Everything you need to know about ESPN's six early-season tournaments

ByJeff Borzello ESPN logo
Tuesday, August 8, 2023

While nonconference men's college basketball multiteam events (MTEs) and tournaments aren't necessarily predictive of what will happen four months later in the NCAA tournament, teams using an early title to generate momentum and catapult them toward a surprising season happens every year.

Take Purdue, which wasn't ranked in the preseason AP poll last season. It went to the Phil Knight Legacy in Portland, Oregon, in November ranked at No. 24. One week later, the Boilermakers skyrocketed to No. 5 overall; only Houston had more first-place votes than Matt Painter's team.

They used that early momentum and wins over Gonzaga and Duke to jump to a 22-1 record to open the season en route to Big Ten regular-season and conference tournament championships and a 1-seed in the NCAA tournament.

Charleston was in a similar position. The Cougars, picked fourth in the preseason CAA poll, knocked off Davidson, Colorado State and Virginia Tech in a four-day span to win the Shiners Hospitals Charleston Classic in November. They didn't lose again until Jan. 28 and finished the season 31-4.

Ditto for Kansas State, which was picked last in the Big 12 in the preseason but rolled through an admittedly weak Cayman Island Classic field -- and generated positive buzz under first-year coach Jerome Tang.

The Maui Invitational last year featured an incredibly high level of basketball and ended up having the national runner-up in San Diego State, an Elite Eight team in Creighton, a Sweet 16 team in Arkansas and Pac-12 tournament champions and 2-seed Arizona.

It works with individual players too. Zach Edey's consensus National Player of the Year campaign began with a dominant showing at the Phil Knight Legacy, averaging 22.7 points and 10.3 rebounds. Alabama'sBrandon Millerestablished himself as the best freshman in the country with 17 points and five rebounds in the first half against Michigan Statein Portland.

So, which teams -- and players -- will emerge this November and December in the Charleston Classic, Myrtle Beach Invitational, ESPN Events Invitational, NIT Season Tip-Off, Vegas Showdown and Diamond Head Classic?

Here is everything you need to know about the events, who's playing and what we believe might happen.

Shriners Children's Charleston Classic

Dates: Nov. 16-17, 19

Site(s): TD Arena (Charleston, South Carolina)

How to watch: ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN+

Teams: St. John's, North Texas, Dayton, LSU, Houston, Towson, Utah, Wake Forest

Prediction: Houston, a preseason top-10 team, will enter the tournament as the favorite -- but the big storyline will likely be St. John's. Rick Pitino is bringing in 12 new players and this will be one of their first chances on a national stage. Still, I'll go with Kelvin Sampson and the Cougars to topple them in what could be one of the most intriguing championship games in November.

Myrtle Beach Invitational

Dates: Nov. 16-17, 19

Site(s): HTC Center (Conway, South Carolina)

How to watch: ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN+

Teams: Charleston, Vermont, Saint Louis, Wyoming, Wichita State, Coastal Carolina, Furman, Liberty

Prediction: This is as elite a mid-major field as you're going to find. Charleston, Vermont and Furman all reached the NCAA tournament last season, while Liberty has won five straight regular-season titles in the Atlantic Sun. The Cougars will aim to show last season's 31-win campaign wasn't a fluke with a title here. They bring back a trio of key pieces and also welcome a high-level recruiting class.

NIT Season Tip-Off

Dates: Nov. 22, 24

Site(s): Barclays Center (Brooklyn, New York)

How to watch: ESPN, ESPN2

Teams: Baylor, Oregon State, Florida, Pittsburgh

Prediction: The Gators revamped their roster via the transfer portal this spring, while Riley Kugel is poised for a true breakout season. But they won't have enough to take down Baylor in the title game. Scott Drew's team has a talented and versatile perimeter group that includes three newcomers but also got a big boost when Jalen Bridges decided to come back.

Vegas Showdown

Dates: Nov. 23-24

Site(s): Michelob Ultra Arena (Las Vegas)

How to watch: ESPN2

Teams: NC State, Vanderbilt, BYU, Arizona State

Prediction: Well, it's going to be nice to see a future Big 12 rivalry game when BYU takes on Arizona State on one side of the bracket. In reality, this event feels like a momentum builder for whichever team takes the title. NC State and Arizona State went heavy in the portal in the spring, while Vanderbilt lost a ton of personnel. BYU has the most continuity from last season, so I'll go with it.

ESPN Events Invitational

Dates: Nov. 23-24, 26

Site(s): State Farm Field House at ESPN Wide World of Sports (Kissimmee, Florida)

How to watch: ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN+

Teams: Penn State, Texas A&M, Florida Atlantic, Butler, Iowa State, VCU, Boise State, Virginia Tech

Prediction: All eyes will be on FAU. The Owls are coming off a stunning Final Four run and have moved up a level to the AAC. But now, Dusty May's team has expectations. Expectations like being picked to win an event that features four Power 5 teams and two other teams that played in the NCAA tournament last season. Preseason top-25 pick Texas A&M is FAU's biggest competition, but newcomer heavy Iowa State and Mountain West contender Boise State could be sleepers on the other side of the bracket.

Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic

Dates: Dec. 21-22, 24

Site(s): SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center (Honolulu)

How to watch: ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN+

Teams: Nevada, Temple, TCU, Old Dominion, Georgia Tech, UMass, Portland, Hawai'i

Prediction: Can Nevada or TCU get back to the NCAA tournament after suffering key personnel losses? The Horned Frogs had a terrific spring in the transfer portal and will likely enter this event as the favorites to win it -- but Nevada brings back Jarod Lucas and Kenan Blackshear. On the other side of the bracket, new Georgia Tech head coach Damon Stoudamire is the headliner. He's bringing in six transfers, and welcomes back four key players from last season.