College Basketball Nation: Bracket reveal 2011

Tournament bracket for the EA SPORTS Maui Invitational

When and where: Nov. 21-23 at the Lahaina Civic Center in Maui, Hawaii (There will be 11 opening games at various campus locations from Nov. 11-20. Those matchups can be found on the above PDF bracket.)

Initial thoughts: Take one glance at the 2011 Maui bracket and, if you're like me, the word "uncertainty" will immediately spring to mind. Every team in this field -- even recent behemoths like Duke and Kansas -- is facing new expectations, important personnel additions, or some mix of all three. … The tournament will be one of our first glimpses at the new-look Blue Devils, who return without Kyrie Irving, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith, but will add Austin Rivers and a handful of talented recruits to last year's role players. … Kansas is in a similar situation, having lost the Morris twins, Josh Selby, and a bevy of senior guards. This will be the first time we'll get to see if forward Thomas Robinson is ready for his much-awaited star turn. … Memphis is an intriguing group that returns all of the freshmen from last year's talented but unready team that finally figured it out in March. Does the addition of high-profile recruit Adonis Thomas justify some of the early Tiger hype? Michigan will be a tough out, even without guard Darius Morris, who left for the NBA draft this summer. … After the losses of Chris Wright and Austin Freeman, is Georgetown in line for a mini-rebuilding year? With a first-round matchup against Kansas, there won't be much time to find out. … See? Uncertainty. Compared to today, this tournament should shed a lot of light on a handful of intriguing 2011-12 teams. And yes, it's tough to make too many judgements based on what happens in Maui in November. But last November, in Maui, a guy named Kemba Walker emerged as a force in his very first game. He never looked back, and we all know what happened next.

Matchup I can't wait to see: Georgetown-Kansas might be the marquee matchup of the first round, but I admit I'm more intrigued by Memphis-Michigan. The Wolverines made serious progress under John Beilein in 2011, but can this team improve even without its assist-prone former point guard? Meanwhile, it will be fascinating to see just how far along Memphis is by this point. The Tigers were clearly talented last season, but too often looked disorganized, undersized and overmatched. In other words, they looked young. How this team handles an experienced Michigan squad in the first round -- not just whether they win or lose, but how their progress seems to be coming along -- might be the most important immediate impression any team in the field can make.

Potential matchup I'd like to see: Kansas-Duke. OK, so this isn't the most creative selection in the field. I'll give you that. And no, neither team appears to be one of their respective program's vintage squads. But the truth is, we just don't know. The best way to find out is to test each team against the best possible early-season competition and -- with all due respect to the rest of the teams in this bracket -- that's what the dream final would look like. Plus, Kansas vs. Duke for the Maui title in November? These two blue bloods haven't faced off since Nick Collison exploded for 33 and 19 in KU's 2003 Sweet 16 win. Whether you recognize the key names in the jerseys or not, you'll be watching.

Key players to watch

Austin Rivers, Duke: The freshman Duke guard might be the best player in the incoming class. He's certainly one of its most hyped. He's also one of its most important. If he excels -- as other top highly touted freshman guards have excelled in recent years -- Duke could be a national title contender. If he struggles, the Blue Devils won't be quite as fearsome as we've come to expect.

Thomas Robinson, Kansas: If Kansas is expected to continue its seven-year reign over a talented Big 12, Robinson is going to have to make a crucial leap from promising rebound-machine to all-around interior force. Robinson looked ready in camps this summer, but camps are a far cry from live game action.

Joe Jackson, Memphis: Though fellow freshman Will Barton arrived with most of the hype, guard Joe Jackson was the best player for Memphis throughout 2011. Unfortunately, he was also a turnover machine. Tigers coach Josh Pastner is hoping a year of experience, and the arrival of another vaunted recruiting class, will help the Tigers mature in vital ways in 2012. But to do so, Jackson will have to prove he can lead his team without committing so many possession-killing errors.

Tim Hardaway Jr., Michigan: The son of Tim Hardaway surprised some folks last season, morphing into an effective Big Ten player before many believed he could. Now, with his lanky frame and intuitive scoring, it's time to take his game to the next level. If Michigan hopes to keep pace with last year's revival, that much will be obligatory.

