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2018’s Holiday Tournaments: What’s Still Open

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It’s early May and the fields of the majority of this fall’s bracketed events are full, yet a few appear to need a team or three. And with the emergence of so many tournaments in recent seasons, the list of brand name teams available to fill those spots is rather short.

NCAA Basketball: the Barclays Classic-Alabama vs Minnesota Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Even though a pair of 2017 events are off the 2018 calendar—and another has relocated—there are at least two, if not three, new tournaments to replace them.

Arrivals And Departures

While the Great Alaska Shootout ended after 40 editions and the Phil Knight Invitational was designed to be a one-shot deal (or perhaps, a once every five or 10-year thing), new events have popped up to fill the void left by their departures.

The only one of these new tournaments with a full field is the Continental Tire Las Vegas Holiday Invitational, which is scheduled for the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas over Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday. The Nevada Wolf Pack and Southern Illinois Salukis, who both played in the Las Vegas Classic in the same building last Christmas week, will be joined by the Massachusetts Minutemen and Tulsa Golden Hurricane in the new event’s host bracket. The Holiday Invitational happens to overlap with another Fox Sports-run event, the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational, which features the Michigan State Spartans, North Carolina Tar Heels, Texas Longhorns, and UCLA Bruins—a true marquee lineup I’ll discuss the scheduling of those in a bit.

The two other new tournaments are both missing teams. Last September, FanRag’s Jon Rothstein reported that Boston College Eagles, Ole Miss Rebels, Richmond Spiders, and Wyoming Cowboys would anchor a new event, the Suncoast Classic. That event was light on the details then and remains so now. There’s still no website for it and I’ve heard no further details about it other than the fact that Ole Miss is out of it, as they’re in the Emerald Coast Classic alongside the Baylor Bears, Cincinnati Bearcats, and George Mason Patriots.

So, the Suncoast Classic needs at least one host team, if it’s even happening at all.

The other new event appears to be an expansion of last season’s Hall of Fame Belfast Classic. The Buffalo Bulls, the MAC’s NCAA Tournament rep in three of the last four seasons, appear to be one of the teams involved. And I say “appear” because the reporting on this has been a bit confused. A UB Bull Run post on the Bulls’ early season tournament states that they’ll be playing as a host team in the Naismith Hall of Fame Tip-Off.

However, that won’t be the case because those four squads are already known and paired—the Michigan Wolverines will face the George Washington Colonials while the Providence Friars will match up with the South Carolina Gamecocks in Connecticut. Plus, the Bulls participated in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off in November 2015, meaning they’ll need to wait one more season to head to the Mohegan Sun, thanks to the “once every four years” exempt tournament rule.

But that same UB Bull Run entry also states that Buffalo will play a pair of games in Belfast, Northern Ireland. And with the dates of November 30th and December 1st matching with the same post-Thanksgiving Friday/Saturday window of 2017’s non-exempt, four-team Belfast Classic (Dec. 1st and 2nd), it’s clear to me that the second edition of the tournament at the SSE Arena will be an exempt event with the MAC champs serving as a host team.

Update (5/9): Just hours after I posted this, the Horizon League’s Milwaukee Panthers announced their participation in the Belfast Classic, with Buffalo also on the list, along with the Albany Great Danes (America East), Dartmouth Big Green (Ivy League), LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds (NEC), Marist Red Foxes (MAAC), and San Francisco Dons (WCC). Given the fact teams will play a pair of games in Northern Ireland and Buffalo has two home games as part of the event, one team is still TBA and there will be some sort of split-bracket arrangement for this event.

Finally, it appears that ESPN Events has ended the Puerto Rico Tip-Off after consecutive relocations (2016 due to the zika virus and 2017 due to the devastation wreaked by hurricanes Irma and Maria) and the continued recovery still required in Puerto Rico. Last season’s Tip-Off host, the HTC Center in Conway, S.C. will now host a new tournament, the Myrtle Beach Invitational, in the same pre-Thanksgiving window, with many of the same teams slated to go to Fajardo. The Colorado Buffaloes, originally slated to play in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, were moved to the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic. As a result, one spot remains open in South Carolina.

Potential Power Conference Participants And Landing Spots

While it’s possible that team from one of the Power 7 conferences fills that final place in ESPN’s newest tournament, it’s more likely that a mid-major will be the Conway event’s eighth team. It’s a similar story for the Suncoast Classic. However, I’d expect at least one power team to make the trip to Belfast to give that event a headliner.

So what other events might be looking for a Power 7 entrant? And, on the flip side, how many such squads are out there.

Let’s answer the second question first, as 14 power conference teams are currently not officially in an event as of May 8, 2018. That number expands to 15 if Boston College won’t be playing in the Mystery Spot, I mean Suncoast, Classic.

The Big 12 and Pac-12 are already fully committed.

Note that last season, 12 Power 7 teams played in a round-robin multi-team event, with the Houston Cougars and Notre Dame Fighting Irish already lined up to play in such scheduling alliances this fall. And their events won’t even be the two most prominent such showcases, as the Gotham Classic and HoopHall Miami (which might have been a 2017-only deal) currently don’t have any reported teams.

As for the other events needing teams . . .

  • A Penn State message board discovered that the Nittany Lions, SMU Mustangs, and Wright State Raiders are set to be hosts in the Cancun Challenge. While the visitors’ quartet is full, one host, who naturally won’t come from the American, Big Ten, or Horizon, is required to fill that field.
  • The Jamaica Classic in Montego Bay will be back, with eight-team men’s and women’s events. A Casual Hoya post suggests that Georgetown—coached by Jamaican-American Patrick Ewing—might be a participant on the men’s side. But I’ve come across no further information about whether this is more than rumor or of any potential Hoya opponents in November.
  • Last season’s Barclays Center Classic didn’t quite live up to its name, as the event’s Friday games took place on LIU Brooklyn‘s campus, thanks to conflicts with a Brooklyn Nets home game in the early afternoon and the NIT Season Tip-Off finals in the evening. That makes me wonder if there will be a 2018 edition, as I’ve come across no information about participating teams.

12 11 non-committed teams from the top tier of mid-major conference are other possibilities to fill these spots, and again, if Richmond and Wyoming are no longer tied to the Suncoast Classic, that number will stand at 14 13.

Note that the Gaels, left out of 2018’s NCAA field due to a weak non-conference schedule, withdrew from the Diamond Head Classic.

Mid-Major Focused Tournaments

The remaining events without teams are either ones that are totally focused on mid-majors or visitors’ brackets of tournaments with (primarily) power conference headliners. Two returning events—the Gulf Coast Showcase and Savannah Invitational—fit in the first category. So might the Rocky Mountain Challenge, a new event the Mountain West Conference will sponsor that’s set for the U.S. Olympic Committee’s headquarters in Colorado Springs.

But there look to be plenty of places available for mid-majors willing to exchange a possible beating for a sizable pay check in the visitors’ brackets of a split-field event.

Meanwhile, a host of events—the MGM Resorts Main Event, Hall of Fame Classic (Kansas City), Hall of Fame Belfast Classic, Cayman Islands Classic, and Battle 4 Atlantis are all completely open, at least based on what I’ve heard. If you have any information that might fill in the holes I’ve noted above, please let me know.

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