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.
We’re finally here, folks. It’s time for the TBT Championship and the end of basketball, at least for the time being until the WNBA and NBA put their bubbles to the test. It’s Golden Eagles, a finalist in 2019 looking to make good on last year’s narrow failure, and Sideline Cancer, seeking to cap off the ultimate underdog run with a TBT Championship. There are $1 million up for grabs, and the winner takes it all. Here are the three biggest questions heading into the game, and the answers will directly decide the outcome.
2020 TBT Championship Three Questions
Can Golden Eagles keep Eric Thompson from dominating the glass?
Eric Thompson (Pacific) has been one of the best players in TBT 2020, though most of his work has not shown up in the scoring column. That’s not to say he hasn’t been scoring – through four games, the center is averaging 9.8 points per game, including a 16-point performance in the semifinals against Overseas Elite – but his greatest contributions have come on the boards.
Thompson has pulled down at least 10 rebounds in every TBT game so far for a 12.8 per contest average, and his dominance has helped tie Sideline Cancer for the most rebounds per game in TBT 2020 at 40.3. And Thompson has done this while his expected counterpart, Diamond Stone (Maryland), left the first game with an injury and has not returned. So, not only has Thompson been outstanding, he’s done so without another major post threat absorbing some of the opposition’s attention.
Golden Eagles has not been particularly strong on the glass. Outside of Jamil Wilson (Marquette), no one individual on the squad looks like they’d be able to slow down Thompson from gobbling up missed shots, and the team lost the rebounding battle in two of its three games before the TBT Championship. Unless Wilson has himself an outstanding night, which is certainly possible, I don’t know how Golden Eagles will slow Thompson down. But if it can, it’ll have a much easier time winning $1 million, especially considering the defensive prowess of both teams, making every possession, and therefore rebound, that much more important.
Which defensive juggernaut will give?
Entering the TBT Championship, Sideline Cancer and Golden Eagles are second and fourth, respectively, in average points against; Sideline Cancer is only allowing 67.5 points per contest, while Golden Eagles has held opponents to 71 points per outing.
Something has to give. Of course, both teams could play outstanding defense and a low-scoring contest could be on our hands. In fact, this is pretty likely. But someone will have to score more points than the other, and at some point, one of the defenses will have to break down, even if just relatively.
With such strong defensive units on both sides, who can most effectively and most often get into the middle of the floor to make the defense to collapse and move will probably win the game. Even the best defenses have breakdowns sometimes if offenses force enough movement. Either that, or the team that can push in transition the best and score without seeing a set defense in the half court will find success.
Can Golden Eagles exploit its depth advantage?
Sideline Cancer is on one of the best runs TBT has ever, and possibly will ever, see. Thompson, Marcus Keene (Central Michigan), Maurice Creek (Indiana/George Washington) and Remy Abell (Xavier) have had outstanding tournaments, and Jamel Artis (Pittsburgh) has provided necessary support defensively and as the fifth scoring option. But especially with Stone out, this team is not deep. Outside of those five, Sideline Cancer doesn’t have a ton of guys to look to for anything more than filling in some minutes. So far, that’s been enough to still win, but will it be enough against Golden Eagles?
On the other side, Golden Eagles is extremely deep. The team has had at least eight different players score in each of its games, and the squad gets a lot more out of its rotation, as evidenced by the average minutes played by its top players (Wilson at 28.7, Dwight Buycks at 26.9, Darius Johnson-Odom at 24.6) compared to Sideline Cancer’s (Keene at 31.6, Thompson at 31.0, Creek at 30.1). TBT 2020 has forced teams to play often on short rest, because of external circumstances, players have likely spent less time conditioning themselves the last few months than normal, and Sideline Cancer has played one more game than Golden Eagles. All these factors point to depth really helping when it comes to the final showdown.
Add in that Golden Eagles is shooting a TBT second-best 43.8 percent from beyond the arc and that it has so many weapons who can nail it from deep, and a clear advantage is there. Will Golden Eagles capitalize on its depth, or will Sideline Cancer do as it has all tournament long and win the TBT Championship anyway?