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Ranking the 10 best early season college basketball tournaments of 2017-18

No. 1 might not be an event you’re familiar with.

NCAA Basketball: Maui Invitational- Championship Game- Wisconsin vs North Carolina Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Each year, during the first few weeks of the new season, college basketball fans are given an early taste of how beautiful life is going to be once March rolls around. The handful of early season tournaments across the country gives us four of the most beautiful words in the English language: weekday afternoon live sports. They also typically give us several high-profile games, the results of which only increase in value as the season rolls along.

With the fields set for each of the major 2017 early season tournaments, let’s count down the 10 best, starting with a newcomer.

10. Puerto Rico Tip-Off

When: Nov. 16-17, 19

Where: Fajardo, Puerto Rico

Teams: Appalachian State, Boise State, Illinois State, Iowa State, South Carolina, Tulsa, UTEP, Western Michigan

Bracket has not been released

A year after crashing the Final Four, South Carolina gets an early chance to show that life without Sindarius Thornwell and P.J. Dozier might not be as bad as most are predicting. UTEP is also in the field, which throws in the possibility of Tim Floyd doing something wacky. That’s always fun.

9. Cayman Islands Classic

When: Nov. 20-22

Where: Grand Cayman

Teams: Louisiana, Iowa, Buffalo, Cincinnati, UAB, Richmond, Wyoming, South Dakota State


Cincinnati, which should start the season ranked somewhere around the top 15, is the headliner here. The Bearcats squaring off against Iowa in the title game could make for some interesting, if not aesthetically pleasing, early season viewing.

8. Charleston Classic

When: Nov. 16-17, 19

Where: Charleston, S.C.

Teams: Auburn, Clemson, Dayton, Temple, Hofstra, Indiana State, Old Dominion, Ohio

Bracket not yet released

If Dayton and Clemson meet at any point in the tournament, then the Charleston Classic will become the Oliver Purnell Classic. I won’t have it referred to in any other manner.

7. 2K Classic Benefiting Wounded Warrior Project

When: Nov. 16-17

Where: New York/Nashville/Campus Sites

Teams: Virginia Tech, St. Louis, Providence, Washington


This event reallllly could have used Lorenzo Romar hanging on for another year so it could feature Michael Porter Jr. Instead it will have to rely on Virginia Tech being a potential top-25 team and St. Louis having some talented young players.

6. Legends Classic

When (championship round only): Nov. 20-21

Where (championship round only): Brooklyn

Teams (championship round only): Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, Penn State, Pittsburgh


Robert Williams stunned everyone last spring by announcing that he would be returning to Texas A&M and not become a likely lottery pick in the NBA draft. His return should make the Aggies a top-four team in the SEC, and it should allow them to take care of business in these two games at the Barclays Center. If they don’t, that’s some early cause for concern.

USC v SMU Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

5. Diamond Head Classic

When: Dec. 22-23, 25

Where: Honolulu

Teams: USC, Miami, Hawai’i, Akron, Davidson, Middle Tennessee State, New Mexico State, Princeton


This one makes the top five solely for the potential of a USC-Miami showdown in the championship game. If that matchup doesn’t happen, then this tournament won’t be worth your time.

4. Hall of Fame Classic

When (championship round only): Nov. 21-22

Where (championship round only): Kansas City

Teams (championship round only): Creighton, UCLA, Baylor, Wisconsin


Not to be confused with the Hall of Fame Tip-Off, the Hall of Fame Classic will play early round games on campus sites during the first two weeks of the regular season before Creighton, UCLA, Baylor, and Wisconsin head to Kansas City for the semifinals and championship. Though these three games might not be quite as exciting as they would have been a year ago, they still involve four teams that should eventually play their way into the NCAA tournament.

3. Maui Invitational

When: Nov. 20-22

Where: Lahaina, Hawai’i

Teams: Marquette, VCU, Wichita State, California, Notre Dame, Chaminade, Michigan, LSU


For casual sports fans who flip on the Maui Invitational every Thanksgiving week simply to avoid having to interact with family, this might be the least inspiring field they’ve seen since 2003. Even so, it has three potential preseason top 25 teams in Wichita State, Notre Dame, and Michigan, and the Shockers could easily be ranked in the top 10 by the time they head to Lahaina. Also, spending two hours (or at least 10 minutes) cheering for Chaminade is a holiday tradition that demands respect.

2. Battle 4 Atlantis

When: Nov. 22-24

Where: Paradise Island, Bahamas

Teams: Arizona, Villanova, NC State, Western Kentucky, Northern Iowa, Purdue, SMU, Tennessee

Bracket has not been released

The Battle 4 Atlantis field may not be quite as deep in 2017 as it’s been in past years, but there will still be plenty of reasons to try and find the AXS TV channel so you can watch the late night quarterfinal action on Day 1.

For starters, you’ve got the likely preseason No. 1 team in the country in Arizona coming in to serve as the headliner. On the opposite side of the bracket will probably be Villanova, another likely top-10 team which won the national title two years ago and was the NCAA tournament’s No. 1 overall seed last March. Purdue returns four of five starters from a Sweet 16 team, SMU should once again be a force in the American, and Western Kentucky has one of the top-10 freshmen in the country in big man Mitchell Robinson.

1. Phil Knight Invitational

When: Nov. 23-24, 26

Where: Portland

Teams: North Carolina, Portland, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Georgetown, Michigan State, Oregon, Connecticut, Duke, Portland State, Florida, Gonzaga, Stanford, Ohio State, Butler, Texas


The Maui Invitational and the Battle 4 Atlantis will both have to take a temporary backseat in 2017. The reason is the Phil Knight Invitational, a 16-team mega tournament created to celebrate the 80th birthday of Nike co-founder Phil Knight. The event will feature two eight-team tournaments, a setup that made it possible to attract power teams from the same conference without there being a fear of them having to square off against one another.

Ten of the 16 teams involved in the tournament have won a national championship, and in total, the group has amassed 23 national titles. The field features three of last season’s Final Four teams, including national finalists North Carolina and Gonzaga. Every game of the tournament will be broadcast on one of the ESPN family of networks, which means even less work than usual will be accomplished this Thanksgiving week.