The fifth entrant in NCAA Division I’s college basketball postseason debuted on Monday with the first-ever Vegas 16 tournament tipping off. If you’re a history buff, you really should check it out now because…if the event is relying heavily on ticket sales, the odds of there being a second one are not very good.
The tone for first year of the tragicomedy that is the Vegas 16 was set a few weeks ago, when an event that was advertised (and named) around the idea of having sixteen teams settled for just having just eight, making the choice for quality over quantity. Making this year’s field a Vegas 8, or perhaps a Vegas 16/2.
Indeed, the Vegas 16 has been the butt of no shortage of jokes, but it also has scored points for how it has handled them. Moreover, while the field is shorter than planned and the fans in the stands on the first day were few, it must be noted that there is some upside.
For one, it must be noted the field of eight teams is not bad. Old Dominion-a 75-59 winner over Tennessee Tech in the tourney’s debut game-was just seconds from taking the NCAA Tournament spot that went to Middle Tennessee State. UC Santa Barbara-a 70-63 victor over Northern Illinois in the second game-is a quality team that finished strong and won at Washington this year.
Oakland-90-72 winners over Towson-has a legitimate All-American in Kahlil Felder. East Tennessee State-which defeated Louisiana Tech 88-83 in the fourth quarterfinal-joined Northern Illinois and Tennessee Tech as three of the most improved teams in the country. Louisiana Tech won 23 games this year and was a two-time defending NIT quarterfinalist.
Putting all the teams and all games at one site isn’t a bad idea, either. Hosting teams at one site is a longtime staple of NAIA championships, and having experienced those events in person with 32 small college teams coming together at one place, it’s a terrific experience for teams (and a basketball buffet for fans). The idea of replicating this on a smaller scale at a larger level and in a destination city is worth a try.
Finally, the eight-team format isn’t a bad one, either. With four quarterfinal games, the open on Monday was reminiscent of so many of those eight-team tournaments held in the early season, which are a fun way (if perhaps overcooked now) to bring in the year. Many conference tournaments follow a similar format.
By default, maybe the Vegas 16 has hit on something with this eight-team postseason tourney, and given time, this event-or one like it-just might carve out a very nice place in the postseason. Perhaps it may not be with this particular event. Perhaps its an idea whose time has not yet come. But it is an idea worth giving a chance.
- The College Basketball Invitational best-of-three championship series opened with Morehead State holding off Nevada 86-83. Lyonell Gaines recorded 27 points and 14 rebounds for the Eagles, who are now one win away from the tourney title but will have to win one of two games in Reno.
- Chris Beard wasted little time capitalizing on his fine first year at Arkansas-Little Rock, taking the coaching job at UNLV. Beard was at Little Rock for just one year but led a stunning turnaround, transforming a 13-win Sun Belt also-ran into a squad that went 30-5 and defeated Purdue in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
- Per various reports, Santa Clara has filled its coaching vacancy by making what should be a terrific hire, bringing in Herb Sendek. The former Miami (Ohio), North Carolina State and Arizona State head man has won 407 games in a 22-year coaching career. He goes to a small school that will have to battle Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s and BYU in the West Coast Conference, but one that has some history and was one of the powers out west many years ago. Most notable recently, it was where Steve Nash played, but since the end of his career in 1996 the Broncos are now on a 20-year streak without playing in the NCAA tourney.
- Among players declaring or reported to be declaring for the NBA Draft: Saint Joseph’s forward DeAndre Bembry, LSU guard Tim Quarterman and Vanderbilt guard Wade Baldwin. All will hire an agent, making them ineligible to return for their senior years.
- There are too many transfers to count being reported every day, with yesterday’s class including USC’s Katin Reinhardt, Michigan’s Spike Albrecht and Coppin State guard Christian Kessee. We’ll just leave it at that, while also commenting that this epidemic needs to be slowed down somehow, some way, and soon. Free agency in college sports is not a good thing, no matter what a few may try to claim otherwise.
Tonight’s Menu: It’s the week before the Final Four, but Tuesday is hardly a quiet night on the court
- The NIT semifinals are held in Madison Square Garden, and perhaps because it includes some teams notably snubbed from the NCAA Tournament, is one of the most appealing quartets in recent memory. It’s Lutherans vs. Mormons in the opener as Valparaiso takes on BYU (7 p.m. EDT, ESPN), and that is followed by another good matchup with George Washington against San Diego State (9:30 p.m.).
- The CIT championship game should be a very good one as well. UC Irvine was a team good enough to play in and win some games in the NIT, and the Anteaters have shown it by winning four straight on the road in the CIT. UCI will have to do it one more time to win the title as it plays at Columbia (7 p.m., CBSSN). The Lions have had a terrific year, and either team will be a very worthy champion.
- The Vegas 16 also holds its semifinals, with Old Dominion vs. UC Santa Barbara (9 p.m., CBSSN) and Oakland taking on East Tennessee State (11:30 p.m., CBSSN).
Have a superb Tuesday.