Basketball fans, get ready! NCAA Men’s College Basketball action starts this Monday as the 2nd annual Cayman Islands Classic Tournament takes place at the John Gray gymnasium. Although in its infancy, this pre-season competition has already earned a reputation for being a well-organized, top class tournament, and will welcome four teams that advanced to the 2018 NCAA Tournament – Clemson, Creighton, Georgia State and St. Bonaventure – as well as Akron, Illinois State, Georgia and Boise State. Scouts from eight NBA teams will also be on hand to evaluate talent.
“Last year’s inaugural CI Classic Basketball Tournament was a huge success. We had such positive feedback from the teams, the coaches, the visitors and the locals alike, and we will continue to build on this momentum,” says Victor ‘Voot’ O’Garro, president of CayMax Sports. “We already have other teams asking to be put on the calendar for future tournaments and we are excited about these eight teams joining us this year. Attendees will witness some high-level court action, and a caliber of basketball that is just below NBA level.”
“We are extremely excited to be competing in the Cayman Islands Classic with such a quality field of teams and a destination that our players and fans will enjoy,” says Clemson coach Brad Brownell, whose team is nationally ranked and one of the top contenders to win the tournament title.
Games will take place at 11 a.m., 1:30 p.m., 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. from Monday through Wednesday, with the championship game scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday. Tickets are on sale at Funky Tang’s, Reflections Food4Less airport location and Smoothie King at $40 per person. Tickets for the final game are also on sale for $60. Booster packages (one ticket to all three of a team’s games), the all-tournament pass and limited VIP court side seats can be purchased on the tournament website.
Attendees will enjoy a tailgating zone with food and drinks on sale from Burger Shack, Island Bites, Tony’s Jerk, Smoothie King, Tortuga, Mountain Dew, Cayman Spirits and CayBrew. There will also be halftime entertainment shows and live music throughout the day.
The Zips, under second-year coach John Groce, will be one of the most inexperienced teams in the Cayman Islands Classic featuring just one senior on scholarship: third-year starter Jimond Ivey.
Groce will be counting on three transfers who sat out last year at Akron along with four junior college transfers.
“We’re not young,” says Groce, whose team posted a 14-18 record last year, including a 6-12 mark in the Mid-American Conference. “What we are is inexperienced at playing together. If we can figure it all out, we’ve got enough to compete with anybody in the league. We have more depth, we have more size, we have more people who can make shots. I like our team.”
Leon Rice has won at least 21 games in six of his seven years as Boise State coach and his teams have finished in the top three in the Mountain West Conference four straight years.
Front court depth and experience is a strength for Boise State with a trio of seniors: 6-foot 11-inch, 239-pound Zach Haney (6.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg), 6-foot 11-inch, 245-pound Robin Jorch and 6-foot 10-inch, 236-pound David Wacker.
“Each team is a little bit different, but our program has its own identity every year,” says Rice, whose squad went 23-9 last year, including a 13-5 second-place league mark. “We compete really hard and we care about each other. We’ve been a great rebounding team and we move the ball really well. Those are the cornerstones of what we do.”
Clemson tied a school record with 25 victories in 2017-18, highlighted by a 31-point drubbing of Auburn in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers earned a No. 5 seed in their first NCAA Tournament since 2011 and got to the Sweet 16 where they lost to top-seed Kansas.
The bulk of the rotation that fueled Clemson’s deep post-season run remains intact, including three key starters, with the hopes of accomplishing even more this year.
“The success we had last year really showed that we were in a good place,” says Clemson coach Brian Brownell, whose team tied for third place in the Atlantic Coast Conference with an 11-7 mark. “You have to have talented players to win significantly in the ACC and it helps if the guys you have on your team have experience.”
A young nucleus leads Creighton, which is seeking its third consecutive bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The top three scorers from a year ago are gone for the Bluejays who posted a 21-12 record, while tying for third in the Big East Conference with a 10-8 mark.
Creighton’s highly touted sophomore class will be asked to step into bigger roles, and gains swingman Damien Jefferson, who sat out last year as a transfer from New Mexico. Guard Mitch Ballock averaged 7.3 points and started the final five games.
There are just two seniors on the roster. Kaleb Joseph was nagged by injuries early last season and never had a chance to show what he was fully capable of. He aims to use the experience and explosiveness that made him a starter at Syracuse earlier in his career. Connor Cashaw is a graduate transfer from Rice where he averaged 15.5 points and 7.1 rebounds last year.
There are a lot of reasons to view Georgia as a dark horse in the Southeastern Conference.
The Bulldogs have one of the most interesting story lines with a new coach taking over a roster that basically only lost forward Yante Maten, who averaged 19.3 points and 8.6 rebounds last year.
Tom Crean, a coach with boundless energy and a developer of talent, is the perfect guy to inject some life into this program. He was hired as the Bulldogs’ head coach on March 15 and has created an off-season buzz surrounding Georgia basketball that has not been seen since Dominique Wilkins’ playing days in Athens during the early 1980s.
Coming off a second NCAA tournament appearance in the last four years, Georgia State is the unanimous favorite to win the Sun Belt Championship once again this year by the league’s head coaches.
Georgia State went 24-11 last year, winning the Sun Belt Conference tournament after finishing in second place during the regular season. The Panthers advanced to the postseason for the fourth time in the last five years, while also winning 20 or more games for the fourth time in that same span.
“Although we don’t put too much weight into preseason polls, it is nice to see others have so much respect for us,” head coach Ron Hunter said. “Now we need to earn that respect on the court.”
The Redbirds have high expectations, returning four-starters and nearly 90 percent of its scoring from an injury-plagued season the year before, a season that saw Illinois State finish runner-up in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.
One would be hard-pressed to find a more talented trio in all of mid-major basketball than seniors Milik Yarbrough, Keyshawn Evans, and Phil Fayne. The trio fits together so perfectly – Yarbrough handles primary creation duties with a 41.4 assist percentage, pairing nicely with a scoring point guard like Evans while Fayne does the dirty work.
One of the main story lines going into this season will be who is not on the St. Bonaventure roster rather than who is. Graduation claimed starters Jaylen Adams, Matt Mobley and Idris Taqqee who combined to score 3,713 points over their careers and were a part of 87 wins, a school record for a graduating class.
St. Bonaventure is counting on a heralded group of six new faces on the roster to make contributions. Six-foot four-inch junior guard Jalen Poyser, a transfer from UNLV, should make an immediate impact. He started 21 games for the Running Rebels last season, averaging 10.4 points and 2.6 assists. He led UNLV in free-throw percentage (.802). Junior forward Melkisedek Moreaux, averaged 14.3 points and 10.3 rebounds last season for Northeast (Neb.) Junior College.
For more information about the Cayman Islands Classic and to purchase tickets, visit www.caymanislandsclassic.com.