College Basketball Nation: 2012 Bracket Reveal

Tournament bracket for the EA SPORTS Maui Invitational

When and where: Nov. 19-21 at Lahaina Civic Center in Maui, Hawaii

Initial thoughts: This year marks the 30th anniversary of what many consider the greatest upset in college basketball history -- when tiny Chaminade, then an NAIA school, upset Ralph Sampson’s top-ranked Virginia team on Dec. 23, 1982. The stunning upset (in what was supposed to be an easy stopover game for the Cavaliers, on their way home from Tokyo) spurred creation of the Maui Classic, now known as the EA Sports Maui Invitational. Chaminade, now a Division II school, still serves as host, and it will be interesting to see if there is a surprise or two this season. After all, North Carolina will still be rejiggering its lineup after losing four starters to the NBA draft; Texas has to figure out how to replace J’Covan Brown’s 20.1 ppg; and Marquette will still be looking to see which members of last season’s supporting cast will step up and stand out without Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom.

[+] EnlargeMyck Kabongo
Brendan Maloney/US PresswireSophomore point guard Myck Kabongo will direct a talented group of freshmen at Texas.
Meanwhile, Illinois (John Groce) and Mississippi State (Rick Ray) will be breaking in new coaches; USC’s Kevin O’Neill will be melding a passel of new players (including a couple of transfers and a couple of guys sidelined by injuries last season); and Butler will be trying to prove it can shoot the ball a whole lot better than 2011-12 (28 percent on 3-pointers). Chaminade, by the way, holds an all-time record of 6-76 in this tournament.

Matchup I can’t wait to see: Illinois-USC could be interesting just because everything is so new. After losing 12 of its final 14 games, Illinois fired Bruce Weber and replaced him with Groce, who led Ohio to the Sweet 16 in March. USC is also coming off a bad season, having won only one conference game. But a couple of transfers from Wake Forest (Ari Stewart and J.T. Terrell) and a high-scoring forward from UC Irvine (Eric Wise), plus the return of point guard Jio Fontan and center Dewayne Dedmon from knee injuries, have folks wondering if the Trojans can bounce back all the way to March.

Potential matchup I’d like to see: UNC-Texas. Granted, these two are scheduled to play in Austin on Dec. 19, but why not a preview in paradise? The title game would feature a bunch of rookie big men -- Joel James and Brice Johnson for UNC; Cameron Ridley, Prince Ibeh and Connor Lammert for Texas -- with a chance to make a big impact.

Five players to watch

Vander Blue, Marquette: It’s hard to get a whole lot of attention when you’re in a starting lineup with guys like Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom. But now that they’ve gone to the NBA, the Golden Eagles need the junior to improve upon his 8.4 points and 4.4 rebounds from last season.

Rotnei Clarke, Butler: The Bulldogs are hoping the senior guard -- who sat out last season per NCAA transfer rules -- will add some accuracy from outside. He averaged 15.2 points and made 43.8 percent of his 3-pointers during his junior season at Arkansas before opting out. Butler made fewer than 30 percent of its 3-point shots last season.

Myck Kabongo, Texas: The Longhorns bring in a deep recruiting class, led by heralded center Cameron Ridley. But they’ll need Kabongo, a sophomore point guard, to get him the ball. And to be a strong leader to the newbies.

Marcus Paige, North Carolina: Whether the freshman point guard begins the season as a starter probably depends on how well senior Dexter Strickland has recuperated from February ACL surgery. Either way, the Iowa product (who also had foot surgery during the offseason) will be counted on to contribute quickly. And a lot.

J.T. Terrell, USC: Trojans coach Kevin O’Neill is excited about the addition of Terrell, and the 6-3 guard will get a chance to show why. He averaged 11.1 points and 1.6 assists at Wake Forest in 2010-11, but played at Peninsula College in Washington last season. Terrell withdrew from Wake after he was arrested last September and charged with driving while impaired.

Title-game prediction

North Carolina over Texas. The Tar Heels preceded their last two national championships by winning the Maui Invitational. And although they don’t have that caliber of a team this season, they do have some talented returning veterans (Dexter Strickland, Leslie McDonald, Reggie Bullock) already out to prove they are being overlooked.

Who others are picking:

Eamonn Brennan: Butler over Texas
Andy Katz: North Carolina over Texas
Jason King: North Carolina over Texas
Myron Medcalf: North Carolina over Texas
Dana O'Neil: North Carolina over Texas

Bracket reveal: CBE Classic

July, 26, 2012
When and where: Nov. 19-20 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. (each of the four featured teams will host two games on their home floor prior to the semis)

Semifinal schedule for the CBE Classic

Nov. 19: Texas A&M vs. Saint Louis (7:30 ET, ESPNU); Kansas vs. Washington State (10 ET, ESPN2)
Nov. 20: Third-place game (7 ET, ESPN3); championship game (9:30 ET, ESPNU)

Initial thoughts: The knee-jerk reaction is to look at this bracket and tab Kansas as the runaway favorite. But don’t hand the trophy to the Jayhawks just yet. Saint Louis is the choice of many to win the 16-team Atlantic 10 this season, and it doesn’t hurt that the Billikens tout one of the country’s top coaches in Rick Majerus. ... Kansas, which features eight freshmen, may still be trying to work out some kinks as it incorporates new players early in the season, which would be natural. ... Watch out for SLU on the perimeter. Kwamain Mitchell, Jordair Jett and Mike McCall Jr. were each among the team’s top six scorers last season. All of them are guards. ... Texas A&M players are used to playing at the Sprint Center from their days as a member of the Big 12. Billy Kennedy’s team lost Khris Middleton to the NBA draft and Dash Harris and David Loubeau to graduation. The Aggies have five newcomers, including four who play on the perimeter. ... Ken Bone has had three straight winning seasons at Washington State but has yet to lead the Cougars to the NCAA tournament or an upper-half finish in the Pac-12.

