This year’s tournament is being held amid a pandemic. Frisco, the host city has its first couple of cases of COVID-19, also known as coronavirus. It is a shame, of course, as North Texas is having an incredible season and the local fanbase would otherwise be excited and willing to come and support the show.
The MAC, Ivy League, and Big West all cancelled or restricted the attendance at their tournaments out of caution but no such decree has been announced (as of yet) for the combined men’s and women’s tournament in Frisco today.
In Italy, they have practically shutdown the northern part of the country and shutdown many professional leagues. There is sound reasoning behind it. See the video about the exponential spread here.
The cloud hanging over the tournament is one that extends from the broader sport overall. The league tournament cancellations are one thing, the billion-dollar haul that is the NCAA Tournament is quite the other. States and cities are exercising their autonomy — Washington state banned gatherings over 250 people — and that may mean the tournament organizers may not have the first say. Meanwhile the NIH director says no large crowds should be avoided and if that means the “NBA games will be empty then so be it.”
That is a prelude to the CUSA Tourney itself. The Hoops at the Star production is nice, friendly, and the people that organize it try to put on a good show within the limits of their constraints. Your Friendly Author has been to the tournament both times it has been in Frisco and enjoyed the experience as both a fan of the game and as a media member covering the event. (This year budget cuts and competing interests will mean we will cover the game from afar).
C-USA suffers from a lack of respect that is not undue. The best of the league is not overly impressive compared to the rest of the nation and there are few runs deep into the tournament in recent years that stand out. The last time anyone passed the second round was 2013 Memphis, in a decidedly different era of the league.
This season the North Texas Mean Green play an exciting kind of basketball. They have a star point guard and the tournament lines up nicely — WKU and Tech are on the other side of the bracket — and a good North Texas has always been a missing piece of the Frisco experience.
Will that crowd show up for NT like they would otherwise? Will it matter? Basketball is a spectator sport and we will be losing at least some portion of the fans to caution.
FAU and ODU battle for the right to take on North Texas tomorrow. ODU is still methodical and still defense-focused but is not as offensively talented as they were last year. Xavier Green, last tournament’s MVP, is still good but is struggling to be the one and only bucket-getter. FAU has the kind of size to battle the Monarchs and these two teams went to OT the last time they played. This will be a drag out fight that may be more fun to watch in person than on TV.
FIU and Rice will run up-and-down the court for the right to play Charlotte tomorrow. Both teams play a tempo that can either be counter-productive in a tournament setting, or a game-changer. It’s high-variance and that sometimes works.
UTSA and UAB will compete for the right to take on WKU. Neither has a big chance in this tournament but it may be one of our last opportunities to see Jhivvan Jackson do something impressive. He missed the first Frisco tourney and last year played fine before the Runners flames out vs Southern Miss. UAB is favored slightly but they do not stand much of a chance to win and then get passed WKU. UAB is sufficiently average compared to the league that we can expect anything. They have beaten WKU and UTSA this season.
Finally we have UTEP and Marshall. The winner here will play Tech. The Miners’ influx of talent put them on a lot of preseason lists and they have translated that to some solid defense and bad offense. Marshall is talented but not as much as they were the last two seasons. The Herd offense struggles but the defense is really good (wait we are not talking Herd football, right?) Marshall beat both UTEP and Tech (in OT) this season. The Miners lost to both Marshall and Tech.
Beyond that know that Tech, WKU, and NT are really good teams. Charlotte is well-coached and will cause problems for at least a little bit. They are about a year away from having a great chance but I can certainly see a way for them to win this thing. North Texas relies a ton on their guards for shooting and is a bit undersized. WKU is talented and basically had NT beat on the road before missing some free throws.
Tech and NT traded buzzer beaters in both games this season and and each won on the road. WKU beat NT in Kentucky but lost in Denton. Tech lost both to WKU but by a combined 5 points.
This tournament — and college basketball in general — is wide open.