History shows success in the College Basketball Invitational can be a catalyst to more success in subsequent years.
Coastal Carolina hopes it will be able to close out a championship this week, then follow the paths of recent CBI winners in the coming seasons.
Virginia Commonwealth won the CBI title in 2010 and reached the Final Four in 2011. Nevada won the title last year and won the Mountain West Conference regular-season and tournament titles this season before losing to Iowa State in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
Other examples include Fresno State winning in 2014 and reaching the NCAA tournament in 2016, and Oregon winning in coach Dana Altman’s first season in 2011 and reaching the Sweet 16 two years later.
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“It shows how we’re growing as a team and as a program altogether,” junior guard Jaylen Shaw said of CCU’s run to the CBI final series.
The Chanticleers (19-17) will face Wyoming (21-14) of the Mountain West Conference in the best-of-three finals series, and will host the opening game at 7:30 p.m. Monday. Wyoming, which defeated Utah Valley 74-68 Wednesday, will host the final game or two. Each game will be broadcast live on the ESPNU cable network.
“Our players have done the job,” CCU coach Cliff Ellis said. “When it comes here, we’ve got to show what it’s all about. This affects recruiting and affects everything we do. … You can’t put a face value on ESPN.
“It means a lot. It enhances our recruiting. Recruits now get to watch us play, they get to see us, and our players get to try to win another championship.”
Game 2 in Laramie, Wyo., will be at 9 p.m. (EST) Wednesday and Game 3, if needed, will be played at 7 p.m. Friday. Roy Philpott and Corey Williams will call the action for ESPNU.
The 16-team CBI is the only Division I postseason tournament in the country that determines its champion with a series.
“I think it’s pretty cool,” senior guard Colton Ray-St.-Cyr said. “Professionals do that, they play series, and it probably shows who the better team is without any lucky wins. In a three-game series I think we’re good enough to win two out of three, so I like the format.”
Because the two teams will play two games in three nights and possibly three games in five, there’s a chance for increased competitiveness and animosity between the players.
“To be honest with you, this is a first for me,” Ellis said. “It’s going to be a lot of traveling. Teams are going to be making a lot of adjustments. … Everybody is going to know everybody. It’s going to be interesting. This is a first for me, so I’ve got to kind of figure it out myself. Of all the things I’ve done this is an alley that I’ve not been through. We’ll take it and make the most of it.”
How the teams respond to travel could be a factor. The schools are more than 1,800 miles apart, Wyoming will have to fly twice within a few days, and the teams will travel on their lone off day between the first two games.
CCU has increased its travel considerably after moving from the Big South Conference to the Sun Belt this season, and additionally made a similar trip in November, traveling to BYU in Utah for an 81-65 loss on Nov. 19 and to Las Vegas for an 83-68 win over Southern Utah on Nov. 21.
“We’re pretty tired of traveling. We’ve been traveling it seems like all year,” Ray-St. Cyr said. “We’ve been to Utah and that was tough. I know Wyoming won’t be much different. But … we’re going to get ready to play.”
Wyoming finished seventh in the 11-team MWC with an 8-10 conference record and lost to 10th-seeded Air Force in the first round of the conference tournament.
Like CCU, the Cowboys won three CBI home games to advance to the tournament finals, improving to an impressive 17-3 at home this season to go with a 3-9 road record and 1-2 record in neutral-site games. They have defeated Eastern Washington, Missouri-Kansas City and Utah Valley to reach the final.
The Chanticleers are 14-6 at home, 3-10 on the road and 2-1 at neutral sites. They tied for sixth in the conference at 10-8 and lost in the second round of the conference tournament to regular-season champion Texas-Arlington.
The Chants have been led in scoring in the CBI by Shaw, who has scored 22 points in each game, and all five starters have reached double-figure in scoring in two of the three games. Junior forward Demario Beck recorded his ninth double-double of the season in Wednesday’s semifinal win over Illinois-Chicago with 18 points and 10 rebounds.
Senior guard Elijah Wilson, coming off a 16-point game, is third in CCU career scoring with 1,856 points and is just 27 points behind Jack Leasure in second.
“Conference really tested us,” Ray-St. Cyr said. “Being in a new conference we had to overcome a lot of adversity. Not really knowing how we were going to fare. We won 11 games and that was good, and the conference tournament was pretty tough on us. I think now, with all the losses we’ve had and all the wins we learned a lot and I think this probably is the best basketball we’ve been playing.”
The Cowboys – playing in the CBI for the fifth time – are long and athletic, and four Cowboys average double-figures scoring led by 6-7 sophomore guard Justin James at 16 points per game and including 6-5 senior guard Jason McManamen, 6-9 junior forward Alan Herndon and 6-8 junior forward Hayden Dalton, who also averages 8.3 rebounds and a block per game.
James, McManamen and Herndon each average more than 2 assists per game, as does junior guard Jeremy Lieberman.
The 2017 CBI has featured experimental rules pertaining to time, fouls and free throws. The National Invitation Tournament (NIT) is also playing under the rules at the request of the NCAA, which will analyze their impact and consider implementing them into play in future seasons.
To speed up play, the 30-second shot clock will either remain the same or be set to 20 seconds rather than 30 seconds when a ball is inbounded in the frontcourt and a reset is warranted.
There are no one-and-one bonus free throw situations. In 20-minute halves, teams are allowed four fouls in 10-minute spans before an opponent shoots two free throws on the fifth and subsequent fouls. Team fouls reset to zero after each 10-minute span.
Each of CCU’s three CBI games have finished in around 2 hours or less.
“It does make the game quicker. There are not as many foul shots and fans kind of like that,” Ellis said. “There’s a lot more basketball with this rule because you’re having to bring the ball in and play basketball as opposed to going to the free throw line and shooting free throws.”
The CBI has used experimental rules in the past. In 2015, its rules included a 30-second shot clock rather than the standard 35-second clock at the time, and the NCAA adopted it beginning in the 2015-16 season.
“Because the NCAA puts those rules out there, there’s a pretty good chance they will be adopted,” said Ray Cella, CBI director of media relations. “It gives the teams a chance to play by those rules. It gives the NCAA data to analyze, and we’ve had no push-back from any of the teams.”