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2017 Cancun Challenge Primer

Thanks in part to the number of Power 7 teams pulled into the Phil Knight Invitational, the lone exempt event set for Mexico has a mid-major flavor this season.

The 2017 Cancun Challenge participants.
Graphic by Chris Dobbertean. Logos via

To catch up on all of the posts in this series visit the 2017-18 Early Season Events Hub.

What Is It?

The Cancun Challenge

How Long Has This Event Been Around?

From the 2015 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?

All eight teams will play a pair of games at the Hard Rock Riviera Maya Resort in Cancun, Mexico on Tuesday, November 21st (semifinals) and Wednesday, November 22nd (finals). As is typical of a split-bracket tournament, each of the four visitors’ bracket teams will play road games against two host bracket teams. All but one of these contests is scheduled for the week before everyone heads south of the border.

Who's Playing?

The 2017 Cancun Challenge participants in their semifinal matchups.
Graphic by Chris Dobbertean. Logos via

Thanks to this season’s one-off Phil Knight Invitational pulling 14 power teams out of the exempt tournament pool and the debut of new events in the Cayman Islands and Jamaica, this season’s Cancun Challenge field is the first to not include a team from one of the Power 7 conferences. Instead, the hosts’ bracket, the Riviera Division, features four teams from the upper reaches of the mid-major ranks.

Four lower-ranked mid-majors fill out the visitors’ bracket, the Mayan Division.

Here are the pairings for the eight on-campus games.

  • Binghamton at George Mason and Evansville
  • CSUN at Fresno State and George Mason
  • Montana State at Louisiana Tech and Fresno State
  • Southeast Missouri at Louisiana Tech and Evansville

Did Any Of These Teams Reach The 2017 Postseason?

Fresno State was TCU‘s first victim in the Horned Frogs’ 2017 NIT title run. George Mason, meanwhile, fell to local rivals Loyola (Md.) in the CBI’s first round.

Of the four Mayan Division teams, only Montana State managed to even finish at .500.

How Strong Is This Event?

Based on the average four-year rankings of the participants, the 2017 Cancun Challenge ranks as follows when compared to other bracketed tournaments:

  • Riviera Division (Hosts’ Bracket): 9th of 24 four-team bracketed tournaments; 8th of 38 bracketed tournaments
  • Mayan Division (Visitors’ Bracket): 17th of 24 four-team bracketed tournaments; 36th of 38 bracketed tournaments

Have Any Of These Teams Played In This Event Before?

This will be the first Cancun Challenge appearance for each of the eight teams in 2017’s field.

Are There Any Other Notable Recent Meetings Between These Teams?

Evansville handed Fresno State a 58-52 loss in the quarterfinals of the 2014 Gulf Coast Showcase—the Bulldogs ended up going 0-3 in that event. One season later, the Purple Aces again defeated Rodney Terry’s team—by eight in Fresno.

Fresno State and Louisiana Tech played a relatively even series when both were WAC members—with the California version of the Bulldogs holding a 6-5 advantage in 11 meetings between the 2007-08 and 2011-12 seasons.

Evansville defeated Southeast Missouri by 15 in the 2015-16 season opener, avenging a 10-point loss in Cape Girardeau eight years earlier. CSUN split two games with Montana State in November 2013, played over a five-day span as part of a tournament hosted by Central Michigan. A season later, the Matadors defeated the Bobcats in Southern California.

Fresno State swept a BracketBusters-related series with CSUN in February 2012 and November 2013. The Bulldogs also won their last meeting with Montana State, though that was 10 seasons ago. Louisiana Tech and Southeast Missouri haven’t met frequently, but when they have, the affairs have been close—a five-point Redhawk win in 2007 and a four-point Bulldog victory in 2012. That hasn’t quite been the case with games between Evansville and SEMO. The Redhawks won a 2007 home game by 10, while the Purple Aces claimed a 15-point decision at home in 2015.

Who Won 2016’s Edition?

The Purdue Boilermakers steamrolled the Auburn Tigers 96-71 to win the Riviera Division title, while the Georgia State Panthers took out the Eastern Kentucky Colonels 82-65 in the Mayan Division final.

Did Any 2016 Teams Reach The Postseason?

Purdue bowed out of the NCAAs in the Sweet Sixteen, following a loss to the Kansas Jayhawks. Auburn and the Texas Tech Red Raiders didn’t reach the postseason despite posting identical 18-14 records.

Georgia State lost to the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders in the first round of the Postseason Tournament.

Will This Event Be On TV?

CBSSN will air the Riviera Division semifinals and finals. Triple Crown Sports’ YouTube channel might again stream the Mayan Division semifinals and finals earlier in each day’s action from Cancun.

Editor’s update 11/21: A release from Triple Crown Sports states that will stream the Mayan Division this season.

With no power conference teams involved, on-campus games are likely to be streaming-only affairs on the Mountain West Network (Fresno State), ESPN3 (Evansville), (Louisiana Tech), and or Facebook Live for George Mason.

Who’s Your Pick To Win It?

This is a difficult field to predict. Louisiana Tech is again poised to compete in Conference USA, which makes them a slight favorite here. However, George Mason looked dangerous in a Sunday loss to Louisville. As for the Mayan Division, Montana State again looks to be the strongest squad of the four.

Riviera Division Semifinals

Louisiana Tech over George Mason
Fresno State over Evansville

Mayan Division Semifinals

Montana State over Binghamton

Riviera Division Finals

Louisiana Tech over Fresno State
(consolation) George Mason over Evansville

Mayan Division Finals

Montana State over SEMO
(consolation) Binghamton over CSUN

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