2017-18 MTE and Neutral Site Showcase Preview Series: Cancun Challenge, Riviera Bracket

Otis Livingston II and the George Mason Patriots will look to turn some heads at the 2017 Cancun Challenge.

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 Riviera Bracket of the 2017 Cancun Challenge.

Event: Cancun Challenge, Riviera Bracket
Location: Cancun, Mexico
Dates: November 21st and 22nd, 2017
Number of Teams: Four
2016-17 Winner: N/A

About the Cancun Challenge

The Cancun Challenge is one of the more unique college basketball events to take place each season. The event takes place at the Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya near Cancun, Mexico, and the resort’s convention center ballroom is transformed into a basketball court. Due to the location, fans are treated to an intimate, up-close setting for the games.

A long list of talented teams have won the men’s portion of the event, including a pair of Big Ten teams in the last two years. The Maryland Terrapins took home the Riviera Division title in 2015, while the 2016 title was taken home by the Purdue Boilermakers.

Split into two divisions, the Riviera Division and the Mayan Division, the Cancun Challenge attracts talented teams with each passing year. The 2017 field is no different, as eight talented programs will ascend on Cancun for a great basketball event over two days.

2017 Field

While the 2017 field doesn’t feature any teams from the traditional power conferences, four talented programs will do battle in the Riviera Bracket, with the hopes of bringing a Cancun Challenge title back to the United States.

Jaron Hopkins will look to give Fresno State fans plenty more to smile about during the 2017-18 season.

The highest profile team in this year’s event is the Fresno State Bulldogs. Two seasons ago, the Bulldogs won the Mountain West tournament and advanced to the 2016 NCAA Tournament, where they fell in the Round of 64 to the Utah Utes.

Heading into the 2017-18 season, the Bulldogs have one of the top back court rotations in the Mountain West Conference. Led by senior guard Jaron Hopkins, and graduate transfer Ray Bowles, the Bulldogs are loaded on the back end. Hopkins led Fresno State last season in both scoring (13.2 ppg) and assists (3.5 apg), while Bowles averaged a team-high 13.4 points per game with the Pacific Tigers last season.

Terrell Carter II and Bryson Williams are back to lead the front court, which will be a weak spot for the Bulldogs this season. Both will need to find another gear to help take some pressure off the back court.

Fresno State takes on an Evansville Purple Aces team that has to adjust to life without a star of their own. The Purple Aces will be without star guard Jaylon Brown, who averaged 20.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game as a senior last season.

Fortunately for head coach Marty Simmons, fellow guards Ryan Taylor and Duane Gibson are back and are more than ready to take on a lead role for the program. Taylor (14.2 ppg) and Gibson (7.1 ppg) finished second and third on the team last season in scoring, respectively. Gibson also led the Purple Aces with 3.8 assists per contest.

With Jaylon Brown having graduated, Ryan Taylor now becomes ‘the guy’ for Evansville.

Much like the Bulldogs, the one glaring weakness for Evansville lies in the front court. Dalen Traore and Solomon Hanna are the lone returnees who played significant time up front a season ago. Both averaged under 12 minutes of court time per night, and combined to averaged 4.2 points and 4.9 rebounds per contest.

Look for junior forward Dainius Chatkevicius to see some big minutes out of the gate as Simmons looks for someone to step up in the front court.

Last season, Louisiana Tech made headlines during Conference USA play for a brawl against the UAB Blazers. One of the players involved was then-junior Jacobi Boykins. In 2017-18, Boykins is in his senior year, and is looking to lead Louisiana Tech towards the NCAA Tournament and leave the memory of last season’s altercation behind him.

Jacobi Boykins is the top scorer back for Louisiana Tech this season, and forms a formidable back court tandem with sophomore DaQuan Bracey.

Boykins averaged 14.7 points and 4.7 rebounds per contest last season, and is the top returning scorer for the Bulldogs, as Erik McCree graduated following the 2016-17 season. The 6’6” Boykins will be joined in the back court once again by DaQuan Bracey, a name that everyone should know in advance of the 2017-18 campaign.

As a freshman last season, Bracey averaged 9.1 points and a team-high 5.8 assists per game. He recorded 23 games with five or more assists, and three games with double-digit assists. Bracey had a stretch of five straight games in non-conference play, from December 3rd to 17th, in which he recorded eight assists in each game.

Bracey is one of the top pass-first point guards in the country, and he’s only entering his sophomore season.

While the George Mason Patriots lose one star guard in Marquise Moore, they’ve had another star guard waiting in the wings for the last two seasons. Now, it’s time for Otis Livingston II to step into the spotlight and gain the national attention he deserves.

Livingston finished second on the team in scoring a season ago, averaging 14.3 points per contest. He shot 91.3% from the free throw line, which was among the nation’s top percentages. Livingston missed just 11 free throws over the course of the season (124-of-135).

Otis Livingston II. Remember the name.

Joining Livingston in the back court is fellow junior guard Jaire Grayer. The native of Flint, MI averaged 11.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per game a season ago, and will be tasked with helping to fill the void left by Moore and Jalen Jenkins on offense for the Patriots.

The Riviera Bracket of the 2017 Cancun Challenge will feature a ton of talented guards across the four teams. It will be an interesting event to see who comes out on top!


November 21st, 2017

Louisiana Tech Bulldogs v. George Mason Patriots (6:00pm EST)

Fresno State Bulldogs v. Evansville Purple Aces (8:30pm EST)

November 22nd, 2017

Consolation Game (6:00pm EST)

Championship Game (8:30pm EST)


Louisiana Tech v. George Mason
Winner: Louisiana Tech Bulldogs

Fresno State v. Evansville
Winner: Fresno State Bulldogs

George Mason v. Evansville
Winner: George Mason Patriots

Louisiana Tech v. Fresno State
Winner: Fresno State Bulldogs

– T. Bennett