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2016-17 College Basketball Round-Robin Exempt Tournaments

With power conference squads dominating the fields of college basketball marquee postseason events, mid-majors are often forced to take matters into their own hands.

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

For approximately 10-12 teams a year, that means hosting a four-team event over three days. During the early stages of the 2016-17 season, 10 such on-campus exempt multi-team events (MTEs) are scheduled, along with the Santa Clara Broncos' non-exempt Cable Car Classic. Plus, this season features three neutral-site round-robin tournaments, one of which is a scaled-back event that was supposed to feature eight squads.

Now, four-team round-robin events don't make it easy for teams to get the full four-game benefit the MTE rule provides. As a result, teams are permitted to schedule a fourth game against another participant (the exception rather than the rule) or a non-Division I squad to reach the full complement of games. I haven't listed the non-D1 participants here, but I've attempted to call out all such games on the Early Season Events page.

I've listed these round-robin tournaments in chronological order. Since some of these fields are more intriguing, and even quirky, than others, the length of my summaries will vary a bit.

To catch up on all of the posts in this series visit the 2016-17 Early Season Events hub.

Outrigger Hotels Rainbow Classic

FAU Owls (C-USA)
Hawai'i Rainbow Warriors (Big West)
SIU Edwardsville Cougars (OVC)
Texas St
Texas State Bobcats (Sun Belt)

Since Hawai'i is so far removed from the rest of Division I, it is allowed to both host and participate in multiple exempt events each season to fill its schedule. This is true even though the Rainbow Warriors can count just one of these events as truly exempt. The Rainbow Classic was formerly an eight-team tournament held in the slot the current Diamond Head Classic fills in December. Now, it's a four-team round-robin that typically serves as the Bows' season opener.

There are a couple of interesting quirks to the event's opening night schedule. The Iolani School will host the Texas State-FAU game, since the Armed Forces Classic will be going on at Stan Sheriff Center on Friday afternoon. That also means the Rainbow Warriors' home gym will host a tripleheader on Opening Day, as SIUE's contest against Hawai'i is scheduled to follow the Kansas-Indiana and Arizona-Michigan State games.

As usual, the final game of the Rainbow Classic—this time featuring FAU and the hosts—will be the 4:15 a.m. Eastern game during ESPN's Tip-Off Marathon.

High Point University Classic

High Point Panthers (Big South)

Navy Midshipmen (Patriot)

North Dakota State Bison (Summit)
UNC Greensboro Spartans (SoCon)

Curiously, the host Panthers' last exempt event participation was the 2014 Rainbow Classic, where John Brown scored 19 in High Point's 62-54 Tip-Off Marathon win over Hawai'i. Of course, Brown was injured late last season, which helped keep the Big South regular season champ out of the NCAAs, and he's graduated since. So, this tournament now lacks a bit of star power. Still, each of the four participants finished with a conference record of .500 or better in 2015-16, with NDSU reaching the Summit final for the fourth year running.

Note that UNCG and High Point were Big South rivals between 1992 and 1997.

Red Diamond Roundball Classic

FIU Panthers (C-USA)
Jacksonville Dolphins (A-Sun)
South Alabama Jaguars (Sun Belt)
Youngstown State Penguins (Horizon)

The Jaguars host this event over the weekend before Thanksgiving, but Jacksonville is the only squad of the four that finished with a record of .500 or better last season—at 16-16.

This is another event that serves as a conference reunion of sorts. South Alabama and JU were both charter Sun Belt members, though the Dolphins left for the A-Sun in 1998, with FIU arguably taking their place. The Panthers eventually left for C-USA 15 years later.

Fordham Showcase

Fairleigh Dickinson Knights (NEC)
Fordham Rams (A 10)
Lipscomb Bison (A-Sun)
Saint Peters
Saint Peter's Peacocks (MAAC)

Nashville's Lipscomb is the interloper in a field heavy on Metro NYC squads. The Bisons and host Rams, who did finish 17-14 last season, might be overshadowed by the defending NEC Tournament champion Knights and the Peacocks, who should challenge Monmouth Hawks and Siena Saints in the MAAC after a 12-8 league campaign.

Tarkett Sports Classic

Austin Peay Governors (OVC)
Delaware Blue Hens (CAA)
Miami U
Miami (Ohio) RedHawks (MAC)
Northern Kentucky Norse (Horizon)

Of the four teams headed to Oxford, Ohio for the weekend before Thanksgiving, only OVC Tournament champion Austin Peay finished .500 or better, and the 18-18 Governors had to claim their conference's auto bid to do that. Even though NKU has participated in its previous two conference tournaments (one in the Horizon, one in the A-Sun), 2017 will be the first March in which they'll be eligible for the Big Dance.

Steve Wright Classic

Boston University Terriers (Patriot)
LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds (NEC)
Maine Black Bears (AE)
Northeastern Huskies (CAA)

No, this tournament isn't named after the comedian, or the pitcher. Rather, its namesake was of one of BU basketball's greatest players, who passed away in 2003 after a battle with leukemia. The Steve Wright Classic opener at Case Gym will serve as the conclusion of a November home-and-home series between the Terriers and Huskies, as BU travels to Matthews Arena on Opening Night. As a whole, this tournament serves as an ECAC North/America East reunion of sorts, as three of the four teams—BU, NU, and Maine—are separated charter members of that conference.

