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College Basketball: Top Teams Face Early Tests in Big Events

College basketball’s early season tournaments are in the process of releasing their 2015 brackets. That’s good news for diehard fans finalizing their holiday plans to follow their favorite teams, either in person or on television.

It’s also good for identifying possible matchups that could make the heart beat faster and shape the national rankings in the early weeks of the season.

On Tuesday, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame announced details of the unique inaugural Basketball Hall of Fame Invitational, which will culminate with a Nov. 27 doubleheader – the day after Thanksgiving – in Miami. The Hoophall Miami Invitational at AmericanAirlines Arena will serve as the wrap to two exempt multi-team events.

Ohio State will play Memphis in the Basketball Hall of Fame Invitational and Kentucky will take on South Florida in the Basketball Hall of Fame Classic.

If that sounds confusing, it is. But as the season begins and the event nears, we are sure the production crews at ESPN will clear it all up.

Actually, these are two more of those tournaments that pre-determine finalists. Participating in the Invitational are Grambling State, Louisiana Tech, Memphis, Ohio State and Texas-Arlington. The participants in the Classic are Albany, Boston University, Kentucky, New Jersey Institute of Technology and South Florida.

Of course, Kentucky will be the team of focus. And Ohio State brings the name brand from the Big Ten. But this doubleheader already is a big win the American Athletic Conference with Memphis and South Florida lined up. Kentucky will be a heavy favorite over USF but a win for Memphis would be a big boost for the AAC.

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The full schedule for the Hall of Fame events can be found on here.

Also fresh off the presses is the lineup for ESPN’s Tip-Off Marathon. That non-stop, 2-day wall of games will wrapup with four amazing games on Nov. 17: Oklahoma at Memphis, Kentucky vs. Duke (Champions Classic), Georgetown at Maryland, and Kansas vs. Michigan State (Champions Classic).

The Miami event doesn’t mean the Hall of Fame is abandoning Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., host of the Hall of Fame Tip Off in recent years. Earlier, the Hall had announced the Hall of Fame Shootout, to be played Dec. 22 at Mohegan Sun.

That doubleheader features St. John’s against South Carolina and Marist College vs. Brown. All we can say about that is Gamecocks coach Frank Martin against Chris Mullin should be worth the price of admission. Mullin’s debut season as a college coach is a matter of great anticipation in the Big East and the entire Northeast corridor.

By that time, Mullin and St. John’s will have the Maui Jim Maui Invitational under their belt. The island event never disappoints but Maui has something special going on Nov. 23-25.

Just think about the number of all-time victories represented by a field of Indiana, Kansas, St. John’s, UCLA, UNLV, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest. Those schools have combined for 20 national championships, 47 Final Four appearances and 215 berths to the NCAA tournament. All of that is the past, but the future is bright for this group. Kansas, which won the gold medal representing the U.S. in the World University Games this summer, and Indiana should be preseason Top 15 picks. And they are lined up to meet in the championship game. The Hoosiers open against Wake Forest and have St. John’s and Vanderbilt on the same side of the bracket.

Kansas, a Top 5 preseason team led by senior forward Perry Ellis, opens against host Chaminade and would advance to play the UNLV-UCLA winner.

Hard to believe, but St. John’s and Wake Forest are making their first Maui appearances. Kansas would like to avoid a championship game against Wake Forest, coached by former KU All-American Danny Manning.

“I’m actually glad they put Danny and me in opposite brackets,” Kansas coach Bill Self told the Lawrence Journal-World. “He and I talked about it and he’s pretty happy about that, too. If we make it to the finals, that would be great for both of us, but I wouldn’t be excited about playing Wake and I don’t think he’d be excited about playing Kansas.”

The thought of the explosive Jayhawks meeting UCLA in the second round and Indiana in the championship game should keep hoop fans tuned in to the Maui Invitational again. But the historic intrigue about Maui is the constant possibility of a big upset.

If there’s one tourney that has grown quickly in popularity and is in position to challenge Maui as the top holiday event, it has to be the Battle 4 Atlantis on Paradise Island, Bahamas. Despite that terrific Maui field, that is the case again in 2015.

On Nov. 25, Gonzaga meets Washington and Texas A&M plays Texas in the upper half of the bracket. Gonzaga must replace guards Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell. But coach Mark Few has one of the toughest frontcourts in the nation, led by Kyle Wiltjer and Przemek Karnowski.

The other half of the bracket features a blockbuster opener between Michigan and Connecticut, along with Syracuse against Charlotte.

That could bring UConn and Syracuse together on Nov. 26 for a renewal of their old Big East rivalry. Both teams will be hoping to be in the winner’s bracket at that point. And both teams are coming off disappointing seasons.

UConn and Michigan have played only three times previously, the most recent game in 2010. Kevin Ollie’s Huskies are trying to climb back into the Top 25 after missing the NCAA tournament last season.

“We’ve got to be ready,” UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. “We’re not hiding from nobody.”

Not to be forgotten are tournaments that conclude before Thanksgiving weekend. Defending national champion Duke and runner-up Wisconsin will be featured in the championship rounds of the 2K Classic benefitting Wounded Warrior Project at Madison Square Garden Nov. 20 and 22. Georgetown and VCU will join them at MSG.

North Carolina State, Marquette, LSU and Arizona travel to Brooklyn for the championship of the Legends Classic at the Barclays Center on Nov. 23 and 24. LSU will put its highly-ranked recruiting class on display in that one.

Defending Atlantic 10 champion Davidson will meet Pittsburgh in the Showcase Round of the 10-game Gotham Classic, it was announced Tuesday. That game is set for Madison Square Garden on Dec. 20.

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