Editor’s note: It’s time to reveal the fields for some of college basketball’s biggest early-season tournaments. Follow along as we break down each bracket. All previews can be found here.
Tournament: Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic
When and where: Dec. 22, 23 and 25 at the Stan Sheriff Center in Honolulu
Teams involved: Colorado, DePaul, George Washington, Hawaii, Loyola Marymount, Nebraska, Ohio, Wichita State
Initial thoughts: For starters, I kind of love the Diamond Head Classic. It tends to get slightly less buzz (OK, way less buzz) than its Maui brethren, and for understandable reasons. (First of all, the Diamond Head field is rarely as good.) But you know what? There's lots of downtime at Christmas. My family does our share of traditional holiday activities, but between those activities -- in that early-evening stretch when you're exhausted from eating, talking and watching "It's a Wonderful Life" but it's too early to nap and you'd just really love a good basketball game to watch -- the Diamond Head has you covered. It's great!
Those are my initial thoughts on the Diamond Head Classic. What's that? You don't care about my holiday tradition? You just want to hear about the basketball? Right!
The 2014 Diamond Head Classic has the kind of field you'd hope the Diamond Head would have, if that makes any sense. Luring college basketball programs all the way to Hawaii over winter break is never the easiest sell, so this event can occasionally be a little ragged around the edges.
Given those limitations, this field is genuinely solid. Colorado will have had an entire offseason plus six weeks to figure out how to play without Spencer Dinwiddie (as opposed to the post-injury midseason adjustment the Buffaloes impressively weathered last spring), and Askia Booker is still handling the ball. George Washington returns three key players (Kethan Savage, Kevin Larsen, Patricio Garino) from last season's breakthrough tourney team. Nebraska is way ahead of schedule under Tim Miles, whose Hawaii tweets should be fantastic. And then there's big, bad Wichita State, which is not something you'd have ever thought to say about Wichita State three years ago. After a Final Four run (2013) and a 35-1 season (2014), the Shockers are the favorite wherever they go.
Why you'll want to watch: There are a lot of fascinating teams in college basketball. That's just kind of how the sport, and math, work, no matter the year; more teams equals more interesting teams. But in 2014-15, there are at least a handful of exciting squads at or near the top five, teams with either A) a ton of talent, B) a worthy narrative or C) both. Wichita State is one of these teams.
Yes, the Shockers lost Cleanthony Early. His explosion in Wichita State's season-ending loss to Kentucky sealed his draft status, and there's no revisionist history to say he was Wichita State's most important player for most of the season. But Fred VanVleet was the MVC Player of the Year. He played an almost mind-bogglingly efficient point guard season in doing so. Meanwhile, Ron Baker could just as easily win the award this season. Around them will be the usual Gregg Marshall suspects, a mix of hard-working, rebound-magnet forwards and savvy perimeter players. The Shockers will miss Early, but they are still going to be really good. So what happens if they make it to December -- say, the Diamond Head Classic -- and are still undefeated? Would people already be talking about another run? Or would it be old hat? It's all totally possible.
Colorado and (especially) Nebraska are interesting teams. The Cornhuskers should hover around the Top 25 all season. But when I look at the Diamond Head Classic breakdown, one thought comes to mind: I can't wait to watch Wichita State play.