The Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic is pleased to announce the Championship pairings for this year's event, to be held Dec. 22 and 23, 2013 at the beautiful Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. Always one of the best holiday tournaments in the country, the 2013 Classic is no exception. The 2013 Field includes Santa Clara, UNLV of the Mountain West Conference, Mississippi State of the Southeastern Conference, South Florida of the American Athletic Conference (formerly the Big East), Florida Gulf Coast University, Florida A&M University, Radford University and Sacred Heart University.
Santa Clara will play UNLV on Dec. 22 as the final game that day. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 pm. The winner of the SCU/UNLV game will play the winner of the Mississippi State/South Florida game on Dec. 23 at 7:30 pm. The losers will play at 5 pm on the same night. The first two rounds will be played at Santa Clara the week before with teams to be announced at a later date.
Always one of the top early season tournaments of the college basketball season, past champions of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic include Kansas State (2008), Alabama (2009), New Mexico (2010) and Baylor (2011). The 2012 tourney was won by Colorado State, who defeated Virginia Tech 88-52 in the championship game.
Each team will play four games in the Classic – the first two at on-campus sites and the final two rounds at the Orleans Arena December 22-23. Hosting more than 200 events each year, the Orleans Arena is located just west of the Las Vegas strip and was recently named the #1 mid-size arena in the USA by Venues Today magazine. It is also the site of the West Coast Conference Championship once again in 2014.
Santa Clara, coming off its 2013 championship in the College Basketball Invitational (CBI), returns two starters – senior guard Evan Roquemore (12.0 ppg, 5.2 assists) and junior forward Yannick Atanga (2.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg). Santa Clara had the biggest turnaround among NCAA Division I schools in 2012-13 and finished with a national RPI rating of 68. The Broncos won 26 games and finished fourth in the highly-competitive West Coast Conference, won by #1-ranked Gonzaga.
Under then first-year coach Dave Rice, UNLV won the championship game of the 2011 Las Vegas Invitational at the Orleans Arena defeating #1 North Carolina 90-80. That victory propelled the Rebels to a 26-9 record in 2011-12 and a 25-10 mark last year. UNLV has now made four straight NCAA Tournament appearances and six in the last seven years, a mark only 11 other teams in the nation have matched in that span.
While 6-8 Anthony Bennett (16.1 ppg, 8.1 rpg) went No. 1 overall in last month's NBA draft, the Runnin'Rebels return several players that will continue their up-tempo, aggressive style of basketball in 2013-14. Bryce Dejean-Jones (10.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg), a 6-5 junior will lead the backcourt, while 6-9 junior Khem Birch (7.2ppg, 5.7 rpg) will anchor the frontcourt.
Under the direction of second-year coach Rick Ray, Mississippi State returns all five starters from a year ago. Included in that mix are guard Craig Sword and forward Gavin Ware, who were named to the SEC All-Freshman team. Sword paced the Bulldogs with his 10.5 scoring clip and was second with 55 steals, while Ware was tops with his 6.4 rebounds per outing.
Florida Gulf Coast (Ft. Myers, FL) won 14 of their last 17 games and captured the attention of the nation when they became the first #15 seed to advance to the Sweet 16 in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. America's Cinderella team of the year, FGCU first held classes in 1997 and started an intercollegiate basketball program in 2002. Their first full season in NCAA Division I was 2011.
Aptly nicknamed "Dunk City" for their ability to finish above the rim (the team recorded 148 dunks during the season), the Eagles defeated second-seed Georgetown 78-68 and seventh-seed San Diego State 81-71 before losing to Florida 62-50 in the Sweet 16. The Eagles finished the year with a 26-11 record and were ranked 25th nationally in the final poll.
While senior guard Sherwood Brown has graduated, the visible leaders of "Dunk City" return under new head coach Joe Dooley, a long time Kansas assistant. Dunk City 'Mayor' Chase Fielder, a 6-8 senior forward (12.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 48 blocks), led the team with 60 dunks last season. Dunk City 'Conductor' Brett Comer, a 6-3 junior guard (8.1 ppg, 6.6 assists), returns as the team's floor general. Junior guard Bernard Thompson (14.3 ppg, 2.7 steals), the Atlantic Sun Conference's defensive player of the year, and 6-9 junior forward Eric McKnight (6.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg) also return.