Many early season tournaments help a team set a tone for the season, including one of over-achieving in some cases. We saw the potential for that happen once earlier this week, and nearly saw it again on Friday. It will be one thing to watch going forward with some teams that come out of these tournaments as champions.
St. John’s gave it all they had against Gonzaga in the final of the NIT Season Tip-Off on Friday. They trailed for most of the game, including by 15 with 10:27 left, and later saw their big man – the nation’s top shot-blocker – foul out with 6:40 left. The odds seemed stacked against them.
But the Red Storm dug deep. Phil Greene IV continued to knock down shots, as did D’Angelo Harrison. Sir’Dominic Pointer gave it all he had before fouling out, scoring nine points, grabbing nine boards and handing out five assists without a turnover. The smaller St. John’s lineup played it even on the glass against the Gonzaga big men, and forced 17 turnovers.
A key offensive foul in the final minute, on a possession where they could have tied it, sank St. John’s. The Red Storm came close, but not close enough, losing 73-66 to Gonzaga.
This would have been huge for the Big East, which has started off the season very well. They have already seen Villanova win the Legends Classic and Providence go 2-0 in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off (where there were set matchups). Another title would have been great. Maybe the conference is set to over-achieve, and perhaps St. John’s performance against a team like Gonzaga means they could live up to their billing as an NCAA Tournament team.
We’ve already seen Maryland win the CBE Hall of Fame Classic as part of their hot start. Miami won the Charleston Classic after beating Florida in Gainesville. Neither team entered the season viewed as favorites in their conference or lock NCAA Tournament teams, though plenty are high on the Hurricanes. There may be more examples as more champions are crowned over the next couple of days. A few big wins early on can spur a team to a big year, and we’ll see in March if there’s any translation of in-season tournament success into something bigger later in the season.
- The aforementioned game was preceded by the consolation game. Earlier in the day, Minnesota jumped out early thanks to turnovers and hot three-point shooting, but had to hang on at the end to beat Georgia 66-62. One challenge is in the books, but a bigger one is ahead for the Golden Gophers.
- The Battle 4 Atlantis had a great finish with two Big East teams, as Butler held off Georgetown 64-58 to take third place and go to 2-1 on the trip. After that, Wisconsin and Oklahoma played a good championship game, but the Badgers had too much for the Sooners to win 69-56 behind 17 points and eight rebounds from Frank Kaminsky. Later, North Carolina handled Florida 75-64 in the fifth place game, a matchup of ranked teams, and UCLA took seventh place by beating UAB 88-76.
- The Las Vegas Invitational had its championship game on Friday. Illinois started the second half on an 8-0 run to take the lead, and never relinquished it in a 62-54 win over Baylor. Before that, Memphis beat Indiana State 72-62 in the consolation game.
- The Orlando Classic has its final matchup set, and it promises to be a good one. The championship will feature Kansas, 82-67 winners over Tennessee behind a big afternoon from Perry Ellis (24 points, 13 rebounds), taking on Michigan State, who beat Marquette 79-68 behind 25 points from Denzel Valentine.
- The Wooden Legacy continued on Friday with the semifinals, and it started with a dandy as UTEP overcame a halftime deficit to knock off Xavier 77-73 behind 17 points and 12 rebounds from Vince Hunter. UTEP will play Washington, who rallied from a nine-point deficit in the second half to beat Long Beach State 80-70. Also of note, in the losers bracket, San Diego handed Princeton its fifth straight loss 75-65 and Western Michigan beat San Jose State 79-60.
- The Barclays Center Classic had semifinal games on Friday. In the first one, Rutgers edged Vanderbilt 68-65. In the nightcap, Virginia beat La Salle 64-56. Rutgers and Virginia will meet in the championship game on Saturday.
- In the Emerald Coast Classic, Mississippi handed Creighton its first loss of the season by a 75-68 margin. They will play Cincinnati, 69-51 winners over Middle Tennessee.
- The Great Alaska Shootout is set for its championship between Colorado State, 75-64 winners over Pacific on Friday, and UC Santa Barbara, who got a monster game from Alan Williams with 22 points and 20 rebounds to beat Mercer 65-60 in overtime.
- The Corpus Christi Coastal Classic had its semifinals on Friday. In the first game, TCU edged Bradley 57-49, while in second game, Mississippi State blasted Saint Louis 75-50.
Quietly, NC State is now 6-0 after beating Boise State 60-54 in Raleigh in what was probably the best non-tournament matchup on the day.
Maryland got a big win earlier in the week to take home the CBE Hall of Fame Classic title, but the Terrapins got hit hard on Friday with news that Dez Wells will be out about four weeks with a broken bone in his right wrist. The Terrapins’ leading scorer, Wells sustained the injury during their win over Iowa State in the championship game.
Going to Maryland’s old conference, Florida State will be without their starting backcourt a little longer. Juniors Aaron Thomas and Devon Bookert are both out indefinitely, according to a CBS Sports report, with the school still awaiting further test results on Thomas, who reported dizziness in Sunday’s loss to UMass in Connecticut, while Bookert has a broken bone in his foot and has been out since Sunday.
In a story that fell under our radar a bit, Minnesota guard Daquein McNeil was suspended indefinitely on Wednesday after he was arrested and charged with two counts of assault for allegedly choking his girlfriend and whipping her with a belt. Athletic director Norwood Teague said he will be suspended at least until the legal process is completed. McNeil is a reserve guard who plays about 19 minutes per game for the Golden Gophers.
Tournament action is starting to wrap up, and a couple of them take a day off on Saturday, but it still leads the way.
- Virginia takes on Rutgers in the championship of the Barclays Center Classic.
- Cincinnati and Mississippi play in the Emerald Coast Classic final.
- Mississippi State and TCU meet in the final of the Corpus Christi Coastal Classic.
- Colorado State meets with UC Santa Barbara for the Great Alaska Shootout championship.
- Outside of tournament action, notable matchups include VCU traveling to arch-rival Old Dominion, UMass at Harvard and George Washington at Seton Hall.