- Andy Katz, ESPN Senior Writer
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Editor's Note: Over two days, we're releasing the brackets/matchups for 11 of the top early-season events. Starting Wednesday at 10 a.m. ET, we'll unveil the final six: Charleston, 2K Sports, Diamond Head, CBE, Wooden and Maui. A thread of previews and info for all 11 tourneys can be found here.
When and where: Nov. 28-29, Orleans Arena
Schedule for the Las Vegas Invitational:
Nov. 28: UCLA vs. Nevada (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN3); Missouri vs. Northwestern (10:30, ESPNU)
Nov. 29: Missouri vs. Nevada (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN3); UCLA vs. Northwestern (11:30, ESPN2)
Initial thoughts: This is the only "tournament" on our docket that's not really a tournament -- hence the name invitational.
The problem is UCLA and Missouri are already scheduled to play this season in Columbia, Mo., so once the two teams were slated to play in this event, they couldn't be put together in a four-team event. That's why the matchups are set.
The bigger question is which team will come out of the event 2-0, or will both Missouri and UCLA sweep through the two games against Nevada and Northwestern to build up some momentum going into their game and into the rest of the nonconference slate?
Each of the four "primary" teams has major questions.
Missouri needs to settle on a replacement for Phil Pressey at the point. The Tigers actually have fewer transfers this season and are looking to re-establish themselves as SEC challengers.
Nevada must find a way to be relevant in the Mountain West Conference. Last season was a major disappointment. The Wolf Pack never should have been the league doormat. Playing neutral-court games against UCLA and Missouri are golden opportunities for the Pack.
Northwestern is being led by first-time coach Chris Collins. The former Duke associate head coach has been looking at this gig for quite some time. The Wildcats were successful under Bill Carmody but could never quite win the right games late in the season. Collins' goal is to make the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history. It might not happen in Year 1, but getting off to a great start would help.
Matchup I can't wait to see: I am interested to see how Collins' crew handles the stage against UCLA on Nov. 29. Regardless of who is coaching the Bruins, the brand matters. Northwestern will be looking to make its mark early in the season by knocking off one of the best in the Pac-12, and a win over UCLA would do wonders for Collins. The top teams in the Big Ten will be more talented, but the Wildcats might be sneaky good.
Potential matchup I'd like to see: Well, we'll get the Missouri-UCLA matchup on Dec. 7 at Mizzou Arena. So that one is covered.
Five players to watch:
Jordan Adams, UCLA: Adams was arguably the Bruins' top player (yes, even over Shabazz Muhammad) at the end of the season. He scored 24 points in a Pac-12 tournament semifinal win over Arizona, but broke his foot in that game and was unable to play against Oregon in the title game or against Minnesota in the NCAA tournament. If Adams is healthy, the Bruins can begin the season with one of the top talents out West.
Kyle Anderson, UCLA: Anderson is a versatile player but hasn't found his natural spot. The Bruins considered putting him at the point but they already had Drew. Now, Alford has to decide if Anderson can play the position or go with a collection of other players, including his son, Bryce.
Jabari Brown, Missouri: The one-time Oregon player was a solid contributor last season for the Tigers with 13 points a game. But with such high turnover on the roster, especially on the perimeter, Brown will become even more of a focal point. Brown hasn't had to be the go-to player in his brief career; he has done an admirable job as a complementary player. Now he must take on more of a leadership role. How he handles that could determine the Tigers' fate.
Drew Crawford, Northwestern: Collins got a gift when Crawford decided to finish his career with the Wildcats and play for the first-year coach. Crawford only played in 10 games last season due to a torn right labrum. Had he played for Carmody, the Wildcats could have been in position to make a real run at the NCAA tournament. Crawford gives Collins an experienced Big Ten guard to jump-start his career as a head coach.
Deonte Burton, Nevada: Burton has been a consistent scorer for the Wolf Pack, but he hasn't had enough help recently. He may not get more next season. Burton has the chance to make a name for himself nationally by producing significant numbers against UCLA and Missouri. If he is going to be a key player in the Mountain West, then he has to do it on a regular basis before conference play begins.
Prediction: There's no title game in this one, but my prediction is that UCLA and Missouri will get out of Las Vegas 2-0. That's what they need to do for some momentum heading into the heart of the nonconference schedule. But Northwestern may be able to upset the projected headliners. Don't sleep on the Wildcats.