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A Guide to Big Ten Basketball Non-Conference Tournaments

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One of my favorite parts of the college basketball non-conference is the cornucopia of basketball tournaments, spread across the day, Western Hemisphere, and TV dial.

Two notes: (1) This preview was written before the season began, and (2) Michigan is now updated after their preview here was deleted on accident. When I have some free time, I’ll work on updating the former. Sorry about the inconveniences! —MNW

Looking for something to stream at work? Hop on WatchESPN and check out the early games of the Battle4Atlantis. Want a laugh and some actually-enjoyable basketball as you relax on the couch with a beer? The Bill Walton Experience at the Maui Jim Maui Invitational is second to none (fight me). Shitfaced at 12:30am and needing something bizarre to wind down to? The Great Alaska Shootout (in its 40th and sadly final iteration)* and Pete Gillen’s Mighty Moose Award provide peak “bad basketball” entertainment from Anchorage as luminaries like Cal Poly and Western Illinois duke it out.

Though a few Big Ten teams are forgoing the tournament experience, more are heading around the country to take part in these wonderful events, often held in empty hotel ballrooms or weird satellite state schools with a tiki bar behind one basket. We’ve got a few to preview.

Here’s a run-down of each** Big Ten school’s potential opponents, with provided rankings coming from Kenpom’s 2017-18 preseason ratings, the 2017 NCAA Tournament seeds if applicable, and rankings from the 2017-18 first iteration of the Coaches’ Poll.

*Did you know that in 1993 the Seawolves upset Tim Duncan and Wake Forest?! I didn’t. That is amazing.

**A note on what this article doesn’t include: (1) “home” tournaments like the Hoosier Basketball Challenge or the rutger come-play-bad-basketball invitational, and (2) one-off non-conference games on aircraft carriers, in one-game series like the CBS Sports Classic or Champions Classic. We’ll talk about those later.

Iowa Hawkeyes

Cayman Islands Basketball Classic
Georgetown, Cayman Islands || Nov. 20-22

Teams: Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns (2018 KP #108), South Dakota State Jackrabbits (122, #16 seed 2017 NCAA Tournament), Wyoming Cowboys (89), Richmond Spiders (113), UAB Blazers (155), Buffalo Bulls (151), #13 Cincinnati Bearcats (11, #6 seed)
TV: College Sports Live, network TBD


Cayman Islands Classic twitter

In its first year of existence, the Cayman Islands Classic provides lots of mid-major intrigue and should give a young Hawkeyes club a shot to mature, get a resume-defining win, and build momentum toward a challenging early Big Ten slate.

Their first round matchup features a tough out from the Sun Belt, as the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns bring a fast-paced offense which loses leading scorer Jay Wright but returns everyone else, including sharpshooters P.J. Hardy and Frank Bartley. Look for some fun running in this early one.

From there the Hawks should be able to get to the finals, as they’ve got the size and talent to run past South Dakota State—though the Jacks are always a tough out, right Minnesota?—and Wyoming. There’s intrigue in the final, as Mick Cronin’s defensively-disciplined Cincinnati Bearcats lurk coming off a 6-seed in the NCAA Tournament but will need to survive a Richmond club that won 22 games in 2016-17.

No word yet on whether this will be available on network television, but as CBS appears to have a hand in it, I’d expect to see the semis and championship on CBSSN.

Projection: Runner-up

Maryland Terrapins

Emerald Coast Classic
Destin, FL || Nov. 24-25

Teams: St. Bonaventure Bonnies (77), TCU Horned Frogs (14), New Mexico Lobos (183)
Game 1: New Mexico vs. TCU (CBSSN, 8:30pm GTZ)
Game 2: Maryland vs. St. Bonaventure (Nov. 24, CBSSN)
Game 3: Consolation Game
Game 4: Championship Game (CBSSN)

Two teams lurking just outside the Top 25 highlight the Emerald Coast Classic, as Maryland and TCU should make for an entertaining championship game assuming both handle their first-round matchups.

