The sixth running of the Old Spice Classic starts on Thanksgiving Day in Orlando at ESPN's World Wide of Sports complex. Gonzaga headlines a bracket that includes Marist, Oklahoma, Clemson, Davidson, UTEP, Vanderbilt and West Virginia.
All first-round games will be aired on ESPN2, starting with West Virginia vs. Marist at noon eastern time. At 2 p.m. Vanderbilt and Davidson go head-to-head, and UTEP and Oklahoma launch at 7 p.m. Gonzaga and Clemson close down Thanksgiving day at 9 p.m. The rest of the games are all on either ESPN2, ESPNU or ESPN3, and the championship game is on Sunday at 7 p.m. on ESPN2.
Instead of previewing, I thought I'd just go ahead and project how all eight teams will finish. My explanations are guided by log5 projections calculated using Ken Pomeroy's pythagorean index.
The Zags (3-0) just are the clear favorites in this field. They'll have to get through Clemson (log5 77.0%), Oklahoma (81.2%) and Davidson (77.1%) in order to become the Old Spice Classic's first-ever repeat champions (they beat out Tennessee for the title in 2008). They've played three cartoonishly fast games of 83, 70 and 80 possessions while scoring 1.212 points per possession (ninth in the nation) and allowing opponents just 0.738 ppp (10th). Nobody in this field can hang with them.
Gonzaga hasn't missed a beat without Robert Sacre running the defensive show underneath and have already beaten West Virginia this season in a non-bracketed OSC game, 84-50. I'm not sure what happens now if they end up crossing paths in the actual bracket.
Things really open up after No. 1. The Wildcats (1-2) don't have the easiest road to second place and will need wins over Vanderbilt (65.4%), a team that is without its top six scorers from last season and this season's would-be starting two guard, Dai-Jon Parker, and West Virginia (60.2%).
Davidson returned its top eight scorers from last season's 25-win team including potential NBA draftees in junior big man Jake Cohen and senior De'Mon Brooks, whose offensive rating is on pace to top 114 in back-to-back seasons, but have so far not fared well with a tough schedule. They've lost in harsh environments on the road, at New Mexico and at the Horizon League's Milwaukee.
Lon Kruger may have 88.1 percent of last season's scoring back and added a lot of talented recruits that flesh out a bench that supports a cast of five returners, but the Sooners (2-0) still aren't near Gonzaga's level. Afterall, they almost were embarrassed by UT-Arlington last week, which came within a possession of OU's lead with two minutes to play.
Oklahoma will have to rely on their efficient defense (0.777 ppp) to get past UTEP (58.2%) in the first round and West Virginia (54.1%) in the third-place game. There's nothing confident about picking them third.
As an unrelated aside, former Zag Ryan Spangler transferred to Oklahoma in the offseason but has to sit this season out.
4. West Virginia
It's hard to gauge the Mountaineers (0-1) since all they've accomplished so far this season is a loss at the hands of Gonzaga. They have a pretty great shot at downing Marist (72.2%) and really could finish anywhere between second and fourth.
The young Tigers (2-0) got a really tough draw with Gonzaga in the first round, but I like their chances against UTEP (79.8%) in the consolation semifinals and Vanderbilt (65.5%) or even Marist (79.8%) in the fifth-place game. Milton Jennings and Devin Booker have plenty of talent around them it seems, it's just a matter of Brad Brownell putting it together in the right way.
Clemson has wins over Presbyterian and Furman so far.
No Dai-Jon Parker and no anybody for the Commodores, which are searching for ways to replace essentially their entire lineup from last season. All they have to their name so far is a 15-point win over Nicholls State to go with a 74-48 drubbing at the hands of Oregon.
I still think they can manage a win over Marist (67.6%) in their first consolation game.
I think the Miners (1-1) are the real wildcard of this tournament, and an upset over Oklahoma (58.2%) in the opening round is a real possibility that would just scrap this whole bracket. Either way, Julian Washburn and UTEP won't finish worse than seventh and are favored over Marist (68.8%).
The Red Foxes (1-2) returned tons of experience and all five starters from last year's 14-win team, but I'm not encouraged after losses to Stony Brook and Colgate. Maybe they break out on a neutral court?