To catch up on all of the posts in this series, visit the 2015-16 Early Season Events hub.
What is it?
The Great Alaska Shootout
Where and when is it?
For only the second time, this tournament will take place at the Alaska Airlines Center on the campus of the University of Alaska Anchorage. The quarterfinal round will be split between Wednesday, November 25 and Thanksgiving night, with the semifinals on Friday, November 27th, and the championship and placement games on Saturday, November 28th. There is also at least one non-bracketed game scheduled.
When did this event begin?
The year your humble author was born, 1978. In other words, it's ancient (for this category of events at least, though still younger than the Rainbow Classic). The genesis of the Great Alaska Shootout/Sea Wolf Classic was a previous iteration of the NCAA's exempt tournament rule, which allowed games played outside of the continental United States to not count against a team's cap of 27. That's why there were so many tournaments in Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and even Japan, in the 80s and 90s.
Those were the glory years of the Great Alaska Shootout, which at one point had welcomed five defending national champions the following season—North Carolina State (1983), Villanova (1985), Louisville (1986), Kansas(1988), and Kentucky (1996). The tournament has fallen on hard times since the "two in four" rule was rescinded before the 2006-07 season for two reasons. First, teams are more likely to travel to more hospitable climes during the Thanksgiving holidays. Secondly, the Shootout lost its place on the ESPN networks, due to the increasing importance of its own competing tournaments.
While the Shootout has avoided the fate that befell Alaska-Fairbanks' Top of the World Classic, which ended after a 12-year run (1996-2007), recent fields have not matched those of 2007 and earlier. The last two tournaments each featured a single power conference team—Washington State (2014) and TCU (2013), with neither being what you would consider marquee. No power team made the trip for a pair of seasons following a 2010 event that featured both St. John's and Arizona State.
Will it be on TV?
If it's like the past few seasons, CBS Sports Network will air select games. In 2014, CBSSN aired all four quarterfinals and the championship game live, but the semifinals were delayed.
Update 11/25/2015: This is indeed the case this season. Also, all non-CBSSN games (the consolation semifinals, and 3rd/5th/7th place games) will air in Alaska only on GCI Cable.
Jog my memory. Who won in 2014?
Colorado State slipped past UC Santa Barbara in the championship game, 65-63.
Who is participating in 2015?
Alaska Anchorage Seawolves (DII, GNAC)
Drexel Dragons (CAA)
Loyola of Chicago Ramblers (MVC)
Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (C-USA)
UNC Asheville Bulldogs (Big South)
San Diego Toreros (WCC)
San Jose State Spartans (MW)
Toledo Rockets (MAC)
The Ramblers, champions of last season's CBI, and the Blue Raiders, who appeared in the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament, are the only two members of this group that earned postseason bids in 2014.
Have any of these teams played in this event before?
Naturally, Alaska-Anchorage has appeared in each edition, though it's never reached a championship game. (Alaska-Fairbanks, conversely, won the Top of the World Classic in 2002, to become the first, and so far only, non-Division I team to win a Division I exempt tournament.)
Of the other seven, only San Diego has traveled to Anchorage before, going 2-1 in a six-team field in 2009. The Toreros didn't play the Seawolves that time around.
Have any of these teams met in other recent exempt tournaments?
San Diego and San Jose State both participated in 2014's Wooden Legacy, but they missed each other in the consolation bracket. Drexel defeated Toledo in a 2009 Legends Classic subregional game in Philadelphia, while the Rockets defeated Middle Tennessee in the 2006 Paradise Jam.
So, what would your ideal bracket look like?
Given the lack of familiarity between these teams and the absence of a true standout entrant, anything could happen with matchups. Toledo is scheduled to travel to Loyola for a non-bracketed game, so expect them to be separated. This is all a giant guess on my part.
Loyola of Chicago-Drexel
Alaska Anchorage-San Jose State
Middle Tennessee-San Diego
Expect this projection to be dead wrong when the real thing comes out.
Update 11/25/2015: Indeed, this projection was wrong. We could very well see a Loyola vs. Toledo rematch in the semifinals.
San Jose State-Toledo
San Diego-Loyola of Chicago
Middle Tennessee-Alaska Anchorage
Thus, I can see the bracket playing out like this.
Toledo-Loyola of Chicago
San Jose State-San Diego
UNC Asheville-Alaska Anchorage
7th Place: San Jose State over Alaska Anchorage (barely)
5th Place: UNC Asheville over San Diego
3rd Place: Toledo over Drexel
Championship: Loyola of Chicago over Middle Tennessee
Tomorrow, I'll look at another Thanksgiving tournament with a long history that's had to adjust to a new reality.
Be sure to follow @ChrisDobbertean on Twitter and to like Blogging the Bracket on Facebook and Google Plus.