Tournament: Charleston Classic
When and where: Nov. 19, 20 and 22 at TD Arena in Charleston, South Carolina
Teams involved: Virginia, George Mason, Oklahoma State, Towson, Ole Miss, Bradley, Seton Hall and Long Beach State
Initial thoughts: Getting Virginia to commit is a pretty big coup for the Gildan Charleston Classic. Now in its seventh year, the tourney has had decent teams in the past -- Georgetown, NC State and VCU a year after the Rams' Final Four run -- but adding the Cavaliers, hot off their 30-4 season, to the field is a nice feather in the tournament’s cap.
And it’s no easy thing to accomplish.
There are more holiday tournaments than there are gifts in Santa’s sleigh, allowing good teams like Virginia the luxury of picking and choosing where it would like to go.
Back when these things were just getting popular, the idea of jetting off to some exotic locale was a huge draw. But with regular-season schedules stretching into the mid-20s range and the NCAA Selection Committee giving less of a mulligan for early losses, traveling far from campus and then returning immediately for games is less popular.
There are still plenty of destination spots -- Atlantis, Maui, Hawaii -- but more and more coaches prefer staying closer to home, so long as the tourney is well run and the field competitive.
The field could be more competitive for Virginia. The Cavaliers will be the prohibitive and logical favorite, with Ole Miss most likely posing the biggest threat.
But Virginia already has Villanova, Ohio State and West Virginia on the nonconference slate and plenty of competition in the ACC to bulk up its résumé. A quick trip to Charleston isn’t such a bad way to spend the holidays.
Why you’ll want to watch: The big curiosity is with the Cavaliers because, while they’re definitely the favorites here, they have one big hole to fill. Justin Anderson left early for the NBA, taking his 12.3 points and 45 percent-from-the-arc shooting with him. For a team that doesn’t rely on scoring a lot of points to win, maybe that doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it is. Anderson was easily their best outside shooter, supplying the offensive injection when needed.
In order to win this thing, the Cavaliers may have to face Ole Miss in the title game. The Rebels, unlike Virginia, have no trouble scoring -- they ranked 52nd in the nation in scoring a year ago. Watching Tony Bennett trying to twist Ole Miss into fits with his defense versus watching Stefan Moody give the Cavaliers fits with his ability to make tough shots should be highly entertaining.
Seton Hall also could be highly entertaining. The question is whether it will be the good kind of entertainment or the reality TV sort. The Pirates have plenty of talent -- reigning Big East Rookie of the Year Angel Delgado, former McDonald’s All-American Isaiah Whitehead, blossoming sophomore Khadeen Carrington, plus two graduate transfers: Derrick Gordon from Massachusetts and Braeden Anderson from Fresno State. The last two should, in theory, be a stabilizing force for a team that started the season 12-2 and finished 4-13, but the downward spiral was in part attributed to reported fiction between the upperclassmen and underclassmen. It was bad enough that Jared Sina and Sterling Gibbs both transferred. So it will be worth watching to see how this potentially good Seton Hall team is functioning early as it takes on Long Beach State in the opener.
Oklahoma State didn’t exactly avoid drama a year ago, either. Athletic director Mike Holder had to put out a vote-of-confidence statement for reeling coach Travis Ford and that’s never a good thing. But Ford and the Cowboys might have a chance for a reboot. The reason? Point guard Jawun Evans. The Oklahoma State freshman is arguably one of the best rookies at his position, a McDonald’s All-American who likes to push the ball and could help turn things around for the Cowboys. He helped Team USA earn a FIBA World Games U-19 gold medal this summer, averaging 2.7 assists per game.
The Cowboys face Towson in the first game, with a date against Ole Miss perhaps after and, if Evans can help uptempo Oklahoma State, that game could be a fun track meet to watch.
Finally George Mason and Bradley complete the drama train, although theirs was decidedly quieter. Both simply have new coaches. Dave Paulsen takes over for Paul Hewitt while Brian Wardle comes in for Geno Ford.