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Monday, November 16, 2009
Updated: November 23, 7:02 PM ET
November Madness

By Tony Guadagnoli
Special to ESPN SportsTravel

Michigan State
Will it be another Final Four for Kalin Lucas, left, Korie Lucious and the rest of the Spartans? We'll get an early assessment of Michigan State during the Legends Classic this month in Atlantic City, N.J.
• Photo gallery: November Madness

Trees are becoming bare, holiday gifts are getting cheesier each day and turkeys have no idea they are gobbling on borrowed time. So naturally thoughts of a classic November tradition come to mind. No, not whether Buffalo or Detroit will again miss the NFL playoffs. Indeed, college basketball is as much a tradition in the days leading up to Thanksgiving as anything else.

In fact, some of the best late November sports viewing will be from the college hardwood. From Anchorage to Puerto Rico, early season tournaments have become common and more popular than ever. For every Maui Invitational, there is a Classic of some sort. This month alone there will be 30 tournaments.

Teams are given a free pass with the early season tournaments, a low-key opportunity for many to visit often-exotic locales and measure themselves against teams they won't see until March.

Get ready to pass the pumpkin pie and cranberries. On with November Madness.

Here are 10 of the best:
All times Eastern

Basketball Hall of Fame Showcase

Scottrade Center, St. Louis, today
More information

Schedule: Today: Arkansas vs. Louisville (ESPN2), 7:30 p.m.; Kansas vs. Memphis, 10 p.m. (ESPN)

Early round opponents: Appalachian State, Central Arkansas, East Tennessee State, Morgan State, Oakland, Tennessee Tech. All early round games will be on campus sites.

What to expect: The fourth Hall of Fame Showcase is an annual benefit for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. This year's Showcase has been modified into a round-robin event. Each of the four teams will play three home games against other opponents in November.

The second game in St. Louis is a rematch of the 2008 title game between the Jayhawks and the Tigers. The top-ranked Jayhawks return their entire starting five, including preseason All-Americans Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich.

"We're looking forward to coming to St. Louis," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "It's a great sports town and the fans love their college basketball. It's a great way to begin our season.''

The Louisville-Arkansas game also will feature two of the top programs in the nation, along with the first meeting between Rick Pitino and one of his former players -- Arkansas coach John Pelphrey.

Did you know: The Scottrade Center, then on the site known as the Kiel Auditorium, hosted myriad events and entertainers, such as the Ziegfeld Follies, Broadway productions and comedian Jack Benny.

O'Reilly Auto Parts Puerto Rico Tip-Off

Coliseo de Puerto Rico, San Juan, Puerto Rico, Thursday, Friday and Sunday
More information

Thursday: Dayton vs. Georgia Tech, 11:30 a.m.
Villanova vs. George Mason, 2 p.m.
Indiana vs. Ole Miss, 5 p.m.
Kansas State vs. Boston U., 7:30 p.m.

Friday and Sunday: Consolation and championship (8 p.m.) brackets

What to expect: The Puerto Rico Tip-Off is being played for the third consecutive season and half of the eight-team field reached the postseason in 2008-09.

Villanova reached the Final Four last season. The Wildcats return Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher. They will be joined by McDonald's All-Americans Dominic Cheek and Maalik Wayns, plus power forward Mouphtaou Yarou.

Dayton is the favorite to win the Atlantic 10, led by 6-8 forward Chris Wright and senior guard Marcus Johnson. The Flyers get to face Georgia Tech freshman Derrick Favors, the nation's top prep power forward last season.

Ole Miss returns the talented backcourt of Terrico White and point guard Chris Warren, who is returning to action after tearing his ACL.

Did you know: Coliseo de Puerto Rico, opened in September 2004, recently saw its 3 millionth spectator.

CBE Classic

Campus sites through Thursday; championship rounds, Sprint Center, Kansas City, Mo., Monday and Nov. 24
More information

Austin Regional
Wednesday: Western Carolina at Texas

Pittsburgh Regional
Today: Binghamton at Pitt
Thursday: Eastern Kentucky at Pitt

Wichita Regional
Wednesday: Arkansas-Monticello at Wichita State

Iowa City Regional
Today: Duquesne at Iowa

Championship rounds
Monday: Pittsburgh vs. Wichita State, 7:30 p.m.; Texas vs. Iowa, 9:30 p.m.

Nov. 24: Consolation game (7:45 p.m.) and championship (10 p.m.)

There also will be two consolation subregionals, with round-robin play among the teams not playing in Kansas City. These will take place in Cullowhee, N.C., and Richmond, Ky.

What to expect: While the event is not a true tournament in the traditional sense, since the semifinals are already set, the CBE Classic does feature some of the most colorful nicknames in the land -- Boll Weevils (Arkansas-Monticello), Shockers (Wichita State), Anteaters (Cal-Irvine), Roadrunners (Texas-San Antonio) and Catamounts (Western Carolina).

