Early tournament season is in full swing, as on Monday we’ll get the Paradise Jam Final as well as the start of the Maui Invitational. What else can you expect? Here’s what to watch for.
Best game — Tulsa vs. South Carolina (-3) — 9 ET, CBS Sports Network
The Paradise Jam Final pits two teams against each other who could make NCAA Tournament runs. Tulsa already has a win against Wichita State this season, and could add this tournament title as well. That would be a solid feather in their cap when the selection committee makes their decisions in March. South Carolina has looked to be the better team thus far in this event though, as Mindaugus Kacinas and Laimonas Chatkevicius have led the way with powerful play in the frontcourt. If those two can combine with a very talented backcourt of Sindarius Thornwell, Duane Notice and P.J. Dozier, the Gamecocks could make a run in the SEC.
Second-best game — Wake Forest vs. Indiana (-12.5) — 5 ET, ESPN2
The Demon Deacons have been pretty fun this season, playing high-scoring games and running an uptempo brand of basketball that’s led to games being played in the 80s and 90s. Unfortunately for them in this one, that plays right into Indiana’s hands. The Hoosiers might have the most talented offensive team in the country, with four players who could end up in the NBA. It’s all led by senior Yogi Ferrell, the catalyst point guard who can shoot, pass and create with the best of them. It’ll be fun to watch these two get up and down the floor against each other.
Another to watch — Chattanooga at Iowa State (-16) — 8 ET
The Cyclones are off to a solid start under Steve Prohm so far this year at 2-0. However, what makes this one particularly fun is Chattanooga, who has already beaten Illinois and Georgia on the road this year. The Mocs are a very experienced team under first-year coach Matt McCall, and shouldn’t be intimidated by the bright lights of Hilton Coliseum. If they can pull of this win, they deserve to be placed among the top-25 teams in America. It’s unlikely that it happens, but that’s what we’re playing for in this one.
Matchup to watch — LSU’s Ben Simmons vs. Marquette Henry Ellenson
Look, any time two potential top-10 picks get together, it’s going to be a sight to behold. Ellenson and Simmons will likely be matched up against each other for long stretches of Marquette’s game against LSU tonight, and it’ll be interesting to see how each of them react. Ellenson isn’t a particularly great defender at this point, but he’s at least long and athletic enough to cause Simmons some potential headaches in the halfcourt. Ellenson’s highly-skilled game is good enough to score against Simmons, as well. Check out this one if you get a chance.
Pick of the night — Vanderbilt -16.5 vs. St. John’s
That seems like a lot of points for a game involving two high-major teams. But I don’t think that it’s enough. The Commodores have a highly-skilled offense led by Damian Jones and Wade Baldwin, who are surrounded by terrific shooters like Riley LaChance and Matthew Fisher-Davis. St. John’s has been able to win games early by dictating pace and playing slow, but I don’t think they’ll be able to do that against Vandy.
- North Carolina takes on Northwestern in St. Louis in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic. The Tar Heels are coming off of a loss and are only 10.5-point favorites. If you think they might be angry, that might be a solid pick.
- An under-the-radar game that should be pretty fun: the final game in Maui today, where UNLV takes on UCLA. Expect a lot of points and athleticism in that one.
- Kansas takes on Chaminade in the yearly opening round game in Maui where the NAIA school tries to put the fear of god into a stronger opponent.
- Both NC State and Arizona State have already dropped disappointing games to lesser opponents. They face off tonight in the Legends Classic looking to get things on track.
- Cal, Michigan State and Baylor are also all in action.