Another in-season tournament for the 2015-16 season has finalized its field, as the eight teams that will participate in the Cancun Challenge were announced Wednesday. Leading the way is Maryland, a team seen by many as the early favorites to win the Big Ten.
Head coach Mark Turgeon welcomes back key contributors such as guard Melo Trimble and forward Jake Layman, and he’ll also add both size and skill in the front court with the arrival of Diamond Stone and Georgia Tech transfer Robert Carter Jr. being eligible after sitting out last season. Maryland, which is also the only team in the field to make the NCAA tournament last season, is joined in the Riviera Division by Illinois State, Rhode Island and TCU.
Maryland will face Illinois State in one of the Riviera Division semifinals November 24, with TCU and Rhode Island meeting in the other semifinal. The championship and third-place games will be played the following day.
Of those three expectations are highest for Dan Hurley’s Rhode Island squad, which won 23 games and played in the Postseason NIT last season. Rising juniors E.C. Matthews and Hassan Martin return, as does rising sophomore Jared Terrell, and the Rams have some solid additions joining the rotation as well.
Illinois State just missed out on the NCAA tournament, losing to Northern Iowa in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament title game, and TCU looks to account for the loss of point guard Kyan Anderson. Each of the four teams in the Riviera Division will play two home games against squads in the Mayan Division: Cleveland State, Houston Baptist, Rider and South Dakota State.
South Dakota State, which reached the Summit League title game last season, faces Houston Baptist in one Mayan Division semi with Cleveland State and Rider meeting in the other November 24 in Cancun.
Below is the complete schedule of games, with those being played in Cancun (November 24 & 25) in italics.
Nov. 19 – Houston Baptist at TCU; South Dakota State at Illinois State
Nov. 20 – Rider at Maryland
Nov. 21 – Cleveland State at Rhode Island Nov. 24 – Mayan Division: South Dakota State vs. Houston Baptist; Rider vs. Cleveland State Nov. 24 – Riviera Division: TCU vs. Rhode Island; Illinois State vs. Maryland Nov. 25 – Mayan Division: Third-place and Championship games Nov. 25 – Riviera Division: Third-place and Championship games
Nov. 28 – Cleveland State at Maryland
Nov. 29 – Rider at Rhode Island
Pregame Shootaround: Harvard hosts Yale with first place on the line in the Ivy League
GAME OF THE DAY: Yale at Harvard, 8:00 p.m. (Ivy League Digital Network)
The Bulldogs and Crimson enter this game tied atop the Ivy League standings with matching 10-2 record, and the winner will be one win away from earning the league’s automatic bid. Harvard won the first meeting between the two, a two-point win in New Haven February 7, with two Wesley Saunders free throws with six seconds remaining being the difference. Two of the Ivy’s best players will be involved, with Saunders leading the Crimson and forward Justin Sears being Yale’s best option. Both teams are solid defensively, but Yale has to shoot better than the 31.5 percent they shot in the first meeting.
THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: Bowling Green at Buffalo, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
Seeding in next week’s MAC tournament is still up in the air in many cases, with the Falcons and Bulls looking to improve their standing with a win Friday night. Chris Jans has put together a very successful season in his first year at Bowling Green, and the Falcons have relied on their defense to make that charge. They limited Buffalo to 35.7 percent shooting in the first meeting but still lost by 12 due to their own offensive issues (4-for-20 3PT). It goes without saying that Bowling Green will need to shoot better if they’re to beat a Buffalo squad led by forward Justin Moss and guard Shannon Evans, with those two combining to average just over 30 points per game.
WHO’S ON UPSET ALERT?: Cleveland State (vs. Detroit), 9:30 p.m.
The two meetings between the Vikings and Titans were decided by a total of five points, with CSU winning the first meeting by four and a Juwan Howard Jr. three being the difference in the rematch. Howard Jr. will be the focus of Cleveland State’s defensive efforts, but Paris Bass is capable of putting points on the board as well with his 28-point outing in a loss to Oakland February 15 serving as an example. Cleveland State has three players averaging double figures, with guards Trey Lewis and Charlie Lee leading the way on the perimeter and Anton Grady patrolling the interior.
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR
1. No, 14 Baylor looks to rebound from a two-point overtime loss to Texas with a win over Texas Tech in the regular season finale for both (9:00 p.m., ESPN2). This game could be tougher than one would anticipate, as the Red Raiders lost by just five in the first meeting February 17.
