Happy Thanksgiving to all. We hope you’re spending the day with family and friends, and not at the mall.
One of college basketball’s true Thanksgiving traditions got underway once again last night. Try as some may want to bury it, the Great Alaska Shootout keeps plugging away. The 37th annual shootout opened Wednesday, and, no, the field is not of the quality they once were. But it is still better than some think.
Last night’s games saw NCAA Division II host school Alaska-Anchorage give a Division I team a tough time, as usual, before falling to Pacific 71-62, while Colorado State pulled away from Missouri State to win 76-61. This is the first year of the Shootout in its new home, the Alaska Airlines Center, after so many years at venerable Sullivan Arena.
The Shootout in recent years has taken a number of shots for its perceived demise. Of course, this was no fault of its own, for the reason almost entirely is because the NCAA opened up the preseason tournament landscape to all comers, leading to ESPN withdrawing its longtime coverage of the event and in fact starting its own eight-team events to compete against Alaska. Six of its games are now shown on the CBS Sports Network, but it’s a fact the reduced TV exposure is hurting the Shootout.
There has also been bad luck (Iowa was signed on to be a part of last year’s event, but then ditched out at the last minute to go to the Battle 4 Atlantis). Regardless, the Shootout still has not been as bad as the popular myth, for it still continues a remarkable streak that dates back to its first year: at least one of its participants every single year has participated in the NCAA Tournament at the end of that season. That’s every single season, including the these leaner past six years.
It should continue-again-this year. If one actually looks closely, this year’s field is not bad. The first thing some see is there is only one BCS team-unheralded Washington State. But it also includes two particularly chic teams coming into this year (Colorado State, expected to be a top team in the Mountain West, and UC Santa Barbara with All-American candidate Alan Williams). There also is a the darling of last year’s NCAA Tournament (Mercer), and a couple teams that usually are competitive out of conference (Missouri State, Pacific), in addition to the always-stubborn tournament hosts.
This is still a quality event. No, it is not hosting Kentucky, North Carolina, UNLV or the other powerhouses of its prime in the late 20th century. But it is an institution, it still means a lot to the people in Alaska, and it still matters. History continues to show as much every March.
Wednesday’s action Lots to talk about…
- Arizona and San Diego State have met three times in the last 377 days, the most recent being in the Maui Invitational final. For the Aztecs, it’s starting to seem like Groundhog Day after the Wildcats’ 61-59 win last night. In the NCAA Tournament in March and again here, SDSU led much of the way only to see Arizona gain control late. The Aztecs ran out of gas again late-just three points in a nine-minute span down the stretch. About Arizona, though: Stanley Johnson thus far is the real deal (18 points, 10 boards in this one).
- Butler started out the Battle 4 Atlantis with a huge upset, at least according to the national rankings, defeating North Carolina 74-66. The Bulldogs pummeled UNC on the glass (47-35), but most important from this game is this looked like the return of the Butler we got to know over the past 10 years. Last year was a miserable one for the Bulldogs, but watching this game, it was as if 2013-14 never happened. The toughness is back, the clutch play is back. Mighty impressive.
- Other Atlantis winners were Oklahoma (75-65 over UCLA), Wisconsin (72-43 over UAB) and Georgetown (66-65 in overtime over Florida). Big statement wins for Oklahoma and Georgetown both. The Sooners shot just 32.1% but were tougher (and better free throw shooters) than the Bruins, while the Hoyas got a basket from D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera in the final seconds of OT for the win.
- St. John’s and Gonzaga will meet in the preseason NIT final. The Red Storm earned a tough 70-61 win over Minnesota, while the Zags cruised in the battle of Bulldogs over Georgia, 88-76. Kyle Wiltjer continues to be outstanding-32 points. Gonzaga will be favored in the final on Friday, but remember, this is a home game for the Johnnies.
- More from Maui…go figure out Kansas State. The Wildcats looked so good in their last two games, defeating Purdue and nearly taking down Arizona. Then they get pummeled 70-47 by Pittsburgh in the third place game.
- Also, that consolation match in Maui was far better than your standard fifth-place game, as Purdue won 87-85 in overtime over BYU on an A.J. Hammons hit a jump hook with two seconds left. This one had our attention all the way, as we were curious to see the Cougars against a Big 10 team and the Boilermakers against a high-powered offense. Tyler Haws was terrific as usual for BYU (32 points) but missed a short baseline jumper at the end of regulation, and the Cougars had trouble with Purdue’s size inside.
- Louisville beat Cleveland State 45-33 in a game that was hideous in almost every way. 28 combined field goals. 7-for-39 three-point shooting. 15-for-34 from the foul line. The bright spot was CSU’s Trey Lewis scoring 24 points…except the rest of his teammates combined for nine. Nine. Congratulations to Rick Pitino on his 700th win, though, a college coaching legend.
- Iona freshman Schadrac Casimir nearly outscored both of those teams himself Wednesday, going off for 40 as the Gaels hammered Delaware State 126-76. Iona is off to another good start at 4-1 with wins already at Wake Forest and North Texas as well as over…Cleveland State.
- Another offensive masterpiece came from Jack Gibbs of Davidson, who scored a career-high 37 and made 15 of 17 from the field. He was 5-for-7 from three-point range, 10 of 10 inside the arc and hit both of his free throws as the Wildcats went on the road and routed Central Florida 95-69.
