It's college basketball's longest-running regular-season tournament, and each of the last 46 NCAA Tournament champions has participated in it at some point in their history. But despite big-name tournament MVPs like Isaiah Canaan (2011), Dwyane Wade (2001) and Drew Gooden (1999), the Great Alaskan Shootout, now in its 35th year, is a shell of its former self.
Unable to compete with more the attractive, sunny and/or less travel-involved climates after the NCAA changed the rules on how often teams can compete in such exempt events, the Shootout lost its contract with ESPN in 2007. Their website appears to even be stuck in that year.
That was the end for the Kentuckys, the Purdues and the Dukes for fans of basketball stuck in Alaska's wintery wasteland, but that change also meant that the last frontier became a new frontier for a host of a grab-bag assortment of quality (and not so quality) mid-major teams. UC-Riverside, Northeastern, Belmont, Loyola Marymount, Oral Roberts, Texas State, Charlotte and of course D-II Alaska-Anchorage will begin play tomorrow evening at 8,700-seat Sullivan Arena (soon to be replaced by the UAA Community Arena) in Anchorage. A new contract with CBS Sports means that 7 of the 12 men's games will be aired nationally. Here's a look at the matchups with projections for how things will shake out.
UC-Riverside (1-3) vs. Northeastern (2-1), 7:30 p.m.
This is the first time the Northeastern Huskies are playing in Alaska since 1986, and they returned four starters and a hugely talented back court to their squad which won 14 games last season. However, the Huskies announced on Oct. 19 that senior All-CAA guard Jonathan Lee will be sidelined for up to six weeks with a foot injury that has so far meant he has seen zero minutes.
With or without Lee (it has been almost six weeks, afterall), NU shouldn't have too much problem handling UCR after handing losses to Princeton and Boston University this season. The Highlanders of RIverside are super young with a roster that includes eight freshman, two sophomores, three juniors and senior guard Robert Smith. UCR is still in search of their first Division-I win this season, and has never faced Northeastern before.
Belmont (3-0) vs. Alaska-Anchorage (D-II), 10 p.m.
Kerron Johnson and Ian Clark are probably the most talented players at this year's shootout, and they both play in Rick Byrd's backcourt. The Bruins, which come in at No. 21 in Ken Pomeroy's poll and fifth in the College Insider Mid-Major top 25, are looking to crush the Ohio Valley Conference's East Division in their first season there. They've already crushed Lipscomb and Stanford, and are only allowing teams to score 0.815 points per possession while playing way uptempo and forcing turnovers.
I can't imagine the Seawolves of Anchorage pulling off the Chaminade upset in this one, but they are 33-69 in the tournament all time. In their history they've managed to upset Mizzou, Auburn, New Mexico, Miami, Washington, Tennessee, Texas, Wake Forest, Dayton, Notre Dame and Iona, so there's a very real chance. Here's the full list of splits.
Loyola Marymount (2-1) vs. Oral Roberts (2-1), 5 p.m.
This has the makings of a great mid-major matchup after both teams combined for 48 wins last season but are both dealing with some major holes.
Led by junior returning point guard Anthony Ireland, LMU features a lot of experience among their starters, aside from newcomer Chase Flint, a two-guard with a nasty-but-streaky long-range stroke. The Lions won 21 games last season but so far still have some work to do on defense to get back to being dominant. Their only D-I win so far this season was over Cal-State Bakersfield, and LMU lost to SMU, but if Flint and junior wing Ayodeji Egbeyemi get going from range they'll be hard to stop.
Oral Roberts has so far not dealt convincingly with the loss of Dominique Morrison, last season's Summit League player of the year, but have managed meager wins over Pacific and a non-D-I team with above average defensive play. The Golden Eagles are just struggling to score points. Still, senior returning guard Warren Niles is a force, even if he's not flanked by many weapons. I like LMU in this one.
Texas State (2-1) vs. Charlotte (3-0), 7:30 p.m.
Good luck scoring on Alan Major's 49ers. Charlotte picked up where its efficient defense left off last season, and despite the loss of a pair of starters, Chris Braswell is leading a team that has so far only allowed a majestic 0.767 points per possession. They're doing it with shot defense, and it's earned them wins over Georgia Southern, Lamar and Charleston Southern to remain undefeted. Only 31.4 percent of the shots teams have taken against Charlotte have fallen (seventh in the nation), and it doesn't seem particularly to any certain spot on the floor.
JUCO transfer Joel Wright leads a Texas State team which is filling gaps and getting acquainted with a lot of conference moves. The Bobcats are coming off their lone D-I win so far, over Fordham, and returning point guard Vonn Jones and JUCO transfer Phil Hawkins are sharing point guard duties as TSU tries to find a way to get to a point per possession. I can't see them breaking through against Charlotte.
Consolation semifinals and semifinals projections
Semifinal No. 1 Belmont vs. Northeastern
Semifinal No. 2 Loyola Marmount vs. Charlotte
Consolation semifinal No. 1 Alaska-Anchorage vs. UC-Riverside
Consolation semifinal No. 2 Oral Roberts vs. Texas State
Texas State vs. Alaska Anchorage, Noon
UC-Riverside vs. Oral Roberts, 2 p.m.
Northeastern vs. Charlotte, 6 p.m.
Belmont vs. Loyola Marymount, 8:30 p.m.
2. Loyola Marymount
5. Oral Roberts
7. Texas State
Kerron Johnson, Belmont