Travis and David Wear, UCLA: The Wear twins -- the Wearii? -- were highly touted McDonald's All-Americans when they arrived at North Carolina last year. Just as quickly, they departed, heading back to their native coast to play for Ben Howland at UCLA. If they're as good as advertised, they'll provide some added interior strength to a lineup that already boasts a massive forward with massive potential in sophomore Joshua Smith.

Predicted winner: Duke Blue Devils. In a tournament filled with new faces and reloading giants, it's important to remember that those Duke role players -- Andre Dawkins, Seth Curry, the brothers Plumlee -- are already pretty good. Even if Rivers doesn't hit his stride this early, Duke will still be the most complete, most prepared, and arguably most talented team in the field.

Who others are picking:

Andy Katz: Duke
Diamond Leung: Duke
Dana O'Neil: Memphis

Bracket reveal: 76 Classic

August, 4, 2011
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 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

Bracket reveal: Old Spice Classic

August, 4, 2011

Tournament bracket for the Old Spice Classic

When and where: Nov. 24-25, 27 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla.

Initial thoughts: This edition of the Old Spice Classic doesn’t scream great field at first glance, but this is a collection of teams that at least has a chance to produce one or two, possibly three, NCAA tournament teams. These four days in Florida won’t determine anyone’s NCAA fate, but they should go a long way toward giving an indication of where a number of these teams stand. Minnesota is coming off a horrendous Big Ten season, but has two of its anchors returning in Ralph Sampson III and Trevor Mbakwe. Fairfield has a new coach in Sydney Johnson, a stud guard in Derek Needham and a top transfer in Rakim Sanders of Boston College. Indiana State won the Missouri Valley Conference tournament last season under first-year coach Greg Lansing. Texas Tech has shifted away from the Bob/Pat Knight era and gone old school within Texas by hiring Billy Gillispie. Dayton went to a familiar family tree in replacing Brian Gregory with Archie Miller, younger brother of Arizona coach Sean Miller. DePaul, Wake Forest and Arizona State all had miserable seasons a year ago and will surely only get better with another season of experience.

Matchup I can't wait to see: Fairfield-Arizona State. The Stags are a co-favorite in the MAAC with Iona. But if Fairfield is going to be taken seriously on the national stage, it must show well in this event. ASU adds a stud freshman in point guard Jahii Carson and the Sun Devils certainly have enough talent to win this first-round game against a tough mid-major. But Fairfield needs this game more to prove it belongs in the conversation.

Potential matchup I'd like to see: Minnesota-Texas Tech. This semifinal game would pit two former Kentucky coaches in Tubby Smith against Billy Gillispie. Those two coaches love defense, so scoring could be at a premium in a game like this.

Five players to watch

Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota: Mbakwe could have declared for the NBA draft and been selected based on his high energy, athleticism and overall zeal for rebounding. But he must be more of a complete player -- and now he has to be even more of a leader. This is a huge year for him, and a monster tournament would start him off on the right path.

Jahii Carson, Arizona State: There is a lot of pressure on the freshman point guard to come in and raise the Sun Devils to an upper-division finish in the Pac-12. But learning under Herb Sendek takes time. It would help everyone’s confidence in him if he could get off to a solid start.

Rakim Sanders, Fairfield: Sanders came to Fairfield to play for Ed Cooley, a former Boston College assistant. Cooley left for Providence. Now Sanders will play for Sydney Johnson and even more so for himself to prove that he can be a team player, produce when needed and lead a team to higher level. His last season at BC was a disaster, littered with injuries and erratic play. He can either be a difference-maker or he can disappear within games.

Jake Odum, Indiana State: Lansing raved about Odum’s impact on the Sycamores a year ago. Now as a seasoned sophomore he has a chance to lead this team from the start. Indiana State is no longer a sleeper. And a first-round win over Texas Tech would do wonders for this squad's confidence.

Cleveland Melvin, DePaul: The Blue Demons didn’t win many games last season, but Melvin produced (14.3 ppg). He’s DePaul's best hope early in the season to be a necessary stat hog. The Demons need Melvin to be a star in this field.

Predicted winner: Minnesota -- The Gophers faded big time last season due to injuries and an untimely transfer. But the Minnesota staff is adamant that this team is going to surprise. If it's going to be a good surprise, this team needs to start by bringing home the trophy from Orlando. I'm predicting a Gophers victory over Fairfield in the final.