First, though, Mark Turgeon’s club will have to survive an always-solid mid-major, St. Bonaventure. The Bonnies, fresh off a 20-win season and led by Mark Schmidt, return four starters but lose the interior presence of Denzel Gregg. Guard Jaylen Adams (20.6 ppg and 6.5 apg in 2016-17) will lead a very young, undersized attack, but the Bonnies will lurk in the top half of the Atlantic 10 and will test a post-Melo Trimble Maryland back-court.

In the final Jamie Dixon’s Horned Frogs, rolling off a year in which they were one of the best teams (24-15) to miss the Dance, should test the Terrapins with their balanced, plodding attack. Vlad Brodziansky is a pre-season All-Big XII team member and the Frogs’ returning scorer, while junior guard Alex Robinson dishes out nearly 6 assists a game and scores in the double-digits. Maryland can win this one on the boards if they’re up to the task, though, and a win over TCU would be a great complement to an early home showdown with Butler.

Projection: Runner-up

Michigan Wolverines

**Note: This preview was done on 11/14, as the original was accidentally deleted. My apologies for the mistake, and thanks to Damien Henning for noting the error! --MNW

Maui Jim Maui Invitational
Maui, HI || Nov. 20-22

Teams: Marquette Golden Eagles (51, #10 seed), VCU Rams (88, #10 seed), Wichita State Shockers (2, #10 seed), California Golden Bears (136), #13 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (19, #5 seed), Chaminade Silverswords (D-II), LSU Tigers (82)

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! The Bill Walton Magical Mystery Tour Maui Jim Maui Invitational, situated right before the football treat that is the Thanksgiving weekend, is a consistently enjoyable set of late-night viewing, and if you disagree, you’re wrong.

Of the first-round matchups in this one, Michigan got saddled with the best (by Kenpom’s estimation) possible of the lower four teams. Will Wade’s squad is led by highly-touted freshman guard Tremont Waters, while Aussie center Duop Reath provides the size in the middle that will challenge the typically-poor defensive-rebounding Wolverines. But we love challenges, and Dave, I know I challenged you to read The Four Agreements. Did you? It changed my life, just like looking out off the Shanghai Tower changed my life. Have you heard about China’s plan to go carbon-netural by 2030? LSU’s defense is more suspect than the offense, but rangy wings like Wayde Sims could create problems for Michigan’s outside shooting. If Michigan controls the pace and overcomes the height disparity, though, they could ease past the Tigers the same way I eased up that mountain on my bicycle. Look at those views! I love my bike.

Get past LSU, though, and the Wolverines will face their mirror image in the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, who do everything John Beilein does, only better. There’s an immense spirituality to meeting your mirror image, much like these young men from Notre Dame are challenged to do in their education, though I prefer Eastern wisdom myself--here’s some footage of me meditating under a waterfall today. I love Maui. Bonzie Colson scores in bunches for the Irish with good dribble penetration, Matt Farrell dishes out 5+ assists a game and snipes 40%+ from outside, and Rex Pflueger and freshman D.J. Harvey add great length that can stymie Michigan’s shooters. This will be appointment television if you like efficient offenses, just like watching Stranger Things in my hotel room was appointment television last night. Did you watch Stranger Things, Dave? I love my Netflix subscription.

There are quite a few interesting potential matchups on the other side of the bracket, though I like the Wolverines to wind up playing either Marquette or Wichita State in the championship or third-place game. Neither is from the Conference of Champions, but I love what Gregg Marshall is doing at Wichita State, and they’ll beat a Cal team that is on the rise. You know I enjoyed a few rallies at Berkeley back in my day. The Shockers will hit you with their deep lineup, including ASBJORN MIDTGAARD, and Dave, did you know that the Old Norse believed in Bifrost, a Rainbow Bridge that connected Asgard, the world of the gods, with Midgard, our realm? [/reaches under announcer’s table] I brought with me a model of the Gjallarhorn, which Heimdallr blows to assemble the gods before Ragnarok. Did you know he gained his wisdom by drinking from the well Mimisbrunnr? Look at this, you can see me drinking from this stream on my bike ride today. It’s not the flords of Norway, but I swear, Dave, you would think the gods were about to assemble in this day and age. Look at that ball movement by the Shockers! That’s excellent coaching, and Michigan calls a timeout.

