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 Showcase
When and where: Dec. 20 at MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas
Teams involved: Utah, UNLV, Oklahoma, Washington
Initial thoughts: Lon Kruger could have entered this game as the head coach of three of the schools participating. He coached UNLV for five seasons before leaving in 2011. He reportedly was one of Utah’s targets, but eventually took the job at Oklahoma. Although the Sooners won’t play UNLV, it will be interesting to see if Vegas fans show any hard feelings toward Kruger for leaving.
Actually, they could root against the Sooners in this doubleheader format simply because Oklahoma should be the class of this foursome. OU is the only team that made the NCAA tournament last season, and may enter the Showcase as the only ranked team.
The Huskies will try to keep up with the Sooners after losing leading scorer C.J. Wilcox. The growing pains endured by underclassmen and newcomers forced to be primary contributors during last season’s 17-15 campaign should pay dividends, especially early in the season.
Washington and Utah would make a case for the strength of the Pac-12 with a pair of wins. Arizona appears to be, on paper at least, peerless in terms of a league contender. A strong nonconference showing could help erase any doubt of the league’s credibility.
Utah’s weak nonconference schedule kept it from making the NCAA tournament. The Showcase game against UNLV is just one game in a much-improved slate that includes San Diego State, Wichita State and Kansas. The Utes face the Runnin’ Rebels a week after playing the Jayhawks.
UNLV confronts a different test, playing Utah in the Showcase just three days before a Dec. 23 showdown at home against Arizona.
Why you’ll want to watch: The Showcase is part of an ambitious schedule put together by UNLV coach Dave Rice. The Runnin’ Rebels did sign arguably their best recruiting class (ranked No. 11 by RecruitingNation) in 25 years. The challenge for Rice will be trying to get eight newcomers to jell without the help of any returning starters. Talent won’t be a problem as a pair of five-star recruits in shooting guard Rashad Vaughn and forward Goodluck Okonoboh, as well as four-star forward Dwayne Morgan, headline the class.
UNLV’s talent will run against Utah’s experience. The Utes return seven of their top nine from last season's team that lost in the first round of the NIT. They’re not short of skill as 6-foot-5 senior guard Delon Wright led the team in scoring, assists and was seven rebounds away from leading in that category, too. Sharpshooters Brandon Taylor and Dakarai Tucker both shot more than 40 percent from behind the arc in Pac-12 play. Utah should be a high-scoring squad from the beginning.
Washington and Nigel Williams-Goss both benefited from his decision to postpone turning pro and return to school for his sophomore season. Williams-Goss, the leading returning scorer on the team, will need some help in that capacity. By the time this game is played the Huskies will have a good indication on how much Jernard Jarreau can contribute. The 6-foot-10 forward tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the season opener last year.
Oklahoma’s date against Washington will be more like a measuring stick. Having already played in the Battle 4 Atlantis a month before, the Huskies will be a good barometer for the Sooners’ season progress.