TBT 2020 tipped off yesterday as four teams advanced to the Sweet 16 and four were forced off the island bubble. The same will happen today in this weird and wacky coronavirus version of TBT.
Despite an international pandemic doing its best to keep The Basketball Tournament sidelined, it is here. Nothing can stop the Elam Ending from proving its worth on national television, not even the plague.
TBT 2020, like previous iterations, boasts a number of names you’re familiar with if you’ve watched enough college basketball in the last 15 years. It also has a ton of guys you never heard of but were killing it at Southwestern A&M Poly Tech in 2008 and have built solid overseas careers for themselves since. The point is: the level of play is legit, and the $1 million winner-take-all prize means these games are serious.
Like yesterday, I’m here to bring you nothing but hard news as I preview today’s action. Prepare yourself for what is the only basketball happening in this country.
TBT 2020 Day 2 Matchups
All times Eastern.
10 Peoria All-Stars vs. 23 Herd That (Marshall alumni) (2 p.m., ESPN)
For the fourth year in the row, the 2017 Jamboree champs are back and looking to make people remember a mid-sized city in the center of Illinois. Although the team has experience, the squad doesn’t as it’s one of the youngest in the competition; at 24, Luqmon Lundy is the oldest player on the roster.
Who should you watch for? Well, Aaron Menzies will be pretty tough to miss. The Englishman is a behemoth of a human, walling up at 7-foot-3, 265 pounds. For Seattle U in 2016-17 and 2017-18, Menzies scored in double figures and hauled in a good number of rebounds, not to mention 2.3 blocks per contest in the 17-18 campaign. He spent 2019-20 with St. Mary’s, serving an off-the-bench role. There are plenty of ballers in TBT 2020, but there’s only so many dudes who are 7-foot-3 and talk with a funny accent.
Herd That is the updated version of the West Virginia Wildcats, operated by general manager Ot Elmore, who unapologetically told America yesterday that he would use his winnings to go to Vegas. He’s not only the team’s GM, but also its shooting guard and potential gambler, truly a triple threat of a man.
“I don’t play at the high level that I used to,” Elmore told Joe Brocato of the MetroNews. “364 days a year, I work a regular job and live a regular life. So it is nice to be out there one day a year and play basketball and relive the glory days.”
The danger doesn’t stop at Ot Elmore, though. It extends to his brother, Jon, who is Marshall’s all-time leading scorer, and to other players, like Steve Browning (Marshall), Zach Smith (Texas Tech) and Ryan Luther (Arizona). Browning was a key scorer for the Herd in the mid-2010s and has been playing overseas since 2017. Smith can play above the rim, and perimeter lobs to him are likely on the menu. Luther was a shooter in college and can still stroke it now, putting up 10.6 points per game for BK Ventspils (Latvia) last season.
11 Team Hines vs. 22 Sideline Cancer (4 p.m., ESPN)
Team Hines was in the Final Four in its first TBT run in 2019, and now the squad is back to go all the way in 2020. The first name to jump out on me off the roster is Ethan Happ (Wisconsin), a low-post wizard who was one of the best big men I’ve ever watched in the Big Ten. He was supposed to play in TBT last year but was unable at the last minute. Now this time around, with a pandemic ravaging the world and this country specifically, he’ll be there. The world is weird, man.
I’m looking forward to watching Alec Peters suit up for Team Hines, too. The former Valpo star scored more than 2,000 points in his college career and averaged 23.0 points and 10.1 rebounds per game as a senior, serving as one of the nation’s best players in 2016-17. He was drafted No. 54 overall in the 2017 NBA Draft by the Pheonix Suns and made his NBA debut in the ensuing October. He went overseas in 2018 and has bounced among Russia, Turkey and Spain in the meantime, all while producing at a good clip. Now a few years into his pro career, I’m excited to see how much better he is now than when he was in college, a thought which horrifies recent-past Horizon League fans everywhere.
