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: Legends Classic
When and where: Nov. 24-25 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. (championship rounds); Savage Arena in Toledo, Ohio (Toledo Subregional).
Teams involved: VCU, Michigan, Villanova and Oregon in championship rounds; Toledo, Maryland Eastern Shore, Bucknell and Detroit in subregional.
Initial thoughts: Wow. This is one of the best November/December tourneys of 2014-15, pound-for-pound. It would be the best if Oregon hadn’t lost so much talent in that offseason scandal.
But VCU and Villanova will enter the year as two of the most promising teams in the country. Shaka Smart might have his most capable roster, which will be led Briante Weber, Treveon Graham and Melvin Johnson. Villanova returns four starters from last season's surprising crew that will begin 2014-15 as the obvious Big East favorite.
Then there’s Michigan. There's no more Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III or Mitch McGary. But grab a pen and write this sentence three times: Caris LeVert is a star. Really, he is. And the world will find out next season. Add Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr., and John Beilein has another roster that could compete for the Big Ten crown.
Oregon is the only lukewarm crew competing at the Barclays Center. And that’s only because Dominic Artis, Brandon Austin and Damyean Dotson were all dismissed following a summer sexual assault investigation. Joseph Young will be asked to carry a lot of weight in this tourney and throughout the season.
Villanova-VCU and Michigan-Oregon ain’t a bad way to kick off a tourney.
And don’t sleep on the subregional. Julius Brown and Justin Drummond lead a Toledo squad that was upset by Western Michigan in last year’s MAC tourney title game. The Rockets will be the favorites in the subregional, plus they’ll get a shot at VCU and Oregon in the preliminary rounds. This is a great setup for a MAC team that could score an upset or two.
Why you’ll want to watch: Because you love college basketball and this event features a threesome that’s capable of making a lot of noise in March.
The winner of this event will boost its overall résumé and emerge as an early national title contender and likely top-10 squad. It’s a great test for a collection of teams that will have a chance to make a statement in late November and secure key signature wins that will pay off on Selection Sunday.
Is this really Smart’s best team? Looks like it. A Legends Classic title would support that theory. We all know that Weber & Co. will come with the realness via on-the-ball pressure that forces turnovers at an incomparable clip. But can they score consistently and efficiently? And can the Rams defend against teams that can break that press? If they put it all together, Smart might have a another Final Four team.
Can LeVert be The Man at Michigan? Here’s his chance to take the torch and use it to shred the nets in a solid showcase. He’s a likely first-rounder next season. He has so much raw talent, which we all saw that last season. But now he’s Michigan’s go-to scorer. That’s a completely different role, so he’ll have to adjust. This is a great opportunity for LeVert and Michigan to prove that they’re still Big Ten players.
What’s Villanova’s ceiling? Very high. If the Wildcats run through this field, no one will doubt that. Ryan Arcidiacono is one of four returning starters on a team that lost to defending national champ UConn in the Big Dance last season.
You don’t want to watch the Legends Classic.
You must watch the Legends Classic.
There’s a difference.