Once upon a time, Thanksgiving weekend in college basketball meant Alaska. The Great Alaska Shootout.
Long before the Battle 4 Atlantis or before ESPN got in the tournament business for itself, the Shootout was the neutral court event of choice, where the big names went when looking for an early tournament challenge. Just a brief glance at the history of champions and tournament MVPs tells one all they need to know.
Kentucky. Louisville. North Carolina. Arizona. Duke. Brad Daugherty. Sean Elliott. Glenn Robinson. Ray Allen. Dwyane Wade. And for anyone who watched even a couple of those tourneys, they know that list only scratches the surface of the quality of fields Anchorage brought in every year. Every year the Shootout was top-notch.
Things changed when the NCAA relaxed the rules on exempt events, taking away a main advantage this event used to hold. The Shootout still goes on, but its presence is undeniably diminished, and the sport is less interesting for it.
This year’s 38th annual tourney concluded Saturday with Middle Tennessee State outlasting Toledo 78-70 to add the Blue Raiders’ name to the prestigious list of champions of the event. Reggie Upshaw scored 17 points to lead four players in double figures in an entertaining title game played late, late in the night for those watching on the mainland. The tournament also included one of the remarkable individual all-around performances of this early season as Toledo center Nathan Boothe posted a triple-double-12 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists-in the Rockets’ quarterfinal win over San Jose State.
The Great Alaska Shootout always has added a unique touch to the sport, with its location in a decidedly not-warm weather climate, plus the mom-and-pop nature of its being run by the NCAA Division II host school, the University of Alaska-Anchorage. The event has always meant something to Anchorage, and the natives have always treated it as such.
For those who have lamented the sport’s positioning in the national conscious in recent years, college basketball could use a lot more events in places where they are appreciated and cared for by locals, rather than played before sparse gatherings for the sole purpose of lining promoters’ pockets. Even now with less marketable fields, the Alaska Shootout draws better crowds than most exempt events, most of those from the state who have made it part of their holiday tradition.
One of the reminders of its glorious past-and one of the best unknown streaks in all of sports-also went by the wayside last year, when the tourney’s 36-year run of sending at least one team to the NCAA Tournament was snapped. Even in recent years when the fields were thinner in quality it continued, and it should still be alive; last year’s champion Colorado State was notably hosed out of a bid this spring, ending the remarkable run.
At least one tradition in the tournament does continue: Alaska-Anchorage still continues to be one tough out for all those Division I schools. The Seawolves-who once knocked off Tim Duncan and Wake Forest-defeated Drexel 71-65 on Friday, marking their 37th win all-time in the event and the 31st time in 38 years UAA has defeated at least one D-I team in the event. Alaska-Anchorage also gave champion Middle Tennessee (75-72) and San Jose State (91-87) both a run before falling just short. The Seawolves just don’t go away in this event, and the hope is neither does the Shootout.
- Few may have anticipated it before the season, but perhaps the game of the day was the championship game in the Barclay’s Center Classic. Cincinnati took the lead with less than two minutes remaining on a three-point play by Troy Caupain and held off George Washington 61-56 in a terrific game between a pair of squads that entered with 6-0 records.
- More tournament action: Iowa State won the Emerald Coast Classic, using a big second half to defeat Illinois 84-73. Also, a surprising 6-0 team is Texas-El Paso, which outlasted Colorado State 99-90 in double overtime to win the Corpus Christi Coastal Classic despite 35 points from CSU’s Gian Clavell, who is one of the most improved scorers in the country thus far.
- Strange to say Louisville is flying under the radar, but it sure feels that way early. The Cardinals are now 5-0 after defeating Saint Louis 77-57.
- Kyle Collinsworth almost did it again. The BYU do-it-all just missed another triple-double, finishing with 26 points, nine rebounds and 10 assists in the Cougars’ 95-81 win over Belmont.
- Favorites rolling after early tussles: Purdue beat Lehigh 77-55, Maryland pulled away from Cleveland State 80-63 and Butler handled Southern Illinois-Edwardsville 89-73.
- Couple teams going down unexpectedly on Saturday: Valparaiso lost to Ball State 69-66, while Missouri-Kansas City knocked South Dakota State from the ranks of the undefeated, 64-57.
- A really surprising 6-0 team: Northern Illinois. The Huskies won at Idaho 66-59. NIU hasn’t played anyone particularly notable just yet, but this was a team that had high expectations a year ago that were curbed by injuries, so perhaps is just arriving a year late.
- Finally, the performance of the day, comeback of the day and shot of the day, all in the same game. Howard trailed William & Mary by 20 in the second half, but the Bison came all the way back and got a game-winner from James Daniel, who scored a career-high 39 points. Daniel’s 25-footer with three seconds left gave HU a 79-77 win over a quality opponent.
- Wichita State forward Anton Grady continued to recover on Saturday after a frightening fall in the Shockers’ game Friday against Alabama. Per a school press release, “doctors believe Grady suffered a spinal cord concussion during his collision with an opposing player in the Shockers’ Friday afternoon game at the AdvoCare Invitational, and they anticipate that, with time, his motor function and strength will return.” Praying and hoping for the best for him.
Today’s menu: The AdvoCare Invitational and Wooden Legacy both conclude Sunday, and the fascinating matchups abound, even beyond the championship games.
- The Dayton-Xavier final in Orlando renews one of the sport’s better rivalries, while Providence and Michigan State square off in Anaheim with a pair of guys in Kris Dunn and Denzel Valentine who will be heavy in the player of the year conversation all year.
- Both third-place games are rematches of games already played this year in just the season’s first two-plus weeks-USC-Monmouth in Orlando and Arizona-Boise State in Anaheim. The Pac-12 teams won both the first time, but at home.
- Evansville takes on UC Irvine in a terrific fifth-place game in Anaheim, while the seventh-place contest in Orlando features a pair of teams (Wichita State and Iowa) who it’s not only possible but likely will still be in the NCAA Tournament.
- Outside of those two tourneys, Utah State takes a stab at Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium, while the young Wisconsin team gets another measure of its progress at Oklahoma.
- The best of the rest includes Yale at Albany, UC Santa Barbara going to Arizona State and Montana on the road at Pepperdine.
Have a terrific, relaxing Sunday.