Sideline Cancer is a hodgepodge roster of people who hate cancer. They have some solid basketball talent, too.
As a Maryland alum who was at school during Diamond Stone’s one season in College Park, I’m personally interested to see him play. He was once a top recruit and considered an NBA lock, and he has not been that. Stone has been mostly hanging around the G League since leaving college, and his numbers there haven’t been amazing. But I know there are positives to his game, and I want to see what the Terp does in the spotlight again.
For those of you without connections to Maryland, Maurice Creek might be better targets for your eyes. Creek had some very good scoring seasons in college for Indiana and George Washington, and he has continued to put the ball in the basket overseas since. Creek has played in the Netherlands, Denmark, Israel, Ukraine and the G-League, getting buckets at every stop. He will be a tough stop in TBT 2020.
14 HEARTFIRE vs. 19 Men of Mackey (Purdue alumni) (7 p.m., ESPN2)
When I saw the HEARTFIRE roster, my exact words were, “Oh shit, this team is legit as fuck.”
Former Texas A&M head coach Billy Kennedy will lead Jordan Adams (UCLA), Kristian Doolittle (Oklahoma), Isaiah Austin (Baylor), Tweety Carter (Baylor), Branden Dawson (Michigan State), Mark Lyons (Arizona) and more in TBT 2020. Don’t get me wrong, they still have to play basketball, and this team isn’t unbeatable. But wow, that’s a pretty impressive list of talent, and Kennedy is no joke of a head coach, especially in an event like this.
If you need any proof as to how big this tournament has truly grown to be, just look at this roster and head coach, and consider this team was seeded No. 14. Yeah, The Basketball Tournament is a basketball staple at this point.
HEARTFIRE will have to deal with the Purdue alumni team, though, which boasts some players who spent considerable time playing together in West Lafayette. Isaac Haas, Jon Octeus and Evan Boudreaux represent some of the core pieces of the Boilermakers success in the last five years, and they’ll have some other pieces, like Ethan Stair, who put up 14.6 points and 9.3 rebounds per game as a senior at Mercer last season, and Justin Dentmon (Washington), who scored in double figures for Élan Béarnais (France) in 2019-10 and has TBT experience.
As a Big Ten basketball buff, I want to see Haas on the floor again to relive the chants students at Maryland used to level at him for his physical appearance, which of course I, as a man of great culture and dignity, would never partake in. Even if he was a common target of the student section, I always enjoyed watching him play and respected his game. I also always thought he was foreign for some reason until just now when I discovered he’s from Birmingham, Alabama, so how about that?
15 Armored Athlete vs. 18 Power of the Paw (Clemson alumni) (9 p.m., ESPN2)
Scott Machado. I need Scott Machado.
One of the most fun college players I’ve ever watched, Scott Machado was a maestro with the rock at Iona from 2008-2012. As a junior, he averaged 7.6 assists per game, then stepped it up even further as a senior and put up 9.9 each contest, all while scoring in double figures and shooting almost 50 percent from three. He remains one of the best passers I’ve seen at the college level, and he’s still got it, earning First Team All-NBL (Australia) honors last season while playing for Cairns.
Deliver me Scott Machado, and you have yourself a viewer.
Finally, an alumni team with a lot of the school’s actual alumni.
Tevin Mack started his college career at Texas, then transferred to Alabama, then transferred again to Clemson to finish. For the Tigers in 2019-20, he put up 12.2 points and 5.2 rebounds per outing, plus shot almost 45 percent from beyond the arc. He is joined by fellow former Clemson players Gabe DeVoe, Donte Grantham, Ty Hudson, Marcquise Reed and Elijah Thomas to form an alumni team that really is.
Reed and DeVoe were two of the top players on the 2017-18 Tigers team that went to the Sweet 16, and the two have played overseas in the short time since they’ve been away from school. These two, plus Grantham and Thomas, made up a good portion of that squad. Now they’re together again, plus some other pieces, to see if a Sweet 16 and maybe more can be repeated.