Like too many events in the ever increasingly (and overly) cluttered landscape of college basketball exempted tournaments, the Tire Pros Invitational has something of an identity crisis.
Of course, some of that is because the event is actually the former Puerto Rico Tip-Off, which was moved to the U.S. mainland this year due to concerns about the Zika virus in Puerto Rico, and thus is being played at the same place that will host the Advocare Invitational in less than a week. Even if the event were back in its regular location, though, it would look very similar to so many events like it, another generic eight-team event regularly played before pitiful crowds that has made this a dime-a-dozen part of the season.
Regardless, it can’t be denied that the first day of this year’s event brought a number of intriguing games and has set up for a terrific pair of semifinals on Friday. Among the developments in this event’s quarterfinals:
Clemson and Davidson played patty cake around the three-point line for the game’s first 10 minutes, but once the Tigers buckled down on defense this one turned quickly. The Tigers rolled to a 95-78 win with all five starters scoring in double figures. Far from just the Jaron Blossomgame Show-though he did his part with 17 points and six rebounds-Clemson outdid Davidson at its game offensively, hitting 9-for-22 from three while the Wildcats were 11 of 40. You better believe the Tigers had their share to do with that latter number; in particular Avry Holmes-who also scored 22 points-was terrific on the defensive end. Davidson may be an NIT-level team again, for it still looked considerably light in the frontcourt, but Clemson certainly was impressive and looks primed for a serious NCAA Tournament run.
Xavier showed that it has a long ways to go to live up to its top 10 ranking, barely scraping by Missouri 83-82 in overtime in a game much more competitive than pretty much everyone expected. First off-give a call to the Tigers, who played a terrific game and did everything but win. The Musketeers also were shorthanded here, but at this time it doesn’t look like there’s much difference at all between them and the other three semifinalists here. X has some work to do-shooting better than 2-for-22 from three would be a start-but it is clearly a work in progress on both ends of the court.
Northern Iowa showed that perhaps there won’t be much drop-off at all from last year’s team, handling Arizona State with surprising ease in an 82-63 win. The last time we saw the Panthers, they were going from ecstasy to agony in the NCAA Tournament, with one of the all-time memorable winning shots followed the next game by one of its all-time unravelings. Senior Jeremy Morgan played like the preseason Missouri Valley player of the year, though, looking like someone ready to make a run at All-America recognition, and his supporting cast of guys like Klint Carlson and Bennett Koch has improved, too.
Now, UNI finally gets the matchup against Oklahoma it missed out on in the NCAA Tournament. The Sooners had easily the least notable game, easing past Tulane 89-70 (though even that one featured a halfcourt buzzer-beater by the Green Wave). A close game at halftime turned OU’s way in the second half led by Jordan Woodard’s 22 points, seven assists and four steals. We’re still trying to figure out where Oklahoma is this year with such a different lineup from a year ago, but we’ll get a good idea in the next two games.
- Lest any of us think Georgetown has shed its problems with stunning home losses from a year ago, we found out it hasn’t. Arkansas State shocked the Hoyas in their on-campus McDonough Gymnasium, winning 78-72. What a win for first-year coach Grant McCasland, whose team built a big early lead and then held on after a furious late Hoyas comeback. An eye-opening win for this Sun Belt school, while for Georgetown this is a bad, bad sign.
- Villanova got an unexpected scare in the Charleston Classic quarterfinals from hard-charging Western Michigan. The Broncos took it to the Wildcats, including a couple highlight reel dunks from Josh Davis, but Nova showed its experience at the end to hold off the Broncos 76-65. Other winners in Charleston included Wake Forest (103-81 blowout winners over Texas-El Paso), host school College of Charleston (60-49 over Boise State) and Central Florida, which hammered Mississippi State 86-61 behind a huge game from 7-foot-6 Tacko Fall, who had 26 points and 12 rebounds.
- The 2K Classic had at least one surprise, maybe two. SMU’s 76-67 win over Pittsburgh struck a blow for the AAC over the ACC, and while the Mustangs’ winning is hardly a shock, Michigan’s ease in handling Marquette 79-61 was.
- Florida edged St. Bonaventure 73-66 at its home-away-from-home in a game every bit as good as could’ve been expected. The Bonnies rallied from a 15-point second half deficit to tie it with less than two minutes left, but never scored again as the Gators held on.
- Seton Hall scored another win for the Big East in the Gavitt Games, winning at Iowa 91-83. Desi Rodriguez scored 25 but of real note was freshman guard Myles Powell lighting it up for 26 off the bench. Whether the Hawkeyes are an NCAA tourney team or not this year, this is a terrific road win for the Pirates.
- Yale and Lehigh went into overtime in another game that lived up to all expectations of those familiar with these teams. The Bulldogs have their second straight quality win, as Miye Oni broke a tie with a three-pointer with 50 seconds left and host Yale went on to an 89-81 victory where margin of victory is hardly an adequate measure of how good this game was.
- Finally, late in the night Connecticut squeaked by Loyola Marymount 65-62 on the road to avoid an 0-3 start. The Huskies trailed with just over two minutes left before Terry Larrier‘s putback gave them the lead, and UConn still had to survive an open three-point attempt at the buzzer to tie. Iona transfer Kelvin Amayo had a very nice game for the Lions with 18 points off the bench. It’s a win, and a road win at that, but the Huskies have a lot of work to do.
- The Tires Pro Invitational and Charleston Classic continue with their semifinals. Orlando has a pair of very attractive matchups, with Clemson against Xavier (1:30 p.m. Eastern, ESPNU) and Northern Iowa vs. Oklahoma (7 p.m., ESPNU). That contrasts with Charleston, which is undoubtedly going to be looked at as the Villanova Invitational until proven otherwise, with the Wildcats taking on Wake Forest in one semi (1:30 p.m., ESPN2) and a pair of former Atlantic Sun (then known as the TAAC) rivals with Central Florida at College of Charleston in the other (9:30 p.m., ESPNU).
- The Paradise Jam opens in the Virgin Islands on the island of St. Thomas, and you never know what will happen at truly neutral sites like this. That adds some mystery to matchups such as Oral Roberts against Mississippi (3 p.m., CBSSN) and Montana against North Carolina State (6 p.m., CBSSN).
- The 2K Classic at Madison Square Garden wraps up with SMU against Michigan in an appealing final (7 p.m., ESPN2) while Pittsburgh and Marquette battle it out to avoid a second loss in two days (4:30 p.m., ESPN2).
- Northeastern and Boston University meet for the second time in a week, this time at BU in this terrific city rivalry.
- Fresh off a heartbreaking overtime loss to South Carolina, Monmouth now goes to Syracuse for a game that deserves a national audience, not just an internet stream.
- USC goes to Texas A&M in a quality Pac-12/SEC matchup.
- Coming off a very nice road win at Manhattan, Winthrop takes on another challenge when it goes to Florida State.
- Ohio University has a prime opportunity for a name-brand road win as it goes to Georgia Tech.
- A pair of Big 12 teams have tricky home games as Kansas welcomes Siena and Baylor hosts Florida Gulf Coast.
- The best game out West is New Mexico State at New Mexico for the 217th renewal of their in-state rivalry.
Enjoy your Friday.