Here's an advance look at four quality early-season tournaments in November, events which will set a tone for the rest of the college basketball season.
2K Sports Classic
The 2015 national championship of college basketball was contested by Duke and Wisconsin. A lot of Duke's players have moved on to the NBA Draft, and Wisconsin's top players -- Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker -- are also gone. However, these programs reload, and they have two of the best coaches in college basketball, Mike Krzyzewski and Bo Ryan. They're in the 2K Sports Classic field, along with VCU -- trying to replace Shaka Smart this season -- and a Georgetown team that was a No. 4 seed in last year's NCAA tournament. There's a lot to like about this field, but the big drawing card is the promise of a Duke-Wisconsin title game everyone wants to see.
The Maui Invitational always draws a great field. This year, Indiana -- a Big Ten contender -- joins superpower Kansas and West Coast signature program UCLA. Also in Maui: St. John's from New York; UNLV; Wake Forest, with a bright future under head coach Danny Manning; and a Vanderbilt team that is expected to contend for an NCAA tournament berth this season. There's a lot to like about this field, and high stakes for almost every team in the tournament. This event will produce a lot of results that will be scrutinized on Selection Sunday in 2016.
Battle 4 Atlantis
The Battle 4 Atlantis has become one of the best early-season tournaments, and this year will be no exception. Gonzaga made the Elite Eight last season. Connecticut won the 2014 national title. Michigan made the 2014 Elite Eight and was the 2013 runner-up. Texas is an annual NCAA tournament team, with new coach Shaka Smart this season. Texas A&M is in the hunt for an NCAA berth. Syracuse is an annual force in college basketball. Washington was on pace to make the NCAA tournament last season until big man Robert Upshaw was kicked off the team. There's a lot of firepower and balance in this tournament. It's going to feature a lot of intriguing games throughout the bracket, in both the winners' games and the consolation games.
The field has an intriguing mixture of high-profile teams and fringe NCAA tournament teams that will be attempting to make important early-season statements, registering the kinds of wins that could make the difference between making the NCAA tournament and settling for a spot in the NIT.
Arizona and Michigan State are the high-profile teams in this event. One came one win short of the Final Four for the second straight year, and the other made the Final Four after being an Elite Eight team in 2014. Arizona and Michigan State are established elite programs, and they're going to bring some buzz to this tournament. Boston College and Providence are two teams from New England that will fly across the country to Southern California to try to make some noise and get their seasons started on the right note. Providence is expected to make the NCAA tournament, but Boston College -- without Olivier Hanlan, one of the best scorers in program history -- is going to face a much stiffer challenge in this preliminary stage of the season.
Boise State, whose last two NCAA tournament appearances were both in the First Four round, wants to be able to get direct entry into the round of 64. Getting a big win over Arizona or Michigan State would really help here. UC Irvine, after making its first NCAA tournament last season, will try to cause some trouble, so in the long run they could be worthy of our NCAA Basketball picks.