It’s almost that time again.
We have reached mid-July and the brackets for the preseason non-conference tournaments have been unveiled.
While the conference battles (ACC/Big Ten challenge, SEC/Big 12 challenge) may be the best part of the non-conference portion of the schedule, the preseason tournaments aren’t far beyond. That is especially the case for the premier events like the Battle 4 Atlantis, Preseason NIT, and Maui Invitational.
This is not just a time for teams to boost their RPI or ranking, but it’s a chance for coaches and players to figure out what they need to work on before conference play. In the case of rebuilding teams and young players, it’s an opportunity to boost confidence and learn the nuances/pace of the game against some of the best competition in the country.
It’s also a chance for fans to see some of the top programs in the country take center stage against other high quality squads before conference play begins in December.
So what are the best first round match-ups, or potential showdowns that we could see depending on future results?
The Cardinals and Spartans are on opposite ends of the Battle 4 Atlantis bracket, which means that if both programs win their first two games, they will move on to play each other in the title game. These are two top-15 programs that have potential to be top-10 clubs at some point during the 2016-17 season.
Tom Izzo possibly has his best recruiting class ever, while Rick Pitino’s Cardinals are loaded in the front court despite losing Chinanu Onuaku.
VCU v Baylor (Battle 4 Atlantis)
Both the Rams and Bears lost key pieces from last year’s NCAA Tournament teams, however, they both should compete at the top of their respective conferences.
Mo Alie-Cox, Jordan Burgess and JeQuan Lewis return for the Rams, while the Bears have a potential breakout player in Johnathan Motley.
The Seminoles have another very athletic and impressive recruiting class headed to Tallahassee. Two of their top three backcourt players from last season, Dwayne Bacon Xavier Rathan-Mayes, will return to give the ‘Noles a spark.
Meanwhile, the Mountaineers could be a top-15 club despite the loss of Devin Williams. West Virginia still has the depth and aggressiveness on defense to be competitive, so this should be a battle between two teams with high NCAA Tournament expectations.
Seton Hall Pirates v. Gonzaga Bulldogs (potential match-up – AdvoCare Invitational)
Before last season, the Pirates last earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament in 2006. In their first game in the field of 64 in 10 years, Kevin Willard’s club was shell shocked and crushed at the hands of the Bulldogs.
Now, the Pirates get another crack at the beast.
This time it will come without point guard Isaiah Whitehead, but Seton Hall does return four of their five starters from last year’s team, plus they add Kansas State transfer Jevon Thomas.
Unfortunately for Seton Hall, Gonzaga should be one of the best teams in the nation. They are talented, experienced and bring in two transfers, Johnthan Williams III and Nigel Williams-Goss, that should make an impact from day one.
Cincinnati v. Rhode Island (Hall of Fame Tip-off Classic)
The final match-up we are watching for is the Rams versus Bearcats. Both programs will be board-line top-25 teams and this showdown could be a crucial resume building win for one team.
URI is attempting to rebound from a injury-riddled season and are looking to clinch their first spot in NCAA Tournament since 1999. They have the experience, depth, talent and athleticism to be great, and oh yea, E.C. Matthews (who could have been drafted this year if he didn’t suffer an injury) is returning from a torn ACL.
Cincy is transitioning to more of an offensive orientated team, and boy do they have the weapons to be successful right away. Jacob Evans, Gary Clark, Kyle Washington and Jarron Cumberland won’t be easy to stop on a nightly basis.