Small Conference Games of the Day – December 29 and 30

Dr. Pepper Classic, Chattanooga, Tennessee

Sunday, December 29
4:30 PM Eastern: Maine vs Middle Tennessee (no TV)
7:00 PM Eastern: Grand Canyon at Chattanooga (no TV)

Monday, December 30
4:30 PM Eastern: Third Place Game (no TV)
7:00 PM Eastern: Championship Game (no TV)

The SCGD take the choo-choo to Chattanooga, Tennessee today and tomorrow for the last bracketed event of the season before conference tournaments, the Dr. Pepper Classic hosted by the Chattanooga Mocs.  This non-exempt four team tournament kicks off today with its semifinals as Maine battles Middle Tennessee followed by Grand Canyon taking on host school Chattanooga.  The third place game will be Monday at 4:30 PM, followed by the championship at 7:00 PM.

Maine enters the tournament at 1-9 on the season, with the Black Bears lone win coming over non-D1 Fisher College.  They have already lost twice to NJIT as well as suffering a home loss to a bad Army team.  Maine is presently ranked #345 in the KenPom, #317 in the RPI and #348 in the BPI.  Quite simply, this had been a disastrous season so far and the Black Bears are the clear “favorites” for a fourth place finish in this event.  Barring a miraculous turnaround in America East play, this will not be the year Maine makes it to their first ever NCAA tournament.  The State of Maine is the only state in the nation that has a Division I program and has never placed a team into the NCAA tournament (Alaska has also never had a team in the Big Dance, but has no D1 teams).

While Maine is clearly the weakest of the four teams in this field, Middle Tennessee is clearly the favorite to win it.  The Blue Raiders are 8-4 so far without a bad loss (although also without much in terms of wins either).  MTSU is not good enough to be under at-large consideration barring a complete domination of Conference USA — which is unlikely with the likes of Louisiana Tech, UAB, Southern Miss and Charlotte to deal with.  However, Kermit Davis has a solid team that should be in some form of postseason play this year, most likely the CBI or CIT.

Grand Canyon is not going to be playing postseason basketball this year no matter what they do as they are an ineligible transitional team in their first year of Division I play.  Dan Majerele should be able to build this program quickly though, and it would not be a shock to see them in the NCAA tournament within a few years of gaining eligibility.  The Lopes are 5-6 so far on the season, though 3 of the wins are over non-D1 foes.  They have been competitive though, losing by 3 to Loyola Marymount, 1 to Tulsa and 2 to Northern Arizona.  Unfortunately, the Lopes had some tough news this week as their top player, Demetrius Walker (formerly of both Arizona State and New Mexico) was dismissed from the team along with Jeff Lowery for “violation of team rules.”  Guard Justin Foreman, who was also a solid contributor so far, was suspended indefinitely as well.  The losses of these three players will make it difficult for Grand Canyon the rest of the season, though the SCGD still picks them to finish at least third in this event.

Finally, the host Chattanooga Mocs enter the tournament at 4-8 on the season, but with only one D1 win, a victory over IUPUI.  They have already suffered several bad losses including Northern Kentucky, Kennesaw State and the lowly Georgia Bulldogs.  That being said, the Mocs could pick up some momentum in their host event before starting conference play next Saturday.  With the Southern Conference appearing to be wide open in light of Davidson’s struggles so far, there is no reason that even the Mocs can have a shot at contending for the league’s lone tournament bid.

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