The Clemson Tigers get to head to the beautiful Cayman Islands for the 2nd annual Cayman Classic beginning Monday, Nov 19th through Wednesday, Nov. 21st. The Tigers are by far the highest rated team in this tournament according to KenPom.com, coming in at 17th, but there are several programs involved who have recent NCAA tournaments to their name, most notably the Creighton Blue Jays of the Big East who have made 5 of the last 7 NCAA tournaments. Border rival Georgia is also a participant in this year’s event. Though this field lacks the punch of a Maui Invitational which often has two or three top 20 teams involved, there are quality wins to be had if the Tigers can take care of business. It certainly is a prime location for the team to travel, and I think fans with the means to travel to this one should consider it.
Clemson starts things off against the Akron Zips at 11am Monday morning. Akron is the lowest rated team in the field, coming in at 166 in KenPom’s rankings. The Zips are led by former Illinois coach John Groce who struggled in Champagne but was a very successful mid-major head coach at Ohio before that. They are coming off a 14-18 season but have several new faces on their roster this year. As of this writing, they should be 3-0 coming into Monday’s game.
The Tigers are getting by right now without the benefit of having a full squad to practice with. Eli Thomas has missed a ton of practice from an ankle issue and illness. Bench bigs Malik William and Trey Jemison have not been able to participate, robbing Brownell of the ability to have physically challenging practices for Thomas and Aamir Simms. his is a very underrated issue and has certainly slowed the growth of the team. The good news is, the Tigers are not running into a team who truly will force them to play at top level for nearly all 40 minutes. The good news is, Clemson’s touted guard play has come through, and both Simms and David Skara have vastly improved their offensive arsenals from last year.
My wish list for this tournament is to face UGA in the second round then Creighton in the finals. Creighton is the second highest rated team in the field at 38 (via KenPom.com) and would provide a likely quality resume builder for the Tigers. Beating UGA is sweet in any sport no matter what their level. They have Tom Crean coaching them now who brings a lot more spice to their program than the departed Mark Fox.
Other potential opponents (with their KenPom rankings included) are:
Georgia State (103): Made the NCAA tournament last year and in 2015 when they got to the second round.
St. Bonaventure (127): Made the NCAA tournament last year and won a first four game with UCLA before falling to Florida
Boise State (128): Won 23 games last year and made the NIT as a four seed.
Illinois State (111): 2-1 currently with a close loss at frequent NCAA tournament participant Belmont on the road.
So, you can see that the field is comprised of a lot of solid teams who will be on the NIT radar at the end of the year with the chance of breaking into the NCAA tournament based on conference tournaments and such. No doubt the folks running this want a Clemson vs. Creighton final.