- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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Editor's note: It's time to reveal the fields for some of college basketball's biggest early season tournaments. Follow along as we break down the tournaments. All previews can be found here.
Tournament: Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off
When and where: Nov. 22-23 at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.
Teams involved: Florida State, UMass, Providence, Notre Dame
Initial thoughts: For a while there, Notre Dame was second only to Wisconsin in the "admirably steady but mostly unspectacular" college hoops niche. From 2006-07 to 2012-13, the Irish missed the tournament only once. They never failed to win 20 games. Sure, they rarely went deep into the tournament when they were there, but still: In that brutal 16-team Big East of yore, up against elite powers every year, the Irish more than held their own.
That's why it was so surprising to see them -- with the usual mix of solid veterans, no less -- flounder to a 15-17 record in 2013-14. And it's why it will be interesting to see how the Irish perform early in the 2014-15 season, not the least of which in the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off. The same can be said of their first opponent, UMass. The Minutemen are coming off an impressive return to the tournament under Derek Kellogg, but they're now facing the sustainability portion of the program-rise curve without star point guard Chaz Williams.
The latter pairing is more eye-catching, provided you know what to look for. People who only check in on the sport in March might have been impressed with Providence guard Bryce Cotton's Ironman style in last spring's near-upset of North Carolina to the point of thinking the Friars were a one-man team. (Understandably so: Cotton played the most minutes in the country, with 28.1-percent usage and 28.7-percent shot rates.) Close observers know Friars coach Ed Cooley has been quietly amassing the best collection of talent in Providence in at least a decade. Former top recruit Kris Dunn will be back from last December's shoulder injury, along with LaDontae Henton and ESPN 100 prospects Pascal Chukwu and Jalen Lindsey. Providence should be good even without Cotton. We'll get an idea of how good when they take the court against Florida State.
Why you'll want to watch: Well, if you're a fan of these teams, rest assured you'll get to see them: That's one of the benefits of a "tournament" that's really more like a round robin. After the early rounds -- which feature mid-major opponents Binghamton, Manhattan, Navy and Northeastern -- all four teams will get two prescheduled games out of the trip to Mohegan Sun, win or lose. So there's that.
There's also the eternal early-season read on teams and players that we can't know much about this far in advance. Florida State is a good example. Will the Seminoles struggle to replace the length and all-court versatility of Okaro White? Probably. But they could benefit from what might be a breakout season for rising junior guard Devin Bookert, who shot 43 percent from 3-point range last season and stands to get a lot more touches in 2014-15. Providence is the most obvious team to see in a mostly ho-hum Hall of Fame field. But the rest of this foursome might offer some developments worth tracking, too.