When and where: Nov. 19, 21 at the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, N.J. (each of the four featured teams will host two games on their home floor prior to the semis)
Nov. 19: Vanderbilt vs. NC State (6:30 ET, ESPN3); Texas vs. Oregon St. (8:30 ET, ESPN3)
Nov. 21: Third-place game (6:30 ET, ESPN3); championship game (8:30 ET, ESPN3)
Initial thoughts: Texas had a chance to be a top-five team had Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph and Jordan Hamilton decided to stay put (or even two of them). If that had occurred, the Legends Classic could have been epic with a potential top-10 matchup between Texas and Vanderbilt. But alas, all three Longhorns left for the NBA. While the event lost some of its luster, it didn’t lose its name recognition. Having UT in the field still carries plenty of cachet. It would be a major mistake to dismiss the Horns, especially with the addition of freshman point guard Myck Kabongo. Vandy has its best team under Kevin Stallings with the return of John Jenkins, Jeffery Taylor and Festus Ezeli. NC State is worthy of notice as Mark Gottfried returns to high-major coaching. And Oregon State remains an intriguing team with a wide-open Pac-12 and Craig Robinson having all his own recruits for the first time as he enters his fourth season in Corvallis. There will be affiliated games on campus for this event, but the aforementioned four hosts are all guaranteed to get to the IZOD Center at the Meadowlands. By the way, the Legends Classic made the right move by getting out of Atlantic City. The Meadowlands should provide more access and greater coverage for a field that should produce at least two NCAA teams.
Semifinal I can’t wait to see: Texas-Oregon State is intriguing. The Beavers have a chance to pull off a significant win in the nonconference, something that has been noticeably missing under Robinson. OSU has had its share of decent Pac-10 wins, but has missed out on that signature victory outside of league play. This will be a tremendous test for the Beavers against a young, ripe Texas team.
Potential matchup I can’t wait to see: The bracket is built for Vandy-Texas and anything less will be a disappointment for the organizers. That game would be a delight for NBA scouts. Vanderbilt has a loaded nonconference schedule and picking up two key wins in this tournament would certainly be a significant push for the Commodores. They have the balance to beat Texas and will certainly have the experience. But the question for the Dores is how they handle being the favorite. Vandy has done well when not as much was expected. Now the target is on its back.
Five key players
Roberto Nelson, Oregon State: Nelson was a highly touted recruit for the Beavers, but had to wait a year to be eligible and then had an erratic first season. He should be ready for a breakout campaign this winter. Getting off to a great start would certainly help. The stage is set for Nelson.
Myck Kabongo, Texas: Rick Barnes has had a knack for getting breakout seasons out of his freshman point guards. Kabongo is next in line. The one difference is that the previous points had a little more experience around them. Kabongo may have to take on more responsibility.
C.J. Leslie, NC State: Leslie was a significant get for Sidney Lowe a year ago. Now Lowe is out and Mark Gottfried is in at NCSU. But Leslie’s importance is even greater. He needs to produce for the Wolfpack to get off to a decent start prior to the ACC.
John Jenkins, Vanderbilt: Jenkins has had a solid career so far for the Commodores, but he hasn’t been able to finish a season strong. Jenkins enters the year as a potential SEC player of the year candidate. Now is the time to live up to the hype. He has the tools to put together a special season.
Festus Ezeli, Vanderbilt: Tough choice here to take Ezeli over Jeffery Taylor. But Ezeli’s play in the post is going to be critical for the Dores to prove they are a legit Final Four contender. They must prove that they can score in the low block and at times dominate the backboard. Ezeli has to take charge and should have the advantage against any of the three teams in this field.
Predicted winner: Vanderbilt. The Commodores have the experience, the balance and the overall talent to win this four-team event. Vandy has the type of team that should be ready to go and play well in November. We shall see how high its ceiling is during the SEC.
Who others are picking:
Eamonn Brennan: Vanderbilt
Diamond Leung: Vanderbilt
Dana O'Neil: Vanderbilt