College Hoops Preseason Tournament Previews

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Maui Invitational Preview – Nov. 25

Forget about Thanksgiving; it is college basketball�s Feast Week! The usual headliner of the week is the Maui Invitational, which tips off Monday afternoon and features Top-25 teams Syracuse, Gonzaga, and Baylor. It should be a competitive tournament as all seven Division One teams in the field have yet to lose a game this season. Here are my preview and predictions for the 2013 Maui Invitational.

Quarterfinals, Monday

Arkansas vs. California, 3:00 AM (all times EST), ESPN2
In typical Mike Anderson fashion, he has his Razorbacks playing �40 Minutes of Hell� basketball and wants to push tempo on both ends. Arkansas will go anywhere from 11-12 deep in hopes of wearing down its opponents. Houston transfer Alandise Harris has made an immediate impact inside for the Razorbacks, averaging more than 18 points per game, while sophomores Michael Qualls and Athlon Bell have stepped up their game on the wing.

California has used a balanced offensive attack as all five starters are averaging between 9-14 points per game. Leading the way has been McDonald�s All-American freshman Jabari Bird, who stepped in nicely to replace Allen Crabbe on the wing and has connected on nine of his 18 three-point attempts. The key for the Golden Bears though will be handling Arkansas� pressure and not allowing the Razorbacks to create turnovers that often lead to easy buckets.

Prediction: Arkansas 71, California 68

Syracuse vs. Minnesota, 5:30 PM, ESPN2
I know the Golden Gophers have looked fairly impressive early this season, but I have no idea how the early line on this game was the Orange -1. Syracuse is the superior team in terms of talent. Since Minnesota doesn�t have much of a low post threat (it would be nice to have big man Mo Walker back from suspension, but he won�t return to the lineup until Tuesday), the Golden Gophers will need to shoot lights out against that long Orange 2-3 zone. Minnesota does have capable outside threats, but I think the athleticism of Syracuse’s frontcourt will be the difference in this one as long as the Orange doesn�t fall in love with the three ball. Look for Syracuse to extend full-court pressure, which the program has been doing more of this year.

Prediction: Syracuse 78, Minnesota 70

Baylor vs. Chaminade, 9:30 PM, ESPNU
The host, Chaminade, pulled off the massive upset last year by knocking off Texas, but don�t expect the same versus another Big XII opponent this year. The size inside of Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson should cause plenty issues for the home team.

Prediction: Baylor 83, Chaminade 57

Gonzaga vs. Dayton, 12:00 AM, ESPN2
The Bulldogs have been lighting up the scoreboard through four games as they are averaging 91 points per night. Gonzaga has one of the best, and perhaps most underappreciated, backcourts in the country with Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. and has been using a smaller lineup more frequently this season due to a lack of depth inside.

The Flyers are coming off an impressive road win at Georgia Tech and have been balanced with five players averaging double-digit points. Dayton doesn�t have a whole lot of talent inside, so look for the team to use a smaller lineup as well. I think this will be a close game and as tempted as I am to pick the upset ….

Prediction: Gonzaga 86, Dayton 82

Semifinals, Tuesday

Arkansas vs. Syracuse, 7:00 PM, ESPN
As long as the young point guard rotation of Tyler Ennis and Michael Gbinije keep their cool, expect the Orange to use its athleticism by attacking the Razorbacks’ pressure. Arkansas� half-court offense must be on point against Syracuse’s zone, but the Razorbacks are more comfortable in the open floor than running offense in a slower pace.

Prediction: Syracuse 79, Arkansas 66

Baylor vs. Gonzaga, 9:30 PM, ESPN
The Bears haven�t exactly wowed me early this season, and I fully expect the Bulldogs to exploit their weaknesses. Austin and Jefferson will have their hands full down low with Polish big man Przemek Karnowski, and Gonzaga’s guard play is more consistent than Baylor�s.

Prediction: Gonzaga 84, Baylor 65

Third-Place Game, Wednesday

Arkansas vs. Baylor, 7:30 PM, ESPN2
The Bears will need a big game from Keny Cherry and Gary Franklin against the frantic pressure of Arkansas. With this being the third game in third days, I give the edge to the Razorbacks� deep team that is built to play full-court.

Prediction: Arkansas 69, Baylor 67

Championship Game, Wednesday

Syracuse vs. Gonzaga, 10:00 PM, ESPN
Gonzaga has been going with Pangos, Bell, and David Stockton on the floor at the same time and all three guys are 6-2 or shorter. I just don�t see how that works against a Syracuse team that is long and athletic. The Bulldogs do have the shooters to stretch that zone, but the Orange should dominate on the boards and bring home the Maui Invitational title.

