Holiday tournament basketball tipped off on Thursday, one of the many things we can give thanks for over the upcoming holiday. Though perhaps not too much thanks.
The proliferation of large, eight-team in-season tourneys has been a boon for teams looking to get in an extra three games each season, but it also has played a part in watering down the importance of such tournaments as a whole.
Used to be, playing in tournaments like the Preseason NIT, Maui Invitational, Great Alaska Shootout or Rainbow Classic was a special honor for a team, a unique opportunity to shake the doldrums of non-conference play and a chance to gain exposure if a team performed well in them.
While winning such tourneys still provides a team a lift, it’s hard to argue that winning one is all that special anymore. A Maui title is still a big deal, given that event is loaded almost every single year. Alaska still holds sentimental value for some. But the rest of them?
Perhaps nothing more illustrates just how relatively diluted the tourneys are than UNC-Charlotte. The 49ers are participating in the Charleston Classic and are in the semifinals after a wild 106-97, double-overtime win over Penn State on Thursday. Charlotte is shooting for its third consecutive season winning an eight-team in-season tournament, having won the Great Alaska Shootout two years ago and Puerto Rico last year.
This should be a great achievement, but good luck finding anyone nationally to recognize it as such. And the truth is, when teams can participate in these tourneys every year, and there’s a tourney for everyone, then logically the accomplishment is diminished some.
Add to that the puny crowds that are attending many of these tournaments. The crowd at Charleston yesterday was miniscule. Attendance at events in recent years in Orlando and Anaheim, to name two places, has been flat-out embarrassing. It doesn’t look good when top 25 teams are playing at neutral sites and 500 people show up.
Look, we LOVE tournament basketball. L-O-V-E. But for the good of college basketball, for the sake of generating more interest in the events we have, it just might be that a little less of a good thing would equal a better thing.
- The 2K Classic saw one mostly expected result-Texas defeating Iowa, though the 71-57 margin was maybe a little more than expected-and one decidedly unexpected result. California didn’t just beat Syracuse, the Golden Bears whooped the Orangemen 73-59. Ray Floriani has more about the game here. Think a lot of people knew it was possible that Cal wins this, but didn’t consider it likely at SU’s home away from home, and certainly not in such convincing fashion.
- In the Charleston Classic, Akron easily took care of USC and Miami (Fla.) defeated Drexel by matching 66-46 scores. The Zips got a career game from Pat Forsythe (15 points, 9 rebounds) and proved they have plenty to work with even without Demetrius Treadwell. And while Angel Rodriguez is deservedly getting a lot of credit for Miami’s win over Florida, the bigger problem for Hurricane opponents is that this team has three-point weapons all over the place. Five different players hit triples and Miami hit 11 of 21 from long distance against undermanned Drexel.
In the other two quarterfinals, UNC-Charlotte outlasted Penn State as mentioned above before South Carolina easily dismissed Cornell 69-45. UNCC nearly let one get away, leading by 17 midway through the second half before giving it back. Say this about Penn State: the Nittany Lions are certainly not the most talented team in the Big 10, but they sure are scrappy and play hard and are fun to watch for that reason, and they very nearly pulled this one out. An admirable effort, to be sure. As it is, we have two nice semifinal games on Friday from Charleston.
- Puerto Rico saw Dayton nip Texas A&M 55-53 and Connecticut fend off Charleston 65-57 to set up one of the semifinals. Both were good games. Dayton got a tip-in from Devon Scott with a second left for the winning points, but A&M gave a good account of itself in this game. Ryan Boatright is the man now for UConn, and he delivered (19 points) against a feisty Charleston team that so often seems to play high-level competition tough.
In the nightcap, Boston College beat New Mexico 69-65 and West Virginia hammered George Mason 91-65. Olivier Hanlan for BC is really good, and took this one over late, while the Lobos were really hurt when Cullen Neal went out with an ankle injury early in the first half. As for West Virginia: uh-oh. It may be just us, but it sure looked like this was the most aggressive, up-tempo Bob Huggins team that we’ve seen in a long time. In fact, the Mountaineers Thursday resembled those old Cincinnati teams from when Huggins was turning that program into a national power. WVU will be a ton of fun to watch if that continues. And the result of all Friday’s games is that we have three former Big East teams among the four semifinalists in Puerto Rico. This is a wide-open tournament.
- Villanova had some difficulty again with a Patriot League team. Bucknell led with less than two minutes left before the Wildcats finished on a 9-0 run for a 72-65 win. Much like last year, it looks like this is just how the Wildcats are going to be: when they’re hitting from outside, they’re really, really good. When they’re not (5-for-22 from 3-point land against the Bison), they’re not. Villanova is just not getting enough inside, getting out-rebounded 38-31 in this one.
- Indiana defeated SMU 74-68, capitalizing on homecourt advantage against a ranked team much the way Creighton did the night before against Oklahoma. How does a team lose when shooting 56.9%, holding their opponent to 36.2% shooting, out-boarded them by 13, and owning a 42-14 advantage scoring in the paint? They do so by giving the ball away like candy at a parade (19 turnovers), playing as if allergic to defending the three-point line (12 IU triples) and finishing with 15 less free throw attempts and makes than their opponent.
