A Taste of March in November

While the actual tournament doesn't begin for another seven weeks, it is reasonable to see why the excitement is already building for the 2006 College Basketball Experience Classic in Kansas City. Marquette has known for quite some time that they would be participants in the sixteen team field, but just this week, the brackets were finalized by the Gazelle Group, who sponsors the tournament.

While the actual tournament doesn't begin for another seven weeks, it is reasonable to see why the excitement is already building for the 2006 College Basketball Experience Classic in Kansas City. Marquette has known for quite some time that they would be participants in the sixteen team field, but just this week, the brackets were finalized by the Gazelle Group, who sponsors the tournament. Marquette was named one of four "host" schools, along with Stanford, Duke, and Texas Tech, who will play mini-tournaments in their home arenas for the right to advance to Kansas City.

Last season, the CBE Classic, formally known as the Guardians Classic, saw Texas defeat Iowa in the finals as part of a very strong tournament. In addition to putting the CBE Classic together, the Gazelle Group also sponsors tournaments such as the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic and the Black Coaches Association Classic, two tournaments that the Golden Eagles have recently participated in. This season, the Gazelle Group has compiled another strong field for the CBE, and is excited about having the up and coming Marquette team as a host school. Rick Giles, who is the president of the company, reiterated how happy he was to have Marquette back in one of the Gazelle Group's tournaments.

"Tom(Crean) has obviously done such a great job with the program," said Giles. "Marquette is a great basketball school and they bring a lot of passion and energy to our tournaments. We thoroughly enjoy working with Marquette, from the administration all the way down to the alumni groups."

It is Giles and his staff who have the task of putting the tournament fields together for each Gazelle Group sponsored tournament. A lot of work goes into finding the right mix of teams that represent every area of the country. According to Giles, this year's tournament could feature some interesting match-ups, but he warns that no games in his tournaments should be overlooked.

"We have found that the format we use is really successful. Every school comes to play at the host site with the full intention of winning and advancing. We have seen many schools pass over the other teams, but I do not want anyone to make the assumption that the host schools make it every season. Last season, one of the host schools didn't make it. I think that says a lot about the quality of the teams that participate."

In looking at the field this year for the CBE Classic, most people would agree that Duke and Marquette should be the favorites to advance to the finals in Kansas City. However, several other strong teams are in the field. Besides Stanford and Texas Tech, who both come from major conferences and are regarded as generally strong programs, Air Force and Detroit are other schools who could make some noise. Air Force made the 2006 NCAA tournament and Detroit is always strong in the Horizon League, a top mid-major conference.

The final four teams will meet at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City on November 20th, and ESPN will televise both semi-final games as well as the championship and third place games. Another interesting subplot for the college basketball world is the potential match up between Texas Tech and Duke, which would feature two of America's most prominent coaching names in Bobby Knight and Mike Krzyzewski. With the Red Raiders and the Blue Devils on opposite sides of the bracket, one has to wonder if the Gazelle Group and ESPN is rooting for this dream match up.

"In general, I just think the mix of teams and names are terrific," stated Giles. "When you have a terrific mix, you are bound to get some interesting and intriguing match ups. We should end up getting some great match ups of good teams and coaching personalities this year. Would the college basketball world like to see the Duke/Texas Tech match up? I am sure they would, but again, you cannot assume anything."

Giles is also quick to point out that many of the teams who play in these early season tournaments have gone on to meet in the NCAA tournament. Last season, Texas defeated West Virginia in the semi-finals of the Guardians Classic on a last second blocked shot by LaMarcus Aldridge. That highlight was played throughout the season and the tournament when the two teams met again in the NCAA tournament. Even the format of the tournament is similar to the Big Dance, as teams will have to win two games at each site to advance.

"Our games should have an NCAA tournament type feeling to them," said Giles. "Win two, and you advance, just like the tournament. Once you do that, you march on to the next site and try and win there."

Too early to get excited about the NCAA tournament? Maybe, but the CBE Classic will be here before you know it. If there is anything to be said about these early season tournaments, they will definitely be bringing a little bit of March Madness to November.


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