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2016 2K Classic Benefitting Wounded Warrior Project Primer: A Wide Open Field

Unlike the Charleston Classic, which I previewed on Wednesday, Madison Square Garden's first college basketball event of the 2016-17 season doesn't feature an overwhelming favorite.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

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

What Is It?

The 2K Classic Benefitting Wounded Warrior Project (official website)

How Long Has This Event Been Around?

This event's history is a bit complicated. To reduce effort duplication, here's what I wrote about it last year with a couple of additions (and spelling/grammar corrections).

The 2K Classic began as the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic all the way back in 1995, when Penn State defeated Penn and La Salle tripped up Marquette in a doubleheader in Atlantic City. After two seasons as a doubleheader, the event moved to the Meadowlands and became a four-team exempt tournament in 1997. One year later, the tournament moved again—this time to MSG, where it remains to this day.

Even though the location hasn't changed in 17 years, the format has shifted numerous times due to the changes in the exempt tournament rules. From 1997 to 2001, the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic was a four-team tournament, with each team playing two games in New York (or East Rutherford, in the case of 1997). In 2002 and 2003, the event became a pair of doubleheaders played on consecutive nights, as it was increasingly difficult to find teams willing to give up a pair of home games to play at Madison Square Garden.

In 2004, an expanded tournament format was established under the "two in four" rule. This version of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic mirrored the longtime format of the Preseason NIT, with four host schools hosting four-team single-elimination tournaments, with the winners advancing to another four-team tournament in New York. There were two flaws with this format. For starters, not every team was guaranteed four games. The other issue was more important for the organizers, the Gazelle Group, however. That was the possibility that one of the four power conference host schools would lose at home and fail to qualify for the MSG tournament. This happened just once, in 2007, when the Gardner-Webb Bulldogs blew out the Kentucky Wildcats at Rupp Arena in the Lexington regional final. (The Bulldogs went on to lose both of their games in New York.)

That spurred yet another format change, which remains in place. Now, the four host schools are guaranteed to advance to New York, even if they lose one of their two on-campus games. This happened in 2013—twice—as Toledo toppled Boston College and UC Irvine stunned Washington in that season's preliminary rounds. And just last season, the Georgetown Hoyas dropped a home game to the Radford Highlanders before heading to MSG.

The number of visiting schools and the format for their round, titled a "subregional," has varied. Up until last season, eight was generally the number of visitors involved. Each would play one game against a power conference team before gathering for a four-team round-robin subregional. Given the competition for exempt tournament spots, it was often difficult for Gazelle Group to find eight teams willing to do this, so they'd have to find non-Division I teams to fill the field roughly half of the time. So, since 2014, there are now only four visitors. They each play a pair of games at host schools—the "regional" round—before moving on to a subregional, hosted by one of the quartet, that's just another four-team tournament with championship and consolation games.

Also, the 2K Sports Classic changed beneficiaries before the 2012 event. During that offseason, the National Association of Basketball Coaches ended its association with Gazelle Group, entrusting Blue Ridge Sports and Entertainment with the responsibility for organizing its two events—the Coaches vs. Cancer event, which moved to Brooklyn as part of the change, and the CBE Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City. While both events claimed the same history, the now-2K Classic is the event that actually started in 1995, and thanks to the demise of the NABC Coaches vs. Cancer Classic after 2014, the one that remains in place.

When And Where Is It?

After playing on the second Friday and Sunday of the 2015-16 season, the 2K Classic semifinals and finals return to their traditional placement on the Thursday and Friday before Thanksgiving—November 17th and 18th—in 2016. New York's Madison Square Garden remains the home of the championship rounds. IUPUI will host the Subregional Round on Friday, November 18th and Saturday, November 19th.

Seven of the Regional Round games on-campus will take place before bracket play, with IUPUI's trip to Marquette the exception.

Who's Playing?

These four schools will participate in the Championship Rounds and host two schools apiece during the Regional Round.

Pittsburgh Panthers (ACC)
SMU Mustangs (American)
Michigan Wolverines (Big Ten)
Marquette Golden Eagles (Big East)

Logos from

Meanwhile, four mid-major programs will serve as the visitors during the Regional Round and participate in a separate Subregional bracket in Indianapolis.

Team Road Games Semifinal Opponent
Eastern Michigan Eagles
Gardner-Webb Bulldogs
(Big South)
Eastern Michigan
Howard Bison
IUPUI Jaguars

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The Northeast Conference serves as the sponsoring institution for the 2K Classic, but after entering the Bryant Bulldogs in 2015, the league didn't enter a representative this time around.

