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2017 2K Classic Benefitting Wounded Warrior Project Primer

Providence and Virginia Tech, a pair of 2017 NCAA Tournament teams, tussle with Saint Louis and Washington for the title in New York.

NCAA Basketball: Radford at Georgetown Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

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

What Is It?

The 2K Classic Benefitting Wounded Warrior Project

How Long Has This Event Been Around?

Since this event has a more complex history than most, I’m again leaning on the revised text of my 2015 primer to explain it.

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 (20 in 2017), 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. But another 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 in 2015, 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?

Each of the four host teams will welcome one of the four visitors for a “Regional Round” game on the season’s Opening Night, November 10th. Then, on Thursday, November 16th and Friday, November 17th, the four host schools will play their bracket at Madison Square Garden in New York, while the four visitors will gather at Belmont in Nashville over that weekend, November 18th and 19th, for their “Subregional” semifinals and finals. Then, the quartet of visitors will again hit the road for the final Regional games which are set for November 21st through 24th.

Who's Playing?

The 2017 2k Classic Benefitting Wounded Warrior Project participants in their semifinal matchups.
Graphic by Chris Dobbertean using logos from

Championship Round Semifinals (New York)

Subregional Semifinals (Nashville)

In terms of on-campus games, the breakdown is as follows.

  • Providence vs. Houston Baptist and Belmont
  • Saint Louis vs. Seattle and Detroit Mercy
  • Virginia Tech vs. Detroit Mercy and Houston Baptist
  • Washington vs. Belmont and (naturally) Seattle

Did Any Of These Teams Reach The 2017 Postseason?

Both Providence and Virginia Tech lost in the First Round of the NCAAs, while Belmont won at Georgia and lost at Georgia Tech in the NIT. Houston Baptist, meanwhile, followed up its 2016 CBI appearance with a trip to the Tournament, where the Huskies fell to Campbell in the first round.

How Strong Is This Field?

Based on the average four-year rankings of the participants, the 2017 2K Classic ranks as follows when compared to other bracketed tournaments:

  • Hosts’ Bracket: 3rd of 24 four-team bracketed tournaments; 15th of 38 bracketed tournaments
  • Visitors’ Bracket: 11th of 24 four-team bracketed tournaments; 29th of 38 bracketed tournaments

Have Any Of These Teams Played In This Event Before?

Both Detroit Mercy and Washington participated in 2013’s event, but did not meet, as each visitor school only played one host in that edition. The Huskies fell to both the Indiana and Boston College to finish fourth in the Championship bracket. The Titans also participated, going 3-0 in a subregional hosted by the Albany, in 2009.

While Virginia Tech hasn’t participated in a Gazelle Group-run 2K Classic, the Hokies traveled to Brooklyn for the 2013 Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, one of two editions held as a non-Gazelle event. The Hokies dropped both of their games at the Barclays Center, against the Michigan State and Seton Hall.

What About Other Gazelle Group Events?

Since the “two-in-four” rule disappeared in time for the 2006-07 season, Detroit Mercy has served as a visiting team in a Gazelle Group-organized event in seven of the 11 subsequent seasons—last doing so in 2014.

Washington is 0-4 in the Championship rounds of Gazelle-run tournaments, as not only did the Huskies go 0-2 in their 2013 trip to Manhattan, but they also failed to win in two games in Kansas City in 2008. That was back when the Gazelle Group organized the CBE Hall of Fame Classic.

Belmont actually went 3-1 in the 2015 Legends Classic, winning at Marquette, and falling to Arizona State in the Regional Rounds before sweeping through a Kennesaw State-hosted Subregional bracket. On the other hand, Seattle went 1-3 in its 2010 2K Classic participation.

Are There Any Other Notable Recent Meetings Between These Teams?

Washington, then coached by Lorenzo Romar, and Saint Louis, formerly coached by Lorenzo Romar, split a home-and-home series in November 2011 and 2012.

Saint Louis shellacked Houston Baptist in an early November game back in 2007. Similarly, Washington cruised in a 2011 “Battle of the Huskies,” defeating HBU by 23. The Billikens and Detroit played a home-and-home that started not long after that game against the Huskies—with each managing to pick up a home victory. Saint Louis also defeated Belmont by eight in a December 2009 showdown, while Washington claimed an 18-point decision over the Bruins earlier in that season.

Naturally, the crosstown rivals, Seattle and Washington, have the longest history of all of these teams. The two have met each season since the Redhawks began their transition to Division I back in 2008-09, with the Huskies winning each time.

Who Won 2016’s Edition?

The Michigan Wolverines steamrolled both the Marquette Golden Eagles and SMU Mustangs to claim 2016’s 2K Classic trophy. The host IUPUI Jaguars topped the Eastern Michigan Eagles to take the Subregional championship.

Did Any 2016 Teams Reach The Postseason?

Three of the four host schools—Michigan, SMU, and Marquette—reached the NCAAs, with only the Sweet 16-qualifiers from Ann Arbor winning a game. The Pittsburgh joined the four visitors on the March bench.

Will This Event Be On TV?

While campus-site games will depend on the host school’s media contracts (for example, Providence games on FS1 and Washington games on Pac-12 Network), the four Championship Round games will appear on ESPN2. As for the Subregional, the OVC Digital Network wiil stream both of Belmont’s home games.

Who’s Your Pick To Win It?

Providence is poised to challenge for a Big East title this year, while Virginia Tech could threaten for a second NCAA bid in succession under Buzz Williams. Therefore, they’re the favorites. But Saint Louis—a team expected by many to rocket up the Atlantic 10 standings in Travis Ford’s second season—could challenge the Hokies in their semifinal. I wouldn’t expect a Washington team in its first campaign under Mike Hopkins to break through against the Friars

Championship: Providence over Virginia Tech
Consolation: Saint Louis over Washington

As for the Subregional, Belmont (83rd in KenPom at the end of last season) will be a heavy favorite over the teams that finished 2016-17 221st (HBU), 265th (Seattle), and 302nd (UDM).

Championship: Belmont over Seattle
Consolation: Houston Baptist over Detroit Mercy

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