2. No. 8 Wichita State plays in the first game of the day at Arch Madness in St. Louis, as they take on Southern Illinois (1:00 p.m., ESPN3). The Shockers swept the season series, and they’ve won eight straight since losing at Northern Iowa January 31.
3. Speaking of the Panthers, No. 11 Northern Iowa takes on Bradley in another Arch Madness quarterfinal. The teams last played February 21, when UNI limited the Braves to 39 points in a 17-point home win.
4. No. 25 Murray State takes the court for the first time in this year’s OVC tournament, as they’ll take on Morehead State in the semifinals. Led by guard Cameron Payne, Steve Prohm’s Racers have won 24 straight games and they rolled through league play with a 16-0 record.
5. Kent State can wrap up a share of the MAC East title with a win over Akron (7:00 p.m., ESPN2), and they’ll share the title with the winner of the Bowling Green/Buffalo matchup. Akron won by nine February 10, but the Golden Flashes were playing without their leading scorer and rebounder in Jimmy Hall due to injury.
Big South (quarterfinals): Longwood vs. Charleston Southern, Radford vs. Winthrop, Gardner-Webb vs. High Point and UNC Asheville vs. Coastal Carolina.
Colonial (first round): Towson vs. Elon, College of Charleston vs. Drexel
Horizon (second round): UIC vs. Oakland, Detroit vs. Cleveland State
Missouri Valley (quarterfinals): Southern Illinois vs. No. 8 Wichita State, Evansville vs. Illinois State, Bradley vs. No. 11 Northern Iowa, Loyola (IL) vs. Indiana State
Ohio Valley (semifinals): Morehead State vs. No. 25 Murray State, Belmont vs. Eastern Kentucky
Southern (first round): Samford vs. UNCG, Furman vs. The Citadel
West Coast (first round): Pacific vs. San Francisco, Loyola Marymount vs. Santa Clara
Pregame Shootaround: Valparaiso looks to clinch outright Horizon League title
GAME OF THE NIGHT: Valparaiso at Cleveland State, 10:00 p.m. (ESPNU)
Bryce Drew’s Crusaders could have locked up the outright Horizon League title on Wednesday, but a three-point loss at Detroit scuttled those plans while also opening the door for the teams chasing them. One of those teams is Cleveland State, which is a game back and is 12-2 in home games this season. Valpo’s been the better defensive team this season, and in their 58-56 win over the Vikings January 10 the Crusaders limited Cleveland State to 38 percent shooting. If Cleveland State is to win they’ll need a better showing from guard Trey Lewis, who scored three points on 1-for-9 shooting in the first matchup. Alec Peters led Valpo with 24 points in that game, but they cannot afford to commit another 19 turnovers if they’re to win the rematch.
THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: Iona at Manhattan, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN2)
Two weeks after the Gaels won in Riverdale, the two New York metropolitan area rivals meet again in New Rochelle. Iona’s going to be the one-seed in the MAAC tournament regardless of what happens in their final two games, but this is a good opportunity to get Isaiah Williams back into the flow of things. Williams hasn’t played since mid-January due to a broken foot, but he’s expected to play tonight. Get Williams going ahead of the MAAC tournament, and one of the nation’s best offenses becomes even tougher to stop. As for Manhattan, they can finish no higher than third in the MAAC (Rider swept the season series). The key for them is to make shots at a higher clip than they did in the first meeting, as they shot just 39.7% in the 70-67 loss.
FOUR THINGS TO WATCH FOR
1. Harvard looks to maintain its one-game lead atop the Ivy League standings, as they’re on the road to take on Cornell (7:00 p.m., Ivy League Digital Network). Tommy Amaker’s team outscored the Big Red 40-16 in the second half of their first meeting, a 61-40 Harvard win on Valentine’s Day.
2. Yale is a game behind Harvard, meaning that they need to at the very least keep pace with a home win over Princeton (7:00 p.m., Ivy League Digital Network). The first meeting didn’t lack for offense, as both teams shot at least 52 percent from the field in an 81-73 Yale victory 13 days ago, with Yale’s Justin Sears and Princeton’s Henry Caruso scoring 25 points apiece to lead their respective teams.
3. Siena and Quinnipiac (6:00 p.m., ESPNU) meet in a game that will impact seeding for next weekend’s MAAC tournament. The Bobcats are a game ahead of both Siena and Saint Peter’s in the race for the six seed.