Prediction: Syracuse 70, Gonzaga 65

Puerto Rico Tip-Off Preview – Nov. 20

Even though Thanksgiving isn’t until next week, the holiday tournament season is among us. The Puerto Rico Tip-Off starts Thursday and with top-25-caliber teams Michigan, VCU, and Georgetown, it is a competitive field. Here is a preview of the three-day event and my predictions.

Quarterfinals, Thursday

Kansas State vs. Charlotte, 10:30 AM, ESPNU
Kansas State is down from last season when it shared the Big XII title, and that showed when the Wildcats dropped their opener to Northern Colorado. Freshman Marcus Foster has provided a huge lift early in the season, averaging 16.7 points in his first three games.

Charlotte has a top-heavy roster with five guys averaging at least 13 points and six rebounds per game. The 49ers did lose to on the road to a competitive Charleston team by one point are poised for the upset.

Prediction: Charlotte 73, Kansas State 68

Georgetown vs. Northeastern, 1:00 PM, ESPNU
The addition of UCLA transfer Joshua Smith has given John Thompson, III a legitimate big man who is capable of dominating down low. Smith looks more invested this season than he did during his short stint with the Bruins, and he will be a handful down low for Northeastern considering Scott Eatherton is the Huskies’ biggest guy (6-8, 220). The Hoyas starting backcourt of Markel Starks and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera has gotten off to a solid start, as well so if Northeastern doubles down low, Georgetown has the shooters to make the Huskies pay.

Prediction: Georgetown 81, Northeastern 62

Michigan vs. Long Beach State, 5:00 PM, ESPN2
The Wolverines suffered a tough road loss at a hostile Iowa State, but perhaps the bright spot from that defeat was the return of Mitch McGary, who missed Michigan’s first two games with a back injury. McGary looked as active as he was during the team’s run to the National Championship game and gives the Wolverines a low post-scoring option. Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert have elevated their play as sophomores and are a combined 18-34 from three-point range.

Long Beach State has been a dangerous mid-major the past few years and plays one of the toughest non-conference schedules out there, which already includes road losses at Arizona and Kansas State. The 49ers don’t have the talent of recent years though, and will have a tough time slowing down the Wolverines.

Michigan 74, Long Beach State 59

VCU vs. Florida State, 7:30 PM, ESPNU
Shaka Smart’s squad scored a huge road last week against in-state foe, Virginia. The Rams “havoc” attack on both ends makes a difficult matchup for any opponent, and Smart is going 10 deep on his bench to keep guys fresh.

Florida State has jumped out to a solid start including a nice road win at UCF. The Seminoles can get up and down as well, scoring 87 points per game, so they won’t back down from VCU’s up-tempo style of play. Florida State also has the depth at guard with Ian Miller, Devon Bookert, Aaron Thomas, Montay Brandon to attack the pressure, so expect a fast-paced, high-scoring game.

Prediction: VCU 87, Florida State 80

Semifinals, Friday

Charlotte vs. Georgetown, 2:30 PM, ESPN2 or ESPNU
Whether it’s Charlotte or Kansas State, Georgetown has a pretty easy road to the Championship game. The Hoyas have the defensive capability to slow down the 49ers’ talented three-guard look. On the flip side, it will be a challenge for Charlotte to defend Starks and Smith-Rivera inside with Joshua Smith demanding so much attention down low.

Prediction: Georgetown 72, Charlotte 58

Michigan vs. VCU, 5:00 PM, ESPN2 or ESPNU
This is a rematch of last year’s third-round NCAA Tournament game in which the Wolverines whipped VCU, 78-53. Michigan was able to handle the Rams’ havoc thanks to Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. With both those guys gone, how will freshman point guard Derrick Walton and sophomore Spike Albrecht respond? I also question how McGary’s back can hold up in back-to-back days, so I think VCU gets its revenge.

Prediction: VCU 73, Michigan 71

Third-Place Game, Sunday

Michigan vs. Charlotte, 4:30 PM, ESPN 2
Having Saturday off should help McGary’s back recover, so he should be a force on both ends. A side note about Michigan: I would like to see more from Glenn Robinson, III in Puerto Rico. He hasn’t shot the ball well early this season and was supposed to become “the guy” for the Wolverines, but it has been the Stauskas/LeVert combo that has led the way. A big showing for Robinson would really help his NBA Draft stock.

Prediction: Michigan 84, Charlotte 67

Championship Game, Sunday

Georgetown vs. VCU, 7:00 PM, ESPN2
Georgetown does not have a lot of depth in its backcourt and the deep VCU squad should wear the Hoyas down since this will be their third game in four days. That havoc style should also render Joshua Smith somewhat ineffective since he doesn’t get up and down the floor at the pace that is needed from a big man when playing the Rams. If Georgetown has any chance in this one, the Hoyas must control the tempo and keep this a half-court game without turning the ball over a ton.

Prediction: VCU 68, Georgetown 59

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