James Blackmon, Jr., was huge with 26 points, and the Hoosiers seem to be playing with a renewed enthusiasm after earning their coach’s ire in the preseason. As for SMU, the Mustangs are really struggling right now. It’s early, but in the early going this is most definitely not a top 25 team.
One other note: this game had a pair of former Illinois State Redbirds in it, with SMU’s Nic Moore (13 points, 6 assists) and Indiana’s Nick Zeisloft (10 points, 3 3-pointers). Illinois, Minnesota and Cleveland State also are among landing spots of recent ISU transfers. For a program that hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1998 and really hasn’t been close since 2007, a lot of talent has gone in and out of there.
- Michigan held off Detroit 71-62. The Titans have now given both Oregon and Michigan a hard time on the road. In fact, Juwan Howard Jr. scored 24 points for Detroit, but Caris LeVert had 21 to lead the Wolverines.
- Virginia Commonwealth blew out Maryland-Eastern Shore 106-66, a predictable result that is notable because the Rams hit 15 of 33 from three-point range. VCU has been weak at times the past few years in halfcourt offense, but Havoc becomes even more of a problem for opponents when the Rams are draining shots from the perimeter like this.
- Harvard bounced back from its loss to Holy Cross by routing Florida Atlantic 71-49. This one was revenge after the Owls knocked off the Crimson last year.
- South Florida is a quiet 3-0 after winning 73-71 in overtime at UAB in a battle between two old Sun Belt Conference foes.
- It’s not a win that will impress many, but UC Davis picked up a road win halfway across the country, winning 63-61 at Eastern Illinois. Corey Hawkins-the son of former Bradley great and NBA veteran Hersey Hawkins-scored 28 points.
- St. Mary’s is also now 3-0 after beating Denver 78-62. Big Brad Waldow had 26 points, and Kerry Carter early on is much-improved for the Gaels this year and had 16 points in this one.
- Finally, three nights after winning at Clemson, Winthrop lost at Savannah State, 59-58.
- It’s already been a more adventurous year for Fordham than Coach Tom Pecora would want. Last week it was proficient scorer Jon Severe getting suspended for the Rams’ opener. This week it’s Eric Paschall who was sidelined against Maryland last night, an eventual 66-50 Terrapin win. Paschall was voted the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week after rdham’s first two games but was detected to have an irregular heartbeat during a physical. He has been cleared to resume practice Friday.
Charleston semifinals Miami (Fla.) vs. Akron (2:30 p.m. EST, ESPNU) and UNC-Charlotte vs. South Carolina (7 p.m. EST, ESPNU) Hardly matchups that will promote a Pavlovian response from TV execs, but some decent-to-good wins are available for all four of these teams over the next couple days. A tourney title for any of them would be a nice feather in the cap.
Puerto Rico semifinals Connecticut vs. Dayton (2:30 p.m. EST, ESPN2) and Boston College vs. West Virginia (5 p.m. EST, ESPNU) A number of teams that we feel like we’re getting reacquainted with. UConn and Dayton aren’t quite the same teams that played so deep in the NCAA Tournament, while WVU is trying to get back to its level as a customary NCAA tourney participant.
Texas vs. Calfornia (7 p.m. EST, ESPN2) 2K Classic Final from Madison Square Garden. The Longhorns will be the heavy favorite in this one, but magic happens at MSG.
George Washington at Virginia Not sure if the Colonials are up to winning this one-this, but GW is a team with NCAA Tournament experience and a lot of big-game experience from last year’s A-10 gauntlet, making this a quality matchup.
Toledo at Oregon After just missing at VCU, this is another golden opportunity for the Rockets. The Ducks could still end up as a fringe NCAA tourney team. We’re really not sure which team wants to play faster in this game-both love to push the tempo.
Stephen F. Austin at Xavier (8 p.m. EST, Fox Sports 2) Great to see the Lumberjacks stepping up their schedule this year and also getting some chances on national TV early. This is another very intriguing matchup, and a quality win for either team.
Stanford vs. UNLV, Temple vs. Duke (7 & 9:30 p.m., truTV) Coaches vs. Cancer Classic semifinals in Brooklyn. One of those way-too-many bogus tournaments that automatically advance four teams to the semifinals, though as it turns out all four of these teams won their first two games anyway. Duke is the overwhelming favorite, while Stanford would seem to be the favorite to face them. We’ll get a look at how quickly a young UNLV team is growing up.
LSU vs. Old Dominion (6:30 p.m. EST, CBSSN) This is the best game of the four quarterfinals at the Paradise Jam on the beautiful island of St. Thomas in the beautiful U.S. Virgin Islands. If the SEC wants to be more than a 3-bid league in March, it needs to start regularly winning games like this. The Monarchs continue to improve under Jeff Jones, though, which means this is not an easy game for the Tigers.
Enjoy your Friday.