Tournament bracket for the Diamond Head Classic
When and where: Dec. 22-23, 25 at the Stan Sheriff Center in Honolulu, Hawaii
Initial thoughts: San Diego State and Arizona are the main attractions, and rightfully so -- UA is a potential top-10 team, while SDSU has blossomed into a perennial NCAA tournament program in Steve Fisher's recent rebuild. That said, don't sleep on Miami. If they stay healthy, the Hurricanes have bodies big enough to trouble anyone. San Francisco lost nine -- yes, nine -- players this offseason, six of whom transferred out of the program in rather unexpected fashion. In other words, at least the Dons get to go to Hawaii this year. Silver linings and all that.
Matchup I can’t wait to see: To be perfectly frank, I'm not sure I can get too worked up about any of those first-round matchups, although the hometown Warriors hosting an ACC school should make for a fun atmosphere. If the Hurricanes survive that, their matchup with Arizona would be a quality marker for both teams as they prepare for conference play.
Potential matchup I’d like to see: San Diego State vs. Arizona. Two top programs in the West slugging it out on Christmas night? Yes please. The way-too-early edge probably goes to the Wildcats, given all the talent in Sean Miller's 2012 recruiting class, but an experienced, physical Aztecs team should be up to the challenge.
Five players to watch
Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State: A multitalented swingman, Franklin had a very good sophomore season, but he still has plenty to improve, particularly his outside shooting. If he branches his game out further away from the rim, he could be a nigh-unstoppable force in the Mountain West this season.
Grant Jerrett, Arizona: How good is Miller's 2012 class? Top-five prospect Kaleb Tarczewski is only barely its highest-ranked member. Jerrett comes in at No. 9 in the ESPN 100 (and fellow power forward Brandon Ashley ranks No. 16), and his scouting report says he's improving at "an alarming rate." By the time December rolls around, Arizona's young frontcourt might just be the best in the country.
Durand Scott, Miami: Scott will be the lead guard for a Miami team with a very clear goal -- a trip to the NCAA tournament -- in Jim Larranaga's second season. With Malcolm Grant departed, Scott will need to do even more to lead a brutish frontcourt duo of Kenny Kadji and Reggie Johnson.
Chase Tapley, San Diego State: The SDSU senior is one of the few remnants from 2011's dream 34-3 season, and he had a chance to step into a starring role last year. In addition to shooting 43 percent from 3, Tapley was also his team's best perimeter defender.
Kaleb Tarczewski, Arizona: The No. 4-ranked player in the class of 2012 is the centerpiece -- literally and figuratively -- of Miller's very impressive recruiting work since his arrival in Tucson. Tarczewski could be this season's Cody Zeller, an intuitively talented big man who is far from the complete package, but is good enough to lead his vaunted program back to national relevance once again.
Arizona over San Diego State: If this game were earlier in the season, when Arizona's coterie of freshman were still finding their sea legs, I'd probably give the edge to SDSU. But come Christmastime Arizona will have had nearly two months to build around that star-studded freshman class, and their sheer talent wins out.
Who others are picking:
Andy Katz: Arizona over San Diego State
Jason King: Arizona over San Diego State
Myron Medcalf: Arizona over San Diego State
Dana O'Neil: Arizona over San Diego State