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2016 Cancun Challenge Primer: Auburn, Purdue, Texas Tech, And Utah State Are Mexico-Bound

The Boilermakers and Red Raiders, the field's two NCAA squads, hope to meet in the final, but they'll need to get past the Aggies and Tigers, respectively, for that to happen.

Brian Spurlock-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 Cancun Challenge (official website)

How Long Has This Event Been Around?

From last season's primer...

Don't confuse this tournament with the Cancun Governors Cup, an ESPN-run event that took place just once, in 2010.

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.

When And Where Is It?

Each of the four visiting teams (the Mayan Division) will play at two of the hosts (the Riviera Division), with six of the eight games taking place before the main event in Mexico. All eight teams make the trip to Cancun, where semifinal play is scheduled for Tuesday, November 22nd with the finals one day later, Wednesday, November 23rd. All games in Cancun take place at the Hard Rock Riviera Maya resort, which has a similar "arena in a ballroom" setup to the Battle 4 Atlantis.

Who's Playing?

The four Riviera Division schools will play the evening games in Cancun.

Purdue Boilermakers (Big Ten)
Utah State Aggies (MW)
Utah St
Auburn Tigers (SEC) 
Texas Tech Red Raiders (Big 12)
Texas Tech

The four Mayan Division teams will play a pair of road games along with two afternoon games in Mexico.

Team Road Games Semifinal Opponent
Eastern Kentucky Colonels
Texas Tech
Idaho State
Georgia St
Georgia State Panthers
(Sun Belt)
Idaho St
Idaho State Bengals
(Big Sky)
Utah State
Texas Tech
Eastern Kentucky
NJIT Highlanders
Utah State
Georgia State

Logos from

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

Purdue and Texas Tech each lost in the First Round of the NCAAs. Curiously, Chris Beard, the coach of the Little Rock Trojans team that knocked out the Boilermakers, is now in charge of the Red Raiders, replacing Tubby Smith. (After a controversial two-week stint as the UNLV Runnin' Rebels' bench boss.)

No other squad made either that tournament or the NIT, but NJIT lost in the Tournament semifinals to the Columbia Lions, who eventually won.

Have Any Of These Teams Made The Trip Before?

None of these squads have participated in a previous Cancun Challenge. For Utah State, this is their first exempt event with a neutral-site component since the 2007 South Padre Invitational. The Aggies hosted a four-team round-robin event each December between 2008 and 2015.

Any Other Notable Recent Meetings?

While Texas Tech won a 46-44 slugfest over Auburn in the 2014 Big 12/SEC Challenge, there's no other recent history between the four host squads.

In each of the last two seasons, Utah State defeated Idaho State in the middle game of their tournament. The Aggies also won a 2010 meeting under similar circumstances. They'll meet again in Logan as part of this event.

Who Won Last Year?

The Maryland Terrapins swept through the Riviera Division by knocking off the Illinois State Redbirds and the E.C. Matthews-less Rhode Island Rams in Cancun in between a pair of home victories.

However, the South Dakota State Jackrabbits also went 4-0. Scott Nagy's team won its road games against Illinois State and the TCU Horned Frogs before topping the Houston Baptist Huskies and Cleveland State in Mexico.

Did Any 2015 Entrants Make The NCAAs Or NIT?

Hilariously, we ended up with an actual Cancun Challenge title unification bout in the First Round, where Maryland defeated Summit League champ South Dakota State 79-74 en route to a Sweet Sixteen place.

Houston Baptist was the only other postseason qualifier. The Huskies lost to the UNC Greensboro Spartans in their first-ever Division I postseason game—a CBI first round encounter.

Will It Be On TV?

CBSSN will air all four Riviera Division games, while Triple Crown Sports, the Cancun Challenge's organizer, is likely to stream the Mayan Division games on its YouTube Channel.

Who Do You Think Will Win?

In the Riviera Division, the two NCAA entrants should be favored, but Auburn could give Texas Tech some trouble in their semifinal. Bruce Pearl's squad heads to Cancun with the aim of showing they can compete more consistently as his third season in charge opens.

In the final, Purdue should get a bit of revenge over Chris Beard, as Caleb Swanigan and the Boilermakers look to be the strongest team in this field, even after the graduation of A.J. Hammons an Rapheal Davis.

Eastern Kentucky and NJIT look like the best bets in the Mayan Division semifinals, and with the Colonels potentially in position to make a big leap in the OVC, I'll take them to win the title.


Hosts: Purdue over Utah State and Texas Tech over Auburn
Visitors: NJIT over Georgia State and Eastern Kentucky over Idaho State


Hosts: Purdue over Texas Tech (championship) and Auburn over Utah State (consolation)
Visitors: Eastern Kentucky over NJIT (championship) and Georgia State over Idaho State (consolation)

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