2017 CIT opens up with the second annual John McLendon Classic

On Monday night, Ryan Kemrite and the Liberty Flames will go for their 20th win of the year when they host Norfolk State in the second annual John McLendon Classic to open the 2017 CIT. (Source: Liberty University)

LYNCHBURG, Va. — Post-season basketball is back!

On Sunday night, the fields were released for the four post-season tournaments that will take place over the next four weeks. The 68 teams who are participating in the NCAA Tournament were released first, followed by the fields for the NIT, CIT, and CBI.

It’s worth noting that the Vegas Sixteen event that was introduced last season will not be played this season, but the founders are hopeful that it can return next year.

Arguably our favourite tournament, from a sheer team standpoint, is the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. The field is composed of ‘mid-major’ programs who are deserving of a post-season berth, and it uses the old NIT format, where there is no set bracket.

The CIT has several marquee games in the first round which pay homage to past coaches in college basketball. They have added several ‘classics’ to this year’s slate, which adds more appeal to the event.

The second annual John McLendon Classic will be played on Monday night, which opens up post-season play across the country. The Liberty Flames will play host to the Norfolk State Spartans, in what is a great way to kick off an exciting three-week stretch of post-season basketball.

In the regular season, the Flames were one of the top teams in the Big South conference. They finished with a 14-4 record in conference play, just a game behind the two teams tied for first-place.

Wins over the likes of the Campbell Camels and UNC Asheville Bulldogs, both of whom are also in the 2017 CIT field, highlighted Big South play for the Flames.

Despite a 19-13 record overall, the Flames are limping into the post-season, having lost three of their final four games to close out the season. Their offense sputtered in those four games, averaging just over 56 points per game.

While their offense hasn’t been the best this season (66.4 ppg, 317th), the Flames make their mark on defense. They held their opponents to just over 63 points per contest, which was good for the 20th-best mark in the NCAA. Look for the Flames to disrupt the Spartans from the outset of the game.

Ryam Kemrite, the Flames’ leading scorer at 13.2 points per contest, joined the 800-point club earlier this season. He currently sits 30th on Liberty’s all-time scoring list, and will look to add to his total tonight on his home court.

In the John McLendon Classic, at least one historically black college or university participates in the contest, and that is Norfolk State this season.

The runner-ups in the MEAC Tournament, and regular season standings, are looking to bounce back from a rough stretch in the conference championship game that saw them fall by the wayside. The Spartans endured an 11-minute dry spell on offense, which ultimately flipped the game in favour of the North Carolina Central Eagles.

On the year, the Spartans finished up with a 17-16 record overall, and 12-4 in conference play. Non-conference play wasn’t too kind to the Spartans, as they only won one game against a Division I opponent (Eastern Kentucky Colonels).

Thanks to their strong finish to the year, the Spartans are making their sixth-straight post-season appearance, and are looking to make the most of their appearance in the CIT.

Senior guard Jonathan Wade led the way for the Spartans during the regular season, and he will be looking to take Norfolk State on a lengthy post-season run. He averaged a team-best 19.3 points per game, while shooting 48.6% from the field. If Wade and the Spartans can find a way to crack Liberty’s tough defense, they will be in great shape moving forwards.

Liberty last appeared in the CIT back in the 2008-2009 season, where they defeated the Rider Broncs in the opening round, before falling in the second round.

Norfolk State is making its fourth-straight trip to the CIT, and the Spartans are looking to advance past the first round for the first time.

The Flames and Spartans have met three times in the past, with Norfolk State holding a slim 2-1 edge in the all-time series. A pair of the games have been decided by just two points, so one should expect a tight game on Monday.

Monday’s game will be broadcast on Facebook Live.

– T. Bennett