To catch up on all of the posts in this series, visit the 2015-16 Early Season Events hub.
What is it?
The Cancun Challenge (official website)
Don't confuse this tournament with the Cancun Governors Cup, an ESPN-run event that took place just once, in 2010.
Where and when is it?
The eight participants will play a pair of split-bracket tournaments on Tuesday, November 24th and Wednesday, November 25th at the Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya. Yup, this is another event hosted in a large hotel ballroom.
Typically, in an event like this the four host schools would each host a pair of visitors either before or after the tournament. However, only Maryland and Rhode Island have two on-campus games scheduled so far.
When did this event begin?
Vanderbilt defeated VCU in the inaugural final in 2008. That particular event featured four host schools playing a two-round tournament and six visitors, who each played two games in Cancun. It was not until the following season that the split-bracket format was implemented.
Will it be on TV?
CBS Sports Network will air the hosts' bracket semifinals and finals, as it has throughout the event's history. The visitors' bracket may be streamed on CBS Sports' platform. Responsibility for on-campus games revert to the home team's media rights holder. For example, Maryland's games will likely be BTN affairs.
Update 11/23/2015: Triple Crown Sports, the organizers of the Cancun Challenge, will stream the visitors' bracket semifinals and finals on their YouTube channel.
Jog my memory. Who won in 2014?
Eventual Missouri Valley champion Northern Iowa blew by Northwestern in an all-purple final, 61-42. The visitors' crown went to North Florida, who would go on to make its first-ever NCAA field in March. The Ospreys defeated Elon, 72-65.
Who is participating in 2015?
The likely top-five Maryland Terrapins (Big Ten) headline a hosts' bracket that also includes the Illinois State Redbirds (MVC), Rhode Island Rams (A 10), and TCU Horned Frogs (Big 12). The visitors are the Cleveland State Vikings (Horizon), Houston Baptist Huskies (Southland), Rider Broncs (MAAC), and South Dakota State Jackrabbits (Summit).
In the on-campus rounds, Rhode Island and Maryland are both scheduled to host Cleveland State and Rider, meaning Illinois State and TCU should encounter both Houston Baptist and South Dakota State. However, only the Houston Baptist-TCU and South Dakota State-Illinois State games have been scheduled so far.
Have any of these teams played in this event before?
Illinois State is returning four seasons after falling in the 2011 final to in-state rival Illinois. Rider and Cleveland State will play in the same bracket this time around, six seasons after being in separate ones. The Vikings were a host team in 2009, getting trounced by Kentucky in the semifinal before taking an 11-point loss at the hands of Virginia in the third-place game. CSU did not face Rider, who finished second in the visitors' bracket, in the on-campus rounds that season.
Have any of these teams met in other recent exempt tournaments?
Last season, Rhode Island and Rider missed each other in the consolation bracket of the Orlando Classic, an event the Broncs went 0-4 in (losing at Kansas in a non-bracketed game). It was similar story for Illinois State and TCU, who finished second and third, respectively, in what ended up being the final South Padre Invitational in 2012.
Rhode Island did meet Cleveland State in the Legends Classic subregional it hosted in 2011—winning by 22, but the Rams did not travel to Maryland in the 2010 2K Classic. That season saw a convoluted debut for the Hall of Fame Tip-Off, which included a Rider win over a bad TCU team in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Finally, both Rhode Island and Cleveland State participated in another gone and all but forgotten event with a complex format—the 2007 Glenn Wilkes Classic in Daytona Beach—but they didn't play.
So, what do the brackets look like?
If Maryland, a team that will challenge for preseason No. 1, doesn't win four games in this event it will be one of the bigger shocks in recent college basketball history. Sure, both Illinois State and Rhode Island won their first NIT games last season, while TCU recorded a winning record and nine-win improvement in 2015, but none of the trio is in the Terps' galaxy. The organizers, Triple Crown Sports, set up a possible all-power-conference final, but don't expect it. URI is perfectly capable of topping TCU.
Rider will meet Cleveland State in the visitors' bracket, which has an East vs. West/North vs. South flavor. South Dakota State, 24-11 last season, is the favorite here.
Houston Baptist-South Dakota State
Tomorrow, my attention turns to one of the highlights of Thanksgiving weekend, an eight-team event that provides a great excuse for a Florida vacation.
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