To catch up on all of the posts in this series, visit the 2015-16 Early Season Events hub.
What is it?
The Gulf Coast Showcase (official website)
Where is it?
It's played at the Germain Arena in Estero, Florida, easily visible from Interstate 75. Estero is a suburb of Fort Myers, which does indeed have suburbs. And multiple Culvers locations, which is unusual for Florida, or indeed anywhere outside of the Midwest.
When is it?
November 23rd through 25th, the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before Thanksgiving. A women's tournament follows on the Friday through Sunday after the holiday.
When did this event begin?
This event is in its third season, as it started in 2013. Former Mid-Majority writer Ray Curren wrote about its origins in his recap of that inaugural edition, a piece worthy of your time.
Will it be on TV?
The Gulf Coast Showcase was specifically created to give an additional neutral-site exempt tournament opportunity for mid-majors. Thus, you won't see power conference teams in Estero. This is not the case for the women's tournament, which follows.
This philosophy means the Internet is the best option to watch this tournament, as a TV contract is unlikely. The Atlantic Sun website streamed prior editions, as Stetson participated in 2013 and Florida Gulf Coast in 2014. But this might not be the case this season with the A-Sun not sending a team.
Update 11/23/2015: BD Global Sports, organizer of the Gulf Coast Showcase, is streaming all of the games live on their YouTube channel.
Jog my memory. Who won in 2014?
Fort Myers' own FGCU made the final, but fell to the Green Bay Phoenix, 59-45.
Who is participating in 2015?
Central Michigan Chippewas (MAC)
Drake Bulldogs (MVC)
Duquesne Dukes (A 10)
Milwaukee Panthers (Horizon)
Murray State Racers (OVC)
Pepperdine Waves (WCC)
Weber State Wildcats (Big Sky)
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (C-USA)
Note that Dunk City is not a participant this season. Since FGCU is not Hawaii, it can only participate in this event once every four years, even if it takes places in the Eagles' literal backyard. They're hosting a round-robin event on campus this season instead.
Of the eight teams actually participating this season, Central Michigan and Murray State were the most accomplished in 2014-15, with both earning NIT auto bids as their respective leagues' regular season champions.
Have any of these teams played here before?
In a word, "no." As the Gulf Coast Showcase has only been played twice, a new four-year cycle won't begin until 2017. Estero won't see any returnees until then, at the earliest.
Have any of these teams met in other recent exempt tournaments?
All the way back in 2006, Drake and Weber State made the long trip up to Fairbanks, Alaska for the now-departed Top of the World Classic, an event the Wildcats finished second in, behind in-state rival Utah State. The pair didn't meet. That would be rectified in 2010, when the Wildcats topped the Bulldogs in the third-place game of, curiously, the Great Alaska Shootout. Central Michigan and Murray State were both in that event's field a season later, which the Racers won, but they avoided the Chippewas along the way.
In 2007, CMU and Weber were in separate CBE Classic regionals.
Milwaukee and WKU met in the first round of the NIT Season Tip-Off's Baton Rouge regional in 2009. The Hilltoppers prevailed before falling to host LSU the next night. Considering that WKU was coming off two seasons in a row in which they managed to win an NCAA game, this was a mild disappointment at the time.
Drake and Murray State both participated in the Challenge in Music City round-robin in Nashville, with the Racers claiming a 68-59 win in the pair's meeting. That would be the only game either won over the three days.
Also in 2014, Milwaukee participated in the MGM Grand Main Event, another tournament run by BD Global Sports, organizer of the Gulf Coast Showcase.
Are there any non-bracketed games?
There will be, but with a twist. Teams typically add a fourth game for this event by scheduling a local team from outside of Division I. So far, only Duquesne has done so for this season, lining up a November 13th home game against Division II Seton Hill.
In 2014, these opponents included Division II's Hawaii-Hilo, Illinois-Springfield, and Notre Dame de Namur, Division III's North Carolina Wesleyan, and the Bristol Bears of Anaheim, California, who are on this season's NCAA List of Non-Countable Opponents.
So, what would your ideal bracket look like?
Obviously, Murray State and Central Michigan are the standouts here, so I'd place them on separate sides. Pepperdine was competitive in the WCC last year, as was WKU in C-USA, so those look to be the other two anchors. Weber State is due to bounce back from a rare down season, while Milwaukee played better than .500 ball in the Horizon, despite being ineligible for the 2015 postseason. Drake and Duquesne, meanwhile, struggled in their relatively strong leagues.
A possible Murray State-WKU matchup on day two or three would provide some intrigue, as would a Central Michigan-Drake "Keno Davis Classic." Plus, Davis' Bulldogs and Hilltoppers played a 101-99 OT classic in the West Region 5/12 game of the 2008 NCAA Tournament in Tampa.
Applying those thoughts, my ideal Gulf Coast Showcase bracket would look like this:
Check back soon to see how closely I came to matching the real thing.
So, what does the actual bracket look like?
(Update 08/09/2015) Murray State opens with Milwaukee instead of Duquesne, while we get that 2008 NCAA rematch on day one after all.
Weber State-Central Michigan
Here's an HTML version.
The Racers look like a clear favorite in the top half, but the Hilltoppers and Chippewas could be a potential coin-flip game in the bottom half semifinal. Here are my early August predictions.
Murray State over Milwaukee
Pepperdine over Duquesne
WKU over Drake
Central Michigan over Weber State
Milwaukee over Duquesne
Drake over Weber State
Murray State over Pepperdine
Central Michigan over WKU
7th/8th Place: Duquesne over Weber State
5th/6th Place: Milwaukee over Drake
3rd/4th Place: WKU over Pepperdine
Championship: Murray State over Central Michigan
Tomorrow, I'll switch gears to look at one of college basketball's most established holiday tournaments.