Early season tournaments continue to emerge and increase from a competition standpoint. Non-conference schedule are getting more difficult and college basketball fans are preparing for premier match-ups and upsets even in November.
Let’s take a look at the Hall of Fame Tip-off:
No. 5: Ohio State the Clear Favorite- The Buckeyes enter the 2012 Hall of Fame Tip-off as the clear cut favorite within the tournament’s field. Ohio State has all the potential to once again make it back to the Final Four in 2013 and although their are challengers in Springfield, Mass., the Buckeyes will be the team to beat. Aaron Craft headlines the team’s back court, while Deshaun Thomas has all the intangibles to be one of the top players in the Big Ten Conference this season. Amir Williams steps in down low for head coach Thad Matta as the Buckeyes look to replace All-American forward, Jared Sullinger.
No. 4: Early Look at New URI Head Coach Danny Hurley- After parting ways with Jim Baron (now at Canisius) this past off-season, URI brought in former Wagner head coach Danny Hurley to take over. While the Rams will have a new look in 2012-13 after losing a number of key contributors from a team that won only seven games last season, URI doesn’t have the highest of expectations heading into this tournament. The future appears bright however, as Hurley has made quick work on the recruiting trails, but it remains to be seen what Hurley can do with a limited roster this upcoming season.
No. 3: Peculiar NCAA Tournament Representation- Aside from Ohio State who reached the Final Four last March, this field features two additional squads that danced last season. Believe it or not, Washington and Seton Hall, the only other high-major programs in the field, are not who we’re talking about. Loyola (MD), who won the MAAC Tournament, and Norfolk State, who did the same in the MEAC, enter this season looking to defend their conference crowns. Loyola (MD) has a talented roster that should once again compete in the MAAC, but Norfolk State faces the difficulty of replacing NBA Draft choice, Kyle O’Quinn. The Spartans upset 2nd-seeded Missouri in the tournament a year ago, while Loyola fell to Ohio State in the Round of 64.
No. 2: Seton Hall’s Improvement- Around the midway point of Big East play a season ago, Seton Hall appeared to have the look of a tournament team. The Pirates were left outside the field when March came however, before their season eventually ended at the hands of UMass in the NIT. Fuquan Edwin is back, while transfers Gene Teague and Brian Oliver are both eligible. The Pirates are looking to make additional strides under Kevin Willard, who is now entering his third season at SHU. This tournament field could offer some non-conference opportunities for the Pirates to boost their resume.
No. 1: Can a Balanced Mix of Experience Propel Washington?- Last season, Washington became the first power conference school to win their league’s regular season title, but fail to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. With the snub shedding light on the weakness of the Pac 12 Conference a season ago, the expectations of improvement run deep throughout the league looking ahead to this season. The Huskies lost both Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten Jr. to the NBA Draft, but a strong balance of experience and young players could catapult Washington back into the discussion in 2012-13. C.J. Wilcox looks to emerge as a star, while seniors Scott Suggs, Abdul Gaddy, and Aziz N’Diaye add veteran leadership. The key for UW will be the emergence of their younger stars, who will look to step up as the season rolls along.
Be sure to follow Paul Seaver on Twitter: @TheArenaPulse