By Emmett Prosser Special to Published Nov 29, 2009 at 1:16 PM

Sunday night, Marquette University faces Florida State in the Old Spice Classic championship game next to Disney World.

A few days ago, The University of Wisconsin finished third in the EA Sports Maui Invitational.

In addition there were other quality college basketball tournaments this week in Anaheim, South Padre Island, San Juan, St. Thomas and Cancun.

When did Spring Break suddenly move to November? Buckets in the Bahamas can't be far behind!

Not too long ago, the former Maui Classic and the Great Alaska Shootout were just an excuse to take a break from bad football on Thanksgiving weekend (and there has been plenty of that over the last 72 hours).

But these eight-team events in postcard destinations are no longer just a diversion when one feels the need to pick up the remote control after sleeping off an early holiday feast.

Late November has become an early Christmas present for college basketball players, coaches and fans over the last few years. It gives schools valuable early national television exposure and the chance to play quality non-conference opponents for three straight days.

Marquette beat Xavier Friday and No. 15 Michigan Saturday. MU has made up for an extreme lack of size with superior quickness. Both the Musketeers and the Wolverines discovered that it is difficult to defend a shorter foe if you can't stay in front of your opposition.

The victory over Michigan was impressive because the Golden Eagles dominated the game without creating much offense off of turnovers. In the previous game vs. Xavier, MU forced 20 turnovers and scored 25 points off of those mistakes.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin defeated Arizona, lost to Gonzaga and then handled No. 22 Maryland in Hawaii earlier this week.

Don't tell MU and UW fans that we shouldn't pay attention to hoops until college football ends. These are all games that will be highlighted if either team ends up on the March Madness bubble.

Teams learn a lot about what they have when they run against the likes of probable NCAA entrants like Gonzaga, Michigan, Xavier and Maryland. You don't find out much about your squad when it crushes soft hostess products like Centenary, Grambling and Maryland-Eastern Shore

"These next few days are exciting for us to find out what we can do and what teams we are good enough to play against," said Marquette's Darius Johnson Odom.

Coaches take one game at a time, but these holiday hoops festivals are circled on the schedule for a reason. It's the kind of weekend that can boost both confidence and Ratings Percentage Index rankings in about two hours. RPI scores seem to be the magic number for at-large NCAA berths these days.

A few Marquette fans probably remember Dwyane Wade introducing himself to the college basketball universe in 2001 when he carried Marquette to the Great Alaska Shootout Championship. The Golden Eagles later made the NCAA tournament that season. It also gave the Golden Eagles three quality wins over teams in power confidence that helped boost the all-important power rating.

"Everybody wants to play in an exempt-event for the games and the opportunity to win those games," said Marquette coach Buzz Williams. "Because there are so many post-season tournaments now, all of this is somewhat tied together."

Thanks to these popular exemption tournaments, Marquette has played Duke twice in the last five years. Friday afternoon, the Golden Eagles take on Michigan. Neither school will probably ever ring Williams for a game in the offseason unless ESPN is involved in the conference call.

Recruits watch plenty of holiday hoops on cable too. They file away who played where near which ocean. Most teenage athletes get pretty psyched when you can add the words ‘warm weather' to any recruiting pitch.

When playing close to a large body of water, teams also get the chance to pick up all- important road victories on neutral floors. A few extra victories away from home always help...especially when you play the grind of a Big East or Big Ten schedule

And while neither Marquette nor Wisconsin needs the games to boost RPI position (the conference competition takes care of that), folks on the NCAA tournament committee tend to notice quality victories and losses during the first month of the season...even if Mickey Mouse is somewhere near the gym.



Emmett Prosser Special to

Emmett Prosser is a former sports producer at Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Online and has covered the Brewers, Bucks and Marquette basketball in many capacities for 13 years.

Prosser also signed a year's worth of 10-day contracts with the Cleveland Cavaliers' media relations department after graduating from Xavier University so he could get three-point shooting tips from NBA great Mark Price. The son of an English teacher and former basketball coach, Prosser attended Marquette high school.

In his spare time, Prosser enjoys live music and fooling people into making them believe he can play the drums. He also serves on the board of directiors for United Cerebral Palsy.