When and where: Nov. 24-25, 27 at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, Calif.
Initial thoughts: Lon Kruger gets an opportunity to win a 76 Classic championship for a second straight year, but it'll be a heck of a lot tougher at rebuilding Oklahoma than it was with UNLV last November. ... Villanova features a couple of freshmen looking to make an impact in their first month after having their debuts delayed. Former McDonald's All-American forward JayVaughn Pinkston was only recently reinstated after being suspended all of last season while facing an assault charge, and top-100 recruit Ty Johnson is expected to return from a broken foot that is preventing him from playing during the team's preseason tour of Europe. ... The last time New Mexico forward Drew Gordon was at the 76 Classic, he was in his unhappy final days in a UCLA uniform before parting ways with the team, which went winless in the event. He and guard Kendall Williams, a former UCLA commit who went on to become Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year, will get a chance to show all of Southern California what it missed out on. ... What a way for Boston College to promote its freshman class, which includes four SoCal recruits who get a early-season trip home. Coach Steve Donahue could continue developing his pipeline in the area with a strong showing from the Eagles. ... Santa Clara could very well be the surprise team of the tournament, as the Broncos return their top three scorers -- Kevin Foster, Marc Trasolini and Evan Roquemore -- from a team that captured the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament championship. ... Rick Majerus has to be happy to have a full roster at his disposal again with point guard Kwamain Mitchell back after redshirting last season while serving a suspension. But it'll be tough to believe the Billikens have turned it around if they can't be a BC team that was gutted by graduation. ... The Big West's Cal State Northridge beat the Big East's DePaul in this tournament last year, but don't expect Villanova to have too much trouble against UC Riverside. ... Washington State needs to identify a go-to guy after Klay Thompson and DeAngelo Casto turned pro. Top returning scorer Faisal Aden could be the one, but has battled injuries so look for Fresno State transfer Mike Ladd to make an impact. ... If New Mexico and Saint Louis play, that would make it twice the two teams would meet since the Billikens are also scheduled to play at The Pit this season.
Matchup I can't wait to see: New Mexico-Santa Clara should be quite a battle between two emerging teams out West filled with young yet experienced talent. UNM has a senior standout in Gordon and an up-and-coming shooter in Williams, but will be in the beginning stages of working in point guards in freshman Hugh Greenwood and Arizona State transfer Demetrius Walker. Santa Clara, meanwhile, has one of the nation's top 3-point shooters in the redshirt junior Foster and already has an established point guard in the sophomore Roquemore. The Broncos' coach, Kerry Keating, will be familiar with Gordon, having formerly served on a UCLA staff that recruited him. But Trasolini will have a difficult matchup there.
Potential matchup I'd like to see: New Mexico-Villanova in the championship would give Steve Alford and the Lobos a chance to take down a Big East team. The Wildcats are in a transition year with only two starters returning as junior point guard Maalik Wayns looks to take on a leadership role on a team filled with young talent. They do have the advantage of getting time together in Europe during the preseason. But New Mexico has the talent to win this potential matchup after missing the NCAA tournament last season while giving many young players an opportunity to play.
Key players to watch
Ryan Anderson, Boston College: Anderson is California's Mr. Basketball and a top-100 recruit ready to make an impact. The Lakewood, Calif., native is a 6-foot-8 power forward who likes to score facing the basket.
Kevin Foster, Santa Clara: The West Coast Conference's leading scorer (20.2) from last season loves to shoot the 3-pointer, so much so that he led the nation in both attempted and made shots from beyond the arc. He's hard to guard once he starts heating up.
Drew Gordon, New Mexico: The 6-foot-9 forward averaged a double-double and is the team's leading returning scorer (13.0) and rebounder (10.5). He became eligible last December after transferring from UCLA, so the Lobos will now be getting a full season of production out of him.
Kwamain Mitchell, Saint Louis: During the 2009-10 season, Mitchell led SLU in scoring (15.9 ppg) and is now looking to recapture that starring role after going through a year in which he served a suspension during the fall semester and sat out the rest of the season.
Maalik Wayns, Villanova: The speedy point guard is the Wildcats' top returning scorer (13.8 ppg) and excels on the fast break. He'll have to improve his shooting percentage and also look to create as coach Jay Wright wants to get big men, chiefly Pinkston and Mouphtaou Yarou, more involved.
Predicted winner: New Mexico slips past Santa Clara, beats a rebuilding power conference team in the semis and then has what it takes to take down Villanova in the championship game. Williams and Gordon give the Lobos a nice inside-outside combo. They also have experienced seniors in A.J. Hardeman and Phillip McDonald, along with a potential impact freshman from Australia in Greenwood. Getting guard Chad Adams back from suspension would give them a full roster that will be needed for three games in four days.
Who others are picking:
Eamonn Brennan: Villanova
Andy Katz: Villanova
Dana O'Neil: New Mexico