For a full schedule of games, visit the 2K Classic website.

Did Any Of These Teams Make The NCAAs or NIT Last Season?

Michigan and Pitt qualified for the NCAA Tournament, with the Wolverines winning a game, while SMU would have likely been selected had the Mustangs been eligible.

Have Any Of These Teams Made The Trip Before?

Pitt won the 2010 title in thrilling fashion, knocking off the Texas Longhorns by a 68-66 score. In 2008, when the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic was still a bracketed event, Michigan and IUPUI were both placed in the Ann Arbor Regional, but the two didn't meet. I discussed Gardner-Webb's previous appearance above.

Who's Played In Other Gazelle Group Events Lately?

Marquette defeated the LSU Tigers and Arizona State Sun Devils to win last season's Legends Classic in Brooklyn, but those win didn't bolster the Golden Eagles' NCAA case. Pitt also participated in a Gazelle-run event in 2015, defeating the Davidson Wildcats in the Gotham Classic's showcase game at MSG.

Howard and IUPUI both participated in 2014's Gotham Classic, while Michigan fell to the Villanova Wildcats in that season's Legends Classic final. Pittsburgh claimed that tourney's title in 2013, thanks to victories over the Texas Tech Red Raiders and Stanford Cardinal, following up on the 2008 championship. In 2009, the Panthers dropped the CBE final to Texas. That same season, Michigan finished third in the Legends, then held in Atlantic City. The Wolverines defeated Gardner-Webb in one of its two games in Ann Arbor.

Marquette went 0-2 in the 2010 CBE Classic championship round in Kansas City, missing IUPUI in the on-campus phase. The Golden Eagles were unable to repeat their 2006 success, when they stunned the Duke Blue Devils to win title in KC.

Any Other Notable Recent Meetings?

Over the past two seasons, SMU swept a home-and-home series with Michigan. Going further back, the Wolverines topped Pittsburgh in the 2012 NIT Season Tip-Off semifinals before defeating the Kansas State Wildcats in the final. In another notable exempt matchup, Marquette defeated Michigan in the 2009 Old Spice Classic semifinals.

Who Won Last Year?

Duke topped Georgetown 86-84. The Hoyas rebounded from their home loss to Radford just in time to defeat the Wisconsin Badgers by 10 in the semifinals—preventing a 2015 NCAA Championship rematch.

Did Any 2015 Entrants Make The NCAAs Or NIT?

Three Championship Round participants made the field of 68, but that total didn't include Georgetown. Wisconsin rallied after Bo Ryan's retirement, making yet another Sweet Sixteen, this time under new head coach Greg Gard. Duke also reached the second weekend, while the VCU Rams dropped a thriller to the Oklahoma Sooners in the second round.

Georgetown didn't even reach the NIT, thanks to a losing record. In fact, the Siena Saints were the only team of the five entrants that didn't qualify for the NCAAs to participate in the postseason, and they lost their lone CBI game.

Will It Be On TV?

ESPN2 is scheduled to show all four Championship Round games. Expect to find the Regional Round games on a variety of outlets, based on the host schools' respective TV contracts. For example, it wouldn't be surprising to see both Michigan games on BTN and Marquette's on FS1 and FS2. It's possible the Subregional games at IUPUI will be streamed, but don't bank on it.

Who Do You Think Will Win?

This season's 2K Classic doesn't feature a heavy favorite, the role Duke filled in last year's edition. Two host schools are breaking in new coaches, as Kevin Stallings replaced Jamie Dixon at Pitt and Tim Jankovich will take over at SMU following Larry Brown's sudden summer departure.

Pitt and Michigan look to be the strongest of the quartet, though Marquette should push the Wolverines, even with Henry Ellenson gone to the NBA after only a year, in the semifinals. John Beilein's team is my mid-summer pick to take the trophy, as they should be able to handle the Panthers in what's likely to be a physical matchup.

As for the Subregional, Eastern Michigan—the only team of the four visitors to finish better than a game over .500 last season—looks to be the favorite.


Hosts: Pitt over SMU and Michigan over Marquette
Visitors: Eastern Michigan over Gardner-Webb and IUPUI over Howard


Hosts: Michigan over Pitt (championship) and Marquette over SMU
Visitors: Eastern Michigan over IUPUI (championship) and Gardner-Webb over Howard

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