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: 2K Classic
When and where: Nov. 20-21 at Madison Square Garden in New York City
Teams involved: Texas, Iowa, Syracuse, California
Initial thoughts: Subregional rounds will be played on campus, but the championship rounds are locked in with Texas facing Iowa and Syracuse playing California. The winners meet in the title game, and the losers will play a consolation. It’s as competitive a four-team bracket as can be during nonconference play.
Anytime Syracuse gets to play in the Garden, it’s a de facto Orange Invitational. Not because they’re guaranteed to win it all, but the Orange fans will buy up most of the tickets, and it will feel like a road game for their opponents. There’s a reason the school adopted the slogan “New York’s College Team.”
Regardless of how much burnt orange invades the place, it’s the first of three big tests for Texas away from home. The Longhorns will play at Connecticut and Kentucky before final exams end. They’re built to handle it, though, with Rick Barnes coaching his way off the hot seat last season and into what should be a preseason top-10 team.
It might be hard to predict what Cal will look like under new coach Cuonzo Martin as the 2K Classic provides the Bears' first four games of the season. It’s safe to assume that they will play with the toughness that characterized Martin’s team at Tennessee last season. The Vols shook off a slow start -- and a movement to replace Martin – and advanced to the Sweet 16.
Under Fran McCaffery, Iowa plays as fun a style as any team with its free-flowing offense. The Hawkeyes’ problem toward the end of last season was that their defense was equally carefree, allowing opponents to score at will and closing the season losing seven of eight games. The departure of leading scorer Roy Devyn Marble, the Orlando Magic’s second-round pick in the 2014 NBA draft, could actually help their offense. The ball had a tendency to stop moving when it got to Marble.
Why you’ll watch: Last season Tyler Ennis eased the angst of Orange fans from Michael Carter-Williams' departure to the NBA. Freshman point guard Kaleb Joseph hopes to make observers forget Ennis in a similar fashion. It’s a bit unrealistic to expect Joseph to making as seamless a transition as Ennis did, but he’ll likely have a chance to lock down a starting spot early.
Mike Montgomery’s retirement didn’t lead to a mass exodus and devastate the Bear's program. Martin will have some skilled players to work with, including forward David Kravish, who is the leading scorer and rebounder returning, and guard Tyrone Wallace, who also averaged double figures. The semifinal matchup of the Bears and Orange could reveal just how much has changed -- or stayed the same -- from last season. Cal didn’t attempt a lot of 3-pointers, so there’s no telling if it will have enough perimeter shooting to loosen up the Orange zone. Then again, Syracuse had so much trouble scoring last season it might not matter.
The 2K Classic will mark the national collegiate debut of Texas 7-foot center Myles Turner, who was ranked second overall in the 2014 class. The Horns figured to be good before he signed, but Turner’s arrival boosted expectations in Austin further. He’ll be a heavily monitored freshman from the start.
The similar philosophies of Iowa and Texas should make for an entertaining game as well as neither team wants to be locked in a halfcourt battle.
The finals matchup we’d want to see is Texas and Syracuse. Despite all the talent the Longhorns have, the vaunted Syracuse zone and Garden crowd have been known to mesmerize opponents who haven’t seen it before.