To catch up on all of the posts in this series, visit the 2015-16 Early Season Events hub.
What is it?
The 2K Classic benefiting Wounded Warrior Project (official website)
Where and when is it?
The four host schools will take the court at Madison Square Garden on November 20th and 22nd-the Friday and Sunday before Thanksgiving. This is a change as the finals for this event are typically on the Thursday and Friday before the holiday. The four visiting schools will play their semifinals and finals at Bryant's arena in Smithfield, Rhode Island on November 20th and 21st. Each of the visitors will play at two host schools at some point between November 13th, AKA Opening Night, and November 28th.
When did this event begin?
The 2K Classic began as the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic all the way back in 1995, when Penn State defeated Penn and La Salle tripped up Marquette in a doubleheader in Atlantic City. After two seasons as a doubleheader, the event moved to the Meadowlands and became a four-team exempt tournament in 1997. One year later, the tournament moved again-this time to MSG, where it remains to this day.
Even though the location hasn't changed in 17 years, the format has shifted numerous times due to the changes in the exempt tournament rules. From 1997 to 2001, the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic was a four-team tournament, with each team playing two games in New York (or East Rutherford, in the case of 1997). In 2002 and 2003, the event became a pair of doubleheaders played on consecutive nights, as it was increasingly difficult to find teams willing to give up a pair of home games to play at Madison Square Garden.
In 2004, an expanded tournament format was established under the "two in four" rule. This version of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic mirrored the longtime format of the Preseason NIT, with four host schools hosting four-team single-elimination tournaments, with the winners advancing to another four-team tournament in New York. There were two flaws with this format. For starters, not every team was guaranteed four games. The other issue was more important for the organizers, the Gazelle Group, however. That was the possibility that one of the four power conference host schools would lose at home and fail to qualify for the MSG tournament. This happened just once, in 2007, when the Gardner-Webb Bulldogs blew out Kentucky at Rupp Arena in the Lexington regional final.
That spurred yet another format change, which remains in place. Now, the four host schools are guaranteed to advance to New York, even if they lose one of their two on-campus games. This last happened in 2013—twice—as Toledo toppled Boston College and UC Irvine stunned Washington in that season's preliminary rounds.
The number of visiting schools and the format for their round, titled a "subregional," has varied. Up until last season, eight was generally the number of visitors involved. Each would play one game against a power conference team before gathering for a four-team round-robin subregional. Given the competition for exempt tournament spots, it was often difficult for Gazelle Group to find eight teams willing to do this, so they'd have to find non-Division I teams to fill the field roughly half of the time. So, since last season, there are now only four visitors. They each play a pair of games at host schools-the "regional" round before moving on to a subregional, hosted by one of the quartet, that is just another four-team tournament with championship and consolation games.
Also, the 2K Sports Classic became changed beneficiaries before the 2012 event. Before that season, the National Association of Basketball Coaches ended its association with Gazelle Group, entrusting Blue Ridge Sports and Entertainment with the responsibility for organizing its two events-Coaches vs. Cancer, which moved to Brooklyn as part of the change, and the CBE Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City. While both events claimed the same history, the now-2K Classic is the event that actually started in 1995, and based on what appears when you visit the web address formerly tied to the Coaches vs. Cancer event, the only one of the pair that looks to be still around.
Will it be on TV?
As indicated in the first link in the paragraph above, ESPN networks will air at least six games from the event, including all of the games played at Madison Square Garden. Rights for games not selected revert to the host school's media rights holders. Both of California's home games aired on Pac-12 Networks last season, for example.
Jog my memory. Who won in 2014?
The Texas Longhorns defeated Cal, 71-55, in last year's final.
Who is participating in 2015?
The four schools who will play at Madison Square Garden are the Duke Blue Devils (ACC), Georgetown Hoyas (Big East), VCU Rams (A 10), and Wisconsin Badgers (Big Ten).
The Bryant Bulldogs (NEC) will host the subregional, and they'll be joined by the Prairie View Panthers (SWAC), Radford Highlanders (Big South), and Siena Saints (MAAC).
The "regional" rounds are already set. Duke will host Siena and Bryant on the first two nights of the season, while Prairie View and Radford travel to VCU during the campaign's first week. Wisconsin hosts Siena before traveling to New York and Prairie View after their return. Georgetown will do the same with Radford and Bryant, respectively.
Have any of these teams played in this event before?
Duke and Prairie View both participated in the 2008 event, won by the Blue Devils. The Panthers went 0-2 in the UCLA-hosted regional in the final year before each team was guaranteed four games. Duke also went 0-2 in the 1999 tournament, which was a two-game event. Georgetown had similar results in their 1998 participation.
What about in other Gazelle Group events?
While Duke participated in the 2006 and 2010 CBE Classics (then organized by Gazelle) and Bryant, Georgetown, VCU, and Prairie View have each participated in a single Gazelle-run event since 2006, none of these participations have actually happened simultaneously.
OK. What about in other recent exempt tournaments?
Well, Georgetown and Siena were in the same half of the 2008 Old Spice Classic bracket, but didn't meet. The Hoyas and Duke missed each other on Maui three seasons later. Duke did defeat VCU in the 2012 Battle 4 Atlantis semifinals, while Georgetown topped the Rams by an 84-80 score in the 2013 Puerto Rico Tip-Off fifth-place game, ending a tournament that had to be considered a disappointment for both. Additionally, Prairie View was a visiting team in the 2011 Chicago Invitational Challenge (RIP), but it did not visit Wisconsin, which won that event.
Also, Duke toppled Wisconsin in a certain game that ended the 2014-15 season.
So, what would your ideal brackets look like?
Obviously, a rematch of that night in Indianapolis is the goal, so don't expect a Blue Devils-Badgers semifinal.
Given Duke's history with both VCU and Georgetown, either opponent would be a good semifinal matchup. However, the Blue Devils last played the Hoyas in 2010, so that might be the more attractive pick. That would lead to these pairings:
In the subregional, expect Bryant to get the "easier" semifinal as the host.
I'll check back in August to see how this compares to the real thing.
So, what do the real brackets look like?
(Update 08/09/2015) Naturally, Duke-Wisconsin is the goal, but the pair will play different opponents than the ones I picked back in July, per the official release.
I did get the visitors' bracket correct though!
Here's a PDF version of all of the matchups.
Tomorrow, we are bound for Florida to take a look at an event that's well under the national radar.
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