Who others are picking:

Eamonn Brennan: Minnesota
Diamond Leung: Minnesota
Dana O'Neil: Minnesota

Bracket reveal: CBE Classic

August, 4, 2011
When and where: Nov. 21-22 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. 21: Missouri vs. Notre Dame (7:30 ET, ESPN2); California vs. Georgia (9:30 ET, ESPN2)
Nov. 22: Third-place game (7:45 ET, ESPNU); championship game (10 ET, ESPN2)

Initial thoughts: Can you say homecourt advantage? Last season, when Kansas State faced Gonzaga and Duke in the CBE in Kansas City, the building was practically painted purple. This November, black and gold will be the dominant motif, and not least because Mizzou's two opponents -- Notre Dame and either Cal or Georgia -- seem unlikely to travel for a basketball tournament during football season. It'll be all Tigers, all the time, at least where fan support is concerned. … As for the bracket, Missouri appears to be the favorite, as Notre Dame and UGA rebound from key losses and surprising NBA draft decisions. (The Irish lost Big East Player of the Year Ben Hansbrough and saw Carleton Scott make a surprising move to the pro ranks; Georgia lost its top two leading scorers, forward Trey Thompkins and guard Travis Leslie.) … One interesting caveat in all this is Cal, which returns its three best players from a team that surprisingly won 18 games in what was supposed to be a rebuilding season. Should Bears fans expect serious improvement? Or is this team who we thought they were?

Matchup I can't wait to see: Missouri-Notre Dame. I overuse the word fascinating -- or maybe I'm just easily fascinated -- but Missouri's transition from the Mike Anderson era to the Frank Haith regime promises to be legitimately, well, fascinating. Haith inherits five starters from a team that went 23-11 and would, were it not for the sudden coaching change, be many observers' odds-on favorite to win the Big 12. But how much of Anderson's borderline insane uptempo style will Haith retain? How will his players adjust to those changes? Meanwhile, Notre Dame will be trying to carry the program momentum gained during one of the best seasons in school history -- albeit one ended by a disappointing tournament loss to Florida State -- without its star Hansbrough, surprising draft entrant Scott, and forward Tyrone Nash.

Potential matchup I'd like to see: Missouri vs. California. No one is exactly sure how good Missouri will be this season, but it's safe to say they won't be bad. Cal, on the other hand, is an open question. The Golden Bears return everyone of note from last year's team, including key players Jorge Gutierrez, Allen Crabbe and Harper Kamp. Often, we expect college hoops teams with lots of returners to improve almost by default. Often, thanks to experience and cohesion, they do. Other times, we're reminded that just because a mediocre team kept its best players doesn't mean that team is no longer mediocre. Which category will include Mike Montgomery's latest bunch?

Key players to watch:

Marcus Denmon, Missouri: Denmon had a breakout season in 2010-11, and 2011-12 could be the one that makes him a star. But Denmon was also a beneficiary of Anderson's high-paced, freewheeling offense, which allowed the lightning-quick guard to find copious open shots in transition. He now has two major roles under Haith: Score as efficiently as in 2011, and command his team in what is sure to be an unfamiliar system.

Tim Abromaitis, Notre Dame: After taking a redshirt earlier in his career, Abromaitis is back for his fifth year. And if Notre Dame plans on preventing a fade into the middle of the Big East, they'll need the experienced, 6-foot-8 small forward to carry much of the leftover offensive load.

Kentavious Caldwell, Georgia: At this point, Caldwell means more to UGA's long-term prospects than any immediate impact he may have on the floor. He was Mark Fox's first big-time recruit, one that could pave the road for a big-time talent boost in the coming years. In the short-term, though, Caldwell's performance will have a lot to do with whether Fox can hold on to a hard-earned spot in the SEC conversation.

Jorge Gutierrez, California: Gutierrez had a decent individual year and he's a tremendous defender, but two things held him back. The first was shooting. The second was turnovers. If the Cal guard has improved in either category this season, he could have an outsized impact on his team's overall performance.