[+] EnlargeJeff Withey
John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/MCT/Getty ImagesA youthful Kansas team will surely rely on veteran Jeff Withey's ability to swat shots next season.
Matchup I can't wait to see: Texas A&M vs. Saint Louis. Even though the Billikens appear to be better on paper, it’d be foolish for them to look past A&M. The Aggies return leading scorer Elston Turner and are solid down low with Kourtney Roberson (who missed all but 10 games last season with an injury) and leading returning rebounder Ray Turner.

Potential matchup I'd like to see: Kansas vs. Saint Louis. Even in a loss, a strong performance against the Jayhawks would likely vault SLU into the Top 25 -- if it isn’t there already.

Five players to watch

Keith Carter, Saint Louis: Billikens coach Rick Majerus said Carter, a freshman, is the second best guard he’s ever had. No. 1 for Majerus is Andre Miller, who led Utah to the 1998 NCAA title game before a long career in the NBA.

Ben McLemore, Kansas: His teammates have compared him to former KU star Brandon Rush, and head coach Bill Self said McLemore is one of the most athletic players he’s ever signed. A wing who redshirted last season, McLemore has yet to play a college game. Could this be his coming-out party?

Brock Motum, Washington State: The 6-foot-10, 230-pound Motum is one of the best players in the Pac-12. He averaged team highs in both points (18) and rebounds (6.4) last season. It’ll be interesting to see him battle KU’s Jeff Withey in the opening round.

Elston Turner, Texas A&M: Turner, who began his career at Washington, led Texas A&M in scoring last season with 13.6 points per game. The small forward also shot a respectable 39 percent from 3-point range.

Jeff Withey, Kansas: The 7-foot senior will enter the season as the nation’s premier shot-blocker. Withey averaged 3.6 swats per contest last season. With Thomas Robinson now in the NBA, the onus will be on Withey to become more of a threat on offense.

Title-game prediction

Kansas over Saint Louis. Their roster may feature eight freshmen, but the Jayhawks still have a solid group of returning players in Withey, Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford and Kevin Young. This will feel like a home game for Kansas. Granted, that didn’t matter two years ago, when Self’s squad dropped a nonconference game against Davidson at the Sprint Center.

Who others are picking:

Eamonn Brennan: Kansas over Saint Louis
Andy Katz: Kansas over Saint Louis
Myron Medcalf: Kansas over Saint Louis
Dana O'Neil: Kansas over Saint Louis
When and where: Nov. 23-24 at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas

Semifinal schedule for the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational
Nov. 23: Arizona State vs. Arkansas (7 p.m. ET, ESPN3); Creighton vs. Wisconsin (10 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
Nov. 24: Third-place game (8 p.m. ET, ESPN3); championship game (11 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

Initial thoughts: The bracket is lopsided. Creighton and Wisconsin are clearly the two best teams and this field wasn’t seeded correctly, in my opinion. ... Creighton has the star of the four-team event with rising junior Doug McDermott. McDermott will be the best player on the court in either game. ... Arizona State finally gets to put sophomore Jahii Carson on the national stage. He was held out last season due to academics. He’s expected to be eligible, which means the Sun Devils finally get their star recruit on the court. ... Wisconsin has a potential stud in freshman Sam Dekker, who will be a big-time scorer for the Badgers before his career is over. ... Arkansas has another offseason to get Mike Anderson’s fastest 40-minutes system. The Hogs were an erratic bunch in his first year. This will be a good test to see where they stand. ... Badgers fans traditionally travel well to Las Vegas. Creighton has a loyal following from Omaha as well. Don’t be surprised to see the second game with the most fans in the arena.

[+] EnlargeDoug McDermott
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesForward Doug McDermott led Creighton last season with almost 23 points per game.
Matchup I can't wait to see: Well, the organizers apparently wanted to make sure the best game occurred in pitting Creighton against Wisconsin. The Bluejays have the more efficient offensive team, while the Badgers should be a more stingy defensive unit. Expect this game to be played tight and down to the final few possessions.

Potential matchup I'd like to see: It would be interesting to find out how McDermott handles a team that wants to push the tempo as much as Arkansas. McDermott will have to deal with plenty of quicker defensive teams throughout the season, but maybe not one as pestering as the Hogs. This would be a quality test for the Bluejays if Creighton can get past the Badgers.

Key players to watch

Jahii Carson, Arizona State: The Sun Devils struggled to shoot and score last season. Carson’s absence didn’t help. Coach Herb Sendek said Carson has done well in offseason workouts and has shown his quickness, leadership and scoring potential. The Sun Devils desperately need Carson to be a James Harden-type performer to help them climb out of the bottom of the conference.

Ryan Evans, Wisconsin: Evans is the classic Bo Ryan Badger. He continued to improve as he matured, got stronger and received more opportunities. Evans went from 2.8 points to 11 as his minutes increased 20-plus a game. He will never be a star, but he has a shot to be an All-Big Ten performer with his knack for making big-time buckets in opportune moments. He knows the Ryan system as well as any player on the team.

Doug McDermott, Creighton: McDermott averaged 22.9 points and 8.2 rebounds a game. He has found ways to score all over the court. He’s a potential preseason first-team All-American and national player of the year candidate. Enough said.

BJ Young, Arkansas: Kentucky freshman Antonio Davis dominated the headlines in the SEC. A top-three pick in Bradley Beal at Florida also got his share of attention. But Young had a fantastic freshman season for Arkansas that essentially got overlooked. He averaged 15.3 points and 2.3 assists a game. If the Hogs are to be a problem in the SEC, Young will be the reason.

Title-game prediction

Creighton over Arkansas: Wisconsin will be a tough out once the Big Ten hits, but the Bluejays should be the most experienced and ready team for an early-season, neutral-site tournament. Creighton will need this title more than any other team, too. The opportunities simply aren’t as plentiful for the Jays. This team won 29 games last season and lost one major player in Antoine Young. The rest of the crew came back for what should be another Missouri Valley Conference title season and a possible deeper run in the NCAA tournament, a campaign that will start with a Las Vegas Invitational title.