- Oklahoma State took care of Tulsa with ease in the MGM Grand Main Event final, 73-58. OSU is 6-0. Expected a better game than this. Side note: Tulsa needs to lose the awful black uniforms. Impossible to read on TV, and TU has some of the best school colors in the country.
- TCU is now 5-0 after a 74-50 win over Radford. While the Big East rightfully has been heaped praise upon it the past couple days, it should also be noted the Big 12 is 36-5 in non-conference play so far. Still early, but so far looks like little slippage from last year, when the conference sent seven to the NCAA Tournament. Radford, meanwhile, is now 2-3 and has been mildly disappointing early on with all five starters back from a team that won 22 games and beat Oregon State in the CBI last year.
- Northern Iowa won the Cancun Challenge, defeating Northwestern 61-42. Though neither was a top 25 team, it should be noted the Panthers had zero trouble with a pair of BCS opponents in this tourney. Remember that the first time a top 25 team struggles with either the Wildcats or Virginia Tech in conference play.
- Iowa had an easier time with Northern Illinois than we expected, winning 70-49. The Hawkeyes blocked 12 NIU shots, one off the school record. It’s not as if the Huskies were unable to compete inside; NIU had 23 offensive rebounds, but didn’t put them to much use until late, scoring 10 of their 21 second-chance points in the final three minutes after the outcome had been long decided.
- Likewise, the Massachusetts/Northeastern game was far less competitive than many would’ve expected. The Minutemen dominated 79-54 to hand Northeastern’s Huskies their first loss.
- Lehigh won 86-74 at DePaul, leading almost wire to wire for its first win. The Engineers/Mountain Hawks (it’s the latter, but always liked Engineers better) deserved one after some close losses early this year and earned it with 56.9% shooting.
- There’s Belmont quietly lurking again, off to another good start. The Bruins are 5-1 after an easy 78-57 win over Denver. The names change, but the beat goes on in Nashville.
- UC Davis is off to its best start since 1999 after winning the battle of Aggies, defeating Utah State 77-70 in overtime. This is a win for Jim Les’s team to build on-the Aggies are almost halfway to their entire season win total of nine last year-while the adventurous start to the season for Utah State continues. USU all but had this won until Tyler Les (coach’s son) hit a three-pointer at the buzzer of regulation to send the game to overtime.
- Wisconsin-Green Bay topped Florida Gulf Coast 59-44 in the Gulf Coast Showcase final, limiting FGCU to 27.3% shooting. Keifer Sykes was terrific as usual-game-high 19 points and the Phoenix rebounded nicely from their stinker against Wisconsin to win this tourney.
- Another note from here: Marist defeated Fresno State 68-64 in the Gulf Coast seventh place game. Chevaughn Lewis was terrific again for the Red Foxes (28 points), while the Bulldogs are off to a very disappointing start. FSU was expected to at least be a mid-pack Mountain West team after making it to the CBI final last year but is now 0-5.
- South Carolina beat UNC-Asheville 89-75. Five scored in double figures for the Gamecocks, offsetting 15 three-pointers by the Bulldogs as well as another 30 points by Andrew Rowsey, one of the most entertaining players in the country. Rowsey is a sophomore guard and an old-fashioned scoring machine, averaging 26.6 points through five games.
- Former Notre Dame and Missouri guard Cameron Biedscheid has transferred to Iona and will seek to get a waiver to play starting the second semester this season. Biedscheid has 2 1/2 years of eligibility remaining, so it makes sense. So, frankly, does any player transferring to Iona make sense. Tim Cluess is an excellent coach who plays an attractive style that should appeal to any basketball player who likes to score.
Of course, the menu primarily consists of turkey and football. But there also is some college hoops:
Butler vs. Oklahoma (1 p.m. EST, ESPN), Wisconsin vs. Georgetown Battle 4 Atlantis semifinals. Few saw that first game coming as a semifinal. The Badgers and Hoyas, two disciplined styles, is a terrific matchup.
Kansas vs. Rhode Island (2 p.m. EST, ESPN2) Orlando Classic quarterfinal. The best game of another tournament that is becoming watered down due to there being too many preseason tourneys. Kansas and Michigan State should meet in the final, while Rhode Island may well be the third-best team but could finish no better than fifth.
Princeton vs. UTEP, San Diego vs. Xavier, Long Beach State vs. Western Michigan (Games on ESPNU and ESPN2) Wooden Legacy quarterfinals from California. Some intriguing games, but overall this is another tourney whose fields have been reduced in power because of the overflow of tourneys. Xavier is the favorite coming in, but the Musketeers will get a good test in their opener against a solid USD team and then could face a tough semifinal against UTEP. It feels like Long Beach State is on this list often, but that’s a testament to its non-conference strength of schedule, which when you figure in that many of its games are away from home, is quite possibly the toughest in the country.
Baylor vs. Memphis (Midnight EST, Fox Sports 1) Las Vegas Shootout semifinal The Tigers have been off for awhile now, and it will be interesting to see how much progress they’ve made with a game against still-tough Baylor.
Washington State vs. UC Santa Barbara (Midnight EST, CBSSN) Great Alaska Shootout quarterfinal The Gauchos have an opportunity to make up for some early season close call losses to Kansas and Florida Gulf Coast. A win over a Pac-12 school would be a good start.
Have a blessed and wonderful Thanksgiving.