Tournament: Diamond Head Classic
When and where: Dec. 22, 23 and 25 at Stan Sheriff Center, Honolulu, Hawaii
Teams involved: Oklahoma, Washington State, Auburn, Hawaii, New Mexico, BYU, Harvard and Northern Iowa
Initial thoughts: Honestly, my first thought -- what will Bruce Pearl wear? Combining the tradition that all coaches who visit Hawaii must don Hawaiian shirts with Pearl’s penchant for blasting the school colors could make for sartorial splendor that would make Craig Sager proud.
Why coaches feel the need to dress like tacky tourists while coaching in the islands remains a mystery. No one wore parkas to the Alaska Shootout, did they?
But I digress. Aside from poor shirt choices, the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic features a host of teams that could be best described as good, better, best.
The Sooners, with Buddy Hield back in the fold plus three other starters, will be the pick to win it -- and a smart one. Lon Kruger continues to quietly work his magic, simply winning without the circus that seems to accompany success these days. This year that equated to a Sweet 16 berth.
But there are no dogs headed to Honolulu.
Northern Iowa returned to the NCAA tournament last season, earned a No. 5 seed and proved its merit by beating Wyoming in the second round. Harvard and BYU also received bids.
Washington State is still in full rebuilding mode, but Ernie Kent’s team won four more games last year than the year prior and has a promising frontcourt to call in this season, anchored by 7-foot junior college player Conor Clifford.
Hawaii is under the shadow of an NCAA investigation and the weight of hefty self-imposed sanctions. But with former Saint Mary’s associate head coach Eran Ganot at the helm, the program has the promise of a bright future.
New Mexico coach Craig Neal has help on the way to right the Lobos' 15-16 record. His name is Cullen Neal. He’s the coach’s son, and a top player and scorer who was forced to redshirt a year ago after injuring his ankle.
And Auburn has Pearl. The man might make some odd clothing choices -- or non-clothing from the painted chest days -- but he can coach.
Why you’ll want to watch: The first-round headliner will be Harvard versus BYU. The teams’ styles are nearly as diametrically opposed as their home states. And that’s where the fun lies.
The Crimson averaged 64.2 points per game to rank 260th in the nation in 2014-15; the Cougars scored 83.6 PPG, putting them second in that category. Tommy Amaker would have liked his team to be a little better at putting the ball in the basket; Dave Rose would have welcomed some more timely defensive sturdiness from BYU. Perhaps the two coaches could trade tips?
This season, both teams are in a similar spot. Each lost its best and leading scorers to graduation -- Wesley Saunders at Harvard and Tyler Haws at BYU. Yet both have more than adequate replacements ready to slide up -- Siyani Chambers for Amaker and Kyle Collinsworth for Rose.
Auburn might not have arrived yet, but the recruiting class Pearl just brought in may get the Tigers close. And that makes them worth watching against New Mexico in the opener. The group is ranked 28th in the nation, low by football standards but exceptionally good for basketball.
Auburn also adds Tyler Harris, who's the younger brother of former Tiger, Tobias. The forward comes to the Plains via Providence, where he averaged 11.6 points and 9.9 rebounds, and could help Auburn jump a few spots on the learning curve.
If form holds, the title game should come down to BYU and Oklahoma. That’s a decent Christmas present. Both teams like to push tempo, and with Hield and Collinsworth, you’ve got two guys who have the skills to take over a game.