Who others are picking:

Eamonn Brennan: Wisconsin over Arkansas
Jason King: Creighton over Arkansas
Myron Medcalf: Wisconsin over Arkansas
Dana O'Neil: Creighton over Arkansas

Bracket reveal: Puerto Rico Tip-Off

July, 26, 2012

Tournament bracket for the Puerto Rico Tip-Off

When and where: Nov. 15-16, 18 at Coliseo de Puerto Rico in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Initial thoughts: NC State is hardly a lock to win this event. The Wolfpack will be getting all the preseason praise but Tennessee is a legit SEC top-three contender and will be one of the hardest teams NC State has to play if the two teams meet in the final. ... Oklahoma State will debut one of the most heralded freshmen in Marcus Smart, who was beloved by the U18 USA coaches when they won gold in Brazil last month. ... Don’t sleep on UMass. The Minutemen are a legit A-10 contender and have a quality guard in Chaz Williams, formerly of Hofstra. ... Providence coach Ed Cooley said he has the best guard in the Big East in Vincent Council. He may be right. ... Penn State will be on national display in this event for the first time with its men’s basketball team. By the time this game occurs, the football story will be nearly over for the fall and the Nittany Lions will need a new team to rally around. Pat Chambers has the personality to spark belief in his product. ... Back to NCSU. This is a critical tournament for its credibility. The Wolfpack have rightfully received preseason publicity as a potential ACC champ, but a flameout in Puerto Rico will fuel the narrative that they’re not ready for primetime. ... The field in this event may not seem filled with NCAA-bound teams, but Oklahoma State and Massachusetts have a real shot to be on the bubble in March.

Matchup I can’t wait to see: As odd as this sounds, a UMass-Providence matchup in Puerto Rico is tantalizing. If Williams and Council were to guard each other it could be the toughest test either will face during the season. PC is still holding out hope that Ricky Ledo is eligible, too. The Minutemen have a strong producer inside in Terrell Vinson. I can’t see Providence advancing past NC State. UMass would give the Pack a better game but the Minutemen will be pushed in this opener and may have a difficult time getting out of the first round.

Potential matchup I can’t wait to see: Oklahoma State-Tennessee in the semis would put quite a bit of talent on the floor. The Volunteers have Jarnell Stokes and Trae Golden to go along with Jeronne Maymon, while Oklahoma State has Smart, Le'Bryan Nash and Cezar Guerrero, who can all fill the stat sheet. But if this matchup occurs, expect the Vols to make life extremely difficult for the more finesse Cowboys.

Key players to watch

Jeremy Atkinson and Jaron Lane, UNC Asheville: The pair of rising seniors have to take significant steps forward after the Bulldogs lost their top three scorers from a team that won the Big South, earned a No. 16 seed and went toe to toe with Syracuse in the NCAA tourney. Asheville is one of the more inexperienced teams in this field and may struggle to avoid being in the 0-2 seventh-eighth-place game.

[+] EnlargeLorenzo Brown
Tony Dejak/AP PhotoNC State needs a healthy Lorenzo Brown to lead the team.
Lorenzo Brown, NC State: Brown had offseason knee surgery and his status for the Wolfpack's trip to Spain is in jeopardy. But if the Wolfpack are going to be an ACC title team, Brown must be the leader Mark Gottfried needs in key games like these in Puerto Rico. He’ll have plenty of help with the arrival of Rodney Purvis, T.J. Warren and Tyler Lewis and the return of C.J. Leslie, Richard Howell and Scott Wood. But Brown must be the team’s designated leader.

Vincent Council, Providence: Council’s numbers have continued to rise during his three seasons. He finds scoring rather easy. The departure of Gerard Coleman and the unknown status of Ricky Ledo and the injury to Kris Dunn means even more pressure will be on Council to shine early and often next season.

Tim Frazier, Penn State: The Nittany Lions tended to have at least one go-to player/headliner under Ed DeChellis. Now Chambers has one in Frazier, who shined with more opportunities and averaged 18.8 points a game. Expect him to have the ball in all critical situations for PSU. Frazier has All-Big Ten potential. This event will be a solid prep for him going into the conference.

Zeke Marshall, Akron: I remember seeing Marshall at the LeBron James camp in Akron when he was a junior in high school and wondering why this shot-blocker was going to the MAC. But Keith Dambrot stayed on him from the beginning and landed the best big man in the league. Marshall should get a chance to shine in three games in Puerto Rico and start to build a following for his senior season.

Le'Bryan Nash, Oklahoma State: Nash had his moments where he was a star and others when he was an enigma during his freshman season. He has a shot to be one of the more productive players in the Big 12. He doesn’t have all the pressure on him anymore with Smart’s arrival. This is a significant season for Nash, both in college and in shaping how the NBA views him as a possible draft pick.

Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee: Stokes started off last season season in high school, graduated early and suddenly was having a major impact scoring and on the backboard in the SEC. Now Cuonzo Martin gets Stokes for a full offseason and to tip off the year. He has a wide base and should be the most immovable post player in this event. He is on a team with experience and that trusts him to finish when he calls for the ball in the post.

Chaz Williams, UMass: Derek Kellogg’s program was struggling, rudderless at the most important position until Williams became eligible. He saved the team and the program from being mediocre and now he can elevate the Minutemen to the NCAA tournament. Williams will have the ball in his hands plenty throughout the four-day, three-game tournament.

Predicted winner: If Brown is healthy, then NC State wins this event over Tennessee. But the Vols are more than capable of taking down the Wolfpack even with a healthy Brown playing. If any other teams are in the final, then it’s a disappointing start for NCSU and UT. The pressure is on the Pack to get off to a signature start before high-profile games which follow in late November and early December. They are going to have to defend to beat Tennessee and do it with more purpose. The Vols will be ready for a physical scrum. This is the type of early-season tournament that could upset the rankings if UT wins. But I’ll stick with NC State for now as the favorite.