Texas is a national title contender this season and the biggest threat to top-ranked Kansas in the Big 12. Damion James, Justin Mason and Dexter Pittman lead the Longhorns. This tournament also will be the first time freshmen Avery Bradley, the nation's top-ranked recruit, and Jordan Hamilton, the top small forward, can showcase their talents for the Longhorns. Pittsburgh was an Elite Eight team last season.

Did you know: The College Basketball Experience, which includes the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame, is connected to the Sprint Center.

Cancun Challenge

Campus sites Wednesday through Saturday; championship rounds,
Cancun, Mexico, Nov. 24-25

More information

Cleveland State (Nov. 19 vs. Florida A&M, Nov. 21 vs. Sam Houston State); Kentucky (Nov. 19 vs. Sam Houston State, Nov. 21 vs. Rider); Stanford (Nov. 18 vs. Oral Roberts, Nov. 21 vs. Florida A&M); Virginia (Nov. 19 vs. Rider, Nov. 21 vs. Oral Roberts).

Nov. 24: Kentucky vs. Cleveland State, 4:30 p.m.; Stanford vs. Virginia, 7 p.m.

Nov. 25: Consolation, 7 p.m.; championship, 9:30 p.m. (Other bracket in Cancun: FAMU vs. Rider; Oral Roberts vs. Sam Houston State.)

What to expect: Kentucky enters the tournament under new coach John Calipari, who has taken two different schools to Final Fours. Calipari has All-American Patrick Patterson and the nation's No. 1 freshman class, led by John Wall, the top-ranked point guard, and DeMarcus Cousins, the top-ranked center.

Did you know: Among the facilities at the Moon Palace Resort, site of the Cancun Challenge, are eight outdoor pools and a Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course.

EA Sports Maui Invitational

Lahaina, Hawaii, Monday through Nov. 25
More information

Monday: Colorado vs. Gonzaga, 3 p.m.
Cincinnati vs. Vanderbilt, 5:30 p.m.
Maryland vs. Chaminade, 9:30 p.m.
Arizona vs. Wisconsin, midnight

Nov. 24-25: Championship and consolation brackets (title game, 10 p.m. Nov. 25)

What to expect: On Dec. 23, 1982, little known NAIA Chaminade upset top-ranked Virginia, led by three-time MVP Ralph Sampson, 77-72. Called the greatest upset in college basketball history, the win put Chaminade on the map nationwide and led to the creation of the Maui Classic in 1984.

''When I was coaching and recruiting kids, they wanted three things -- they wanted to be like Mike (Jordan), play on Maui and play in the Final Four,'' Dave Odom, the event's chairman, recently told The Maui News. ''If you could promise them two of those three things, you were almost assured they would be on your team.''

This year's field features the likes of Cincinnati freshman Lance Stephenson out of Brooklyn, a very deep Maryland team, Gonzaga (always a tough customer in November tournaments) and a new coach at Arizona (Sean Miller).

Did you know: The Maui Invitational has brought nearly $130 million to the island's economy since the tournament's debut in 1984.

NIT Season Tip-Off

Campus sites through today; Semifinal and championship, Madison Square Garden, New York, Nov. 25 and 27
More information

First-round matchups: East (at Duke): Coastal Carolina vs. Duke; Charlotte vs. Elon; West (at Arizona State): Texas State vs. Arizona State; TCU vs. Cal St.-Northridge; South (at LSU): Indiana State vs. LSU; Western Kentucky vs. Milwaukee; North (at UConn): Colgate vs. Connecticut; Hofstra vs. Yale

Semifinals (Nov. 25, 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.) East winner vs. West winner, and South winner vs. North winner; Championship (Nov. 27, 5 p.m.) and consolation game (Nov. 27, 2:30 p.m.)

What to expect: Dubbing itself "the First Four" because its postseason tournament predates the NCAA tournament, the NIT Tip-Off first started in 1985 as the Big Apple NIT at Madison Square Garden. The 25th edition features 16 teams in four regions, with Duke (East), UConn (North), LSU (South) and Arizona State (West) as hosts.

Duke is 18-2 in the NIT Tip-Off and has won the past two times it participated (2000) and (2005). All-American Kyle Singler will try to lead the Blue Devils to their fourth overall NIT Tip-Off title. UConn returns the dynamic backcourt of Kemba Walker and Jerome Dyson.

Included among the previous MVPs of this tournament: Calbert Cheaney, Indiana (1992); Allen Iverson, Georgetown (1995); Paul Pierce, Kansas (1997); Gilbert Arenas, Arizona (1999); Carlos Boozer, Duke (2000); and Blake Griffin, Oklahoma (2008).

Did you know: Madison Square Garden, in addition to being known as a mecca for college basketball, was once the center of boxing, hosting some of the most famous bouts in history, including the first Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier fight.

