TBT 2020 is here despite an international pandemic doing its best to keep the tournament sidelined. But nothing can stop the Elam Ending from proving its worth on national television, not even the plague.
Today, eight teams will play in four games to tip off TBT 2020, starting the 24-team abridged version of the event at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio.
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.
Four teams will have their million-dollar dreams dashed today, though, and as any responsible journalist should, I’m here to give you a few takes on each matchup. And if you don’t like that, this is 2020. Learn to deal with it. It ain’t disappearing.
TBT 2020 Day 1 Matchups
All times Eastern.
9 Big X vs. 24 D2 (3 p.m., ESPN)
The Trevon Hughes (Wisconsin)-Nick Ward (Michigan State) combination could be lethal.
The former Wisconsin guard has been killing it in Israel for Maccabi Hod HaSharon, averaging the league’s third-best 22.2 points per game last season. The Big Ten superstar of yesteryear teams up with the Big Ten superstar of last year to try to bring glory to the only conference in the country that treats corn as a competition. If that doesn’t make your inner-Midwesterner want to put on a flannel and offer everyone casserole, then you are from a warm place and know what the sun looks like. Good for you.
In the other corner stands D2, which is compromised of players you’ve never heard of. But like I explained earlier, that doesn’t mean they’re bad. Quite the opposite, actually. Remember when I said Hughes finished third in Israeli National League scoring? The player who was atop the league in scoring was Kevin Capers of Hapoel Ramat Gan, putting up 24.2 points per contest. And he plays for D2.
While I can’t say I watched any of the D2 guys in college, I can say that this team has a legitimate coaching staff. Grant Leonard (William Penn University), the D2 head coach and general manager, is bringing three assistant coaches with him, and they’re all for real. Andy Bronkema (Cornerstone University) has been the head coach at Ferris State since 2013, and in his fifth season in 2017-18, he led the Bulldogs to a 38-1 record and national championship. Carlos Dixon (Virginia Tech) has experience coaching at various college levels, including time at Appalachian State and Queens University. Doug Brotherton is a youth coach, and the last time he was on the floor, he led the girl’s basketball team at The Village School in Houston to the TAPPS 6A State Championship. And Leonard has been a college coach for 15 years and spent the last seven seasons as an assistant at Queens University, helping the program win 30 games in each of the last three campaigns.
How much will the coaching firepower help in this situation? I’m not sure, but if D2 does pull off the upset, there’s a good chance the coaching had something to do with it.
12 Team Brotherly Love vs. 21 Stillwater Stars (Oklahoma State alumni) (5 p.m., ESPN)
FEED ME D.J.NEWBILL
I grew up watching the Big Ten. Penn State has been terrible almost all the time for the last 20 or so years I’ve been old enough to pay attention. But for some reason, they always had one really, really good guy. It made no sense, and yet it was fact. From 2012-2015, D.J. Newbill was that dude.
Since leaving State College, Newbill has flourished in NBL Australia, balling out most recently for Cairns in 2019-20 to the tune of 18.8 points per game and a 42.3 percent mark from three. Now he’s back on an American court and likely praying that his 20 points actually end in a W.
Also, Novar Gadson (Rider) and Samme Givens (Drexel) both averaged almost 18 points per outing in TBT 2019, and they’re both back. So, look out for them, too.
On the other side, you have Kansas players playing on the Oklahoma State alumni team, so I don’t know what is up with that. But at least it means I get to watch Nadir Thorpe and Tyshawn Taylor again. I’m also excited for Armoni Brooks (Houston) and James Banks III (Georgia Tech). Is it weird that the players I’m most excited for on the Oklahoma State alumni team didn’t go to Oklahoma State? Huh, maybe that says something about how Oklahoma State basketball has been lately…
Either way, if the Cowboys are to find glory, they will be led by non-Cowboys, and that’s funny.
16 House of ‘Paign (Illinois alumni) vs. 17 War Tampa (8 p.m., ESPN)
House of ‘Paign brings another clever name to TBT 2020, which is always appreciated. It also brings plenty of Illini all Big Ten fans will remember. So many of the guys on this team played together in Champaign in college, and that chemistry is undeniably helpful in a tournament like this, especially given the unique nature coronavirus has imposed this time around.
Another reason to look forward to this team is Mike Daum (South Dakota State), a mid-major deity who shall be treasured until the end of time. He’s one of the best scorers in NCAA Division I history, and he lumbers, which is pleasant to watch. Now a pro, Daum played for Rio Natura Monbus Obradoiro (Spain) in 2019-20 and had a solid season, posting 9.0 points and a 44.9 three-point shooting percentage in his rookie campaign. He has thinned out some since college, though, so his movements aren’t as goofy. Still, he’s one to watch.
In a mash up of Southern players that are all somehow connected, War Tampa provides some equally intriguing players to watch. Fletcher Magee (Wofford) immediately stands out to me as the prolific deep shooter was one of my favorites to see during his 2018-19 senior season. I’m hoping War Tampa runs him off tons of screens and we get to see him do that spin-shoot thing that doesn’t make sense again.
Don’t sleep on Bryce Brown (Auburn) and Scottie James (Liberty), though, two of my other favorites when they were playing college ball. Brown was a deadly three-point shooter at Auburn, and how he combines with Magee from beyond the arc should be fun. James plays like his life is under threat at all times. He reminds me of a less violent Bill Laimbeer. That’s plenty of reason to tune in.
13 Team CP3 vs. 20 PrimeTime Players (10 p.m., ESPN)
Team CP3 comes in as one of the highest-profile teams in TBT 2020 for reasons that should be obvious. Chris Paul has assembled a collection of talent from the CP3 grassroots program. James Dickey (UNC Greensboro) is who I’m most looking forward to. Because I am a basketball purest, I enjoy watching great rebounders, and Dickey is that. He’s the kind of player who went largely unnoticed in the greater college basketball landscape because of where he played, but the guy can ball. He’s not the fastest, but his footwork is phenomenal, and I’m excited to see it again.
PrimeTime Players are a last-minute substitution into the tournament and are one of the other teams will players you have probably never heard of. The club is a long-standing minor league professional team from Fort Mill, South Carolina, though, having played since 1991. It competes in the East Coast Basketball League and won every championship from 2015 to 2019. PTP has been in every TBT since 2015, too, and picked up some wins along the way, including a run to the Sweet 16 in 2018.
You might not have any idea who these people are, but they doesn’t mean they aren’t dangerous.