But the tournament features more than just these two powers. Here’s a bracket breakdown:
Columbia Region Nov. 12-13
Players to watch: Stefhon Hannah, Missouri; DeMarre Carroll, Missouri; Keon Lawrence, Missouri; Giordon Watson, Central Michigan; Jordan Bitzer, Central Michigan; Marcus Stout, Fordham; Bryant Dunston, Fordham; Fred Dudley, Central Missouri State
Playing on their home floor, Missouri should have no trouble taking care of business in this region. In Mike Anderson’s second year, a backcourt featuring Hannah and Lawrence should shine in the up-tempo attack. Carroll, a transfer from Vanderbilt, will be a big asset down low. Their opening-round match-up against Central Michigan should be fun, as the Chippewas possess a solid backcourt of their own, led by Watson and Bitzer. Look for Misssouri’s size up front to be the difference.
Fordham, returning all five starters, including All A-10 candidates Stout and Dunston, should easily dispose of CMS, who won the MIAA last year with a 31-4 record, but whose leading returning scorer is Dudley, who averaged just 4.4 points per game.
In the final, look for Missouri to use their superior athleticism, as well as the home-court, to knock off the Rams and advance.
East Lansing Region Nov. 13-14
Players to watch: Drew Nietzel, Michigan State; Raymar Morgan, Michigan State; Marquise Gray, Michigan State; David Holston, Chicago State; Tony Hooper, Louisiana-Monroe; Jordan Payne, Louisiana-Monroe; Tyler Kazmierkoski, Northern Michigan
Like Missouri, the home-town Spartans should cruise through this bracket. Coach Tom Izzo’s squad will look to Nietzel to set the tone. The gritty senior, who has gone from playmaker to scorer in his career, will have a variety of weapons to compliment him. A blow-out against Chicago State in the first game should give some of the Spartans’ highly-touted freshmen a chance for minutes.
Likewise, Louisiana-Monroe should easily take care of NMU, who lost do-everything guard Ricky Volcy. The Warhawks return four double-digit scorers, led by Hooper.
With their eyes on big things this year, Michigan State should easily cruise by Louisiana-Monroe and advance.
College Park Region Nov. 11-12
Players to watch: James Gist, Maryland; Grevis Vasquez, Maryland; Bambale Osby, Maryland; James Grimball, North Florida; Rod Earls, Tulsa; Brett McDade, Tulsa; Rashad West, Hampton; Mike Freeman, Hampton
The question isn’t whether Maryland will beat North Florida in the opening game – it’s a matter of how badly. Despite the loss of four seniors, the Terps will look to the athletic Gist to anchor the middle, while Vasquez is in line to become the next great Maryland point guard. Keep an eye on Osby, who is built like an NFL-linebacker.
In the second game, look for good matchup with Earls and West. West is a scoring machine, while Earls is a solid defender who can score in his own right. Look for Hampton to hang around, but the Golden Hurricane, building off last year’s 20-win season, should prevail.
The Terps should take this region, but look for Tulsa to give them a fight for a while. Coach Doug Wojcik is looking to push the pace this year, and Tulsa would love nothing more than to score a marquee win early in the season. However, too much talent on the Terps roster will enable them to move on.
Los Angeles Region Nov. 12-13
Players to watch: Darren Collison, UCLA; Josh Shipp, UCLA; Kevin Love, UCLA; Byron Davis, Youngstown State; Jack Liles, Youngstown State; Juan Pablo Silveira, Weber State; Dezmon Harris, Weber State; Marlon Pierce, Cal State San Bernardino
The Bruins enter the season as legitimate threats to win a national title, and they should prove why in this region. A ridiculously talented roster only gets better with the addition of Love, whose toughness down low will serve as the perfect compliment for the jet-quick Collison. UCLA will roll through Youngstown State, who lost three starters.
In the second game, Weber State should also roll, lead by Silveira, who could challenge for Big Sky Player of the Year honors. CSUSB won 26 games last year, but lost six seniors.
The final should be another stroll through the park for UCLA, who simply has too much talent and depth for the Wildcats.
Championship Rounds Nov. 19-20
Missouri vs. Michigan State
Maryland vs. UCLA
The first semi-final should be fun, as Neitzel and Hannah go head-to-head. Missouri wants to push the ball, but has to control the boards to do so – never an easy task against a Tom Izzo team. With Goran Sutton and Marquise Gray down low, and the heady play of Neitzel and the constantly-improving Raymar Morgan out top, look for the Spartans to prevail.
The second game should also be fun, as UCLA should get their first real test of the season. The Maryland duo of Vasquez and Eric Hayes will try to contain Collison, while Osby and Gist have the unenviable task of banging with Love down low. However, with Josh Shipp and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, the Bruins just have too much talent, and they should prevail over a young Maryland squad.
As noted, the final game pits two teams with their sights set on big things. Collison and Neitzel are two of the best point guards in the country, and their different styles should make for a good match. Collison is the superior athlete, but Neitzel is one of the smartest players in college basketball, and he always finds ways to get the job done. Down low, Love will have to play strong against the more experienced Spartans, but he will get help from Lorenzo Mata-Real and Alfred Aboya, who boast plenty of experience. In the end, look for a low-scoring defensive match-up, as the Bruins try to lock up Neitzel on the offensive end. When the smoke clears, UCLA will cut down the nets for the 2007 CBE, but it may not be the last set of nets they cut down for the season.