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Tournaments have big bracket impact

8/5/2010

My colleague Andy Katz chimed in on some of the early-season tournament brackets here, so now here's my take -- with a twist. Here's a look at the tournaments with an eye toward the NCAA Tournament. What follows is one man's rankings of the tournaments in order of March bracket impact. The short version: There are plenty of opportunities for teams to boost their bid status early on. Here are the best.

1. The Maui Invitational always has -- and always will have -- an edge in terms of popularity and impact. It's Maui, for one, and, for another, location, timing and tradition make for the best possible field pretty much every year. This November is no exception. Top seed Michigan State is a legitimate contender for the NCAA title and Kentucky may be as well -- once the now-annual turnover of stars is complete. The flip side is that every potential bubble team in the field -- in particular Virginia and Wichita State -- has multiple opportunities for the kind of win that "keeps on giving" into March.

2. The Old Spice Classic at Disney World just gets better every year. The standard format of such events -- one team from every BCS conference, plus a pair of wild cards -- delivers a Temple Owls squad that has as good a chance as any to prevail over a very balanced field. I'd rank Old Spice second this November because the number of potential bubble teams (and individual matchups among them) is unusually high.

3. The Puerto Rico Tip-Off is headlined by a North Carolina Tar Heels team looking to regain its place on the national stage. Carolina being on the rebound actually gives this event a better storyline than normal, plus we'll be following the typical "bubble" adventures of Minnesota and Vanderbilt .

4. The 76 Classic fell a bit flat last year due to the UCLA Bruins' unexpected collapse. Then again, there was a team named Butler in the field that perhaps should have garnered a little more attention. I think the team to watch this year is Virginia Tech, which could easily ride three wins in Anaheim to a position far, far above the dreaded bubble which seems to have become an annual place for the Hokies.

5. The Diamond Head Classic over Christmas is an underrated event with an undervalued field. Butler leads a group of good -- not great -- teams from major conferences to the University of Hawaii. It will take two wins (and probably three) for any of this year's participants to make a real positive impression come Selection Sunday.

6. I'm ranking the 2K Sports Classic (New York) and the CBE Classic (Kansas City) together because neither is a real tournament. The four initial hosts advance no matter what, with the by-product that none are overly tested in the opening rounds. The "final four" of each is attractive, especially Kansas City with defending national champion Duke, but it's not the same as eight real teams in a neutral court setting.

7. The Cancun Governor's Cup is the second Christmas Week event on the board. It has a largely second-tier field of mid-majors along with Mississippi. It's not likely anyone plays their way into the NCAA field in Cancun, although Ole Miss could play its way out of it.

Joe Lunardi is the resident Bracketologist for ESPN, ESPN.com and ESPN Radio. He also teaches Fundamentals of Bracketology online at Saint Joseph's University. Comments can be sent to bracketology@comcast.net.