Who others are picking:

Eamonn Brennan: NC State over Oklahoma State
Jason King: NC State over Oklahoma State
Myron Medcalf: NC State over Tennessee
Dana O'Neil: NC State over Tennessee

Bracket reveal: Legends Classic

July, 26, 2012

When and where: Nov. 19-20 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Semifinal schedule for the Legends Classic
Nov. 19: Indiana vs. Georgia (5:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU); UCLA vs. Georgetown (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
Nov. 20: Third-place game (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU); championship game (10 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Initial thoughts: It may be a simple four-game showcase, but this is a high-profile and exciting way to bring college hoops to the shiny, bottle-service-in-your-luxury-box Barclays Center. I'm all-in. ... These four teams have combined for 119 NCAA tournament appearances, primarily thanks to Indiana, UCLA and Georgetown, three of the sport's most storied programs. ... This is UCLA's coming-out party, and it's going to be fascinating to see that talented squad begin to sort itself out in some of its first high-profile, klieg-light competition.

[+] EnlargeCody Zeller
Richard Mackson/US PresswireIndiana's Cody Zeller enters his sophomore season as one of the favorites for national player of the year.
Matchup I can't wait to see: UCLA versus Georgetown. It's really our first glimpse at UCLA uber-recruits Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson. It will also be our first look at how those players fit alongside purportedly slimming center Joshua Smith, forwards Travis and David Wear and former UNC point guard Larry Drew II, who could be the straw that stirs the drink or ... well, whatever the opposite of that metaphor would be. When Drew II rightfully lost his point guard spot to Kendall Marshall at UNC, he quit and transferred to UCLA a few weeks later. He should have redemption on his mind from day one in 2012-13. By the way, this isn't all about UCLA. Georgetown is going to be talented in its own right. Don't be shocked if swingman Otto Porter, and not Muhammad or Anderson, is the best player on the floor.

Potential matchup I'd like to see: Indiana vs. UCLA. I'd be fine with Indiana-Georgetown too, but a chance to see what is likely to be two top-five teams -- not to mention two all-time bluebloods -- square off as early as Nov. 20 is absolute manna from the hoops heavens.

Five players to watch

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Georgia: The 6-foot-5 shooting guard arrived at Georgia as the putative in-state savior, and while he wasn't quite that good as a freshman, he displayed plenty of long-term potential. The Legends Classic will be our first look at him since.

Larry Drew II, UCLA: There are a lot of players who deserve consideration (IU's Yogi Ferrell, UCLA's Anderson, Georgetown's Stephen Domingo), but Drew II might be the most fascinating, given his epic flameout at UNC and his reputation for being less than team-oriented. This is a huge season for UCLA. The Bruins' talent is immense. Has Drew II matured? Can he lead a team? Does he even need to? We'll see.

Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA: A 6-foot-6 guard with a versatile array of skills, he arrives in Westwood with as much hype as any UCLA freshman in some time. But is Muhammad all he is cracked up to be? Will he work in coach Ben Howland's system? You know what they say about first impressions.

Otto Porter, Georgetown: The stretchy swingman emerged from small-town Missouri in relative anonymity last season just in time to make a major impression on an upperclassmen-led Georgetown team. This year, Porter takes the reins, and Hoyas fans are right to expect big things.

Cody Zeller, Indiana: Zeller was already a beast as a freshman, but he spent the summer expanding his game and improving his core strength. This will be the first chance to see -- against quality competition at least -- the results of that offseason regimen. It's an early glimpse at the early favorite for national player of the year.

Title-game prediction

Indiana over UCLA: I get the feeling the Bruins will be a work in progress throughout November and December, which is OK; there's a lot of talent to mesh in one offseason. Indiana has its own pieces to incorporate but will arrive in 2012-13 much more fully formed, and it'll be the better team at the Legends Classic.

Whom others are picking:

Andy Katz: Indiana over UCLA
Jason King: Indiana over UCLA
Myron Medcalf: Indiana over UCLA
Dana O'Neil: Indiana over UCLA

Bracket reveal: Anaheim Classic

July, 26, 2012

Tournament bracket for the 2012 Anaheim Classic

When and where: Nov. 22-23, 25 at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, Calif.

Initial thoughts: On the surface, this isn’t a very sexy tournament but there are some intriguing teams here to keep an eye on. Now that VCU and Old Dominion have bolted, most everyone agrees that the CAA is Drexel’s league to lose this season. Still, Bruiser Flint knows well the need to build up a nonconference resume and wins here would help.

[+] EnlargeAllen Crabbe
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireA Cal team led by Allen Crabbe is a favorite in this tournament.
I’m really curious to see what Xavier is all about after last year’s turbulent season. Mark Lyons is gone, which could be a good thing for the Musketeers. A terrific player, he was a handful to coach and while losing him, plus Tu Holloway, hurts in the scoring column, Xavier might be better off in the long run parting ways with Lyons.

California should be among the better teams in the potentially resurgent Pac-12, but has to adjust to losing Jorge Gutierrez.

Mfon Udofia has to be both leader and scorer for Georgia Tech now that Brian Gregory has dismissed Glen Rice Jr. from the team.

Drake coach Mark Phelps rolls out a roster with eight newcomers, not exactly what you want against the more experienced lineup that Cal will present.

Ben Braun got Rice to turn the corner last season, gobbling up the Owls’ most wins (19) in seven years. He welcomes back his two top scorers, as Rice could be a bit of a sleeper here.

Saint Mary’s is coming off an historic regular season, winning both the West Coast Conference regular season and tournament, but had a disappointing loss to Purdue in the NCAA tournament. Matthew Dellavedova is back, but Rob Jones is gone.

