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 the tournaments. All previews can be found here.
Tournament: MGM Grand Main Event.
When and where: Nov. 24 and 26 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Teams involved: UW-Milwaukee, Oral Roberts, Louisiana-Lafayette and a fourth team to be named in the middleweight bracket; Auburn, Oregon State, Tulsa and Oklahoma State in the heavyweight bracket.
Initial thoughts: This isn’t the most tantalizing field among the holiday tourneys. But the new leadership among three of the participants makes it somewhat intriguing.
Bruce Pearl is back in the mix as the new coach at Auburn. Pearl has great facilities and an administration that wants to win now. It’ll be interesting to see what he can do with a team that went 6-12 in the SEC last season. Transfer Antoine Mason (25.6 PPG for Niagara last season) will definitely help.
And Pearl’s not alone. Frank Haith left Missouri and now has a young Tulsa team that reached the NCAA tourney last season. How will Haith and Tulsa handle the American Athletic Conference? Plus, Wayne Tinkle makes the leap to high major ball as the new coach at Oregon State.
This isn’t a make-or-break event for them, but it’s a chance for all three coaches to begin their respective tenures on a good note.
Post-Marcus Smart Oklahoma State is in the mix, too. Former LSU guard Anthony Hickey will run the show and Le’Bryan Nash could be the next star for the Cowboys. Travis Ford’s squad should be the favorite.
An Oklahoma State-Tulsa title game is probably the best matchup that this event can offer. Then again, Mason might average 35.0 PPG and lead Auburn to the championship. For real.
The middleweight bracket offers a solid lineup among mid-majors. Matt Tiby (12.0 PPG) is one of the key pieces returning for a UW-Milwaukee squad that won the Horizon League tourney last season and the automatic NCAA tournament berth. The Panthers are banned from this season’s tourney due to APR problems.
Louisiana-Lafayette will rely on Shawn Long (18.6 PPG, 10.4 RPG) after losing Elfrid Payton to the NBA. Long might be the next surprise first-rounder that this squad produces. And Obi Emegano could return from last season’s torn ACL to help Oral Roberts compete for the middleweight belt too.
Why you’ll want to watch: Antoine Mason and Bruce Pearl.
A few years ago, Mason’s father, former NBA standout Anthony Mason, told ESPN.com that his son was capable of competing with the best in the country. At the time, Antoine Mason was one of the top scorers in America, but the praise for those marks was tempered due to the competition he faced during his time at Niagara.
Mason will have a chance to prove doubters wrong in the SEC and help Auburn begin the 2014-15 campaign on a strong note at the MGM Grand Main Event. And he’s not the only one facing doubters.
Can Pearl win at Auburn? Maybe. He has the resources, it seems, but how will he sell Auburn to the premier recruits for whom he’ll need to joust with Kentucky and Florida? And how long will it take Pearl to pull Auburn from the SEC’s basement?
Here’s his chance to move past the show-cause penalty that led to his exit at Tennessee a few years ago. With Mason, Auburn can compete for the crown in this tournament. And Pearl can show the naysayers that he’s ready to make positive changes to the program in his first season.
There are other storylines. But none is bigger than Pearl, Mason and a rebuilding Auburn program.