THE BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT 2019
#1 Golden Eagles vs #8 Jackson TN Underdawgs
Much like the Marquette men’s basketball team has never missed a quarterfinal in the Big East tournament, Golden Eagles, the alumni squad in The Basketball Tournament, has also never missed a quarterfinal.
Last weekend, Golden Eagles wielded their #1 seed in the Wichita regional to pick up wins against the #8, #4, and #6 seeds to advance to their fourth consecutive quarterfinals appearance in TBT. The Marquette alumni were carried by Dwight Buycks, TBT 2019’s leading scorer at 29 points per game, and Elgin Cook through the first two games, while Jamil Wilson arrived for the regional final and helped Marquette sneak past Sideline Cancer in the regional final.
For the quarterfinal, Golden Eagles is picking up some reinforcements. Travis Diener, the hero of last year’s quarterfinal contest against the Syracuse alumni, has joined the roster. Diener won’t be expected to carry the team with Wilson, Buycks, Cook, and Andrew Rowsey available to throw in points left, right, and center, but having his wily veteran presence available to head coach Joe Chapman should be invaluable.
At least according to the official team page on TBT’s website, Diener isn’t the only addition. Jarvis Williams, a 6’6” small forward, is now a part of the roster. If I’m tracking the correct Jarvis Williams, he was a NJCAA All-American at Kirkwood Community College before moving on to Green Bay. There he averaged eight points and five rebounds while starting in 23 of 25 appearances in 2010-11 for head coach (and Marquette alum) Brian Wardle. He missed most of the next season due to injury and finished up his collegiate eligibility at Minnesota State-Mankato and led them in scoring at 14.5 points per game. Williams is not a shooter, for the record, so we’ll see how the Milwaukee native fits in to the Chapman game plan.
In addition to those guys, Jerel McNeal is joining the roster. He’s not on the team page right now as I write this on Wednesday, but who am I to argue with 1) Jerel himself (his voice still scares the living daylights out of me, so if he says out loud that he’s playing, I believe him), 2) the fact that he was at the training camp at the McGuire Center, 3) Ben Steele’s profile of McNeal in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 4) the illustrious John Steppe, and 5) the email that I received from the TBT press office. Reading is fun-damental. I figure that when you can add a college program’s all time leader in points and steals to a roster, it’s going to work out in the long run for you, no matter what he can contribute.
Let’s turn our attention to the opposition for Thursday night’s contest: Jackson TN Underdawgs. We’ll start with their roster.
As you can see from the links on the page there, the squad is not loaded with Division 1 players. Jaylen Barford is the name that jumps off the page the most after averaging 15.3 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 2.3 assists in 71 career games at Arkansas after starting his collegiate career in the junior college ranks. Tarius Johnson (8.1 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.2 assists) appeared in 69 games for Eastern Kentucky in the middle part of this decade. Jewuan Long (5.3 points, 2.1 rebounds, 1.4 assists) was a part of two NCAA tournament teams while at Murray State, including the squad that lost to Marquette in his senior year. He was the guy next to Isaiah Caanan in the MSU backcourt there. Torye Pelham was at Southern Miss Eagles for three seasons at the same time Long was at MSU, appearing in 69 games while averaging 5.1 points and 4.2 rebounds.
TBT put together this profile of the Underdawgs before this year’s tournament started. As you can gather, they’re all from Jackson, Tennessee, or there abouts. A number of them played together in high school, and most of the ones that didn’t played for a different high school in the area. According to the profile, Barford is the only one still playing professionally.
On paper, maybe this game looks like a mismatch. After all, even TBT thought the Underdawgs were one of the bottom eight teams in the field while Golden Eagles was one of the top eight. However, it will be a cold day in hell when I underestimate the guys from Tennessee. In a Memphis regional that went completely off the rails almost immediately, they beat, in order, the #1 seed, the #5 seed, and the #6 seed in order to get to the quarterfinals. They won each of their games by an average of 18 points, with the smallest margin of nine points coming in game #1. Barford is trailing only Buycks in terms of scoring at 26 points per game, and he adds six assists, too. Johnson adds 14 points to the mix as does someone named Josh Sain, according to the official TBT preview. He’s not on the roster page, but he did average 13.7 points and 4.0 rebounds in 2009-10 for Tennessee State. In the regional final win over Louisiana United, the Underdawgs knocked in 54% of their long range attempts, with five guys hitting at least two shots from out there. The MU defense will need to keep their heads on swivels out there, especially if the Jackson guys are going to get 22 assists on 36 makes again.
This game will be the second of two quarterfinal games on Thursday. The Ohio State alumni team, Carmen’s Crew, faces off against Eberlein Drive in the other, with tipoff scheduled for 6pm Central. The winners of the two Thursday night games will face off in the semifinals against the winners of the Friday night games on Sunday, with tipoff set for 11am Central at Wintrust Arena. The quarterfinals will resume on Friday night, with Loyalty Is Love, the team that Darius Johnson-Odom plays for, facing four time defending champion Overseas Elite in one game and Team Hines facing Brotherly Love in the other. If the Marquette alumni win, they get the winner of Hines/Brotherly Love.