When and where: Dec. 22-23, 25 at the Stan Sheriff Center in Honolulu, Hawaii
Initial thoughts: This looks like Xavier’s tournament to lose. … Interested to see how Frank Martin retools his lineup after losing Jacob Pullen, Curtis Kelly plus transfers Wally Judge (Rutgers) and Freddy Asprilla (Canisius). … Big year for Chris Lowery and therefore a big tournament for the Southern Illinois coach, who needs to right the Salukis’ ship. … This could be a tough draw for an extremely young UTEP team. The Miners have 10 newcomers on their roster, including seven freshmen. … Not a great matchup for an Auburn squad that struggled to score and shoot well last season. Hawaii will be playing on its home court and prides itself on defense, holding opponents to just 38 percent shooting last season.
Matchup I can’t wait to see: Long Beach State versus Xavier. The biggest challenge for the Musketeers could be in the first game, where an experienced LBSU team awaits. The Big West regular-season winners (who were upset in the conference tourney) return their three top scorers for coach Dan Monson and will have plenty of veteran savvy to handle the smarts of a very good Xavier team.
Potential matchup I’d like to see: Xavier-Clemson. Now entering his senior season in the ACC, Andre Young has seen it all. The seasoned point guard is a good shooter but an even better floor leader, so it could be fun watching him go toe-to-toe with Tu Holloway. The rest of the Clemson cast is retooling, with the graduation of Jerai Grant and Demontez Stitt, but there is still enough for Brad Brownell to tinker with.
Key players to watch:
Devin Booker, Clemson: Trevor’s little brother could make a name for himself as his offensive skill set continues to grow. Already a defensive force in the low post, Booker showed a decent repertoire during his sophomore season, averaging 8.1 points.
Tu Holloway, Xavier: Already the defending Atlantic 10 player of the year, Holloway is on the cusp of something special. With a great team surrounding him, he could follow in the footsteps of another A-10 guard who possessed incredible offensive skill and unmatched basketball savvy -- a guy by the name of Jameer Nelson -- and find himself on some national player of the year ballots.
Casper Ware, Long Beach State: What the diminutive point guard lacks in stature (he’s listed at 5-foot-10), he makes up for everywhere else. The senior-to-be won both Big West player and defensive player of the year last season and is the 49ers’ leader on both ends of the floor.
Rodney McGruder, Kansas State: Without Pullen and Kelly, the Wildcats’ scoring responsibilities fall directly into the lap of McGruder. A solid role player a year ago -- he averaged a more-than-respectable 11.1 points per game -- how he handles being front and center for reorganized KSU will determine just how good the Wildcats can be.
Frankie Sullivan, Auburn: He would have been the Tigers’ best player a year ago, but an ACL injury dashed his hopes and any Tony Barbee had as well. The guard, who averaged 12.7 points a year earlier, gives Auburn a floor leader to build around.
Predicted winner: Xavier. The Musketeers are easily the class of this tournament, a legitimate Top 25 team that has more talent, depth and experience than anyone else heading to Honolulu.
Who others are picking:
Eamonn Brennan: Xavier
Andy Katz: Xavier
Diamond Leung: Xavier