Despite an international pandemic doing its best to keep TBT 2020 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.
Do you smell that? That smelly smell that smells? It’s money – $1 million money to be more exact. And it’s about to be given to the members of Golden Eagles or Sideline Cancer depending on who comes out on top Tuesday in the 2020 TBT Championship. Will it be last year’s runners up making good on a 2019 missed opportunity, or will the underdogs of TBT 2020 complete the impossible and finish off a five-game run as the No. 22 seed to secure a title? Truthfully, I have no idea who will win, but I do know this game will be hot from start to finish, and you will be very sad if you miss it. So very sad.
2020 TBT Championship
All times Eastern.
4 Golden Eagles (Marquette alumni) vs. 22 Sideline Cancer (7 p.m., ESPN)
One member of the three-headed monster had an off night for Golden Eagles, but an incredibly balanced offensive attack, an explosive Jamil Wilson (Marquette) and turning defense into offense lifted the Marquette alumni by Red Scare, 79-70, in the semifinals to get to the TBT Championship. Wilson scored 23, hauled in seven rebounds and drilled five triples, including the Elam Ending game winner, in the victory, continuing to add to his already-impressive TBT 2020. The 29-year-old spent last season in Russia with BC UNICS and didn’t put up big numbers in the EuroCup, and he seems to be taking out some frustration on the TBT field. Through three games, Wilson is averaging 17.3 points and 7.0 boards per contest and has been one of the best players in the whole tournament. Perhaps a big 2020-21 campaign is on the way for him, as well as a nice payout with a TBT Championship?
“He’s a difficult matchup,” Golden Eagles head coach Joe Chapman said of Wilson. “He understands that. He’s used to that Elam Ending for the last few years. He’s a guy that has a chip on his shoulder and knows what he needs to do to get over that hump.”
If a portion of $1 million is to come Wilson’s way, it won’t be just because of him. The second head of the three, Darius Johnson-Odom (Marquette), had another solid showing against Red Scare, going for 13 points and often using his aggressiveness positively to stifle defensively and create offensively. Dwight Buycks (Marquette) was relatively quiet on the scoreboard with six points, but he did chip in four assists. The larger story for Golden Eagles, though, was how deep the scoring went. Nine separate Golden Eagles put up points against Red Scare, and the team outpaced its opponents in bench points, 26-18. The Marquette alumni have boasted one of the deepest teams in TBT 2020 all tournament long, and that depth has done a good deal to bring it to where it is now.
There were some defensive breakdowns – Trey Landers (Dayton) dashed for 21 points and really had his way a lot of the time during the game – but 12 Red Scare turnovers became 17 points for Golden Eagles. This has not been a trend for the Marquette alumni in this event, so that flipped script is an interesting development. Red Scare did not take great care of the ball, and it wasn’t all Golden Eagles defense that forced it. But Golden Eagles did capitalize on Red Scare’s mistakes, and that is a dangerous aspect of this team: it will punish you. If Sideline Cancer is to complete its magical run and become a collective millionaire, it will have to minimize unforced errors that Golden Eagles has proved it’s good enough to exploit.
Sideline Cancer entered TBT 2020 as the No. 22 seed out of 24. Now, it’s one win away from $1 million in the TBT Championship, and while I thought this roster looked dangerous, I cannot say I predicted this at all. I don’t think many others did, either.
Marcus Keene (Central Michigan) is the easiest place to point to explain how this team has pulled this off, and for good reason. He’s averaging 20.0 points and 4.5 assists per game, and the amount of big shots he’s hit is absurd. The guy has been a machine, there’s no other way to put it. He alone has been a reason to watch Sideline Cancer.
But if it were only him, Sideline Cancer would have been eliminated already. As I pointed out before the Sideline Cancer-Overseas Elite game, rebounding was going to be key in that one. Sideline Cancer had rebounded well all tournament long, but would that continue against a team with the talent of Overseas Elite? I said it would be a crucial determinant of who advanced, and Sideline Cancer proceeded to win the glass battle, 40-35, and the game, 67-65. Eric Thompson (Pacific) was once again a major part of the success on the boards, bringing in 10 to accompany his 16 points. The performances Thompson has been putting in, especially after Diamond Stone (Maryland) went down in an injury late in the team’s first game of the tournament, have been nothing short of inspiring. For as incredible as Keene’s perimeter play has been, Sideline Cancer would not still be around if not for Thompson stepping up in a massive way.
I would be remiss to not even mention Maurice Creek (Indiana/George Washington), who drained the deep, dramatic Elam Ending winner against Overseas Elite. Keene had tried for a triple to secure the victory on a previous possession, and it hit iron. The cameras showed the player’s facial expression later as it sank in to him that his miss might be the final death blow for his team’s $1 million dream. After getting a stop, Sideline Cancer was in the same position: down 65-64 with the target score set at 67. Keene was searching for a three, and Overseas Elite were not giving it to him again. Creek stepped up and made it happen when the ball cycled to him, and it illustrated the multiple weapons this team has at its disposal despite the pub Keene rightfully receives. The game-winning shot accounted for three of Creek’s 10 points as he has accepted an incredibly important secondary-producer position for Sideline Cancer.
“That might be the biggest shot of my career,” Creek said. “To do it here, on the biggest stage … oh my gosh. Once I shot it, I knew it was good.”
Golden Eagles likely enter this game favored, and it makes sense. On paper, it is the better team, it has experience in TBT and the depth clearly tilts toward the Marquette alumni. But on the court, Sideline Cancer is the only team to play four games in TBT 2020, and it has dispatched of every team placed in front of it, all of which were seeded better.
I don’t know who will win, but I do know that some must-watch basketball is coming Tuesday. And with the pandemic, who knows how much more basketball we will actually get in the coming months. Better enjoy it now while it’s here.