Handicapping the CBI
by Trevor Whenham - 03/17/2008
For the last several years, everyone has gone crazy over the NCAA Tournament, and completely ignored the NIT. For some reason, the Gazelle Group, the event organizers that bring us preseason tournaments like the CBE Classic and the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, have decided that what the world really needs is another postseason tournament that no one cares about. To that end, they have created the College Basketball Invitational. This is a place for 16 more teams that wish they were in the real tournament to keep playing a little while longer.
The 16 teams are seeded into four groups of four, and the games are played on the home courts of the higher seeds. For the most part it looks like any other tournament, but the organizers have added a couple of wrinkles in an ultimately doomed attempt to capture some interest. The first is that the teams are reseeded for the semi-finals, so better teams are rewarded and upstarts face a tougher road. The other big difference is that the finals are a best-of-three series played over five days. The first and third game are on the court of the higher seed, and the middle game is played at the lower seed. That could add an interesting and unique dynamic to college basketball, or it could just be two much exposure for tired and overexposed teams.
Make no mistake - this is not a tournament full of top teams. Unlike the NIT, which is full of bubble teams that could have had an argument for NCAA Tournament inclusion, these 16 teams had to give up on their tournament dreams months ago. Though the tournament eventually wants to be seen as a legitimate alternative to the NIT, this year most of the teams are here because they couldn't make the NIT field. The four top seeds are Washington, Virginia, UTEP and Bradley. Those four combine for an underwhelming 65-55 record, and are just 56-56 ATS.
I've been a bit negative about this tournament, but that doesn't mean that it isn't worth a bit of attention. The first round takes place the same two days as the first round of the NIT, and the two days before the tournament starts. In other words, no one will be paying any attention to it at all. That means that there could be some value available if you do pay attention because the lines could be soft. Before you get two excited about it, though, you need to adjust your thinking a little bit. It's hard to imagine that any team will be very excited about playing in the tournament. That means that motivation will be a huge factor. Teams that have had attitude problems or have been inconsistent in the past could be disastrous here.
The most interesting first round game is Houston at Nevada. The hosts have Marcellus Kemp, a very solid player with real tournament experience from playing with Nick Fazekas. Houston has a very decent player of their own in Rob McKiver, a scoring machine who transferred to Houston after a year at Providence. Both teams can score a lot of points, and neither have any interest in defense, so it could get a bit crazy.
Richmond and Virginia play in another game that could be somewhat interesting. The Spiders were seasoned by a decent run in the tough A-10, and had nice wins over Temple and Dayton. Outside of the conference they had a solid win over Virginia Tech and they easily covered the huge spread they faced against Memphis. To win they will have to find a way to contain Sean Singletary, the underrated senior guard for the Cavaliers. He has been scoring particularly well for the last month or so.