Kim English, Missouri: After an emergent sophomore season, English appeared primed to be one of the best backcourt talents in the country last season. Instead, though he didn't regress entirely, he didn't exactly improve either. English is a tireless worker famous for sleeping in the Missouri gym; we'll see in November if that work has finally paid off.

Predicted winner: Missouri. Transition or no transition, Mizzou is the most talented squad in this four-team field. It'll also have the benefit of overwhelming homecourt advantage. We may see the Tigers tested early in the season, but they're the obvious choice here.

Who others are picking:

Andy Katz: Missouri
Diamond Leung: California
Dana O'Neil: Missouri

Tournament bracket for the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic

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

Bracket reveal: 2K Sports Classic

August, 3, 2011
When and where: Nov. 17-18 at Madison Square Garden in New York (each of the four featured teams will host two games on their home floor prior to the semis)

Semifinal schedule for the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer
Nov. 17: Texas A&M vs. Mississippi State (7 ET, ESPN2); St. John's vs. Arizona (9 ET, ESPN2)
Nov. 18: Third-place game (4:30 ET, ESPN2); championship game (6:30 ET, ESPN2)

Initial thoughts: St. John's coach Steve Lavin will coach his first games since going public with his prostate cancer diagnosis, so expect an outpouring of support at the Madison Square Garden event benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer. ... The last time we saw Mississippi State forward Renardo Sidney at an early-season tournament, he was exchanging punches with a teammate in the stands and was sent home from Hawaii and suspended. Has he grown up since then? ... Texas A&M can make a statement here that it is indeed ready to contend with Baylor, Kansas and Missouri for the Big 12 title. ... Arizona might have lost Pac-10 player of the year Derrick Williams to the NBA draft and point guard Lamont Jones to a transfer, but St. John's was gutted even more, losing 10 seniors plus talented forward Dwayne Polee II to a transfer off their NCAA tournament team. ... Arizona coach Sean Miller, with help from assistant coach Emanuel "Book" Richardson, has recruited New York well with Sidiki Johnson and Kevin Parrom on the roster. The two Bronx natives should enjoy time back home. ... Texas A&M forward Khris Middleton didn't make the USA World University Games team, but that means he gets to go on the Aggies' preseason tour of Europe that should help the team jell under new coach Billy Kennedy heading into the season. ... We'll get a chance to possibly see a whopping 13 freshmen from ESPNU's top 100 begin their careers. The Arizona-St. John's game features 10 of them, with ESPNU ranking the Red Storm's recruiting class third in the nation and the Wildcats' seventh. ... It'll be nice to see a complete Mississippi State roster in action early after last season was marred by the NCAA suspensions that Sidney and guard Dee Bost had to serve.

Matchup I can't wait to see: Arizona-St. John's at the Garden is quite a showcase for the newcomers looking to make a name for themselves in the early going, and they'll have plenty of opportunities to shine. Zona point guard Josiah Turner should step right in after the transfer of Jones, who helped the Wildcats get to the Elite Eight. For St. John's, it'll be interesting to see how the freshmen and junior college transfer God's Gift Achiuwa fare in their first major test. But don't forget about Arizona's returning players, including Kyle Fogg and Solomon Hill, who are out to prove they're more than capable without Williams around to lead them.

Potential matchup I'd like to see: And Arizona-Texas A&M matchup would feature a couple of conference title contenders with plenty of talent on display. The Aggies have NBA draft prospects in Middleton and David Loubeau, and it'd be a battle between them and physical Arizona forwards in Parrom and Jesse Perry. Another intriguing matchup would be A&M senior point guard Dash Harris going up against young Arizona point guards Turner and Jordin Mayes. The Aggies would get to showcase a familiar face to UA with potential impact transfer Elston Turner from Washington becoming eligible and ready to show he's more of a multidimensional scorer than merely a 3-point shooter.

Key players to watch:

David Loubeau, Texas A&M -- Loubeau withdrew his name from the NBA draft and returned to College Station for his senior year, and the team's second-leading scorer (11.8) will look to ride the momentum of his strong play in March.

Khris Middleton, Texas A&M -- The Aggies' top returning scorer (14.4) and rebounder (5.2) showed during his sophomore season he has loads of potential as a versatile 6-foot-7 forward who can score in a number of different ways.

