The 2012 Puerto Rico Tip-Off begins with quarterfinal play on Thursday and while day one is sure to provide some excitement, it’s the later rounds and the days to come that could be crucial for some.
North Carolina State enters the field as the bracket’s top team, so the Wolfpack have the potential and opportunity of their own to flex their muscles and run the table in the Caribbean.
However, this may not be all about N.C. State.
While Akron, Providence, Penn State, and UNC-Asheville look to shakeup the bracket from day one, there are three other teams aside from North Carolina State that face pivotal early-season opportunities.
Let’s first start with the top of the bracket and Oklahoma State. The Cowboys are vastly improved, or they should be at least, with the guidance of freshman Marcus Smart and the return of sophomore forward Le’Bryan Nash. Oklahoma State kicks off the quarterfinal round with Akron, a pesky team out of the MAC, that features a difficult front line headlined by 7-footer, Zeke Marshall.
Oklahoma State has the opportunity to make a run in Puerto Rico, but a potential semifinal match-up against Tennessee could present a similar feel from both sides of the court.
Speaking of the Vols, they fall into a nearly identical category. Tennessee, who nearly burst into the NCAA Tournament after a run late last season, has expectations of dancing come March. These non-conference games in the Caribbean are perfect ways for the Volunteers to boost their resume.
Tennessee takes on a feisty UNC-Asheville squad in the quarterfinal round before the facing the potential of Oklahoma State in the semis.
Overall, the most critical team in this year’s field however, is not from a power six conference. I’m talking about UMass and their ability to shock some people in Puerto Rico.
The Minutemen face a diminished Providence squad in the quarterfinal round before a likely date with N.C. State in the semis. This of course is assuming that UMass, who beat Harvard at the buzzer on Tuesday, can dispatch of their fellow New England-rival.
Puerto Rico has the potential to be an interesting bracket and fun field to watch. Will anyone step up to challenge N.C. State? Who will make their case in the Caribbean?
It’s a double-elimination field, so opportunities will present themselves for many throughout the multiple-day event.
Paul Seaver is the College Basketball Network Manager at Rant Sports. You can follow Paul Seaver on Twitter: @TheArenaPulse