I love Bill Walton. I love Maui.

Projection: 2-1, third place.

#2 Michigan State Spartans

PK80 Invitational
Portland, OR || Nov. 23-26

Teams: Portland Pilots (305), #9 North Carolina Tar Heels (13, #1 seed, noted shitbags), Arkansas Razorbacks (56, #8 seed), Oklahoma Sooners (21), UConn Huskies (69), Oregon Ducks (35, #3 seed), DePaul Blue Demons (119)

PK Invitational Brackets

Magnanimous sartorial plutocrat Phil Knight is hosting quite the 80th birthday party for himself, no? This is only one of the two brackets hosted at the PK80 Invitational, and it’s a doozy.

Michigan State should ease past DePaul in the late opener. That’s not to say the Blue Demons don’t have weapons: Eli Cain (16 ppg) and Tre’Darius McCallum (10 ppg, 7 rpg) will be back, as will NIU transfer post player Marin Maric (14.4 ppg, 8.4 rpg) and OSU-to-Oklahoma-to-Depaul transfer Austin Grandstaff (what a name), who is a dangerous shooting guard. But the Spartans will set up an intriguing matchup with Oregon in the second round, assuming the Ducks get past perennial disappointment UConn.

While the Ducks lost almost everyone from their 2016-17 NCAA Tournament team, Payton Pritchard will man the point, freshman phenom G/F Troy Brown should make noise, and New Mexico graduate transfer Elijah Brown (18.8 ppg for the Lobos) will pour in the points with a big share of the offense. We’ll see if the Ducks have the firepower to keep up with Miles Bridges and Co.

After the Ducks, the answer is likely the scandal-plagued North Carolina program, unless 2017 NCAA Tournament participant Arkansas or a rebuilt Oklahoma team spring an upset. North Carolina is the worst.

ESPN’s got the broadcast on this one, meaning you’ll see Michigan State in primetime. Be sure to tune in for this one.

Projection: Champions

#15 Minnesota Golden Gophers

Barclays Center Classic
Brooklyn, NY || Nov. 24-25

Teams: UMass Minutemen (176), #25 Alabama Crimson Tide (23)
TV: NBCSN, American Sports Network

Bracket: This isn’t technically a tournament, meaning I’ve already broken the rule. But it’s four teams in a vaguely back-to-back format, so we’re running with it.
Game 1: vs. UMass (TBD, NBCSN)
Game 2: vs. Alabama (TBD, NBCSN)

UMass doesn’t offer a ton in the way of actually good basketball, but they do provide some amusement with their partial reliance on Very Large Basketball Man Rashaan Holloway. The 6’11”, 310-pound junior C is a force in the middle owing just due to his size, meaning he and Reggie Lynch should combine for an amusing battle of skill versus size. UMass lost leading scorer Donte Clark to a transfer (to Texas Southern), meaning chucker Luwane Pipkins (a Chicago native) will bear more of the load. He’ll have to improve on his 31.8% shooting from deep, though, and embrace a larger role in the offense.

Bama, on the other, should be a legitimate contender to make the NCAA Tournament and finish second in the SEC. Sophomore forward Braxton Key averaged 12 and 6 for Avery Johnson’s Crimson Tide, while 6’11” Ohio State transfer Daniel Giddens and junior F Donta Hall will provide the size and athleticism the Tide need to go toe-to-toe with Minnesota.

The marquee name, though, rivaling the Gophers’ Amir Coffey, should be 5-star freshman and projected lottery pick Collin Sexton. The point guard from Georgia is expected to light it up for the Tide and spend just one year in Tuscaloosa.

