- Jason King
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Most of the nonconference tournaments that have taken place during the past six weeks have been underwhelming. Just look at the list of winners from various events: Dayton (Old Spice Classic), Saint Louis (76 Classic), Harvard (Battle 4 Atlantis) and Northwestern (Charleston Classic).
Even though it will be played in a round-robin format, the Las Vegas Classic has the potential to buck the trend and be one of the more entertaining non-league events of the season. Seventh-ranked Baylor is the most talented team in the field by far, but Scott Drew knows good and well that his squad will be challenged.
Baylor and St. Mary's -- whom the Bears defeated in the Sweet 16 in 2010 -- will face off tonight, as will West Virginia and Missouri State. Friday's games feature Baylor versus West Virginia and St. Mary's versus Missouri State.
Here's a closer look at each of the four teams:
Where they stand: The Bears are one of the country's seven remaining unbeaten teams. They have a pair of future NBA lottery picks in forwards Perry Jones III and Quincy Miller. Although they traditionally play poorly away from home, Baylor has two huge road victories this season, against Northwestern and BYU. Not many teams in the country are as athletic, long and deep as the Bears.
Key player: Jones shocked the college basketball world by returning to school for his sophomore year instead of turning pro. The 6-foot-11 phenom had 28 points in Saturday's victory at BYU.
Key stat: For all of their size and length, the Bears have been terrible on the boards. They were outrebounded 41-26 by BYU, a sign that they need to get tougher in the paint.
Best-case scenario: Baylor does what it should and dominates St. Mary's and West Virginia, which would give the Bears loads of momentum heading into Wednesday's game against a strong Mississippi State squad in Dallas.
Worst-case scenario: A tough, physical West Virginia squad bullies the Bears on the boards en route to a Friday upset in Sin City.
Where they stand: The Gaels are 10-1 and have won eight consecutive games since a Nov. 23 loss to Denver. St. Mary's, whose best victory is against Northern Iowa, should contend for the West Coast Conference title once again.
Key player: Point guard Matthew Dellavedova is one of the best players in the country at his position. The seasoned junior from Australia averages 14.1 points and 6.2 assists per game.
Key stat: Not many squads in the country play "team basketball" quite like the Gaels. St. Mary's averages 18 assists per game -- a mark that ranks ninth nationally. Three players (Dellavedova, Rob Jones and Stephen Holt) average 2.8 assists or more.
Best-case scenario: St. Mary's catches an overconfident Baylor off-guard and avenges its blowout 2010 NCAA tournament loss to the Bears. One night later, the Gaels defeat Missouri State to finish 2-0 in the Las Vegas Classic.
Worst-case scenario: Randy Bennett's squad gets embarrassed by the Bears on Thursday, and the loss carries over into Friday's game against Missouri State. A pair of defeats could damage the Gaels' confidence just before the start of WCC play.
Where they stand: The Bears, 7-3, are expected to contend for the Missouri Valley Conference title along with Wichita State, Creighton and Indiana State. Their losses are to Oral Roberts, New Mexico and Oklahoma State.
Key player: Kyle Weems is a 6-6 senior forward who averages team highs in both points (14.6) and rebounds (7.5). But he's shooting just 40 percent from the field and only 29 percent from 3-point range.
Key stat: Senior guard Michael Bizoukas, who played his first three seasons at DePaul, is averaging 6.2 assists for a team that takes pride in sharing the ball.
Best-case scenario: Missouri State adds a victory over a BCS conference school to its résumé by upsetting West Virginia tonight. Such a win could pay huge dividends on Selection Sunday.
Worst-case scenario: The Bears lose to St. Mary's by double digits Friday. They need to show that they can hang with the country's top mid-majors.
Overview: Bob Huggins' squad is 8-2, with the setbacks coming against Kent State (on Nov. 15) and Mississippi State (Dec. 3). The Mountaineers lost two of their top four scorers (Casey Mitchell and John Flowers) from last year's squad, but they're still a team that could finish in the top half of the Big East.
Key player: Kevin Jones is having the best season of an already successful career. The senior forward is averaging 20.8 points and 11.3 rebounds while shooting 56 percent from the field.
Key stat: West Virginia has been atrocious from long range. The Mountaineers are connecting on just 31 percent of their 3-point attempts.
Best-case scenario: The Mountaineers jump back into the national spotlight by handing Baylor its first loss of the season Friday. The victory would give West Virginia loads of momentum entering its Big East opener against Villanova on Dec. 28.
Worst-case scenario: Jones gets into foul trouble and the Mountaineers lose to Missouri State on Thursday. Such a defeat could keep West Virginia out of the NCAA tournament.