A year ago, it was clear-cut: the PK80, the brainchild of ex-Michigan State commissioner Mark Hollis, featured 16 teams with two games going on simultaneously in Portland. No event in college basketball brought that many elite teams to the same location before the NCAA Tournament.
This year an old standby boasts the best field. So which men’s college basketball event should get the most attention this season?
We rank the top events in order.
1) Maui Invitational (Maui, Hawaii)
There are a trio of top-10 teams in the event this season — Gonzaga, Duke and Auburn — and also no shortage of other storylines. There were plenty of college basketball fans wondering whether Arizona’s Sean Miller and Auburn’s Bruce Pearl would even be on the sidelines this season. Xavier has a new coach in Travis Steele now that Chris Mack has taken the head job at Louisville. San Diego State finished strong last season, Iowa State should be improved and Illinois could be intriguing in Year 2 of the Brad Underwood era. But Maui clearly stands out, especially with a potential Duke-Auburn semifinal matchup and a championship game that could pit the Blue Devils against Gonzaga.
2) Champions Classic (Indianapolis)
It’s the doubleheader at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indy that will tip off the college hoops season this year. Three teams that could all lay claim to the preseason No. 1 ranking in Kentucky, Kansas and Duke — and a Michigan State group that has a terrific inside-outside duo with Cassius Winston and Nick Ward. But it’ll be the contest between UK and Duke that will be hyped up as a potential national championship game preview.
3) NIT Season Tip-Off (Brooklyn)
Nov. 21, 23
Three top-25 teams come together in Brooklyn, as well as a Louisville program that will try to get back to national relevance under new coach Chris Mack. A Kansas team that has all the pieces to win the national title will open against one of the elite offensive teams in the country in Marquette. The other matchup is Tennessee against Louisville. and the Vols are a consensus preseason top-10 club with just about everyone back from last year’s SEC title-sharing group.
4) Battle 4 Atlantis (Bahamas)
The field isn’t quite as loaded as it has been in the past, but half the teams will likely wind up in the NCAA tourney. Virginia is a top-10 team that will boast the trio of Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome and DeAndre Hunter, and the Cavs could wind up facing Florida or Wisconsin in the championship game. The rest of the field includes Butler, Dayton, Middle Tennessee, Oklahoma and Stanford.
5) Charleston Classic (Charleston, S.C.)
Nov. 15, 16, 18
This is the best field Charleston has had in a while. Virginia Tech will be in just about everyone’s top-25 while Alabama should be — even with the loss of Collin Sexton. Purdue will rely heavily on Carsen Edwards and should be a lock to get to the NCAA tourney. Davidson will be one of the top mid-majors in the country and the Wildcats have a star in Kellan Grady. Wichita State will have a rebuilding year, but the Shockers still have Gregg Marshall at the helm. The rest of the field includes Appalachian State, Ball State and Northeastern. Virginia Tech might have to beat Alabama in the semis, and then beat Purdue to win the title.
6) Advocare Invitational (Orlando)
Nov. 22, 23, 25
Villanova is the headliner despite losing four of its top six players from last year’s national title team. But there are some cool other stories in this event: LSU adds a couple of big-time freshmen to a team that has one of the top point guards in Tremont Waters. Florida State will be considered a top-25 club by many and Memphis is now led by Penny Hardaway. The remainder of the field is Oklahoma State, Charleston, UAB and Canisius.
7) Las Vegas Invitational (Las Vegas)
North Carolina opens against Texas, and Michigan State goes up against UCLA with the two winners and losers playing the next day at the Orleans Arena. That could set up a nice matchup on Nov. 23 between the Tar Heels and the Spartans.
8) Jimmy V Classic (New York)
This is always a terrific doubleheader at Madison Square Garden for a tremendous cause. The tournament may not have quite as much star power as it had at times in the past, but it could feature four NCAA Tournament teams. Florida will play West Virginia and Oklahoma will face Notre Dame.
9) Crossroads Classic (Indianapolis)
It’s become a staple, an annual event featuring the top four programs in the state of Indiana. This year, Purdue will play Notre Dame and Butler will go up against Indiana. Hoosiers freshman Romeo Langford will be the top attraction, but the two games are fairly evenly-matched.
10) Jerry Colangelo Classic (Phoenix)
It would have been nice if it had been a two-day event, but this is still a cool doubleheader that will be held at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Gonzaga and Tennessee are a pair of top-10 teams who will face off against one another, and then it’ll be a Nevada team that is in the discussion as a Final Four contender taking on Dan Majerle’s Grand Canyon program.
11) CBS Sports Classic (Chicago)
The event returns to the United Center, where it started in 2014. The four teams have played doubleheaders over the last three years in Brooklyn, Las Vegas and New Orleans. This year, it’ll be a heavyweight bout between Kentucky and North Carolina, and UCLA against Ohio State on the undercard.
12) 2K Classic (New York)
Syracuse vs. UConn at Madison Square Garden. No, it’s not Jim Boeheim vs. Jim Calhoun, but instead Boeheim against new Huskies coach Dan Hurley. UConn will be overmatched talent-wise, but it should still be fun. The crowd will also get an early look at a talented, young Oregon team that boasts 7-footer Bol Bol against a much-improved Iowa team. The winners and losers play the following night at MSG.