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2015 Las Vegas Invitational: Primer And Bracket

As the college basketball offseason—and summer—drags on, scheduling news provides fans with a little taste of what's to come between November and March. In this series, Blogging the Bracket's Chris Dobbertean examines this season's exempt tournaments, providing facts that will probably only be interesting to him. In recent seasons, Las Vegas has become the Western hub for holiday hoops. The event I'm looking at today is the one that started that trend.

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

To catch up on all of the posts in this series, visit the 2015-16 Early Season Events hub.

What is it?

The Las Vegas Invitational

This is not the Las Vegas Classic, which is organized by the same company but takes place during Christmas week. The fact that "Classic" and "Christmas" start with the same letter is the easy way to remember this.

Where and when is it?

Las Vegas, of course. All of the participating teams will play at the Orleans Arena on Thursday, November 26th and Friday, November 27th. On-campus games will take place on the courts of the four host schools in mid-to-late November and, perhaps, early December.

When did this event begin?

The first record I can find of this event is the 2001 tournament won by Illinois (that field that also included Eastern Illinois, Georgia Tech, Hartford, Iowa State, Penn, Saint Louis, and Southern Illinois). In the first few editions, teams played one on-campus game before heading to Valley High School for three. By 2003, that arrangement changed two a pair of on-campus games and a pair in the desert.

In 2006, the event moved to the Orleans Arena. That November, the Kansas topped a Florida squad that was on its way to repeating as NCAA champion in a thrilling 82-80 final.

Will it be on TV?

Last season, Fox Sports took over the event's media rights from ESPN. Now, they are responsible for not only airing the tournament, but filling out its fields. The hosts' semifinals and finals will air on Fox Sports 1. The visitors' bracket may be placed on Fox Sports Go for streaming purposes, but I doubt it.

The host teams' media rights holders will control the on-campus games. For example, Cal's may appear on Pac-12 Networks.

Jog my memory. Who won in 2014?

Illinois, who claimed the first title back in 2001, defeated Baylor, 62-54. For a while, it looked like that win would propel the Illini to the field of 68. Ultimately, it did not.

Stephen F. Austin, which did make the NCAAs, won the visitors' bracket, with an 83-62 win over the Austin Peay.

Who is participating in 2015?

The California Golden Bears (Pac-12), Richmond Spiders (A 10), San Diego State Aztecs (MW), and West Virginia Mountaineers (Big 12) will fill the hosts' bracket, while five teams will serve as visitors. Bethune-Cookman Wildcats (MEAC), East Carolina Pirates (American), and Stetson Hatters (A-Sun) will each play two games in Las Vegas, while newly-branded Little Rock Trojans (Sun Belt) and Sam Houston State Bearkats (Southland) will only play one apiece. I'll explain the format later.

Hawai `i and Liberty were both listed as participants at one point, but the pair have since withdrawn.

Have any of these teams played in this event before?

Only one team from each group has. From the hosts, West Virginia demolished Iowa and lost to Kentucky in the 2008 Las Vegas Invitational finals. Bethune-Cookman lost all four of its games as a visitor in 2010.

How about in other Basketball Tournaments, Inc. events?

Basketball Tournaments, Inc. owned and operated this event, the Las Vegas Classic, and similar events in Chicago (last played in November of 2011) and South Padre Island (which has now been de facto replaced by the Corpus Christi Coastal Challenge). That company was really good about getting schools to sign contracts to participate in several tournaments over several seasons.

Bethune-Cookman, for example, played in a BTI event for five consecutive seasons starting in 2007-08, making three trips to Las Vegas alone (two for the Christmas week Classic). Richmond defeated Missouri to win the 2009 South Padre Invitational and Purdue to claim the 2010 Chicago Invitational Challenge, with 2009 win helping the Spiders earn an at-large bid in March 2010 (they won the Atlantic 10 Tournament in their 2011 Sweet 16 season).

In 2011, West Virginia fell to future conference rival Baylor in the Las Vegas Classic final, though the Mountaineers did not play Bethune-Cookman, one of that year's visitors along the way. The Wildcats also missed Richmond on the Spiders' South Padre Invitational run.

Have any of these teams met in other recent exempt tournaments?

Other than the encounters above, there are no other recorded meetings since the "two in four" rule was rescinded prior to the 2006-07 season. However, Cal did play a home-and-home with San Diego State in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 campaigns.

So, what do the brackets look like?

Fox Sports went with an East semifinal and a West semifinal for the hosts' semifinals:

Cal-San Diego State
Richmond-West Virginia

Considering the Aztecs and Mountaineers are the two NCAA teams in the field, it made sense to separate them and create semifinal matchups with a regional feel, guaranteeing a pair of cross-sectional matchups on Saturday.

As for the visitors' edition, West Virginia's release for the event indicates that the two Florida schools will meet first, with the winner taking on East Carolina. That's because the Pirates will play Little Rock on Day 1, but the Trojans aren't sticking around. They bow out on Day 2, in favor of Sam Houston State, who will likely take a big RPI hit by facing the Stetson-Bethune-Cookman loser.

This week's set of primers wraps up tomorrow with a look at an event in the Florida Panhandle that's entering its second season.

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