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August 8, 2008

Thanksgiving tourneys filled with top teams

The biggest week of the season before March Madness will be Nov. 24-30, when three important tournaments will give an early picture of which teams are legitimate Final Four contenders and which are postseason pretenders.

Nine teams ranked in the Rivals.com Preseason Top 25 will be in action, including No. 1 North Carolina. Several teams on the cusp of our top 25 also will have a chance to prove they belong.

Here's a breakdown of the Maui Invitational, Anaheim Classic and Old Spice Classic:


DATES: Nov. 24-26
SITE: Lahaina Civic Center, Maui, Hawaii
FIRST-ROUND MATCHUPS: Saint Joseph's vs. Texas; Indiana vs. Notre Dame; North Carolina vs. Chaminade; Oregon vs. Alabama
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Ahmad Nivins, Saint Joseph's; A.J. Abrams and Damion James, Texas; Luke Harangody and Kyle McAlarney, Notre Dame; Tyler Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington and Ty Lawson, North Carolina; Tajuan Porter, Oregon; Alonzo Gee and JaMychal Green, Alabama.
POSSIBLE FINAL: Notre Dame vs. North Carolina

1. The Tar Heels can prove how big a favorite they are to win the national title with a convincing performance in Hawaii.
2. Is Alabama guard Ron Steele finally ready for prime time again?
3. Are reigning Big East Player of the Year Luke Harangody and the Irish capable of living up to preseason top-five expectations?


DATES: Nov. 24-26
SITE: The Milk House at Disney's Wide World of Sports in Orlando, Fla.
FIRST-ROUND MATCHUPS: Tennessee vs. Siena; Wichita State vs. Georgetown; Maryland vs. Michigan State; Oklahoma State vs. Gonzaga
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Scotty Hopson and Tyler Smith, Tennessee; Kenny Hasbrouck and Edwin Ubiles, Siena; DaJuan Summers, Georgetown; Greivis Vasquez, Maryland; Raymar Morgan, Michigan State; James Anderson, Oklahoma State; Jeremy Pargo, Gonzaga.
POSSIBLE FINAL: Tennessee vs. Michigan State

1. The winner of this event zooms into the top five in the polls. The loaded field has teams ranked Nos. 10-13 in the Rivals poll (Tennessee, No. 10; Georgetown, No. 11; Michigan State, No. 12; and Gonzaga, No. 13).
2. Two coaches who've won national titles square off in the first round in Tom Izzo and Gary Williams. You also have four guys pointed toward joining the ranks of championship coaches in Bruce Pearl, John Thompson III, Travis Ford and Mark Few.
3. Can Siena play spoiler? The Saints, who went 23-11 last season and stunned Vanderbilt in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, return all five starters. The Vols had best be ready for the opener.


DATES: Nov. 27, 28, 30
SITE: Anaheim Convention Center, Anaheim, Calif.
FIRST-ROUND MATCHUPS: Saint Mary's vs. UTEP; Wake Forest vs. Cal State Fullerton; Arizona State vs. Charlotte; Providence vs. Baylor
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Patrick Mills, Saint Mary's; Stefon Jackson, UTEP; James Johnson and Jeff Teague, Wake Forest; Josh Akognon, Cal State Fullerton; James Harden, Arizona State; Curtis Jerrells, Baylor.
POSSIBLE FINAL: Wake Forest vs. Arizona State

1. The ballyhooed Wake Forest recruiting class, with three five-star frontcourt players, has a chance to prove itself early.
2. Anaheim may not have the marquee teams of the other events, but it has a gaggle of big-time scoring guards. Jackson and Akognon are two of only 15 returning players in the country to average at least 20 points last season. Harden is a safe bet to join those ranks, too.
3. The Sun Devils can establish themselves as a force after last season's NCAA Tournament snub.

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