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