Matchup I can’t wait to see: Drexel vs. Saint Mary’s. One of the nation’s best defensive teams against one of the country’s best offensive squads? Frantz Massenat and Chris Fouch going up against Dellavedova? What’s not to like here? This game could be high-caliber enough to qualify as a BracketBuster.

Potential matchup I’d like to see: Cal vs. Saint Mary’s. It’s a California tournament. Why not let the two in-state teams from NorCal duke it out for the title?

Key players to watch

Robert Carter, Georgia Tech: The native son has been viewed as a sort of savior for the Yellow Jackets. The power forward, ranked 33rd in the country in the ESPN 100, is certainly a critical piece as Brian Gregory tries to resurrect Tech.

Allen Crabbe, Cal: One of the top returning scorers in the Pac-12, Crabbe, along with teammate Justin Cobbs, serve as a 1-2 punch of optimism for the Golden Bears this season.

Matthew Dellavedova, SMC: The WCC player of the year will spend his summer in London, playing for the Australian Olympic team. Expect that experience to make the playmaker only that much better.

Arsalan Kazemi, Rice: You might never have heard of Kazemi, but in three years few players have been as steady as he has been for Rice. Kazemi has averaged a double-double in each of his collegiate seasons.

Frantz Massenat, Drexel: Massenat figures to be one of the mid-major players plenty of people will keep an eye on this season. The Dragons’ leading scorer from a year ago averaged 13.7 points per game as a sophomore.

Ben Simons, Drake: The third-leading scorer in the Missouri Valley a year ago, Simons doubled his scoring output between his sophomore and junior years. With a roster full of newcomers, expect Simons to be asked to score even more this season.

Dez Wells, Xavier: Wells goes from understudy to front and center, now that Holloway and Lyons are gone. He’s been terrific in a supporting role, averaging 9.8 points as a freshman.

Title-game prediction

Cal over Saint Mary's: College basketball, like most sports, isn’t that complicated. Talent and experience make for a pretty good combo and the Bears have more of each than anyone else in this field.

Who others are picking:

Eamonn Brennan: Saint Mary's over Cal
Andy Katz: Drexel over Cal
Jason King: Cal over Saint Mary's
Myron Medcalf: Drexel over Cal

Bracket reveal: 2K Sports Classic

July, 26, 2012
When and where: Nov. 15-16 at Madison Square Garden in New York

Semifinal schedule for the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Wounded Warrior Project
Nov. 15: Alabama vs. Oregon State (7 ET, ESPN2); Villanova vs. Purdue (9:30 ET, ESPN2)
Nov. 16: Third-place game (5 ET, ESPN2/ESPNU); championship game (7:30 ET, ESPN2)

Initial thoughts: This is sort of the show-me tournament. Show me (and fans and everyone else) who is ready to be a player in the national game this season. All four of the teams in the field have the potential, but all four have huge question marks, too. For Oregon State, which finished a hugely improved 21-15 last season, is this finally the year the Beavers make the NCAA tournament? Or is that a silly question to ask now that Jared Cunningham has moved on to the NBA? … Alabama was a function in dysfunction a year ago. Anthony Grant drew a hard -- and rightful -- line in the sand, suspending Tony Mitchell and JaMychal Green. Now those two are gone and Grant is back at it, trying to turn the Crimson Tide into regular NCAA tournament participants. … For Purdue, it is officially time for life after Robbie Hummel and while the Boilermakers always restock, this time Matt Painter will rely heavily on five new players to fill critical roles. … Finally Villanova, after a disastrous season, is playing without its two leading scorers, Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek, who both left school early and went undrafted. Can Wake Forest transfer Tony Chennault help the Wildcats right the ship?

[+] EnlargeCraig Robinson
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesCould the 2K Sports Classic catapult Oregon State and coach Craig Robinson back to the NCAA tournament?
Matchup I can't wait to see: Purdue vs. Villanova. Mostly because I’m curious what the Wildcats will be like this season. Nova was a colossal train wreck in 2011-12, false starting with a 4-0 opening against lackluster opponents before sliding into oblivion. Maybe the Cats will be better this season, fueled by players who want to be in college as opposed to those who are looking for greener pastures.

Potential matchup I'd like to see: Oregon State vs. Purdue. Let’s call it as it is here. There isn’t a whole lot to get the blood pressure going in this one, so I’d like to see how the Beavers could fare against maybe the most stable and reliable team in this field. If Oregon State really plans to be a player this season, then it’s got to make inroads against the old steady programs in the sport.

Key players to watch

Tony Chennault, Villanova: The NCAA granted Chennault a hardship waiver, allowing the Wake Forest transfer to play immediately. Villanova will need it. Without Dominic Cheek and Maalik Wayns, the Wildcats are in dire need of scoring and talent. Chennault provides both.

Ronnie Johnson, Purdue: Terone’s little brother could just be the biggest piece in the Boilermakers’ puzzle this year. With Kelsey Barlow dismissed from the team and John Hart transferring, Purdue is in need of a point guard, which is where Ronnie comes in. The Indiana native earned a top 100 ranking coming out of high school.

Devonta Pollard, Alabama: The McDonald’s All-American is a huge piece for Anthony Grant, waltzing onto campus now that Mitchell and Green have left. Lots of eyes will be watching to see what Pollard can do to keep the Crimson Tide relevant.

Roberto Nelson, Oregon State: No biggie here. Nelson just slides into the starting lineup replacing Cunningham, the Beavers’ first first-round draft pick since 1995. Easy as pie. The good news for coach Craig Robinson is that Nelson comes with plenty of experience. The former sixth man averaged 9.3 points a year ago.

Title-game prediction

Oregon State over Purdue. There’s an awful lot of question marks on every roster, but with a hefty dose of returnees and a solid sixth man to insert into the starting five, the Beavers have the most answers.