Projection: 2-0

Nebraska Cornhuskers

Advocare Invitational
Orlando, FL || Nov. 23-24, 26

Teams: Missouri Tigers (81), Long Beach State 49ers (262), St. John’s Red Storm (51), Oregon State Beavers (70), UCF Knights (60), #10 West Virginia Mountaineers (7, #4 seed), Marist Red Foxes (307)


Advocare Invitational bracket

Now this is how you embrace the suck in a non-conference tournament.

That’s probably being a little negative on this one, as Mizzou is pegged for a major turnaround in 2017-18 and West Virginia is the 10-ranked team in the pre-season Coaches’ Poll. With Marist and Oregon State providing some excellent cannon fodder, though, we could see some real winners of matchups in the consolation bracket.

Nebraska will open up on Thanksgiving afternoon as underdogs to Central Florida, coached by—oh shit, Johnny Dawkins! That’s right! The Knights made it to Madison Square Garden in the NIT last year, led by 7’6” C Tacko Fall and a generally-massive front line that includes 6’9” PF AJ Davis (8.3 ppg, 7 rpg). The height will pose a real challenge for a Huskers club which struggled mightily against height in 2016-17.

Dawkins has improved his back-court, though, adding his son Aubrey on a transfer, to pair with junior guard B.J. Taylor, who in 2016-17 averaged 17.4 ppg and was a real threat off the bounce in addition to his 3.5 assists a game. It’ll be interesting to see if the Huskers pack it in and hope to weather and average outside-shooting team--this one could demonstrate how high the ceiling is on Nebraska.

From there, the Huskers’ championship dreams would likely end with Press Virginia. I’m not going to spend much time on the rest of this bracket, except to note that Nebraska should pick up at least one win here, and definitely two if they find themselves in the consolation bracket.

Projection: 5th place

#20 Northwestern Wildcats

Hall of Fame Tip Off Tournament
Uncasville, CT || Nov. 18-19

Teams: Texas Tech Red Raiders (33), Boston College Eagles (95), La Salle Explorers (137)

Game 1: Texas Tech vs. Boston College (11am, ESPN3)
Game 2: La Salle vs. Northwestern (1:30pm, ESPN3)
Game 3: Consolation Game (2pm, ESPN2)
Game 4: Championship Game (4:30pm, ESPN2)

There’s not much to get out of bed for here, but I guess I’ll probably stream parts of this game on my phone while I watch Minnesota-Northwestern football.

Amusingly (at least to me), the Explorers are coached by an actual PhD: Dr. John Giannini, who has coached at La Salle since 2004 and received his PhD from Illinois, where he was a grad assistant under Lou Henson. They’ll struggle to replace G Jordan Price, but their back-court is still solid behind Pookie Powell (13.7 ppg) and Amar Stukes (4.3 apg). It starts and ends with NBA Draft hopeful B.J. Johnson, though. The 6’7” forward average 17.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per game in 2016-17 and will challenge the ‘Cats perimeter defense, while an undersized but physical C, Demetrius Henry, might be bolstered by 7’2” C Cian Sullivan.

This isn’t a tournament that Northwestern can do anything less than win, though. While Texas Tech is improving under Chris Beard, they are still coming off a 6-12 Big XII campaign and lost two of their top four scorers. An old friend of Northwestern’s, DePaul transfer Tommy Hamilton, will come off the bench for the Red Raiders, who will rely on the tandem of G Keenan Evans (15.4 ppg) and F Zach Smith (12.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg). The Red Raiders will rely on an otherwise-inexperienced front-court, though, and Dererk Pardon could have his way in a game that might devolve into a rock-fight.