Legends Classic

Campus sites, Wednesday through Sunday; championship rounds, Nov. 27-28, Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City, N.J.
More information

Gainesville Regional
Wednesday: Georgia Southern at Florida
Friday: Troy at Florida

Amherst Regional
Wednesday: Cornell at Massachusetts
Saturday: Arkansas-Fort Smith at Massachusetts

East Lansing Regional
Friday: Toledo at Michigan State
Sunday: Valparaiso at Michigan State

Piscataway Regional
Friday: Drexel at Rutgers
Sunday: Vermont at Rutgers

Championship rounds
Nov. 27: Rutgers vs. UMass; Michigan State vs. Florida (semifinals) begin at 5:30 p.m.

Nov. 28: Championship and consolation game starting at 5:30 p.m.

There also are two consolation subregionals with round-robin play among the teams not playing in Atlantic City. These will take place in Statesboro, Ga., and Philadelphia.

What to expect: Conducted by the Gazelle Group and with a format the same as the group's CBE Classic, the Legends Classic moves to Atlantic City after being played in Newark, N.J., the first two years.

Michigan State lost to North Carolina in the national championship in April and Tom Izzo returns a team that will contend for the title again. Kalin Lucas was the Big Ten Player of the Year, and the Spartans also return Raymar Morgan and five of their top six scorers. They should get a sound test in the semifinals against Florida, which has four returning starters.

Did you know: The 1964 Liberty Bowl was moved from Philadelphia to Boardwalk Hall and became the first college bowl game played indoors.

Great Alaska Shootout

Anchorage, Nov. 25-28
More information

Nov. 25: 11:30 p.m. -- Washington State vs. Alaska Anchorage (Pool A); 1:45 a.m. -- Oklahoma vs. San Diego (Pool B)

Nov. 26: 9 p.m. -- Nicholls State vs. Alaska Anchorage (Pool A); 11:30 p.m. -- Houston vs. Oklahoma (Pool B).

Nov. 27: 9 p.m. -- Nicholls State vs. Washington State (Pool A); 11:30 p.m. -- Houston vs. San Diego (Pool B)

Nov. 28: 6 p.m. -- Pool A #3 vs. Pool B #3 (5th place); 8:30 p.m. -- Pool A #2 vs. Pool B #2 (3rd place); 11 p.m. -- Pool A #1 vs. Pool B #1 (championship)

What to expect: Started as the Sea Wolf Classic in 1978, the event was an instant hit and changed to the Great Alaska Shootout in 1979. It has been a staple of Thanksgiving play since. Past MVPs include Dwyane Wade of Marquette and Antawn Jamison of North Carolina.

The biggest change for the 2009 Great Alaska Shootout is a six-team format, instead of the traditional eight. The tournament will use Olympic-style pool play.

Oklahoma, despite losing player of the year Blake Griffin, will be the heavy favorite to win thanks mainly to point guard Willie Warren.

Did you know: Sullivan Arena -- or the Sully and named after former Anchorage mayor George Sullivan -- is known for its Olympic-size ice rink.

Old Spice Classic

Milk House, Orlando, Fla: Nov. 26-27 and 29
More information

Nov. 26: Michigan vs. Creighton, noon; Marquette vs. Xavier, 2 p.m.; Alabama vs. Baylor, 6:30 p.m.; Florida State vs. Iona, 9 p.m.

Nov. 27 and 29: Championship and consolation brackets (title game, Nov. 29, 7:30 p.m.)

What to expect: This is the fourth year for the Old Spice Classic, played at the Milk House at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex.

Michigan, led by Manny Harris, is expected to return to the NCAA tournament.

Xavier has a new coach in Chris Mack and a much-publicized sophomore in Jordan Crawford, who became an Internet sensation with his dunk over LeBron James.

Did you know: The highest row in the 5,000-seat Milk House at the Disney Sports Complex is only 35 feet off the ground.

76 Classic

Convention Center, Anaheim, Calif., Nov. 26-27 and 29
More information

Nov. 26 (First Round): West Virginia vs. Long Beach State, 2 p.m.; Clemson vs. Texas A&M, 4:30 p.m.; Butler vs. Minnesota, 8:30 p.m.; UCLA vs. Portland, 10:30 p.m.

Nov. 27 and 29: Championship and consolation brackets (title game, 10 p.m., Nov. 29, ESPN2). Nov. 28 is an off day for the teams to enjoy the Disneyland theme parks.

What to expect: It's not often UCLA enters a tournament as an underdog, but the Bruins are in that role after losing seniors Darren Collison, Josh Shipp and Alfred Aboya and frosh sensation Jrue Holiday, who left early for the NBA. The Bruins still have talent, led by Malcolm Lee and Nikola Dragovic.

Butler, with Gordon Hayward, Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard, will likely get to challenge the Bruins in the semifinals.

Sophomore forward Devin Ebanks makes West Virginia a Big East contender. The Mountaineers are the favorites to reach the 76 Classic title game from the top half of the bracket.

Did you know: The Anaheim Convention Center was the home of the ABA Anaheim Amigos in 1967-68.

Tony Guadagnoli is a freelance writer in western Washington.