Who others are picking:

Eamonn Brennan: Villanova over Alabama
Andy Katz: Villanova over Oregon State
Jason King: Alabama over Villanova
Myron Medcalf: Villanova over Alabama

Tournament bracket for the Diamond Head Classic

When and where: Dec. 22-23, 25 at the Stan Sheriff Center in Honolulu, Hawaii

Initial thoughts: San Diego State and Arizona are the main attractions, and rightfully so -- UA is a potential top-10 team, while SDSU has blossomed into a perennial NCAA tournament program in Steve Fisher's recent rebuild. That said, don't sleep on Miami. If they stay healthy, the Hurricanes have bodies big enough to trouble anyone. San Francisco lost nine -- yes, nine -- players this offseason, six of whom transferred out of the program in rather unexpected fashion. In other words, at least the Dons get to go to Hawaii this year. Silver linings and all that.

[+] EnlargeKaleb Tarczewski
J.Anthony Roberts/ESPNHS.comKaleb Tarczewski is the top-ranked player in Arizona's highly-regarded incoming class.
Matchup I can’t wait to see: To be perfectly frank, I'm not sure I can get too worked up about any of those first-round matchups, although the hometown Warriors hosting an ACC school should make for a fun atmosphere. If the Hurricanes survive that, their matchup with Arizona would be a quality marker for both teams as they prepare for conference play.

Potential matchup I’d like to see: San Diego State vs. Arizona. Two top programs in the West slugging it out on Christmas night? Yes please. The way-too-early edge probably goes to the Wildcats, given all the talent in Sean Miller's 2012 recruiting class, but an experienced, physical Aztecs team should be up to the challenge.

Five players to watch

Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State: A multitalented swingman, Franklin had a very good sophomore season, but he still has plenty to improve, particularly his outside shooting. If he branches his game out further away from the rim, he could be a nigh-unstoppable force in the Mountain West this season.

Grant Jerrett, Arizona: How good is Miller's 2012 class? Top-five prospect Kaleb Tarczewski is only barely its highest-ranked member. Jerrett comes in at No. 9 in the ESPN 100 (and fellow power forward Brandon Ashley ranks No. 16), and his scouting report says he's improving at "an alarming rate." By the time December rolls around, Arizona's young frontcourt might just be the best in the country.

Durand Scott, Miami: Scott will be the lead guard for a Miami team with a very clear goal -- a trip to the NCAA tournament -- in Jim Larranaga's second season. With Malcolm Grant departed, Scott will need to do even more to lead a brutish frontcourt duo of Kenny Kadji and Reggie Johnson.

Chase Tapley, San Diego State: The SDSU senior is one of the few remnants from 2011's dream 34-3 season, and he had a chance to step into a starring role last year. In addition to shooting 43 percent from 3, Tapley was also his team's best perimeter defender.

Kaleb Tarczewski, Arizona: The No. 4-ranked player in the class of 2012 is the centerpiece -- literally and figuratively -- of Miller's very impressive recruiting work since his arrival in Tucson. Tarczewski could be this season's Cody Zeller, an intuitively talented big man who is far from the complete package, but is good enough to lead his vaunted program back to national relevance once again.

Title-game prediction

Arizona over San Diego State: If this game were earlier in the season, when Arizona's coterie of freshman were still finding their sea legs, I'd probably give the edge to SDSU. But come Christmastime Arizona will have had nearly two months to build around that star-studded freshman class, and their sheer talent wins out.

Who others are picking:

Andy Katz: Arizona over San Diego State
Jason King: Arizona over San Diego State
Myron Medcalf: Arizona over San Diego State
Dana O'Neil: Arizona over San Diego State
When and where: Nov. 17-18 at Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, Conn.

Naismith Bracket
Nov. 17: Ohio State vs. Rhode Island (5 ET, ESPN3); Seton Hall vs. Washington (7:30 ET, ESPN3)
Nov. 18: Third-place game (7 ET, ESPN3); championship game (4:30 ET, ESPN2)

Springfield Bracket
Nov. 17: Norfolk State vs. Loyola, Md. (Noon ET); Albany vs. Missouri-Kansas City (2:30 ET)
Nov. 18: Third-place game (11:30 a.m. ET); championship game (2 ET)

[+] EnlargeAaron Craft
Richard Mackson/US PresswireAaron Craft must now run Ohio State's offense without Jared Sullinger.
Initial thoughts: I’m somewhat intrigued, especially with Ohio State and Washington potentially meeting in the title game. Both squads, which lost a combined three first-round picks in June’s NBA draft, reboot. I want to see what Deshaun Thomas does with his new position as the go-to guy for the Buckeyes following the departure of Jared Sullinger. Aaron Craft had offseason surgery to repair bone chips in his ankle. He’s been hampered for years by the injury. Now that he’s healthy, will his defense wreak even more havoc on the perimeter? Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten Jr. are gone, so the Huskies will turn to Abdul Gaddy and C.J. Wilcox this season. The duo is the program’s only hope to remain relevant in a top-heavy Pac-12 (see Arizona and UCLA).

The rest of the field is so-so based on talent, but it’s backed by good story lines. Seton Hall will likely take a dip after losing Jordan Theodore and Herb Pope. Rhode Island’s Dan Hurley kicks off his first season in the Atlantic 10 after leading Wagner to one of the greatest seasons in program history. But leading scorer Jamal Wilson graduated and the team’s No. 2 scorer, Billy Baron, transferred after his father and former head coach Jim Baron was fired. Look for freshman Jordan Hare, a 6-foot-10 center from Michigan, to earn big minutes in his first season.

The mid-major participants offer a few gems. Loyola (Md.) forward Erik Etherly finished with 19 points, seven rebounds and four blocks during an NCAA tournament loss to Ohio State last season. Cinderella Norfolk State is coming off its March upset of No. 2-seed Missouri. But the star of that game, Kyle O’Quinn (26 points), has graduated. Pendarvis Williams, who dropped 20 on the Tigers, is the new leader for a program that shocked the country with a win over a Tigers squad that looked like a Final Four team entering the Big Dance.

