The field has been set for the third edition of the Cayman Islands Classic, and it includes eight geographically diverse teams that have been to the biggest stages in college basketball.
Loyola-Chicago, which advanced to the Final Four of the NCAA postseason tournament in 2018, will headline the field along with Nebraska, coached by former NBA player Fred Hoiberg.
Two teams in the field – Old Dominion and New Mexico State – played in the NCAA tournament last season, and another, South Florida, won the postseason College Basketball Invitational tournament. Washington State, Colorado State and George Mason will also be part of the Cayman tournament.
“The good thing about it is we’re still in the beginning stages,” said Joe Wright, the chief executive officer of tournament organiser Caymax Sports, at a press conference on Tuesday. “We’re on the uprise and we’re moving fast, and not to get ahead of ourselves, but even the following year we already have amazing teams that have already signed with us for 2020. We’re excited for the future.”
The tournament will be held on 25-27 Nov. at the John Gray Gymnasium.
New Mexico State is the two-time defending champions of the Western Athletic Conference, and Old Dominion became Conference USA champions last year for the first time since 2011.
Loyola-Chicago has been the regular-season champion in the Missouri Valley Conference in each of the last two seasons, and played in the postseason National Invitation Tournament last year. South Florida set a school record with 24 wins last year after winning just 10 games the previous season.
Victor O’Garro, the president of Caymax Sports, said that one high-profile team, Wisconsin, committed to the tournament before ultimately deciding that it would not fit into its schedule this year.
“They decided to pass this year and they’re asking us please to include them in the future,” O’Garro said. “It’s about an economic decision they made. If they come to this tournament, they can only play one [preseason] home game, whereas at present they’re slated to play two home games.”
More than one million viewers tuned in to Facebook Live to watch the tournament last year, and tournament organisers have estimated that the tournament had an economic impact of US$2 million. Minister of Tourism Moses Kirkconnell said Tuesday that the tournament is a boon for Cayman coffers.
“This year, in our budget, there is $75,000 from my ministry to support this,” Kirkconnell said. “If we have 2,000 people that come and each one of them spends $2,000, we believe this is a tremendous success. If we do our numbers and spend $75,000 and we have $1,000,000 of incremental spend that we weren’t going to get before, I ask you the question: ‘Is that good value for money?’”
O’Garro said that youth participation has increased as a result of hosting the tournament, and he expressed the hope that one day one of the participating teams will have a Caymanian player on its roster.
Wright, for his part, said that he hopes to have the sport’s ultimate powers participate down the line.
“We want the North Carolinas. We want the Dukes. We want the Kentuckys,” Wright said. “We want all those guys to definitely come to our tournament one day. But they have to see how the tournament develops. We have great feedback from everybody from the NCAA side of this.”