Projection: Champions

Ohio State Buckeyes

PK80 Invitational
Portland, OR || Nov. 23-26

Teams: Portland State Vikings (246), #1 Duke Blue Devils (6, #2 seed), Butler Bulldogs (42, #4 seed), Texas Longhorns (37), #7 Florida Gators (8, #4 seed), Stanford Cardinal (61), #21 Gonzaga Bulldogs (20, #1 seed)


PK80 Invitational Bracket

Jesus. You thought Michigan State’s side of the bracket was rough? It could be a long trip out west for Chris Holtmann’s rebuilding club, as they’ll begin by running headlong into a perennial West Coast buzzsaw in Gonzaga juuuust late enough at night that it’ll still be 11:59pm a little east of God’s Time Zone when this tips off.

Josh Perkins will run the Zags in 2017-18, coming off a season in which he averaged 3.4 assists per game but wasn’t asked to bear the brunt of the scoring load--though he tried, anyways. Redshirt senior F Johnathan Williams (10.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg) will get the lion’s share inside, though C Killian Tillie was an option behind that big Polish dude and noted cheater-at-basketball Whatever His Face Collins.

Gonzaga runs a short but talented bench, too, with Rui Hachimura and Jacob Larsen providing a great deal of length. As usual, Mark Few is just reloading, never rebuilding, but Ohio State will have to catch the Bulldogs still gelling and finding a rotation in order to escape this one.

It’s a lot to predict what’ll happen next, but I assume the Buckeyes will face Stanford in the consolation semifinals. Minnesota product Reid Travis (17.4 ppg), somehow only a junior, will lead an experienced Cardinal lineup (all upperclassmen should start) that plays good defense but struggles from deep and shooting in general.

For their last game, the already-thin Bucks will take on one of Portland State, Duke, Texas, or Butler. Jesus. Come onnnnn, Vikings.

Projection: 6th or 7th place

Penn State Nittany Lions

Legends Classic
Brooklyn, NY || Nov. 20-21

Teams: Pittsburgh Panthers (121), Texas A&M Aggies (15), Oklahoma State Cowboys (50, #10 seed)


Legends Classic website

The Legends Classic has dusted off an old Big XII “rivalry” to go with a Keystone State showdown that’s been...lopsided.

The Nittany Lions will seek to end a 7-game skid against a Pitt program that’s sputtering with the departure of Jamie Dixon and subsequent underwhelming hire of Kevin Stallings. Pitt lost 92.6% of all its scoring from the 2016-17 team, meaning Stallings has a major rebuild underway to keep the Panthers relevant in an ever-tough ACC. It’ll be a number of transfers behind PG Marcus Carr, including 6’10” C Rene Chuwuka, who should test Mike Watkins in the middle. This matchup, though, should be a great chance for the Nittany Lions to assert that they’ve arrived as at least a bubble team.

They’ll meet either Oklahoma State or Texas A&M, both of whom should find themselves in the conversation come March for an NCAA Tournament bid. The Cowboys lost Jawun Evans to graduation and Brad Underwood to Illinois, and so will rely on athletic G Jeffrey Carroll (17.5 ppg, 6.6 rpg) and the size of F Mitchell Solomon. With the impending NCAA investigation, though, there’s uncertainty in Stillwater.

The Aggies, though, are in a put-up or go-somewhere-else year for Billy Kennedy, coming off a disappointing 16-15 campaign but picked to finish third in the SEC this year. Junior C Tyler Davis (14.1 ppg, 7.0 rpg) is a pretty special player and will test most teams’ inside presence, while F Robert Williams has NBA potential and could average a double-double in 2017-18. Add in the return from injury of junior F DJ Hogg, and Texas A&M should make some noise this year. They’ll be a tough out.

Projection: Second place

#21 Purdue Boilermakers

Battle 4 Atlantis
Nassau, BH || Nov. 22-24

Teams: #6 Villanova Wildcats (1, #1 seed), Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (230), Tennessee Volunteers (43), SMU Mustangs (24, #6 seed), Northern Iowa Panthers (129), North Carolina State Wolfpack (109), #5 Arizona Wildcats (3, #2 seed)


Battle 4 Atlantis

This is another one of those “inject straight into the veins” tournaments, with the added joy of weird blue lighting and taking place around Thanksgiving, giving you something to do when you’re avoiding your family.