4. MAC foes Ohio and Akron meet tonight (8:00 p.m., ESPNU). And while it’s been a difficult season for Ohio, which is just 4-11 in MAC play, Akron still has hopes of earning a share of the MAC East title (although they’ll need a lot of help). The first game these two teams played this season was highly entertaining, as the Bobcats won 83-82. Akron, down ten with 2:21 remaining, nearly came back to steal the win on the road.
THE REST OF THE SCHEDULE
Penn at Brown, 7:00 p.m. (ILDN)
Fairfield at Canisius, 7:00 p.m.
Saint Peter’s at Marist, 7:00 p.m.
Dartmouth at Columbia, 8:00 p.m. (ILDN)
Pregame Shootaround: Horizon League heavyweights meet in Green Bay
GAME OF THE NIGHT: Cleveland State at Green Bay, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN2)
There are just seven games on the schedule tonight, and there’s no doubt that the battle between the Vikings and Phoenix is the best matchup. Both enter the game with 10-3 records in Horizon League play, and the winner will keep alive hopes of catching 11-2 Valparaiso. That can be important, as the regular season champion gets to host the second round and semifinals with the highest remaining seed hosting the title game. Cleveland State won the first meeting January 31, holding serve at home thanks to the tandem of guard Trey Lewis and forward Anton Grady.
Lewis accounted for 25 points and 12 rebounds on that night, with Grady adding 24 points and six rebounds. Slowing those two down will be critical for Green Bay, as their production was a big reason why Cleveland State shot 56.8% from the field. Another key in that game: Gary Water’s Vikings outscored Green Bay 21-6 from the foul line. Keifer Sykes was limited to 11 points in that game, and he finished with more turnovers (two) than assists (one). That can’t be the case in the rematch.
THIS SHOULD ALSO BE GOOD: Cornell at Yale, 7:00 p.m.
Yale (7-1) is currently tied with Harvard atop the Ivy League standings, with the Crimson hosting Penn in Cambridge. Of the two opponents the first-place teams face Cornell’s the greater threat, thanks to the presence of senior forward Shonn Miller. Miller (16.1 ppg, 8.3 rpg) currently leads Cornell in both scoring and rebounding, and his matchup with Yale’s Justin Sears will be worth the price of admission. Yale was able to keep Miller in check in the first meeting, a seven-point Bulldog victory, as he scored 15 points on 6-for-20 shooting to go along with 11 rebounds.
TWO THINGS TO WATCH FOR
1. Iona looks to move one step close to another MAAC regular season title, as they visit Marist (9:00 p.m., ESPNU). The Gaels have won eight straight games, thanks to a prolific offense and improved play on the defensive end.
2. Albany dropped its first conference game of the season on Monday, but thanks to Vermont’s stunning loss at Binghamton they still lead America East by two games. The Great Danes host Hartford (7:00 p.m., ESPNU), and a win would wrap up at least a share of the regular season title.
THE REST OF FRIDAY’S SCHEDULE
Princeton at Dartmouth, 7:00 p.m.
Penn at Harvard, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
Columbia at Brown, 8:00 p.m.
2014-15 Season Preview: Can Green Bay take the next step, represent the Horizon League in the Tournament?
The Horizon League drew most of its attention from the college basketball general public in 2013-14 for regular-season champion Green Bay’s early exit from the league’s conference tournament. Considered by many to be the heavy favorite to make the 2014 NCAA Tournament after a 14-2 regular season mark in the conference, the Phoenix ultimately fell short in the semifinals as some analysts used the Green Bay loss — and subsequent NIT appearance — as an opportunity to blast the conference tournament method of NCAA Tournament selection.
While Green Bay was one of the better mid-major teams in the country during the regular season last year, they fell to Milwaukee at home in the tournament. But with four returning starters, the Phoenix are favored to win the league this season.
Even with the departure of senior center Alec Brown, who was selected in the second round of the NBA Draft by the Phoenix Suns, head coach Brian Wardle still returns Horizon League Player of the Year favorite in senior point guard Keifer Sykes as well as forward Jordan Fouse,who might be the league’s best defensive player. Green Bay will miss the skill level of Brown on the interior, but they might actually have more interior depth this season as 6-foot-9 senior and double-figure scorer Greg Mays returns and Wardle recruited a few big bodies to bolster the rotation of big men that he can use.
Challenging Green Bay this season will Cleveland State, who has multiple all-league candidates, including senior point guard Charlie Lee, junior big man Anton Grady and junior guard Trey Lewis. Senior forward Marlin Mason acts as a stretch four and 6-foot-9 redshirt sophomore Aaron Scales can play this season and gives the Vikings another big body on the interior.
