- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff 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. A thread of previews and info for all 11 tourneys can be found here.
When and where: Nov. 21-22, Madison Square Garden (each of the featured teams will host two games on their home floor prior to the semis)
2K Sports Classic Semifinal Schedule
Nov. 21: UConn vs. Boston College (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2); Indiana vs. Washington (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
Nov. 22: Championship and third-place games
Initial thoughts: The future of the new patchwork American Athletic Conference that Connecticut basketball will find itself competing in this winter is entirely up for grabs. The same can be said for how that league will affect the Huskies' program in the coming years. I happen to think the answer is "not all that much" -- UConn is too good of a program, and I'm not sure how many players and families care all that much about conference "brand" when they're deciding where to go to school. The SEC isn't known for its hoops, but Kentucky and Florida seem to be recruiting just fine. But I guess we'll see.
But I'm high on UConn for 2013-14. This will be among the Huskies' first high-profile nonconference appearances, and it will be an awfully good chance to get a first look at whether Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright, DeAndre Daniels and Omar Calhoun -- one of the more talented perimeter foursomes in the country -- are ready to make the proverbial leap.
It also will be the first chance to put Indiana under the spotlight. The Hoosiers still are very talented, but losing two top-five draft picks (Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo) and two four-year senior starters (Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford) is always going to put you back into the meat of the development curve. Meanwhile, Boston College and Washington are both coming off ugly seasons, but BC has a lot of efficient offense coming back, and Washington will be rebuilt around lead guard C.J. Wilcox.
Matchup I can’t wait to see: Indiana-Washington. This is kind of a push. After all, Boston College's score of returning players -- from Ryan Anderson to impressive 2012-13 freshmen Olivier Hanlan and Joe Rahon -- scored the ball well last season, and we can reasonably expect at least some youthful improvement on that end of the floor. The question is whether the Eagles will guard anyone, and I wager there will be few better tests of a team's ability to stick to defensive principles than when Napier and Boatright are slicing you up at the top of the key.
But I digress, and if I'm more interested in one of these games, it's Indiana-Washington, mostly because both teams are going to look brand new. There are some crucial familiar faces -- Wilcox for Washington, sophomore point Yogi Ferrell and senior Will Sheehey at IU -- but the most interesting pieces are newcomers. Lorenzo Romar desperately needed an infusion of talent this summer, and he got it with Nigel Williams-Goss, the No. 4-ranked point guard and No. 19 overall player in the Class of 2013.
The Hoosiers have a potential top-10 pick on campus in Noah Vonleh. Vonleh (ranked No. 13 in the 2013 class) is a rangy, 6-foot-8 forward whose raw athletic talent has tantalized scouts (and college coaches) for years. He's joining sophomore Ferrell, Sheehey and sophomore Jeremy Hollowell, who clearly improved throughout the 2012-13 season, on a team that sounds like a fringe Big Ten contender on paper. There's a lot of talent here, but a significant portion of it is raw and untested. Seeing the Hoosiers in action could tell a different story, particularly if they look ready as early as November. Should be fascinating.
Potential matchup I’d like to see: Indiana-Connecticut. This is the marquee matchup the TV folks obviously would prefer, but it's also the best game on offer. Napier and Boatright could be a nightmare for Ferrell, but the opposite also could be true -- few players in the country look as ready to have that classic sophomore breakout season as Ferrell. Another might be Calhoun. Fittingly, Calhoun was legendary former coach Jim Calhoun's last marquee recruit, and he showed flashes of his potential as a freshman despite battling two hips that required offseason surgery. Seeing him healthy, with some muscle added to that 6-5 frame, could provide a totally different picture.
Five players to watch
Yogi Ferrell, Indiana: He displayed admirable maturity during his first year in Bloomington, Ind., when he was asked to take the reins of an offense in which he was the only player to not score at least 1,000 career points. Now, with all four fellow starters gone, he's going to have the ball in his hands even more, and he's going to be asked to do even more, including (but not limited to): better 3-point shooting, constant rim attacks, efficient work on pick and rolls, great defense at the point of attack, solid distribution. Basically, you name it, and Ferrell will have to do some of it in 2013-14. As he goes, so will IU's season.