Sir'Dominic Pointer, St. John's -- Steve Lavin landed the No. 6-ranked small forward by ESPNU, and the 6-foot-6 swingman with the catchy name should get to show off his athleticism while earning immediate playing time with his ability to defend.

Renardo Sidney, Mississippi State -- Sidney has much to prove after missing games due to separate suspensions by the NCAA and team and then beginning the preseason by choosing to work out in Houston rather than accompanying the team to its tour of Europe. The 6-foot-10, 280-pound junior has weight and maturity issues to resolve.

Josiah Turner, Arizona -- ESPNU's third-ranked point guard has a starting job that's his to win, the talent to be a star, and some doubts to put to rest after being dismissed from his high school team as a senior. Can he take on the responsibility of Arizona's most glamorous position as a freshman?

Predicted winner: Texas A&M gets past Mississippi State based on its frontline of Middleton and Loubeau and then shows it's the more experienced team against either St. John's or Arizona. The Aggies might have to adjust to Kennedy's style after the departure of Mark Turgeon, but they'll get the advantage of being able to work out the kinks in Europe before the start of the season.

Who others are picking:

Eamonn Brennan: Texas A&M
Andy Katz: Texas A&M
Dana O'Neil: St. John's

Bracket reveal: Charleston Classic

August, 3, 2011
Tournament bracket for the Charleston Classic presented by Foster Grant

When and where: Nov. 17-18, 20 at the Carolina First Arena in Charleston, S.C.

Initial thoughts: The Charleston Classic lacks star quality but has the potential to produce some intriguing storylines for a November affair. Northwestern is still on the doorstep of its first NCAA tournament berth with the core group back for a third straight attempt to finally crack through to the Dance. VCU is coming off a magical run to the Final Four. Coach Shaka Smart stayed rather than taking a major payday, but key players Joey Rodriguez, Jamie Skeen and Brandon Rozzell finished their eligibility. Georgia Tech is under a new direction with Brian Gregory and the potential for his first squad is unknown. Saint Joseph’s should finally show improvement after being mired in mediocrity since the Elite Eight run several seasons ago. LSU has had a hard time rebuilding under Trent Johnson and could desperately use something good to happen early. Seton Hall has Herb Pope back but is still stuck at the bottom of the Big East. Tulsa and Western Kentucky were supposed to be NCAA tournament teams in the last two seasons, respectively, but neither could break through.

First-round matchup I can’t wait to see: LSU versus Northwestern. The organizers ensured that the two teams with perhaps the best chance to win the tournament are playing each other in the first round. The Wildcats have the experience and should have the talent to win the game, but they won’t have an easy time taking on LSU freshman big man Johnny O’Bryant. He has the advantage inside. The winner of this game should be in position to win the tournament. It should be the most balanced and competitive first-round game.

Potential matchup that I’d like to see: VCU versus Georgia Tech. Smart could have made a play for the Georgia Tech job but decided to stay put in Richmond. Georgia Tech went after the more experienced Gregory from Dayton. I’ll be interested to see how this game turns out -- if it occurs -- as Smart could potentially prove that rebuilding the Rams is easier than taking over an ACC project like the Yellow Jackets.

Predicted final: Northwestern versus VCU. The Rams lost quite a bit off the Final Four team but there’s something special brewing with VCU. The Rams will have a hard time getting past Seton Hall, let alone a possible semifinal matchup. And I’ve already mentioned the difficulty the Wildcats may have getting out of the top part of the bracket. But a Northwestern-VCU final would carry the most cachet if both squads can make it and then use the tourney to jump-start the season.

Five players to watch

John Shurna, Northwestern: Shurna didn’t make the World University Games roster heading to China. But he’s still the Wildcats’ go-to player and best chance to lead this team toward a possible NCAA berth. He has an unorthodox shot but he’s consistently good for the most part. He needs to be special this season.

Bradford Burgess, VCU: The departure of Skeen, Rodriguez and Rozzell means Burgess will be the go-to player for Virginia Commonwealth. He proved he can be a viable scoring option for the Rams, scoring 14.4 ppg last season. Now he must show he can be the primary offensive option for the Rams.

Johnny O’Bryant, LSU: The Tigers have had plenty of marquee freshman talents come through Baton Rouge, regardless of head coach. But O’Bryant has even more pressure than his predecessors with the last two seasons being utterly forgettable. If O’Bryant can be a star, the Tigers have a chance to move up in the SEC.

