Although you don't see any Kentuckys, Dukes or North Carolinas in this year's Great Alaska Shootout, the 3-day event in Anchorage still features a very talented field. From Bobby Knight and Texas Tech to arguably the two best mid-majors in the nation in Gonzaga and Butler, there are three days of challenging basketball ahead for the Hokies.
Eastern Washington (1-3)
The Hokies will face Eastern Washington in their first game in Alaska, at 1:45 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day.
Eastern Washington lost Rodney Stuckey to the NBA in the offseason. He was a first round pick of the Detroit Pistons. As a result, the Eagles have a lot of holes to fill this year. They haven't been very successful thus far, sporting a 1-3 record. They were easily defeated by Washington State, New Mexico and Washington. Their one win came against UC-Riverside.
The Eagles are a guard oriented team. The Hokies will have a size advantage in this game. If Tech can shut down Kellen Williams, Eastern Washington's best player, then they've got a good shot to win, though with such a young team, you never really know how they are going to play.
Eastern Washington's backcourt is entirely new. They have never played together before. DeLeon and Stanojevic are JUCOs in their first year at Eastern Washington, and Gross is a true freshman.
|Eastern Washington Starters|
Michigan is being coached by John Beilein, the former WVU head man. Historically, Beilein's teams have been perimeter oriented. If the Hokies face Michigan during this event, don't be afraid of Tech having inexperienced guards. Michigan starts two freshmen in the backcourt, so they are just as inexperienced as the Hokies.
Michigan has defeated Radford and Brown at home, and were blown out by Georgetown 74-52 on the road. If the Hokies end up playing Michigan, Seth Greenberg is likely to have a very long phone conversations with older brother Brad Greenberg, who is now the head coach at Radford.
The Wolverines return just one starter from last season.
#25 Butler could be the favorite to win the Great Alaska Shootout. They won the Preseason NIT last season with victories over Indiana, Tennessee, Notre Dame and Gonzaga. They return three starters from that team, though they do have a new coach, Brad Stevens. Stevens is only 30, which makes him the youngest head coach in college basketball.
Butler was ranked in the top 10 for part of last season, and reached the Sweet 16. They have five senior starters. The Bulldogs will light you up from the outside if you don't get out and guard them.
VT would have a size advantage on the inside in this game, but there is no substitute for experience. This would be a tough matchup for the Hokies. Guards Mike Green and A.J. Graves are First Team All-Horizon League, and Graves is Preseason Horizon League Player of the Year.
Western Kentucky (3-0)
Western Kentucky is a very good team that returns four starters off a squad that went 22-11 last season. Star player Courtney Lee returns, and the Hilltoppers could very well have ended up in the NCAA tournament had he not been injured for the Sun Belt Tournament.
Western Kentucky is a program that is used to winning. They have won 20 or more games in each of the past three seasons. They are a dark horse to win the Great Alaksa Shootout. They open with Gonzaga.
|Western Kentucky Starters|
Gonzaga is a good, experienced, well-coached basketball team, as usual. They are used to playing in these types of events, and I'm sure many people are picking them to win this year's Great Alaska Shootout. They will take on Western Kentucky in their first game, and it could very well be the best overall game of the 3-day event.
The Zags won't blow you away with athletes, but they have very good basketball talent. They return three starters from last season's 23-11 team. Head coach Mark Few has won 211 games in eight seasons, and was recently given a contract extension through 2017.
This year should be no different for Gonzaga. They will find themselves in the NCAA tournament at season's end.
Texas Tech (2-1)
Bobby Knight has obviously not been as successful at Texas Tech as he was at Indiana. The Red Raiders are off to a 2-1 start this year, with wins over UC-Riverside and Stephen F. Austin, and a loss to Sam Houston State. Texas Tech has struggled offensively, scoring just 54 points in their loss.
The Red Raiders face host Alaska-Anchorage in their opening game of the
Shootout. The Seawolves have won at least one game in the event for six straight
years. Although they are a D-II school, they are dangerous.
|Texas Tech Starters|
Note: No Alaska-Anchorage Preview because they are DII.
Assessing Virginia Tech's Chances
Virginia Tech is too young and inexperienced to stand a reasonable chance of winning a tournament like this against such good competition. The worst part is that each of the other teams have already played at least three games, while the young Hokies have just one game under their belts.
Tech's best chance of reaching the championship would be for Michigan to upset Butler. If the Hokies can get past Eastern Washington, I'd like their chances against Michigan's two freshmen guards much better than I'd like their chances against Butler and their five senior starters.
I think the best-case scenario for the Hokies would be a third place finish, but that's probably a long shot as well.
Coverage of the G.A.S. is limited, with a mix of ESPN2 (Michigan and Butler tonight at 11:30 Eastern Time), ESPNU (Western Kentucky vs. Gonzaga Thanksgiving night, 11:30), and ESPN360 (some games). On Friday night/Saturday morning, at 12:30 a.m. on ESPN2, a G.A.S. game is scheduled. Beyond that, it's not clear what games will or won't be televised. Internet searches on the Great Alaska Shootout produced conflicting, confusing, outdated information.