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2016 GCI Great Alaska Shootout Primer: Quality Mid-Majors Trek North

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A trio of 2016 NCAA teams, each of whom could make a return trip in 2016, along with likely Horizon and Mountain West contenders, will look to follow in 2015 champ—and 2016 Big Dance sensation—Middle Tennessee's footsteps by winning three games in Anchorage.

Jeff Curry-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 GCI Great Alaska Shootout (official website)

When Did This Event Begin?

From last season's primer...

The year your humble author was born, 1978. In other words, it's ancient (for this category of events at least, though still younger than the Rainbow Classic). The genesis of the Great Alaska Shootout/Sea Wolf Classic was a previous iteration of the NCAA's exempt tournament rule, which allowed games played outside of the continental United States to not count against a team's cap of 27. That's why there were so many tournaments in Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and even Japan, in the 80s and 90s.

Those were the glory years of the Great Alaska Shootout, which at one point had welcomed five defending national champions the following season—North Carolina State (1983), Villanova (1985), Louisville (1986), Kansas (1988), and Kentucky (1996). The tournament has fallen on hard times since the "two in four" rule was rescinded before the 2006-07 season for two reasons. First, teams are more likely to travel to more hospitable climes during the Thanksgiving holidays. Secondly, the Shootout lost its place on the ESPN networks, due to the increasing importance of its own competing tournaments.

While the Shootout has avoided the fate that befell Alaska-Fairbanks' Top of the World Classic, which ended after a 12-year run (1996-2007), recent fields have not matched those of 2007 and earlier. The last two tournaments each featured a single power conference team—Washington State (2014) and TCU (2013), with neither being what you would consider marquee. No power team made the trip for a pair of seasons following a 2010 event that featured both St. John's and Arizona State.

Note that due to budget issues, this event is under threat.

When And Where Is It?

The quarterfinals are split between the nights of Wednesday, November 23rd and Thanksgiving Thursday, November 24th. All eight teams are in action on Friday, November 25th (semifinals) and Saturday, November 26th (finals). The Alaska Airlines Center on the campus of the University of Alaska Anchorage is the venue.

Who's Playing?

Here are the eight teams listed by quarterfinal matchup. Note that games one and two will be played on Wednesday and games three and four on Thursday. As the host, Alaska Anchorage will wear its home jerseys for all of its matchups.

Buffalo
Buffalo Bulls (MAC) 
at 
Alaska Anchorage Seawolves (DII, GNAC)
UAA
Oakland
Oakland Golden Grizzlies (Horizon) 
vs. 
Nevada Wolf Pack (MW)
Nevada
UC Davis
UC Davis Aggies (Big West)
vs.
Weber State Wildcats (Big Sky)
WeberSt
Drake
Drake Bulldogs (MVC) 
vs. 
Iona Gaels (MAAC)
Iona

Logos from SportsLogos.net

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

This field packs a surprising punch. Three teams—Buffalo, Iona, and Weber State—qualified for the NCAAs, though each lost in the First Round. Nevada won the College Basketball Invitational and Oakland fell in the Vegas 16 final to the Old Dominion Monarchs.

Are There Any Non-Bracketed Games?

Teams in the Shootout can schedule a non-bracketed game, as Iona and Nevada did for November 20th in Reno, or a contest against a non-Division I squad. For example, Buffalo hosts Nazareth College on November 17th.

Have Any Of These Teams Made The Trip Before?

This will be the third trip for Weber State, which defeated Drake in the 2010 third-place game in the Bulldogs' lone trip. (The Wildcats topped the host in that season's quarterfinals.) 2016 will be Iona's fourth participation, but first since 1988! Nevada also heads north after a long break—the Wolf Pack's lone prior Shootout was 1990's. They went 0-3.

Weber State and Drake both participated in the 2006 Top of the World Classic, but they didn't meet in Fairbanks.

Who's Played In Other Basketball Travelers Events Recently?

Basketball Travelers, which organizes the Paradise Jam, has been working with UAA to improve the Shootout's fields. Consequently, there is a bit of crossover between the two tourneys. Weber State defeated Nevada in the seventh-place game of the 2014 event in the Virgin Islands, while Iona went 1-2 in both its 2008 and 2012 trips to St. Thomas. In 2011, Drake recorded that same mark in St. Thomas.

Any Other Notable Recent Meetings?

Last season, Weber State dropped Drake by a 74-68 score in the Gulf Coast Showcase semifinals, with the Wildcats winning the event. The Bulldogs followed that loss with a victory in the third-place game, meaning they went 2-1 in Estero—impressive considering they won just seven games all season.

Nevada hosted both UC Davis and Drake to close out November 2012—topping the Aggies by a point and losing to the Bulldogs by 10.

Who Won Last Year?

The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders grounded the Toledo Rockets 78-70 in last year's final.

Did Any 2015 Entrants Make The NCAAs Or NIT?

The Blue Raiders and Big South champion UNC Asheville Bulldogs, who finished third in Anchorage, were the only two 2015 entrants to make the 2016 NCAAs (or postseason for that matter). Of course, Middle Tennessee pulled off one of the biggest upsets in Tournament history in knocking off the Michigan State Spartans as a 15 seed, while the Bulldogs fell to the eventual National Champs, the Villanova Wildcats in a 1/16 game.

Will It Be On TV?

CBSSN will air all four quarterfinals, both semifinals, and the championship game nationally, though one or both semis could air on a delayed basis. GCI, the event's title sponsor, will air all 12 games live in the state of Alaska.

Who Do You Think Will Win?

Buffalo, Iona, Nevada, Oakland, and Weber State should all contend for their conference crowns, with the Wolf Pack and Wildcats looking particularly dangerous. On the other hand, Drake and UC Davis are both coming off poor seasons. Meanwhile, the hosts are a wild card, as they went 21-11 in Division II last season, failing to make the postseason.

Quarterfinals

Buffalo over UAA
Nevada over Oakland
Weber State over UC Davis
Iona over Drake

Semifinals

Nevada over Buffalo
Weber State over Iona
Oakland over UAA
UC Davis over Drake

Placement Games

7th/8th Place: UAA over Drake
4th/6th Place: Oakland over UC Davis
3rd/5th Place: Buffalo over Iona
Championship: Weber State over Nevada

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