Noah Vonleh, Indiana: The highly touted future NBA draft pick has always impressed with his potential -- his classically attractive mix of size, athleticism and skill. What he's lacked, as many top high school players do, are the two things that set apart the NBA All-Stars from the Darius Mileses of the world: polish and strength. The good news? Vonleh has been impressing IU coaches with his offseason work ethic. On Monday, Inside The Hall reported that an aggressive weight regimen has added 20 pounds to Vonleh's frame in just six weeks, which is just plain freaky; IU assistant Kenny Johnson joked that Vonleh would move a bed into IU's practice facility if he could. This is all immensely promising stuff, of course, but Vonleh still has huge challenges facing him in the season to come -- not the least of which is whether he can play a legitimate go-to low-post role in the Big Ten. Those 20 extra pounds should come in handy.
Shabazz Napier, Connecticut: Napier's career has been an exercise in extremes. As a freshman, he played a key role in UConn's Kemba Walker-led national title run. As a sophomore, he couldn't get a massively talented but apparently apathetic group to take him seriously as a leader. As a junior, his coach retired, and was replaced by assistant coach Kevin Ollie just in time for the Huskies to be ineligible (thanks to NCAA-mandated Academic Progress Rate penalties) for postseason play. Now a senior, Napier has a talented group around him and a chance to finish the season in the NCAA tournament. Redemption awaits.
DeAndre Daniels, Connecticut: Boatright and Napier should be their typically lightning-quick selves in 2013-14, and you can tentatively pencil in Calhoun's improvement as a sophomore. The biggest question mark -- the player UConn fans are most anxious to see, if the Internet can be believed (and obviously it can) -- is Daniels. If the rising junior can improve his shooting even slightly, he could make Connecticut a devastating four-out operation; if he can do a bit more work on the low-block, he balances the whole lineup. Daniels is crucial to any bullish UConn prognostication next season. The 2K Sports Classic will be a good place to get an early read.
Olivier Hanlan, Boston College: BC coach Steve Donahue inherited some quality talent -- namely star guard Reggie Jackson -- when he took over for Al Skinner in 2010-11. Then Jackson left for the NBA, and four senior starters did what seniors do, and since then it has been all rebuilding, all the time. BC (16-17, 7-11 ACC) was better than many predicted last season thanks in large part to Hanlan, who shot 49.2 percent from 2 and 39.4 percent from 3 as a freshman and led the Eagles in scoring with 15.4 points per game. If Boston College can play even league-average ACC defense, and Hanlan improves, that crucial turn toward a post-rebuild existence will happen sooner than you think.
Nigel Williams-Goss, Washington: At this point, we know what we're going to get from Wilcox, who was the only truly capable scorer Romar had at his disposal last season. The rest of the Huskies' lineup -- which lost Abdul Gaddy, Aziz N'Diaye and Scott Suggs and wasn't good in the first place -- is up in the air. That's where Williams-Goss comes in. A highly regarded player in an incoming class full of them, our scouts say Williams-Goss is a good decision-maker with intuitive passing and transition skills and a reliable floater, lacking only elite athleticism and a long-range jumper. That actually sounds exactly like the player Washington needs (solid, smart, capable) and what it has lacked in these atypical recent down years. We'll see.
Title-game prediction: Connecticut over Indiana
The Hoosiers are going to be good, but the jury is out on how good -- whether they're merely a top-half Big Ten team, or whether they're a top-10 group overall. Much of that will have to do with how Ferrell manages the offense, how quickly Vonleh turns into the beast he appears destined to become, and whether Hollowell is ready to play a key role on the wing. But Indiana's defense is also a question mark. I'm guessing the team with the most cohesion out of the gate will have the advantage in an otherwise reasonably similarly matched game. That team is UConn. (Obviously, this prediction is ironclad and in no way subject to change. Obviously.)
Who others are picking:
Jeff Goodman: UConn over Washington
Andy Katz: UConn over Indiana
Jason King: UConn over Indiana
Myron Medcalf: UConn over Indiana
Dana O'Neil: UConn over Indiana