The most intriguing team in the Horizon League this year could be Valparaiso, who returns 6-foot-10 rim protector Vashill Fernandez along with three talented sophomores — point guard Lexus Williams, forward Alec Peters and forward Jubril Adekoya — and Charlotte transfer E. Victor Nickerson. Bryce Drew’s ballclub went a surpring 9-7 in the league last season despite starting Adekoya, Peters and Williams as true freshmen.
Billy Donlon loses five of the top six scorers from a Wright State team that fell short in the conference tournament finals a season ago, but the Raiders return 5-foot-9 senior point guard Reggie Arceneaux along with 6-foot-6 sophomore J.T. Yoho and guard Crishawn Hopkins. Wright State had 10 players average double-figure minutes last season, so expect Donlon to go to his seven-man recruiting class early and often for depth.
Defending conference tournament champion Milwaukee will not represent the Horizon League again in the NCAA Tournament. This isn’t a bold prediction, but a truth, as the Panthers are ineligible for postseason for low APR scores. But three starters still return for Milwaukee, led by senior point guard Steve McWhorter and junior big man Matt Tiby and Northern Illinois transfer Akeem Springs should add some scoring punch on the wing.
Detroit has the pieces to surprise in the Horizon this season as senior wing Juwan Howard Jr., returns after a breakout junior season. If the son of the former Fab Five member can get some help from Colorado transfer Chris Jenkins or 6-foot-8 sophomore Paris Bass, the Titans could compete sooner than later. Bass, in particular, will be one to watch after sitting out last season.
Oakland now faces life in the post Travis Bader-era, as the NCAA’s all-time leader in three-pointers has graduated and moved on. The Golden Grizzlies will now have to rely on the inside-outside combination of senior big man Corey Petros and returning Horizon League Freshman of the Year Kahlil Fielder at point guard. St. John’s transfer Max Hooper, who shot 40 percent from three-point range in his final season in New York, will get a shot at replacing the prolific Bader.
PRESEASON HORIZON LEAGUE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Keifer Sykes, Green Bay
One of the most dynamic point guards in the country, the 5-foot-11 senior puts up numbers all over the floor and usually rises to the occasion when Green Bay has a big game. A freak athlete with outstanding leaping ability and quickness, Sykes is a difference-maker on both ends of the floor and averaged 20.3 points, 4.9 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game in his junior season. The only thing missing on the resume for the senior is a trip to the NCAA Tournament and he’s focused on leading four returning starters to the Big Dance in 2014-15.
THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-HORIZON LEAGUE TEAM:
Juwan Howard Jr., Detroit – The son of former NBA veteran and Fab Five member Juwan Howard, the 6-foot-5 senior had a breakout junior season, averaging 18.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and also leading the Titans in assists.
Corey Petros, Oakland – A 6-foot-10, 260-pound senior, Petros is a load to handle on the interior and averaged 13.3 points and 8.2 rebounds per game last season on 57 percent field goal shooting.
Alec Peters, Valparaiso – The 6-foot-9 sophomore had a huge impact as a freshman, averaging 12.7 points and 4.8 rebounds per game on some impressive shooting splits for a player his size (49% FG, 77% FT, 38% 3PT).
Trey Lewis, Cleveland State – The Vikings have multiple all-league candidates but Lewis averaged 13.6 points per game as a sophomore and if the 6-foot-3 guard improves his shooting percentages, that number could climb greatly.
Blount is a native of Akron, where he currently attends St. Vincent-St. Mary HS and made a difference with his ability as a defender and rebounder during his junior season. Blount discussed his decision with Cassilo, commenting on his fit with the Cleveland State program.
“Cleveland State was the right fit for me because of the people there,” Blount said. “They have the same type of moral views that my parents raised me on.”
Cleveland State started recruiting Blount at the beginning of the summer and were able to gain a commitment shortly after his visit.
“They like the fact that I play hard and that I’m a good teammate,” Blount said. “If I’m down, I don’t let the rest of my team get down.”
The Vikings have just two seniors on this season’s roster, point guard Charlie Lee and forward Marlin Mason, with both players being returning starters from a team that won 21 games and finished second in the Horizon League a year ago. Cleveland State won’t lack for experience in the front court when Blount arrives either, with Anton Grady, junior college transfer Vinny Zollo and sophomore Demonte Flannigan among those who will have eligibility remaining at that time.
The Vikings also have two forwards among the five freshmen joining the program this season, 6-foot-5 Derek Sloan and 6-foot-9 Jonothan Janssen.