Preview: Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic

For those of you that already have their minds on Thanksgiving break, there is the perfect basketball tournament this weekend to keep your mind occupied.

The Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic takes place at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. Eight teams are participating in total. Established in 2o11, the tournament has featured past champions such as Kentucky, Ohio State, North Carolina, Providence, and Purdue.

They are split into two brackets. The Naismith bracket features the four teams with a higher status and is seen as more competitive. The Springfield bracket features four teams from mid-major conferences.

The teams are as follows:

Naismith Bracket: Cincinnati, Duke, Penn State, Rhode Island

Springfield Bracket: Albany, Brown, Grand Canyon, Marist

Prior to this weekend, eight “campus” games were played, in which every team in the Naismith bracket played two different teams in the Springfield Bracket. The results were as follows:

Cincinnati: 11/11/2016 Brown W 84-55,   11/14/2016 Albany W 74-51

Duke: 11/11/2016 Marist W 94-49,   11/12/2016 Grand Canyon W 96-61

Penn State: 11/11/2016 Albany L 81-87,  11/14/2016 Grand Canyon W 85-76

Rhode Island: 11/14/2016 Marist W 107-65,  11/16/2016 Brown W 79-72

The Springfield Bracket is not an official tournament, but instead four games between the teams that have no effect on each other. The schedule is as follows, with all games on ESPN3:

Saturday, November 19: Brown vs Marist 5:30 PM,  Albany vs Grand Canyon 8 PM

Sunday November 20: Marist vs Grand Canyon 6 PM,  Albany vs Brown 8:30 PM

The Naismith Bracket is as follows:

Saturday: Semifinals: Duke vs Penn State 12:30 PM, Cincinnati vs Rhode Island 3 PM

Sunday: Consolation Game 3:30 PM, Championship Game 1 PM

Why is the Championship game before the consolation game? If anyone knows the answer, then also ask that person where the Ark of the Covenant is.

Team Previews:

Cincinnati Bearcats

The Bearcats, led by head coach Mick Cronin, enter the tournament having won their two previous games and ranked 24 in the most recent AP Poll. Thanks to UConn seemingly losing their ability to play basketball, Cincinnati is now the favorite to win the American Athletic Conference. The Bearcats are per usual one of the best defensive teams in the country, led by a front court of AAC Defensive Player of the Year Gary Clark, who is also developing a solid offensive game. Also in the front court is NC State transfer Kyle Washington and Jacob Evans, a sophomore who had a 26 point, 9 rebound performance in Cincinnati’s loss to St. Josephs in the NCAA tournament last season. Also per usual for the Bearcats, their offense is very average, as their back court has very little aside from All-AAC Troy Caupain. Caupain, who returns after a stellar 2015-16 season, is the key to success for the Bearcats. If he does not score, the Bearcats have few options to shoulder the load. In spite of inconsistent back court play, the stellar defense and a down AAC means that Cincinnati will almost certainly win the AAC.

Duke Blue Devils

Although Duke will enter this tournament ranked 1, that will almost certainly go away after Tuesday’s loss to Kansas. The Blue Devils, lead by head coach Mike Krzyzewski (I can spell it without looking it up), are an extremely talented team. Junior Grayson Allen, a second team All-American, returns as a National Player of the Year candidate, and also looks to rebound from a rough outing against the Jayhawks (12 points, 4-15 shooting). Joining him in the back court is sophomore Luke Kennard, who is a tremendous scorer, freshman Frank Jackson, who is a raw, explosive athlete, and senior Matt Jones, who provides excellent defense and leadership. The front court is anchored by redshirt senior Amile Jefferson, who returns from a broken foot and is an excellent rebounder and defender, and sophomore Chase Jeter, who has improved tremendously after a rough freshman season. However, Duke will not be at full strength, as they will almost certainly be missing freshmen Harry Giles (#2 in 247 composite), Jayson Tatum (#4), and Marques Bolden (#15). This leaves Duke short-handed for this tournament. In spite of these injuries, Duke should be fine for the majority of the non-conference season. But, as we learned last season, if Duke wants to be the title contender they have been hyped up to be, they need those players back and cannot rely on a six-man rotation.

Penn State Nittany Lions

In spite of becoming the first team to lose one of their campus games since 2014 (Florida State losing to Northeastern), the Nittany Lions are a young, intriguing team led by Head Coach Pat Chambers.  The best player from the previous season, Shep Garner, returns to form a good back court pair with top point guard recruit Tony Carr, with sufficient depth behind them. The front court is solid, with the infusion of 4-star freshman Lamar Stevens into the rotation, as well as the return of leading rebounder Payton Banks. The bench features a former national champion (Terrance Samuel, G) and a redshirt 4-star recruit (Mike Watkins, F). While this team is not quite ready to contend in the Big 10, they are a rising program.

Rhode Island Rams

Rhode Island’s last season was crippled severely when leading scorer and best player E.C. Matthews tore his ACL ten minutes into the first game. However, he has returned to lead a veteran group coached by Dan Hurley, the son of legendary high school coach Bob Hurley. Matthews is complimented by Jason Terrell, who led the Rams in scoring last season, and Javis Garrett, who developed into a quality A-10 point guard. They form a formidable back court. The front court is anchored by Hassan Martin, who was injury-prone last season but returns to provide a quality shot-blocker and scorer, and Kuran Iverson, who provides good rebounding ability. The key reserve is Stanford Robinson, an Indiana transfer who can guard both shooting guards and small forwards. This Rhode Island team, ranked 21 entering the tournament, is not very deep, but its available talent should lead them to contend for an Atlantic-10 title and possibly a 4 seed or higher.

Predictions:

Semifinals:

Duke vs Penn State: Penn State will challenge Duke early, but their inconsistency and youth should ultimately falter, as Duke’s amount of scoring options wears the Nittany Lions down and should win by 10-15. Duke 85, Penn State 71

Cincinnati vs Rhode Island: Rhode Island is talented, but is still working on gelling its roster, and will play disjointed. Cincinnati should ultimately wear the Rams down with defense, and win by 7-10. Cincinnati 67, Rhode Island 59

Consolation Game:

Penn State vs Rhode Island: Penn State will stay in the game longer, as Rhode Island will be more fatigued from their previous game. But Penn State will not be able to stop E.C. Matthews, and Rhode Island’s superior post presence should ultimately lead them through. Rhode Island 75, Penn State 64

Championship Game:

Duke vs Cincinnati: Cincinnati’s defense will undoubtedly frustrate Duke, and their superior depth will be key. Ultimately, the lack of back court firepower will stall the Bearcats, and Duke’s scoring options will lead them to a hard-fought victory. Duke 70, Cincinnati 65

Mark Stouffer

Senior at Purdue studying Statistics. Also a life long Duke fan.

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