Purdue was such a disappointment this year that the NIT would have been a step up. No, this year the Boilermaker freshmen will be cutting their postseason teeth in the CBI. It’s an embarrassment and I am fully ashamed of being in this tournament. But, those with the power have decided it would best for Purdue, so I’m going along with it.
The CBI (short for College Basketball Invitational) is run by The Gazelle Group. I have absolutely no idea what the Gazelle Group does outside of creating postseason college tournaments to add to an already bloated NCAA and NIT field, but it does some good, I suppose. This is the seventh tournament. The past winners have been (in order) Tulsa, Oregon State, VCU, Oregon, and Pittsburgh. Schools you’ve heard of, certainly, but hardly powerhouses.
The format is just slightly funky, so here’s the deal. It’s a sixteen team tournament. It goes like you would expect, single elimination all the way through. Until you hit the championship, where it’s suddenly a best of three series. Why the sudden format change? I have no idea. That isn’t explained anywhere I can find.
In any case, the first tournament had about as many teams turn down the invitation as actually played in the tournament. When all the dust settled, the “power conference” teams involved were Virginia, Cincinnati, and Washington. Virginia was the only one of those teams to advance out the first round, getting to the semis. The championship came down to Bradley and Tulsa, where Tusla won in three games. Apparently all those games were played on the respective home floors in Tulsa and Peoria just
like a professional team would, which is actually kind of impressive that they would spring for that kind of travel.
The next year, the “BCS” teams were St. John’s,*Oregon State, and Stanford. Those teams did a little better, which only St. John’s bowing out in the first round, and they were the four seed facing number one Richmond that year, so it sure wasn’t an upset. Oregon State and Stanford met in the semis, with Oregon State advancing to face UTEP in the finals, with the Beavers winning in three games.
*Okay, so they don’t play football, but they’re part of the Big East, which is still a BCS member for now. And was at the time.
In 2010, there were only two BCS teams with Oregon State (the defending champion) and Princeton (who is in the same boat as St. John’s). Oregon State got bounced as a one seed in the first round by Boston* while Princeton made the semis before bowing out. Saint Louis** and VCU squared off in the final, where VCU won in two. VCU was a known team then, they’d upset Duke and would make a run to the final four the next year, routing the most dispirited and demoralized Purdue team I’d ever seen in the process.
*The Terriers of Boston University, not the Eagles of Boston College.
**For reasons I don’t understand, apparently Saint Louis University is very particular about spelling out the Saint. St. Louis is good enough for every other team in the area, though.
2011 saw only Oregon from the BCS schools, and they went on to win the whole thing, culminating in a three-game series over Creighton. This I think was when I learned that the CBI even existed, and I’m sure why I got the impression that it was meant for small schools to get a chance to showcase themselves outside of the Big Dance. I mostly remember that because the Evansville coach was talking about the tournament on the radio, hoping to get into it. They did, and lost in the second round to
Last year’s edition saw a few more bigger schools. Oregon State and Princeton returned, and Pittsburgh and Washington State made their first appearances. It should be noted that Butler fell into the CBI last year, too. And those four teams were your final four in this tournament, leading to a three game series that the Pitt Panthers pulled out over the Cougars of Washington State.
Now that you know damned near everything there is to know about this tournament, let’s take a look at what Purdue is facing this year. Purdue and Texas are the only BCS schools this year, but you probably remember George Mason from their recent March runs on the big stage as well. Purdue kicks off by facing Western Illinois, who went 22-8 this year out of the Summit League. The Leathernecks* tied for the regular tournament championship, but fell in the semis of their conference tournament. Purdue has
never lost to WIU and never really been particularly close. But Purdue usually isn’t this bad, either. As a side note, Wabash played a disc tournament at Western Illinois, and they were one of the most jerk-filled teams we ever played. So Purdue beating them would carry a little bit of personal satisfaction.
Anyway, if Purdue wins that game, they’ll get the winner of Vermont and Santa Clara. Santa Clara was 21-11 this year and only 9-7 in the WCC. As we discussed when going over Gonzaga earlier, the WCC is not exactly murder’s row. Vermont has an identical overall record, but went 11-5 in the America East. Also not exactly a great league. I would have to imagine that Purdue would be able to beat either of these teams if they play anything resembling what they looked like during the Big Ten season. Even that half-assed effort against Nebraska would likely be enough to get that done.
Now, in the semis, teams are reseeded, so it’s hard to say who Purdue would get at this point. Without knowing too much about any of these teams, I would guess that Texas would come out of their portion, though George Mason is dangerous and I think the College of Charleston had a big win early in the season. But I’ll stick with Texas. In the next portion, my gut tells me Richmond will win. They were only 8-8 in conference, but the Atlantic 10 is a darned good league. That last spot I would guess would go to Wyoming, mostly because they were in the Mountain West and by some numbers, the Mountain West was even better than the Big Ten. Even so, they only won four conference games, so I’m the least confident in that one.
Out of that group, I still think Purdue is the best team. Yeah, it’s the worst Purdue team in several years, but this is a soft tournament. And Purdue has the excuse of playing in the toughest conference in the land. And, honestly, they looked a hundred times better in league play than they did beforehand. And they had looked really good in the games leading up to that Nebraska disappointment. Here’s to hoping they play more like the team that should have beaten Michigan and stomped Minnesota.
But, if we do win this thing, I would be just fine in skipping the whole banner thing.