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