Matchup I can't wait to see: Ohio State-Rhode Island. Hurley took over Wagner a year after the program had won five games. Last season, the team earned 26 victories. That’s why he was such a coveted orchestrator in the offseason. He’s taking over a URI squad that went 7-24 and finished No. 202 in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings. But he can change the Rams. I’m not picking the upset, but this could be a surprising matchup between a newly motivated Rams squad and a Buckeyes team adjusting to life without Sullinger.

Potential matchup I'd like to see: Ohio State-Washington. The two teams that could meet in the championship game of the Naismith bracket are in similar positions. New identities for both teams. Sullinger has been the heart of the Buckeyes program for the last two seasons. Now that offense will revolve around Thomas and it will be a completely different look for an OSU squad that’s relied on the nation’s top pure post presence. Last season, the Huskies won the Pac-12 regular season title with Ross and Wroten, a pair of underclassmen. They’ve lost a lot of firepower. An early upset over the Bucks, however, could set the tone for UW's season.

Five players to watch

Aaron Craft, Ohio State: He’s definitely in the “best point guard in America” conversation. This is an important event for Craft (8.8 ppg, 4.6 apg), one of the country's top defenders (2.5 spg). He’s coming off summer ankle surgery and now the floor leader must learn to operate within a Buckeyes offense that no longer features Sullinger.

Erik Etherly, Loyola: He’s the top player for a Greyhounds squad that should be the favorite to win the MAAC this season. The senior forward averaged 13.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 1.9 apg, 1.5 bpg and 1.1 spg in 2011-12.

Jordan Hare, Rhode Island: Hare maintained his commitment to the Rams after Hurley took the job. The 6-foot-10 center from Saginaw, Mich., chose Rhode Island over Michigan, Michigan State and other high-major programs. He’s a crucial building block for Rhode Island and Hurley.

Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State: If he’d avoided his 3-for-14 outing in a Final Four loss to Kansas, Thomas might have entered the NBA draft. But the versatile scorer decided to return and enjoy his BMOC status now that Sullinger is in the pros. He’s the reason the Buckeyes have cracked the top 10 in early projections for the 2012-13 season. Yet, questions remain about his ability to affect games without the ball in his hands.

C.J. Wilcox, Washington: The Huskies lost a pair of first-round draft picks in Wroten and Ross. But Wilcox is back. He averaged 16.0 ppg in last season’s NIT, an extension of a promising season that featured nine games of 19 points or more for the NBA prospect.

Naismith title-game prediction

Ohio State over Washington. Thad Matta starts a new chapter without Sullinger, but he’ll have a more versatile team as LaQuinton Ross and Lenzelle Smith, Jr., play bigger roles. The Buckeyes are clearly the best team in the field. An upset is always possible, but it’s highly unlikely if Ohio State enters the tourney at full capacity. They’ll kick off the year with a victory at Mohegan.

Who others are picking:

Eamonn Brennan: Ohio State over Washington
Andy Katz: Ohio State over Washington
Jason King: Ohio State over Washington
Dana O'Neil: Ohio State over Washington
Tournament bracket for the 2012 Old Spice Classic

When and where: Nov. 22-23 and Nov. 25 at HP Fieldhouse in Orlando, Fla.

Initial thoughts: I like the field. Other than Gonzaga, the bracket contains a bunch of teams with a lot of question marks -- but there’s something for everyone in this field. West Virginia enters the Big 12 without last season’s scoring leaders, Truck Bryant and Kevin Jones. But Aaric Murray and Deniz Kilicli could be beasts in the paint for the Mountaineers. Led by De'Mon Brooks, Davidson returns the core of last season’s 25-win team and the Wildcats could certainly win this tournament. Oklahoma made strides in Lon Kruger’s first season, and its key players are back. Still not sure if that means much for the Sooners in this bracket or the Big 12. We’ll find out. UTEP should also be improved with the return of nearly everyone. Vanderbilt, however, lost everyone. Top five scorers from 2011-12? Gone. Now Kevin Stallings must rely on a group of young players, such as sophomore Dai-Jon Parker, No. 33 in the 2011 ESPN100. But Gonzaga is clearly the star of the tournament. Name it and the Bulldogs have it. They lost Robert Sacre, but Elias Harris returns after toying with the idea of entering the NBA draft. Sam Dower continues to mature and could break out this year. And Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. lead one of the most complete backcourts in the country.

[+] EnlargeElias Harris
AP Photo/Kevin P. CaseyAfter toying with the idea of entering the NBA draft, Elias Harris returns for his senior season at Gonzaga.
Matchup I can't wait to see: Gonzaga-Clemson. I think the Zags possess one of the most versatile rosters in the country, but their toughness will be tested early against the Tigers. Incoming freshman Jaron Blossomgame is the type of dynamic scoring threat with the versatility and athleticism to perplex Gonzaga's deep backcourt. Milton Jennings and Devin Booker could create problems for Mark Few's interior players if they’re physical and aggressive. But Clemson was one of the worst defensive units in America last season, and the Zags owned the No. 29 rating in adjusted offensive efficiency in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings. So it could be a shootout.

Potential matchup I'd like to see: Davidson-Gonzaga. I’d love to see a pair from mid-major leagues advance and compete for the title. Davidson beat Kansas in KC, so the Wildcats’ veterans wouldn't be intimidated by a Gonzaga team that should crack the Top 25 when preseason rankings are unveiled. And it’s always fun to watch Pangos simply because the “he might hit eight 3s tonight” potential starts at tipoff. This would be a great title game.

Five players to watch

Jake Cohen, Davidson: The Wildcats are sleepers in this tournament because they return the bulk of last season’s playmakers. Cohen, a 6-10 forward, is one of the anchors for a Davidson team with the potential to surprise the field. Cohen scored 24 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in a NCAA tournament loss to Louisville last season.

