2017-18 MTE and Neutral Site Showcase Preview Series: Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic

Chimezie Metu and the USC Trojans have a top-ten roster heading into the 2017-18 season, and they will look to become the first repeat winner of the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic in December.

CALGARY, Alta. — The 2017-18 season is just around the corner, and while there’s a debate on Twitter as to when the season actually starts, it can’t get here soon enough.

Schedules are being released with each passing weekday, and many of them feature early-season tournaments and multi-team events all throughout non-conference play. According to Chris Dobbertean and Blogging the Bracket, there are over 30 multi-team tournaments, and another handful of neutral site showcases and non-exempt events.

So, with the season coming up, we thought we would go through and preview all of the early-season tournaments, the non-exempt tournaments, and a wide array of the neutral site showcase events. In total, we will preview 75 different events over the course of the next 75 days, culminating on opening day.

We selected the events at random, and have broken some up into two pieces, like the Phil Knight Invitational, since there are two separate brackets.

Today, we take a look at the 2017 edition of the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic.

Event: Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic
Location: Stan Sheriff Center, Honolulu, HI
Dates: December 22, 23, & 25, 2017
Number of Teams: Eight
2016-17 Winner: San Diego State Aztecs


History of the Diamond Head Classic

Founded in 2009, the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic is a three-day invitational tournament that is played over Christmas, with the Championship being decided on Christmas Day.

Since its inception, there have been eight different winners of the event. The inaugural winner of the event was the USC Trojans, who notched a 67-56 win over the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels back in 2009.

Only one team has made multiple championship appearances in the event. Last year’s champions, the San Diego State Aztecs, also appeared in the final game back in 2012. Solomon Hill and the Arizona Wildcats took home the title with a 68-67 win over the Aztecs.

San Diego State took home the crown last season with a 62-48 win over the San Francisco Dons. Aztecs’ forward Zylan Cheatham took home MVP honours.


2017 Field

USC Trojans, Miami (FL) Hurricanes, Princeton Tigers, Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders, New Mexico State Aggies, Akron Zips, Davidson Wildcats, and Hawai’i Warriors (Hosts)


As the case has been throughout the brief history of the event, the field is made up of a few power conference programs and some of the top smaller programs from across the country. On paper, the 2017 field looks to be one of the strongest fields that the event has assembled, from top to bottom.

Headlining the 2017 field are a pair of power conference teams. Most notably, USC is back in the field of eight for the first time since winning the inaugural event in 2009.

The Trojans enter the season as a fringe-top ten team in the country, and could have been among the top three if Marvin Bagley had committed to USC over the Duke Blue Devils. Regardless, the Trojans return a core group of players, led by junior forwards Bennie Boatwright (15.1 ppg) and Chimezie Metu, and senior guard Jordan McLaughlin (12.9 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 5.5 apg). Add in the addition of Duke transfer Derryck Thornton, who is eligible this season after sitting out the 2016-17 season due to transfer regulations, and it’s easy to see why so many people are high on the Trojans this season.

Up front, the Trojans have five players who stand at 6’10” or taller, which will cause match-up headaches for almost every team they face this season.

Joining the Trojans in Hawai’i are the Miami (FL) Hurricanes. While the Hurricanes will be without Davon Reed and Kamari Murphy from last year’s roster, the Hurricanes return a strong sophomore class and add another top-tier freshmen contingent to the mix.

Jim Larranaga will have sophomores Bruce Brown (11.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 3.2 apg) and Dewan Huell at his disposal, both of whom will look to build off their strong freshmen campaigns. Then, the Hurricanes add freshmen Chris LykesLonnie Walker, and Deng Gak to the mix to add more talent across the board. Miami only has two seniors on the roster, in Ja’Quan Newton and Chris Stowell, so a lack of experience could hinder the Hurricanes in ACC play.


After the power conference teams, there are six teams who have enjoyed recent success in their respective conferences over the past few seasons.

Once again, the New Mexico State Aggies are seen as the front-runners in the WAC. Forward Eli Chuha (12.4 ppg, 8.9 rpg) is ready to lead the Aggies to another NCAA Tournament appearance, and their first under new head coach Chris Jans. The trendy pick in the WAC this season is the Grand Canyon Antelopes, but the Aggies have the late-season experience that is tough to be ignored.

The Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders, who infamously pulled off arguably the biggest upset in NCAA Tournament history when they knocked off the Michigan State Spartans as a 15-seed in 2016, will have to replace forwards JaCorey Williams and Reggie Upshaw. The addition of Nick King to the front court rotation will add experience to an unproven group. Star guard Giddy Potts will be the go-to guy for the Blue Raiders over the course of the season.

At first glance, the Davidson Wildcats would appear to be in for a down season with the loss of star guard Jack Gibbs. However, the Wildcats return one of the top forwards in the Atlantic 10, in Peyton Aldridge. The 6’8” big man averaged 20.5 points and 8.2 rebounds per game, while shooting over 40% from three point range. The key will be the play of sophomore guard Jon Axel Gudmundsson (8.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 3.5 apg). With Gibbs gone, the back court will need a new leader to take pressure off Aldridge.

Last season, the Princeton Tigers earned their first trip to the Big Dance since 2011, and became the inaugural winners of the Ivy League Tournament. The Tigers lost a lot from last season, including Henry CarusoHans BraseSpencer Weisz and Steven Cook. Junior guard Devin Cannady finished second on the team in scoring a season ago, averaging 13.4 points per contest. The Tigers have one of the top guard tandems in the conference, in Cannady and fellow junior Myles Stephens, and that should be enough to earn them another spot in the Ivy League Tournament.

Heading into the 2017-18 season, the Akron Zips will be without their top three scorers from a season ago. Isaiah Johnson and Kwan Cheatham, Jr. both graduated, while Antino Jackson transferred from Akron and joined the New Mexico Lobos. The Zips do return junior guard Jimond Ivey, who averaged 10.2 points and 5.8 rebounds per game last season, The arrival of Canadian graduate transfer Malcolm Duvivier adds experience and talent on both ends of the court, and will help to fill the void left by Jackson on the back end.

Lastly, the host Hawai’i Warriors were the talk of the town just two seasons ago, when they won the Big West crown and advanced to the Round of 32 in the 2016 NCAA Tournament. While they lose star guard Noah Allen to graduation, the Warriors return one of the top front court tandems in the conference. Jack Purchase (9.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 2.1 apg) and Gibson Johnson (11.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg) will be in for career years. However, both need to utilize their size and become more of a factor on the glass for Hawai’i to be successful this season.


2017 Bracket (Full Bracket Here)

Quarter-Finals (December 22nd, 2017)

Middle Tennessee v. Princeton (5:30pm EST)
Akron v. USC (7:30pm EST)
Davidson v. New Mexico State (11:00pm EST)
Hawai’i v. Miami (FL) (1:00am EST, Dec. 23rd)

Semi-Finals (December 23rd, 2017)

Winner of MTSU/PRIN v. Winner of AKR/USC (4:30pm EST)
Winner of DAV/NMSU v. Winner of HAW/MIA (10:00pm EST)

Consolation Semi-Finals (December 23rd, 2017)

Loser of MTSU/PRIN v. Loser of AKR/USC (7:00pm EST)
Loser of DAV/NMSU v. Loser of HAW/MIA (12:30am EST, Dec. 24th)

Finals (December 25th)

Championship (6:00pm EST)
3rd/4th Game (8:30pm EST)
5th/6th Game (3:00pm EST)
7th/8th Game (12:30pm EST)


Projections

Quarter-Finals

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders v. Princeton Tigers
Winner: Middle Tennessee

Akron Zips v. USC Trojans
Winner: USC

Davidson Wildcats v. New Mexico State Aggies
Winner: Davidson

Hawai’i Warriors v. Miami (FL) Hurricanes
Winner: Miami (FL)

Semi-Finals

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders v. USC Trojans
Winner: USC

Davidson Wildcats v. Miami (FL) Hurricanes
Winner: Miami (FL)

Championship

USC Trojans v. Miami (FL) Hurricanes
Winner: USC


The Trojans have too much talent on their roster to end the Diamond Head Classic with anything short of a title. While the tournament is over Christmas, and anything can happen in the weeks leading up to the event, if USC can stay healthy, the event is theirs to lose.

With the win, USC would become the first team to win two Diamond Head Classic titles, adding to their first win in the inaugural event from back in 2009.

– T. Bennett

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