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Feast Week 2018: Previewing the statement opportunities for mid-major teams

Ball State has the first opportunity to knock off a ranked team

NCAA Basketball: Ball State at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

It’s the (second) most wonderful time of the (college basketball) year.

The November slate of college basketball tournaments tips off on Thursday, signaling the start of ESPN’s Feast Week. Beginning with the Charleston Classic, we get a week’s worth of afternoon basketball at work, taking us up to Thanksgiving, then through to the following Monday.

With the majority of college basketball teams playing multiple games against quality opponents over the next week, there are some serious statement opportunities.

Charleston Classic

Field: Ball State, Virginia Tech, Alabama, Northeastern, Purdue, Appalachian State, Wichita State, Davidson

Teams to watch:

Ball State: The MAC belongs to Buffalo, make no mistake about it. But the Cardinals can be a factor. After a convincing season-opening win over Indiana State, they played Purdue close on Saturday. If you’ve never watched guard Tayler Persons play, do yourself a favor and tune in against Virginia Tech.

Northeastern: That night one loss to Boston University hurt. A lot. But the Huskies followed that up with a 10-point win over (an albeit short-handed) Harvard. It was a step in the right direction as guard Vasa Pusica inches closer to the vaunted status of Mid-Major Madness Favorite. Maybe with a win over Alabama, the nation will take notice.

Myrtle Beach Invitational

Field: Saint Joseph’s, Wake Forest, UCF, CS Fullerton, Valparaiso, Western Kentucky, Monmouth, West Virginia

Teams to watch:

Saint Joseph’s: The Atlantic 10’s disastrous start to the season has, maybe, cleared the way for the Hawks to make some serious noise. It started with a season-opening win over Old Dominion — a game in which Charlie Brown went for 20 on 4-6 three-point shooting and Pierfrancesco Olive came off the bench to add 17. The Hawks will be favorites against Wake Forest in the first round and could get AAC favorite UCF after that.

Western Kentucky: The Hilltoppers have some high expectations this year and they hung with Washington on opening night in a game that was closer than the 18-point final margin indicated. Just remember: Lamonte Bearden isn’t eligible until after the first semester, so if WKU makes some noise in this tournament, watch out.

Paradise Jam

Field: Eastern Kentucky, Kansas State, Northern Iowa, Penn, Oregon State, Old Dominion, Kennesaw State, Missouri

Teams to watch:

Penn: Hey! The Quakers are 3-0! Granted that win over George Mason is looking worse by the day (seriously, Patriots, what’s going on?), but Penn has looked pretty darn good over the first week. The Quakers have posted back-to-back 90-plus-point games, but will have to face a slow-paced Northern Iowa in the first round.

Old Dominion: The Monarchs destroyed Navy before taking a more-than-excusable loss at Saint Joseph’s over the weekend. That game was the first in a brutal stretch that will test Old Dominion as much as any in the CUSA schedule. They get Oregon State to start the Paradise Jam, and after they host both Northern Iowa and VCU.

Gulf Coast Showcase

Field: South Dakota State, Tulane, UC Irvine, UTSA, Louisiana, Colorado State, FGCU, Toledo

Teams to watch:

South Dakota State: All eyes are on Mike Daum whenever he takes the court, so this will be no different. Except now the Jackrabbits can actually beat some good mid-majors on a big stage. Louisiana, Toledo, and UC Irvine are all rated higher in KenPom than the next-best Summit League team.

UC Irvine: As a Big West team, it’s been tough for the Anteaters to gain traction from a national perspective. That started to change when they knocked off Texas A&M on the road, and it can continue next week.

Caymen Islands Classic

Field: Akron, Clemson, Illinois State, Georgia, St. Bonaventure, Georgia State, Boise State, Creighton

Teams to watch:

Illinois State: We can pretend the near disaster against Chicago State never happened, but it was pretty discouraging to see it after the Redbirds let Belmont hang 100 on them. They’ll look to right the ship against the Fightin’ Tom Creans in game one, and no matter what happens there, Illinois State is guaranteed to play St. Bonaventure, Georgia State, Boise State, or Creighton on day three.

Georgia State: The Panthers have played two quality mid-majors and split them, beating ETSU at home and losing at Montana. D’Marcus Simonds will start his tour of the Caymen Islands with a game against a desperate St. Bonaventure.

Maui Invitational

Field: Duke, Illinois, San Diego State, Xavier, Gonzaga, Auburn, Iowa State, Arizona

Team to watch:

San Diego State: OK, well obviously you should watch Gonzaga too. But they’re a known commodity. What about the Aztecs? They head to Maui with two games under their belts, both against sub-240 teams. No, Jalen McDaniels and Co. aren’t supposed to beat Duke in the quarterfinals, but their likely game against Xavier on Tuesday could tell us a lot.

Fort Myers Tip-Off

Field: Boston College, Loyola University Chicago, Richmond, Wyoming

Team to watch:

Loyola: Loyola’s home loss to Furman was quite a harsh welcome back to Earth following the Ramblers’ Final Four run last season. The good news is that the Valley is up this year and they’ll have an opportunity to make up for it. The Fort Myers field isn’t great, but the Ramblers can, feasibly, beat both an Atlantic 10 and ACC team.

Cancun Challenge

Field: Bradley, Penn State, Wright State, SMU

Team to watch:

Wright State: A few reasons to watch Wright State here. First, the Raiders beat a really good Toledo team last night and now get a crack at Penn State, who might be a little overrated. Second, Wright State could actually win this tournament. Bradley’s solid, sure, but SMU has already lost to Southern Miss. Third, I was really high on them going into the year and bought a few shares in the Mid-Major Stock Exchange.

Wooden Legacy

Field: La Salle, Miami, Northwestern, Fresno State, Seton Hall, Grand Canyon, Hawaii, Utah

Team to watch:

Grand Canyon: It’s funny how New Mexico State lost on Wednesday and suddenly their fans aren’t blowing up our mentions. And now that we know the Aggies are fallible, maybe Grand Canyon can compete. The Lopes nearly took down South Dakota State on the road then pounded two sub-300 teams. They get Seton Hall in the first round.

Las Vegas Holiday Invitational

Field: Nevada, UMass, Southern Illinois, Tulsa

Team to watch:

Southern Illinois: OK, like in Maui, you should also be watching the best team in this tournament. Nevada, in this case. But for now, Southern Illinois might be more interesting. The Salukis went toe-to-toe with Kentucky in Rupp before losing a close one to Buffalo at home. When they face UMass next week, it’ll be the highly anticipated Pippen vs. Pipkens matchup.*

*One is 5’11 and the other is 6’10 so fine it’s not really a matchup but it sounds fun