Live from Charleston, the Cancun Challenge

I’m still amused (or perhaps bemused) by the format of the Cancun Challenge.  Basically, it’s a four-team tournament with guests…

Vanderbilt, Virginia Commonwealth, New Mexico, and Drake are in the actual bracketing for the tournament.  Drake-Vandy and VCU-New Mexico are the first round matchups, with the winners and losers playing each other the next day.  All of that makes sense.

What doesn’t make a lot of sense is that six other teams are part of the Challenge, but won’t compete in the mini-tourney outlined above.  Those six schools are The Citadel, Grambling State, Central Arkansas, South Dakota State, Central Florida, and Morehead State.

Basically, what happens in this “tournament” is that the Vandy-VCU-UNM-Drake group each host two games in the U.S. against two opponents from the six-pack mentioned in the previous paragraph.  It doesn’t really matter which two, because they don’t impact the tournament brackets for any team.  Then all ten teams will go to Cancun, with the four host schools playing an actual tournament while the remaining squads play two pre-determined matchups against other members of the “lesser six”.  The Citadel, for example, will play Central Arkansas and Grambling State in Cancun.

Further confusing things is that there were only eight available spots for the six-pack against the “fab four” in those U.S.-based matchups, so a couple of teams had to play “filler” schools for their second game.  The Citadel thus needed another opponent as part of the Challenge, and Cincinnati Christian is it.

All of this is an effort to cram as many games into an official tournament as possible, because they all count as two games (instead of four) for scheduling purposes.

At any rate, the bottom line is that The Citadel plays Cincinnati Christian tonight.  This will be the first time the two schools have met in hoops.  Cincinnati Christian is an NCCAA school (like Grace Bible College, the opponent in The Citadel’s season opener) and is also a member of NAIA Division II.  CCU, which has about 1100 students, is a member of the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, which includes schools such as Asbury, Berea, Alice Lloyd, and the St. Louis College of Pharmacy.  (The Citadel has played Asbury twice in recent years, winning those two games by scores of 75-48 and 81-60.)  I am not sure, but I think this is Cincinnati Christian’s first year in the KIAC.  In a preseason poll listed on the KIAC website, the Eagles are picked to finish next-to-last in the league, just ahead of SLCOP.

The Bulldogs will be the first of two Division I opponents for Cincinnati Christian this season.  The Eagles will also play Liberty in late December.  The Flames were the opponent the last time CCU played a D-1 team, which was two years ago, Liberty winning 101-65.  Liberty and Cincinnati Christian also met the year before that, an 81-51 triumph for the Flames.

Cincinnati Christian was 23-14 last season.  CCU had been the top seed in the NCCAA national tournament, but lost in the quarterfinals.  Two games later, the Eagles finished their season by winning a consolation game against none other than Grace Bible College, 104-87.  That was the 40th time the two schools had met on the court, with CCU winning 33 of those contests.

This season Cincinnati Christian is 4-1, with victories over Ohio Chillocothe, Kuyper College, Boyce College, and Kentucky Christian, the last two wins coming after the lone loss, 104-67 to Mount Vernon (OH) Nazarene.  Mount Vernon Nazarene was the preseason #3 team in NAIA Division II.

It’s hard to get a read on CCU when you examine the box scores from its first five games.  The Eagles’ first three games were played at a breakneck pace (82, 91, and 92 possessions).  That included an easy win, a close win, and a blowout loss (the 92-possession game).  Then either the Eagles or their opponents lowered the throttle, as the last two games have been played at a more normal pace (71 and 73 possessions).  CCU has occasionally been turnover-prone, but has also forced its fair share of TOs.

The best player for the Eagles is probably Trenton Calloway, a 6’6″, 260 lb. center averaging 15.6 points (on 71% shooting) and 9.8 rebounds per game.  Calloway is not a good free throw shooter (38%).  Chris Scott, a 6’0″ guard, is averaging 11.2 points per game and 4.4 assists per game.  Scott also averages over 3 turnovers per game, as opposed to Tommy McGuire, a 5’10” guard who has almost as many assists as Scott (22 to 18) but has a solid 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.  The Eagles don’t have much of a rebounding presence aside from Calloway.  Their other frontcourt players include Drew Ellis, a slender (215 lbs.) 6’7″ forward, and 6’9″, 265 lb. center Luke Mace.  CCU has played at least 12 guys in each game, incidentally.

That’s about all I have on Cincinnati Christian.  The Bulldogs should win this game, and I believe they will.  I expect a more coherent performance than in The Citadel’s win over Grace Bible College.  I think if the Bulldogs stay within themselves and avoid turnovers, victory should be assured.

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