When and where: Nov. 27, 28 and 30 at the HP Field House in Orlando, Florida
Teams involved: No. 10 Kansas, No. 18 Michigan State, Marquette, Rider, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Santa Clara, Georgia Tech
Initial thoughts: The 2014 Orlando Classic field features two of the surest things in the sport. After that, who knows?
In an alternate dimension, that question might as easily apply to Kansas and Michigan State, the two obvious draws in this field. The Jayhawks just lost two of the top three picks, Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, in the NBA draft and, with the exception of steady junior Perry Ellis, will be built around either total newcomers (freshmen Cliff Alexander, Kelly Oubre, much-needed point guard Devonte Graham) or promising but still secondary players (Wayne Selden, Jamari Traylor, Brannen Greene) a year ago. But this is Kansas, and Kansas is coached by Bill Self, so you can pretty much guarantee that the Jayhawks will end the season with the Big 12 title in their claws.
That's basically the deal with Michigan State too. The Spartans lost so many key players from last season that they shouldn't be good, but they probably will be because Michigan State is always good. That's just how these things go.
Two years ago, or even last summer, the Orlando Classic's ostensible second tier would have been really intriguing. The field would have been undeniably strong. Now there's no way to know what to expect from Marquette and Tennessee. Both programs lost coaches in somewhat surprising fashion (Buzz Williams jolted for noted hoops powerhouse Virginia Tech; Cuonzo Martin repaid his many vocal Tennessee detractors with a Sweet 16 appearance and a plane ticket to Berkeley, California) and face their first seasons under replacements drained of almost all recognizable talent. Who knows? In a field rounded out by Santa Clara, Georgia Tech, Rider and Rhode Island, that may be the defining principle.
Why you'll want to watch: The chance to see Kansas play Michigan State? It's not exactly the rarest matchup in college hoops; it happened just two years ago at the Champions Classic and is likely to happen again in 2015. Still, it's a significant nonconference game with genuine late-February seeding implications at a moment in the season when both teams will still be largely unformed. It's worth watching out for, no question.
Meanwhile, "who knows?" may be the upside of this tournament overall. Maybe Donnie Tyndall's new crop at Tennessee comes out of the gate hot. Maybe Marquette under Steve Wojciechowski has more talent waiting in the wings -- even with last week's departure of frequent Williams antagonist Todd Mayo -- than anyone expects. The same could be true of Georgia Tech, Santa Clara or Rhode Island. OK, maybe not. But maybe! You never -- well, you know.