Hoping all had a very happy Thanksgiving yesterday.
If you’re a college basketball fan that grew up watching the sport in the 1980s or even the 1990s, when you thought of Thanksgiving in college hoops, most likely the very first thing you thought of was the Great Alaska Shootout.
The Shootout, hosted by NCAA Division II member Alaska-Anchorage, became a holiday tradition in the 80s and a lynchpin of the early season, as good a place as any in the non-conference season to find quality teams en masse. It regularly brought in top teams, top players and top coaches, and the number of memorable moments from it have been literally enough to write a book about. Before the Maui Invitational, before the ACC/Big Ten Challenge-before the ACC/Big East Challenge even-there was the Great Alaska Shootout.
The Shootout is still alive in its 39th year but has been diminished in recent years, a fact no one can deny, as the big names that once were regulars are gone to events that pay more. Thursday night’s quarterfinal games had Iona defeating Drake 64-53 and Weber State hammering UC Davis 86-58. It’s the result of NCAA deregulation of early season exempted tournaments, which led to ESPN pulling its contract to televise the event so it could get in the tourney promotion business itself. As well as numerous other entities beginning events as well, of various levels of legitimacy.
Recent fields have still been better than credited, for even with its relative decline the Shootout has an incredible track record of having at least one of its participants appearing in the Division I NCAA Tournament later that year in 37 of its 38 previous years, the only exception coming two years ago when Colorado State was an inexcusable snub from the tourney. Last year’s event was won by Middle Tennessee State, and we all know what the Blue Raiders did in March.
Unfortunately, the Great Alaska Shootout may be at a crossroads, with questions about whether it will make it to a 40th year, as noted in this recent Alaska Daily News story. State budget cuts are hitting the state’s universities and the University of Alaska-Anchorage has a significant amount of paring it must do to meet budget reductions next year.
Quite simply, this would be a shame, for reasons nostalgic but also practical for the sport. The Shootout has a great history, but also has long been known as a well-run event, and it holds significant meaning to the host school and the area, where it used to sell out crowds of better than 8,000 in its heyday. Its location is unique, making it a worthwhile cultural experience for teams. Even now, the event still draws better crowds than most exempt events, and watching UAA regularly defeat Division I schools alone (37 wins in this event) has always made it intriguing to follow.
College basketball would improve its lot considerably if it had more early season events like the Shootout, and less of the non-descript events that so dominate it now. Its warmth alone gives it an appeal, but also in its favor should be that it is an actual tournament. That’s contrary to some of these current farces that automatically advance teams to semifinals, yet also play on-campus games that are supposedly part of the tournament, when all logic about teams actually having to win to advance in a tournament tells one they are not.
Obviously there’s only so much legislation can be expected to help events like the Shootout. At the very least, though, it’s not too much to ask that the rules be written so that exempt events are actual tournaments, which would leave a better field of teams available for events like Alaska. Predetermined semifinals, round-robin ‘challenges’ and ‘showcases’ put together strictly for a few extra games should not receive exemptions encouraging their creation, and the idea that some of these could survive while the Great Alaska Shootout falls by the wayside is a crime, and not a good thing for the sport in its never-ending quest for legitimacy in the early season.
- The Battle 4 Atlantis semifinals saw Baylor and Louisville as winners, with the Bears handling Michigan State 73-58 and the Cardinals winning an ugly one 62-52 over Wichita State.
- The AdvoCare Invitational in Orlando opened with a very good first game, with Iowa State rallying back and outlasting Indiana State 73-71, surviving a potential game-winning three-pointer by Brenton Scott at the buzzer that went around the rim and out. Also winning: Miami (Fla.), 67-53 over Stanford; Gonzaga, an easy 82-62 winner over Quinnipiac, and Florida, which held off Seton Hall 81-76.
- The Wooden Legacy opened with four generally lackluster quarterfinals, the only game with some drama coming when Nebraska surprised shorthanded Dayton 80-78. The Flyers are wounded, but this is still a victory for the Cornhuskers to be proud of. Texas A&M, Virginia Tech and UCLA also were easy winners.
- The NIT Season Tip-Off is one of those events where teams are automatically placed into semifinals based on perceived marketability or something of the sort. Having lost at home to Winthrop this week, Illinois is a team that may well not have been in the semis in Brooklyn if not for this free pass, and karma struck this event in a big way as the Illini were drubbed by West Virginia 89-57. WVU will now face Temple in the final in a reunion of former Atlantic 10 rivals as the Owls surprised 25th-ranked Florida State 89-86.
- The Las Vegas Invitational semifinals saw Butler and Arizona as winners. The Bulldogs topped Vanderbilt 76-66, while the Wildcats struggled with Jared Brownridge and Santa Clara on Thanksgiving night for the second straight year before prevailing 69-61.
- The Battle 4 Atlantis title game matches Baylor and Louisville. Michigan State against Wichita State for third place also is an appealing game.
- The AdvoCare Invitational semifinals are both outstanding with Iowa State against Miami (Fla.) and Gonzaga meeting Florida. Two of these teams certainly have some home advantage playing in their home state, though Iowa State fans have converged on Orlando, traveling well as they usually do.
- The Wooden Legacy semifinals feature Texas A&M vs. Virginia Tech and Nebraska against UCLA.
- The Great Alaska Shootout semifinals feature a good one with Buffalo against Nevada as well as Iona versus ???.
- The Emerald Coast Classic semifinals have Virginia against Iowa and Providence taking on Memphis.
- Temple takes on West Virginia in the NIT Season Tip-Off final.
- A couple good scheduled non-conference games: SE Louisiana, fresh off an upset at UTEP, now goes to Colorado State; SMU is at USC, and Middle Tennessee State meets UNC Wilmington.
Have a super Friday and a terrific holiday weekend.