Herb Pope, Seton Hall: Pope nearly died last offseason, yet returned after collapsing to be a key member of the Pirates. Pope’s return should be celebrated. He’s lucky to be on the court. If he can be a major player in a tournament like this over three days, then the Hall has a chance to be a tough out in the Big East.

Glen Rice Jr., Georgia Tech: Gregory didn’t inherit much, especially in numbers. But Rice is a scorer and he can help his new coach in his attempt to bridge the end of the Paul Hewitt era into his own. Rice should be a featured scorer from the outset and he’ll need to be for the Yellow Jackets to have a chance.

Predicted winner: Northwestern. By now we all know about the Wildcats' desperate search for their first NCAA tournament bid. For that to happen, Nothwestern desperately needs to get off to a good start. They can't expect the Big Ten games to get them in alone.

Who others are picking:

Eamonn Brennan: Northwestern
Diamond Leung: Northwestern
Dana O'Neil: Northwestern

When and where: Nov. 19, 21 at the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, N.J. (each of the four featured teams will host two games on their home floor prior to the semis)

Semifinal schedule
Nov. 19: Vanderbilt vs. NC State (6:30 ET, ESPN3); Texas vs. Oregon St. (8:30 ET, ESPN3)
Nov. 21: Third-place game (6:30 ET, ESPN3); championship game (8:30 ET, ESPN3)

Initial thoughts: Texas had a chance to be a top-five team had Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph and Jordan Hamilton decided to stay put (or even two of them). If that had occurred, the Legends Classic could have been epic with a potential top-10 matchup between Texas and Vanderbilt. But alas, all three Longhorns left for the NBA. While the event lost some of its luster, it didn’t lose its name recognition. Having UT in the field still carries plenty of cachet. It would be a major mistake to dismiss the Horns, especially with the addition of freshman point guard Myck Kabongo. Vandy has its best team under Kevin Stallings with the return of John Jenkins, Jeffery Taylor and Festus Ezeli. NC State is worthy of notice as Mark Gottfried returns to high-major coaching. And Oregon State remains an intriguing team with a wide-open Pac-12 and Craig Robinson having all his own recruits for the first time as he enters his fourth season in Corvallis. There will be affiliated games on campus for this event, but the aforementioned four hosts are all guaranteed to get to the IZOD Center at the Meadowlands. By the way, the Legends Classic made the right move by getting out of Atlantic City. The Meadowlands should provide more access and greater coverage for a field that should produce at least two NCAA teams.

Semifinal I can’t wait to see: Texas-Oregon State is intriguing. The Beavers have a chance to pull off a significant win in the nonconference, something that has been noticeably missing under Robinson. OSU has had its share of decent Pac-10 wins, but has missed out on that signature victory outside of league play. This will be a tremendous test for the Beavers against a young, ripe Texas team.

Potential matchup I can’t wait to see: The bracket is built for Vandy-Texas and anything less will be a disappointment for the organizers. That game would be a delight for NBA scouts. Vanderbilt has a loaded nonconference schedule and picking up two key wins in this tournament would certainly be a significant push for the Commodores. They have the balance to beat Texas and will certainly have the experience. But the question for the Dores is how they handle being the favorite. Vandy has done well when not as much was expected. Now the target is on its back.

Five key players

Roberto Nelson, Oregon State: Nelson was a highly touted recruit for the Beavers, but had to wait a year to be eligible and then had an erratic first season. He should be ready for a breakout campaign this winter. Getting off to a great start would certainly help. The stage is set for Nelson.

Myck Kabongo, Texas: Rick Barnes has had a knack for getting breakout seasons out of his freshman point guards. Kabongo is next in line. The one difference is that the previous points had a little more experience around them. Kabongo may have to take on more responsibility.

C.J. Leslie, NC State: Leslie was a significant get for Sidney Lowe a year ago. Now Lowe is out and Mark Gottfried is in at NCSU. But Leslie’s importance is even greater. He needs to produce for the Wolfpack to get off to a decent start prior to the ACC.