Three members of this quartet won more than they lost last season, with the Black Bears the exception. Host BU looks the most likely to contend for a conference crown this time around.

Bill Frack Tournament

Bowling Green Falcons (MAC)
Green Bay Phoenix (Horizon)
Murray St
Murray State Racers (OVC)

UMKC Kangaroos (WAC)

This event is named in memory of one of Falcon basketball's most vocal supporters, so vocal in fact that the court at the Stroh Center bears his name. The hosts can make Frack proud by punching above their weight in this pre-Thanksgiving round-robin that features a 2016 NCAA squad, Green Bay, and perennial OVC contender Murray State. On the other hand, UMKC, like Bowling Green, finished last season under .500.

Lone Star Showcase

Central Michigan Chippewas (MAC)
Little Rock
Little Rock Trojans (Sun Belt)
Pepperdine Waves (WCC)
St Bona
St. Bonaventure Bonnies (A 10)

Organizer BD Global Sports envisioned this tournament, which will take place during the early part of Thanksgiving week at the H-E-B Center outside of Austin, as an eight-team bracket, like the Gulf Coast Showcase. But with only four teams signing up, the format was switched to a round-robin. And it's not a bad quartet, as each team finished 2015-16 over .500, with Little Rock winning a game in the NCAA (losing its coach as a result) and each of the other three squads qualifying for lesser postseason events. All four should be in position to play March basketball of some variety come the end of this season.

Men vs. Cancer Classic

Cal State Bakersfield Roadrunners (WAC)
North Dakota
North Dakota Fighting Hawks (Big Sky)
North Florida Ospreys (A-Sun)
Wright St
Wright State Raiders (Horizon)

While just one 2016 NCAA squad—Cal State Bakersfield—is headed to Dayton for this event, A-Sun regular season champ UNF and the hosts, who fell to Green Bay in the Horizon final, both had chances to join the Roadrunners in the field of 68. All three, and the Fighting Hawks, a team on the rise in the Big Sky, will aim to use their three games at the Nutter Center to get on the right track for 2017.

NIU Showcase

Cal Poly
Cal Poly Mustangs (Big West)
Elon Phoenix (CAA)
Northern Illinois Huskies (MAC)
UIC Flames (Horizon)

For the second season in a row, the Huskies will look to sweep through their own round-robin tournament, as NIU took down the South Dakota Coyotes, CSUN Matadors, and Wright State Raiders to open the 2016-17 season—one that ended with 21 wins and a Vegas 16 berth. Mark Montgomery's team will be favored to go 3-0 again, as none of their rivals managed to be even remotely competitive in their respective league races last season.

Sanford Pentagon Showcase

ETSU Buccaneers (SoCon)
Milwaukee Panthers (Horizon)
SD State
South Dakota State Jackrabbits (Summit)
UC Irvine Anteaters (Big West)

Even with Milwaukee and SDSU welcoming new coaches this November, this tournament in Sioux Falls should be one of the more competitive ones of this type. The Jackrabbits are coming off an NCAA bid, and they should compete for another, while UC Irvine will tussle with the Long Beach State 49ers in the Big West, even if Mamadou Ndiaye is now a pro, while ETSU should be the Chattanooga Mocs' most serious challengers in the SoCon. Note that South Dakota State won all four of its Cancun Challenge games last season, as a team in the visitors' bracket.

On November 14th, Jackrabbits will head west to visit the Anteaters as part of this event.

Challenge In Music City

Evansville Purple Aces (MVC)
Middle Tenn
Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (C-USA)
Toledo Rockets (MAC)
UNCW Seahawks (CAA)

Two 2016 NCAA squads will play three games at Nashville Memorial Auditorium over Thanksgiving weekend, and the Blue Raiders and Seahawks will meet in the Black Friday nightcap in a game that could have at-large (or at worst seeding) implications for March. Toledo, who will visit Middle Tennessee in this tournament's on-campus rounds, will look to rebound and contend again in the MAC following a disappointing 17-15 campaign that saw the Rockets finish at 8-10 in conference play. Evansville, meanwhile, might be rebuilding, as Egidijus Mockevicius and DJ Balentine graduated from a team that fell a bucket short of the tourney last March.

Holy City Hoops Classic

Campbell Fighting Camels (Big South)
Colgate Raiders (Patriot)
The Citadel Bulldogs (SoCon)
USC Upstate Spartans (A-Sun)

This is one of the rare exempt events scheduled for December, with Colgate joining the three Carolinas teams at the Citadel's campus in Charleston. The Raiders, 9-9 in the Patriot League last season, are the only squad out of this quartet that finished .500 or better  in conference play, and none got close to breaking even overall.

Last season, the hosts won at Upstate but lost at Campbell.

Tomorrow, my focus shifts to events that are the most confusing to fans, multiple-team events played at multiple on-campus sites.

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