Purdue, ranked as usual (but below Northwestern, neverforget), will face the Rick Barnes Rebuild Project in the Bahamas. The Vols lose leading scorer Robert Hubbs III but return talented sophomore F Grant Williams (12.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg) and added size with shooting ability in 6’10” freshman C Zach Kent. As Barnes imposes his style on Rocky Top, the Vols will progress into an NCAA contender ased on athleticism and tough defense. Purdue could be in for a rock-fight, but should advance. Easily the best first-round matchup in Nassau, though. Tough draw for Purdue.

From there it’s likely a rematch with Villanova, and that’s appointment television, kids. The Wildcats should have no problem with Western Kentucky, meaning we’re gonna skip the Hilltoppers talk. Cousy Award watch-lister G Jalen Brunson (14.7 ppg, 4.1 apg) leads Jay Wright’s always-potent attack, which will rely on the sharpshooting of 6’7” G Mikal Bridges (39.3% from deep) and size of redshirt freshman F Omari Spellman to replace the production of the departed Josh Hart. If Purdue advances past Tennessee you’ll want to tune in for this one, as it’s a shot at a marquee win right off the bat for the Boilers.

There’s a lot lurking across the way, too, with Arizona and SMU providing potential for fireworks in the other semifinal. Transfer Jahmal McMurray won’t yet be eligible for the Mustangs, but PG Jimmy Whitt and 6’6” junior G Jarrey Foster (44.4% from deep) could help lead a green roster of youth and transfers. The Wildcats, meanwhile, will be excellent as always, with Allonzo Trier (17.2 ppg) leading the way and G Rawle Alkins (10.9 ppg) and C Dusan Ristic (10.9 ppg) roviding plenty of support for another run at the NCAA title.

Projection: 3rd place

wisconsin badgers

Hall of Fame Classic
Kansas City, MO || Nov. 20-21

Teams: Creighton Blue Jays (45, #6 seed), #18 UCLA Bruins (29, #3 seed), #24 Baylor Bears (19, #3 seed)


So, uh, we’ve got a low-key good tournament the days leading up to Thanksgiving. Both Creighton and wisconsin should make their presence known in Kansas City, and they’re not even the ranked teams in this one!

The badgers open up with a ranked Baylor squad that I’d totally forgotten was a 3-seed in last year’s Dance. Johnathan Motley is gone, and with him the nearly double-double average he brought to the inside, but senior G Manu Lecomte can drill it from outside (12.2 ppg, 40.8% 3pt) and senior 7’ C Jo Lual-Acuil can swat, score, and secure on the inside. Baylor and wisconsin will bring some defense to the proceedings, likely desperately needed after the go-go-go that will be UCLA-Creighton.

Speaking of the Broons and Steve Alford, how will they fare after losing TJ Leaf and Lonzo Ball? UCLA adds Top 25 recruits 6’3” G Jaylen Hands and 6’8” G (!!!) Kris Wilkes to the potent attack anchored by Aaron Holiday (12.3 ppg), who will have to adjust from sixth man status, and C Thomas Welsh (10.3 ppg, 8.7 rpg). They’ll run, they’ll score, and occasionally they’ll lock down inside, too.

Markus Foster (18.2 ppg) and Khyri Thomas (12.3 ppg) lead one of the better backcourts in the Big East, but a thin and green frontcourt could doom the Jays. F Toby Hegner and C Jacob Epperson will have a tough time replacing the production of Justin Patton, but Greg McDermott’s crew will never shy away from a shootout and appears to have the guard play to give UCLA a tough time.

Projection: 1-1, 3rd place.

I’ll do my best to update time and TV if I didn’t include them above. In the meantime, stay tuned to OTE for your basketball coverage!