John Jenkins, Vanderbilt: Jenkins has had a solid career so far for the Commodores, but he hasn’t been able to finish a season strong. Jenkins enters the year as a potential SEC player of the year candidate. Now is the time to live up to the hype. He has the tools to put together a special season.

Festus Ezeli, Vanderbilt: Tough choice here to take Ezeli over Jeffery Taylor. But Ezeli’s play in the post is going to be critical for the Dores to prove they are a legit Final Four contender. They must prove that they can score in the low block and at times dominate the backboard. Ezeli has to take charge and should have the advantage against any of the three teams in this field.

Predicted winner: Vanderbilt. The Commodores have the experience, the balance and the overall talent to win this four-team event. Vandy has the type of team that should be ready to go and play well in November. We shall see how high its ceiling is during the SEC.

Who others are picking:

Eamonn Brennan: Vanderbilt
Diamond Leung: Vanderbilt
Dana O'Neil: Vanderbilt

Bracket reveal: Puerto Rico Tip-Off

August, 3, 2011
Tournament bracket

When and where: Nov. 17-18, 20 at the Coliseo de Puerto Rico in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Initial thoughts: Anxious to see Robbie Hummel in action, especially in a back-to-back game scenario like this one. … A slow start damned Alabama to the NIT last season, so lots of folks will be watching to see how the Crimson Tide play here. … The first-round game between Purdue and Iona could get even more intriguing if Gaels point guard MoMo Jones (who is transferring in from Arizona) is granted a hardship waiver. … Nice little walk down memory lane (or not, depending on the outcome) for Colorado coach Tad Boyle. Boyle spent six years as an assistant at Wichita State. … WSU and Alabama met for the NIT championship in March. The two could meet again here. … Will be interesting to see how dramatically things look from the get-go for Maryland, with defensive-minded Mark Turgeon in place of Gary Williams and his fast tempo. ... Temple’s deep backcourt could give opponents fits.

First-round matchup I can’t wait to see: With or without Jones, the Purdue-Iona game promises to be a good one. The Gaels already are on most short lists of mid-majors to watch, thanks to a loaded roster that finished second in the MAAC last year. This would be a nice name-brand win for Iona to grab early. The Boilermakers have some work to do, with the absence of JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore. But count out Hummel and his young supporting cast at your own risk.

Potential matchup I’d like to see: Western Michigan against Alabama. So it lacks the name panache of some other potential finals -- this still could be an interesting game. The Broncos return all five of their starters to a team that won the West Division of the MAC and could be a nice sleeper/Cinderella pick come March. Put that sort of nothing-to-lose mid-major attitude up against an Alabama team that is facing legitimate expectations for the first time in a long time and you could have the makings of an entertaining game.

Key players to watch

JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell, Alabama: Like bread and butter, you can’t say one without the other. The two forwards are the 1-2 punch expected to take the Crimson Tide (together they averaged 30 points and 14 boards last year) to big things this year.

Michael Glover, Iona: If you haven’t heard of Glover yet, you will by the end of the season. Originally targeted for Seton Hall, the forward proved he could play just about anywhere last season, averaging 18 points and 10 boards per game.

Robbie Hummel, Purdue: Everyone in the basketball community will be rooting hard for Hummel, a well-liked and well-respected player who’s had more than his share of hardships. Back after tearing his ACL for the second time -- No. 2 coming on the first day of practice last season -- Hummel now being the Hummel of old will be key for the Boilermakers this season.

Scootie Randall, Temple: Before breaking his foot in February, the guard was on the verge of something special, averaging 15 points per game in conference play. Without Lavoy Allen, the Owls need Randall to be every bit as good this season.

Juwan Howard Jr., Western Michigan: The freshman carried the mantle of his name with aplomb, getting named to the All-MAC rookie team after notching double figures in half of the 30 games he played in.

Predicted winner: Alabama. The Crimson Tide barely missed the NCAA tournament this past spring and then had to swallow the lousy pill of a loss in the NIT title game. So there’s plenty to fuel the Tide’s fire and plenty of fuel in the form of Green and Mitchell. In a field with plenty of talent, there is none to rival what Anthony Grant has at his disposal. Expect the Tide to prove the expectations are warranted by winning a title here.

Who others are picking:

Eamonn Brennan: Wichita State
Andy Katz: Alabama
Diamond Leung: Temple