low. The guess here? The Mountaineers will jell well enough to reach the title game in Orlando.
Dates (Site): Nov. 15-18
Matchups: Dayton vs. Colorado; Baylor vs. Boston College; St. John's vs. Charleston; Murray State vs. Auburn
Toughest draw: Of the four top teams in this event, Colorado drew the strongest quarterfinal opponent. Three of Dayton's top five scorers return including Josh Benson, who missed most of conference play last season with a knee injury.
Most favorable draw: Don't be fooled by conference affiliation. Murray State should make it out of the bottom half of the draw despite despite the presence of the Big East's St. John's and the SEC's Auburn.
Parting thoughts: If Murray State can capture the championship in Charleston, expect the Racers to again be national darlings this winter. St. John's would pose a threat in the semifinals with its athleticism and newfound depth, but the toughest challenge would be Baylor. Murray State might struggle to deal with the Bears' size and strength down low, but the point guard matchup between All-American candidates Pierre Jackson and Isaiah Canaan would be well worth watching.
Dates (Site): Nov. 22-25
Matchups: Xavier vs. Pacific; Drexel vs. Saint Mary's; Georgia Tech vs. Rice; Cal vs. Drake
Toughest draw: Drexel and Saint Mary's may very well be the two best teams in this field, and they'll meet in the first round. The defending WCC champion Gaels boast a potent offense led by league player of the year Matthew Dellavedova. The Dragons return the core of a team that many believe should have been in the NCAA tournament a year ago.
Most favorable draw: The team that benefits most from Drexel, Saint Mary's and Xavier all being in the top half of the draw is Cal, which is the class of the weaker bottom half. Guard Jorge Gutierrez and forward Harper Kamp have graduated, but the Bears return enough firepower to pose a threat to win this tournament.
Parting thoughts: In a wide-open tournament that features at least four teams with NCAA tournament aspirations, the most intriguing final might feature a pair of Bay Area teams. Saint Mary's and Cal don't play each other often despite being separated by only a few miles, so it would be fun to see the two in-state powers square off in Anaheim.
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