The Reason For the Season

As we hit this Thanksgiving week, we enter in the midst of the annual holiday tournament stretch. The traditional eight-team events in Charleston and Puerto Rico have been completed, as well as the four-team showcases involving the Wounded Warriors Project, Coaches vs. Cancer, and the Basketball Hall of Fame. However, this is when the run really gets in gear, with games going on in Maui, Las Vegas, Cancun, the Bahamas, and other exotic locales. Other than mid-March, I'd say that this is my favorite time of the college basketball season. Why, exactly, is that the case? Let me tell you.

1) The Original "Bracket Busters"

Before ESPN decided to develop the series of February showcase games featuring mid-major hopefuls, one of the best ways to encounter some interesting cross-regional games would be through these small tournaments. Sure, these organizations would love to fill their brackets with the richest of college hoops blue bloods. Another thing I give them credit for, though, is that they do a good job of sharing (and spreading) the wealth. A rotation of the traditional powers (Duke, Kansas, UCLA, Michigan State, etc.) allows for more of the "smaller" schools to get shots against big boys.

2) A Great First Step

These tournaments provide an environment the highly-ranked teams won't see again until early March. But it also allows a couple "under-the-radar" teams an opportunity to announce their presence on the season. It might not last all the way to Championship Week, but it could very well be the springboard for a tournament bid.

In 2012, Oklahoma State stunned sixth-ranked N.C. State in Puerto Rico. The Cowboys had some high-flying talent return to Stillwater, but this event basically marked the beginning of Marcus Smart's two-year collegiate career. Just last year, UMass got through a shootout (against Nebraska) and provided an upset (against New Mexico) on their way to winning the Charleston Classic. The Minutemen ended up returning to the NCAA tourney for the first time since 1998. Also in 2013, Villanova came out of nowhere to stun the two favorites (#2 Kansas and #23 Iowa) and win down in the Bahamas. That could easily be seen as the catalyst for the Wildcats' regular season conference championship in the first year of the new Big East.

Heck, we may have our first team to keep an eye on this season. West Virginia took the defending national champs Sunday, defeating Connecticut for this edition of the Charleston event. We'll see if the Mountaineers can continue a trend of sleepers working their way into the March postseason.

3) We See You Bustin' Loose, Coach

It's great that the coaches in this sport do their best to look as sharp as possible. Some of the suits can bring more "wow!" factor than the athleticism shown on the court. Admit it, though. This is a time where the ties should be tucked away and the suit coat/vest should be substituted with a Tommy Bahama shirt. Is it cheesy? Sure. But I think it's fun to see the coaches make an attempt at levity in their fashion statements (because we know that won't be the case for their demeanor on the sidelines).

4) They Seem to Know "Time, Score, Situation" Theory

Throughout the week, most of these tournaments will be shown on any variety of television stations. I figured that, like with many other neutral-site sporting events, attendance would be lacking at some of these games (and they probably do at the seventh and fifth-place deciders). After doing a little digging, it appears that most of these organizations are doing their setups right.

If you look into the venues hosting these eight-team events, most appear to fall into the intimate category (2,500-9,000 seat capacity). With the expense of an extended stay and the uncertainty of game time (from day-to-day), I don't think these organizers are over-extending themselves just to try and get more fannies into too many seats (something the NCAA might think about during their own event).

Of course, there are drawbacks to all of these sets of brackets (overexposure, dilution of product, etc.). However, these money-grabbers (let's not kid ourselves) do provide a connection to the "community" aspect of the game. They're one last extension to those tournaments you may have played in summer ball or high school. And, when all is said and done, they're just fun basketball. Enjoy the Holidays, and enjoy the hoops.

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