- Dana O'Neil, ESPN Senior Writer
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When and where: Nov. 15-16 at Madison Square Garden in New York
Semifinal schedule for the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Wounded Warrior Project
Nov. 15: Alabama vs. Oregon State (7 ET, ESPN2); Villanova vs. Purdue (9:30 ET, ESPN2)
Nov. 16: Third-place game (5 ET, ESPN2/ESPNU); championship game (7:30 ET, ESPN2)
Initial thoughts: This is sort of the show-me tournament. Show me (and fans and everyone else) who is ready to be a player in the national game this season. All four of the teams in the field have the potential, but all four have huge question marks, too. For Oregon State, which finished a hugely improved 21-15 last season, is this finally the year the Beavers make the NCAA tournament? Or is that a silly question to ask now that Jared Cunningham has moved on to the NBA? Alabama was a function in dysfunction a year ago. Anthony Grant drew a hard -- and rightful -- line in the sand, suspending Tony Mitchell and JaMychal Green. Now those two are gone and Grant is back at it, trying to turn the Crimson Tide into regular NCAA tournament participants. For Purdue, it is officially time for life after Robbie Hummel and while the Boilermakers always restock, this time Matt Painter will rely heavily on five new players to fill critical roles. Finally Villanova, after a disastrous season, is playing without its two leading scorers, Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek, who both left school early and went undrafted. Can Wake Forest transfer Tony Chennault help the Wildcats right the ship?
Matchup I can't wait to see: Purdue vs. Villanova. Mostly because I’m curious what the Wildcats will be like this season. Nova was a colossal train wreck in 2011-12, false starting with a 4-0 opening against lackluster opponents before sliding into oblivion. Maybe the Cats will be better this season, fueled by players who want to be in college as opposed to those who are looking for greener pastures.
Potential matchup I'd like to see: Oregon State vs. Purdue. Let’s call it as it is here. There isn’t a whole lot to get the blood pressure going in this one, so I’d like to see how the Beavers could fare against maybe the most stable and reliable team in this field. If Oregon State really plans to be a player this season, then it’s got to make inroads against the old steady programs in the sport.
Key players to watch
Tony Chennault, Villanova: The NCAA granted Chennault a hardship waiver, allowing the Wake Forest transfer to play immediately. Villanova will need it. Without Dominic Cheek and Maalik Wayns, the Wildcats are in dire need of scoring and talent. Chennault provides both.
Ronnie Johnson, Purdue: Terone’s little brother could just be the biggest piece in the Boilermakers’ puzzle this year. With Kelsey Barlow dismissed from the team and John Hart transferring, Purdue is in need of a point guard, which is where Ronnie comes in. The Indiana native earned a top 100 ranking coming out of high school.
Devonta Pollard, Alabama: The McDonald’s All-American is a huge piece for Anthony Grant, waltzing onto campus now that Mitchell and Green have left. Lots of eyes will be watching to see what Pollard can do to keep the Crimson Tide relevant.
Roberto Nelson, Oregon State: No biggie here. Nelson just slides into the starting lineup replacing Cunningham, the Beavers’ first first-round draft pick since 1995. Easy as pie. The good news for coach Craig Robinson is that Nelson comes with plenty of experience. The former sixth man averaged 9.3 points a year ago.
Oregon State over Purdue. There’s an awful lot of question marks on every roster, but with a hefty dose of returnees and a solid sixth man to insert into the starting five, the Beavers have the most answers.
Who others are picking:
Eamonn Brennan: Villanova over Alabama
Andy Katz: Villanova over Oregon State
Jason King: Alabama over Villanova
Myron Medcalf: Villanova over Alabama