Crumpacker: Feast on #WCChoops this Thanksgiving Weekend
Pass the remote, there's lots of basketball to go around
By John Crumpacker #WCChoops Columnist
While Thanksgiving is traditionally thought of as a day for gluttonous amounts of turkey, trimmings and football, it might come as a surprise to some people that there is a massive helping of college basketball going on as well.
That’s certainly true of the West Coast Conference. Five schools will be busy over the holiday week engaging in top-flight men’s competition in tournaments from Anchorage to Anaheim and Portland to Brooklyn.
The most prestigious tournament is the inaugural PK 80 Invitational in Portland, honoring the 80th birthday of Nike founder Phil Knight. It should hardly be necessary to mention that all 16 participating teams, including No. 17 Gonzaga, wear Nike sneakers and apparel. More on the Swoosh tourney later.
First, it’s fitting to note that this will be the 40th and final Great Alaska Shootout in Anchorage. Shed a tear if you will. Many, in fact. This is the longest-running regular-season college basketball tournament in the country, and Santa Clara has a place at the table.
Coach Herb Sendek’s Broncos will play Idaho on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. If Santa Clara vanquishes the Vandals, it will move on to face the Cal State Bakersfield-University of Alaska-Anchorage winner on Friday night. The championship game is Saturday night. Other teams in the tournament include Cal Poly, Central Michigan, College of Charleston and Sam Houston State.
Before the season started, Sendek mentioned status of the Great Alaska Shootout as the oldest college basketball tournament held in the regular season, founded in 1978, and noted that Idaho is favored to win the Big Sky Conference.
Over four decades, the Shootout exposed many people in the Lower 48 to the wonders of the 49th state. Alas, finances and budget considerations forced officials at host Alaska-Anchorage to decide that the 40th year of the tournament would also be its last.
“The Shootout has been an iconic event at UAA for 40 years, but unfortunately, we cannot sustain our funding of this tournament in the current budget climate,’’ said UAA Chancellor Sam Gingerich.
UAA athletic director Tim McDiffett was more specific, saying, “Last year, the expenses were about $850,000 and the gross receipts were about $380,000. We lost about $470,000 last year.’’
Added Sea Wolves coach Rusty Osborne, “It hurts, but I’m also a realist. I understand the financial situation our state is in, and I support the core mission of our school, which is student success.’’
So, shed a frozen tear for the Great Alaska Shootout.
Way down south in the Rose City, Gonzaga and host Portland will take part in perhaps the gaudiest of all the holiday tournaments. The PK80 features two brackets of eight teams each, assigned the somewhat perplexing names of Motion and Victory.
Assigned to the Motion bracket, Gonzaga will open on Thanksgiving night against Ohio State. Should the No. 17 Zags motion themselves past the Buckeyes, they will face the Florida-Stanford winner on Friday night. Other teams in the Motion bracket are Butler, Duke, Portland State and Texas.
The Victory bracket, featuring host Portland, includes North Carolina, Arkansas, Oklahoma, UConn, Oregon, Michigan State and DePaul. Coach Terry Porter’s Pilots are up first in a game against mighty North Carolina on at 11:30 a.m., when that turkey is roasting in the oven. Unless Portland pulls off an epic upset, it will play the Arkansas-Oklahoma loser on Friday afternoon.
The PK80 does not crown an overall champion. Instead, it offers up on Sunday the survivors of the Victory bracket at 5:30 p.m. and the survivors of the Motion bracket at 7:30. That could potentially be quite a lower-case final four of Michigan State-North Carolina followed by Gonzaga-Duke to wrap up Thanksgiving week.
Coach Mark Few’s Zags always play a quality non-conference schedule and do not shy away from anyone. This will be a significant test for the kind of team Gonzaga hopes it will be by season’s end.
In contrast, the Wooden Legacy in Anaheim does decide an overall winner among the eight teams invited: No. 21 Saint Mary’s, San Diego State, Georgia, Harvard, Sacramento State, St. Joseph’s, Washington State and host Cal State Fullerton.
The Gaels play Harvard on Thanksgiving at 1 p.m., when that big bird in the oven is almost done. If Saint Mary’s wins, it will face the St. Joseph’s-Washington State winner on Friday. After a day off on Saturday, the winner there will move on to Sunday’s final, setting up a potential championship match between Saint Mary’s and San Diego State in a holiday weekend nightcap when the old belt is loosened and the couch beckons.
In Brooklyn, hometown of fictional Gotham bus driver Ralph Kramden as played by Jackie Gleason in “The Honeymooners,’’ the Barclays Center Classic is not so much a classic as a four-team invitational on Saturday and Sunday. BYU plays Alabama on Friday along with Minnesota-UMass. The dance partners switch up on Saturday with BYU facing UMass and Alabama taking on Minnesota.
Four of the other five teams in the WCC are busy this week as well, just not in tournaments. Loyola Marymount travels to Incarnate Word on Wednesday, Pacific hosts Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Friday while Pepperdine is at Texas. On Saturday, LMU is at Boise State, San Diego is at Grand Canyon and Pacific hosts Texas State. The Tigers have another home game on Sunday afternoon when Canisius comes to the Spanos Center.
Only San Francisco is taking the week off after defeating Sonoma State 78-55 on Tuesday night. The Dons return to the court on the 28th vs. UC Santa Barbara.
By Monday morning, nine of the 10 WCC men’s teams will know a lot more about who they are and what they need to do as the schedule is about to transition from November to December.