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2K Sports Classic primer

11/15/2012

The four-team field of the 2K Sports Classic isn’t populated with superstars. Alabama, Oregon State, Villanova and Purdue aren’t expected to compete for the championships of their respective conferences -- if they reach their ceilings, they might find themselves on the bubble on Selection Sunday. Although there’s limited star power in this tournament, the parity could add to the competition. With so many potential bubble teams in the field, a 2K Sports Classic title could be a separating factor for the selection committee in four months.

The basics: Nov. 15-16 at Madison Square Garden in New York

The set matchups: Alabama vs. Oregon State, 7 p.m. ET; Villanova vs. Purdue, 9:30 p.m. (Both games on ESPN2)

The favorite: Last season, Alabama reached the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2006. But JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell, who averaged more than 27 points combined, are gone. Still, Anthony Grant has a team that can compete for a slot in the NCAA tournament. Trevor Lacey, Rodney Cooper, Andrew Steele and Trevor Releford comprise the field’s most talented core. They also have experience that some of the other participants lack. Those features should propel Alabama to a pair of victories and the tournament title.

FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH

Trevor Lacey, Alabama -- The 6-foot-3 guard scored 15 points in Bama’s season-opening victory over South Dakota State. He dropped 23 on West Alabama. Grant needed a new playmaker following the departures of Green and Mitchell. And Lacey looks like the player who will fill that role for the Tide in 2012-13.

Ronnie Johnson, Purdue -- Matt Painter uses three Johnsons (Terone, Ronnie and Anthony) in his rotation. And they’re all significant. Freshman Ronnie Johnson (the younger brother of junior Terone; Anthony Johnson is no relation) is the new starting point guard for this young Boilermakers squad. And he has been impressive in his debut. After two games, he’s averaging 10.5 points, 6.0 rebounds and 4.5 assists.

Ryan Arcidiacono, Villanova -- The freshman guard has averaged 18.0 points and 5.0 assists through two games, both wins, for Villanova. Arcidiacono, ranked 46th on ESPN Recruiting Nation’s list of the top 100 prospects in the 2012 class, steps into a key role in the backcourt just months after talented guards Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek left the program to turn pro. It’s early, but Arcidiacono’s start has been a promising one.

Ahmad Starks, Oregon State -- Craig Robinson’s program lost its best player when Jared Cunningham left school early. But Starks could be the catalyst Robinson needs to produce one of the Pac-12’s best offensive units again. Starks scored 33 points in a win over New Mexico State, and he recorded 18 points in a season-opening victory over Niagara.

Devonta Pollard, Alabama -- Pollard was the gem of Grant’s 2012 recruiting class (28th in Recruiting Nation’s top 100). The 6-7 forward has had his moments early. This tournament -- and the venue -- could bring out the best in Pollard. He received a flurry of high praise during the recruitment process. Expectations are high, even though he has struggled early.

FIVE BIG QUESTIONS

Can Alabama get back to the NCAA tournament?

This tournament will be a good barometer for Grant’s program. Alabama has the talent to win it -- and really, it should. If it doesn’t secure the tournament championship, then any doubts about the Crimson Tide's potential to return to the NCAA tourney will be validated.

How will Oregon State survive without Jared Cunningham?

Cunningham was the 24th pick in the 2012 NBA draft. Losing a first-round pick would hurt any program. But even with Cunningham, Oregon State finished 7-11 in the Pac-12. The Beavers have regrouped and rebuilt. So any early success would give the program a confidence boost.

Which team took the biggest offseason hit?

Every team in this field shares a similar burden: They all lost a significant player(s) from last season’s squad. Villanova (Wayns and Cheek), Alabama (Mitchell and Green), Purdue (Robbie Hummel) and Oregon State (Cunningham) enter 2012-13 without their stars from a year ago. Within that group, the Boilermakers will have the most difficult time replacing the production and leadership of Hummel. But they’ve all been forced to overcome personnel hits.

Is Villanova underrated?

Nova is coming off a 5-13 finish in the Big East. And they lost their two best players in the offseason. But the early production from Arcidiacono suggests that the Wildcats could outperform preseason projections that placed them at the bottom of the league.

Can Purdue compete in the Big Ten?

The Boilermakers are in that second tier of teams in the Big Ten. It’s a mixed bag -- Northwestern, Illinois, Purdue, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa -- that features a multitude of possibilities. With so much depth, a young Boilers squad will have its hands full in league play. And that’s why its nonconference slate is so important. Painter’s youngsters need to prove to themselves that they can compete against high-level opponents.

THE PICKS

Semifinals: Alabama over Oregon State; Villanova over Purdue

Championship game: Alabama over Villanova