The sixth annual Old Spice Classic college basketball tournament tips off Thursday at ESPN's Wide World of Sports, but fans already may have gotten a preview of Sunday's championship game.
Two of the tourney favorites have to be Fairfield, of the tournament's host Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, and the Big Ten's Minnesota.
Fairfield (2-2) went on the road to visit the Golden Gophers (4-0) last week and came away with a 10-point loss, but that was in the hostile environs of Williams Arena on the Minnesota campus. If the two teams meet this weekend, it will be Sunday (7 p.m., ESPN2) at the neutral HP Arena.
This could be the best chance the MAAC entrant has had to compete for the championship since Marist finished the inaugural tourney in third place in 2006. Fairfield's other loss was to Providence 80-72.
"It's definitely wide open, and Fairfield certainly has to be one of the contenders," tournament media coordinator Charley Green said. "They won their conference last year in the regular season and have already played a tough schedule this season. They went up to Minnesota and lost by just 10, and they have also played Providence and Holy Cross, so they have already gotten their feet wet."
The tournament opens Thanksgiving Day play with Texas Tech facing Indiana State at noon, followed by Minnesota and DePaul at 2:30. The Thursday night session features Dayton and Wake Forest at 7, and the nightcap of Fairfield and Arizona State at 9:30.
Dayton is another top candidate to win this tournament after winning the NIT a year ago, while Indiana State returns its top three leading scorers from last year's Missouri Valley tournament champs, and Wake Forest's 8-24 record from last season could be quite misleading.
Tubby Smith, better known for his time at Kentucky, is in his fifth season as head coach of the Gophers and leads an interesting lineup of coaches on the sidelines. Billy Gillispie brings Texas Tech to Orlando, his second stop after a short-lived stay in Kentucky, where he had the task of replacing Smith. A pair of former ACC coaches also will be leading newer teams as former NC State coach Herb Sendek now coaches at Arizona State and former Clemson coach Oliver Purnell is in his first season at DePaul.
"These are teams who have good history and who have been heard from in the past with a lot of coaches who have been heard from in the past and will surely be heard from again in the future," Green said. "As is usual in this early-season event, nobody is really sure what to expect and it should be very interesting and very competitive."
In Minnesota's victory over Fairfield last week, the Gophers relied heavily, as they will all season, on a big frontcourt of 6-foot-8 Trevor Mbakwe (20 points, 10 rebounds) and Ralph Sampson III (8 points), although Sampson did not play particularly well. Sampson is the son of former Virginia all-American and NBA flop Ralph Sampson II.
Fairfield is led by its guard play, which will be paced all season by Boston College transfer Rakim Sanders. The Stags also have a 7-footer in Ryan Olander, but he's a project and frail of frame, listed at just 220 pounds. Both players had 14 points at Minnesota. Guard Derek Needham is the Stags leading scorer. He averaged 16 last season.
Wake Forest actually has two 7-footers in sophomore Carson Desrosiers and senior center Ty Walker, while Arizona State also has a skyscraper in 7-foot-2 Jordan Bachynski, Other players to watch this weekend will be Dayton's Chris Johnson, the NIT MVP last spring, and Wake guard Travis McKie, an ACC all-freshman pick last season.Copyright © 2015, CT Now