Milton Jennings, Clemson: He was a McDonald’s All-American in high school, but we’re still waiting for the senior to live up to that tag. This is his last chance. With Andre Young and Tanner Smith gone, there’s even more pressure on the 6-9 forward to play up to his potential. If he does, the Tigers could make a push for an NCAA tourney bid. If his struggles continue in his fourth and final season, the Tigers could fade away in the ACC.

Deniz Kilicli, West Virginia: The 6-9 forward must step up this season for a Mountaineers squad that relied on Jones last year. He averaged 10.7 ppg and 5.4 rpg for West Virginia during the 2011-12 campaign, but the senior recorded a 55 percent clip from the charity stripe. That has to change.

Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga: The 6-1 guard is one of the top young players in the country. He hit 40 percent of his 3-pointers and 85 percent of his free throws last season, while averaging 13.6 ppg. If Pangos struggles, there’s a good chance the Bulldogs will encounter problems, too. He scored a combined 17 points in Gonzaga’s last three regular-season losses.

Steven Pledger, Oklahoma: Pledger (16.2 ppg) helped Kruger get off to a respectable start (yes, .500 play is a respectable start when considering the NCAA investigation and messy finish to Jeff Capel’s tenure). Now, Pledger and other vital contributors return for a Sooners squad that could use this tourney as a catalyst for Kruger’s second season with the program.

Title-game prediction

Gonzaga over Davidson: Too many weapons for the Bulldogs. They’re tough inside. Harris is a force. And Pangos, Bell Jr. and David Stockton comprise a backcourt unit that’s just too tough for this field to harness. This could be a special Gonzaga squad.

Who others are picking:

Eamonn Brennan: Gonzaga over West Virginia
Andy Katz: Gonzaga over Davidson
Jason King: Gonzaga over West Virginia
Dana O'Neil: Gonzaga over West Virginia

Bracket reveal: Charleston Classic

July, 26, 2012

Tournament bracket for the 2012 Charleston Classic presented by Foster Grant

When and where: Nov. 15-16, 18 at TD Arena in Charleston, S.C.

Initial thoughts: This could turn out to be one of the better nonconference tournaments. ... Baylor advanced to the Elite Eight last season, Murray State went 31-2 and returns the bulk of its team and Colorado beat UNLV in the NCAA tourney and has plenty of momentum under Tad Boyle. ... Some of the country’s top freshmen post players will be in action. Baylor’s Isaiah Austin is projected as a top-five pick in next summer’s NBA draft. His teammate, Ricardo Gathers, was a top-40 recruit along with Colorado’s Josh Scott. ... It will be good to see St. John’s coach Steve Lavin back on the sideline. Lavin missed almost all of last season while recovering from prostate cancer. ... Archie Miller won 20 games in his first season as Dayton’s head coach in 2011-12. Will be interesting to see how the Flyers follow up. ... It also will be interesting to see what kind of improvements -- if any -- have been made at Auburn, which is regarded as one of the worst programs in the SEC but has recruited well lately. ... After the retirement of Bobby Cremins, College of Charleston has a new coach in Doug Wojcik, who spent the past seven seasons at Tulsa.

Matchup I can't wait to see: Dayton vs. Colorado. Of the four first-round games, this is probably the only one where both teams have the potential to earn NCAA tournament at-large berths. Colorado touts a potential lottery pick in forward Andre Roberson, who ranked fourth in the country in rebounding last season with 11.1 boards per game. Dayton returns three of its top five scorers, including Josh Benson, who missed the second half of last season with a knee injury.

[+] EnlargePierre Jackson
Nelson Chenault/US PresswireBaylor's Pierre Jackson, one of the nation's quickest point guards, has some sizeable help down low.
Potential matchup I'd like to see: Baylor vs. Murray State. Event organizers -- and college basketball fans -- would certainly be pleased with a championship game featuring two of the top five point guards in the nation. Pierre Jackson (Baylor) and Isaiah Canaan (Murray State), both Cousy Award finalists a year ago, would put on a hell of a show. The game, however, would likely be decided in the frontcourt. Murray’s Ed Daniel is poised for a breakthrough season, but the Racers might have trouble matching Baylor’s overall size and depth down low.

Five players to watch

Isaiah Austin, Baylor: The 7-foot freshman has a unique skill set. On offense, Austin is hardly limited to the paint. He has a nice touch from mid-range and can also handle the ball on the perimeter and swish 3-pointers. Austin is also expected to be one of the nation’s top shot-blockers.

Isaiah Canaan, Murray State: There may not be a better all-around point guard in the nation. Canaan shoots from long range, slashes to the basket with ferocity and generally makes good decisions. He averaged 19.0 points last season for a squad that went 31-2.

D'Angelo Harrison, St. John’s: As painful as it was to lose Maurice Harkless to the NBA draft, the Red Storm couldn’t be more excited about the return of Harrison, a shooting guard who averaged a team-high 16.8 points last season. Harrison, though, shot just 37 percent from the field, a number that will have to improve in 2012-13.

Pierre Jackson, Baylor: The 5-foot-10 junior-college transfer changed the culture of Baylor’s entire program last season by bringing swagger to a squad that was often criticized for being soft. Jackson averaged a team-high 13.8 points and 5.9 assists. There might not be a quicker point guard in America.

Andre Roberson, Colorado: The 6-7 Roberson may be a bit undersized in the paint, but that hardly showed last season when he averaged 11.6 points, 11.1 rebounds and 1.9 blocks for a team that won the Pac-12 tournament before upsetting UNLV for its first NCAA victory in 15 years. Roberson will likely be a first-round pick in next summer’s NBA draft.

Title-game prediction

Baylor over Murray State: Isaiah Austin, Ricardo Gathers, Cory Jefferson and J’Mison Morgan will be too much for the Racers down low.

Whom others are picking:

Eamonn Brennan: Baylor over St. John's
Andy Katz: Baylor over Murray State
Myron Medcalf: Baylor over Murray State
Dana O'Neil: Murray State over Colorado