The #4 seeded Golden Eagles — aka your favorite Marquette alumni team — will play #22 Sideline Cancer tonight for the $1 million winner-take-all prize in The Basketball Tournament! Get your popcorn ready because there’s about to be a show. We have seen high-quality basketball throughout the tournament from both of these squads, which has been very refreshing after a three month pause to sports. With both of these teams this close to the $1 million prize, it promises to be must-watch basketball.
Since I presume any and all readers of this high quality website have watched every Golden Eagles game carefully, y’all might be wondering how #22-seeded Sideline Cancer made it all the way to the finals. For starters, they were clearly under-seeded. Sideline Cancer has been part of the TBT every year of its existence since it began in 2014. They are a mainstay of this tournament and deserved a higher seed just based off of past experience. Previously, the farthest that Sideline Cancer had made it in the tournament was the regional finals last year. If any of this is ringing bells for you, it’s because Golden Eagles had the pleasure of knocking off Sideline Cancer, 88-80, last summer to advance to the quarterfinals and snag a $96,000 share of the ticket proceeds from Wichita. The rematch this afternoon will be for much higher stakes.
Sideline Cancer has had to beat some tough teams to reach their first TBT finals. As a #22 seed, they beat #11 Team Hines in the first round last Sunday, 93-91. Team Hines were no joke as they made the semifinals last year and were beaten by, you guessed it, the Golden Eagles. In the second round, SC eliminated #6 Team Challenge ALS, 76-66, and followed that by upsetting the Syracuse alumni and #3 seed Boeheim’s Army last Saturday, 65-48. For an encore to that, they delivered the upset of the tournament when they shocked four-time TBT champion #2 Overseas Elite on Sunday evening. Marcus Keene dribbled it around the perimeter looking for the three to win it but was double-teamed so he laser’d a cross-court pass to Maurice Creek who hit the game winning Elam Ender.
It was a dream finish to a fantastic game. Sideline Cancer was down by as many as 10 points in the first half and could not get a three to fall, going 1-for-13 from long range. It was Marcus Keene and OE’s Joe Johnson who both came through clutch for their teams down the stretch. The difference was that Keene had the ball in his hands with just three points to reach the target score and got it done. Instead of doing what we all expected, he passed the ball off to Creek who had a marginally better shot but it was still contested. The awareness and unselfishness for Keene to do that is almost just as impressive as the shot going in. The TBT Twitter supervisor called it one of the best games ever. If you missed it, here are the highlights.
Marcus Keene led the way for Sideline Cancer with 22 points on Sunday evening. He’s had an impressive tournament thus far, averaging 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists in four games. He played for Youngstown State for two years before transferring to Central Michigan where he put up 30 points per game his senior year. Recently, he’s been overseas playing with Jeonju KCC Egis of the South Korean basketball league and he led his team in scoring last season with 19.1 points per game. When he’s on, he’s nearly unstoppable as he was dropping some Andrew Rowsey level three-pointers from the logo in the semifinals against Overseas Elite.
The trick for the Golden Eagles will be to defend Keene as best as they can but really make sure that no one else gets good scoring opportunities. The other two guys to keep an eye on for Sideline Cancer are 6’9” center Eric Thompson and the hero of Sunday night’s game Mo Creek. Thompson is averaging a near double-double for the tournament with 9.8 points and 12.8 rebounds while Creek is having himself a tournament with 14.5 points per game connecting on 38% of his three-pointers. We can’t forget to mention Xavier alum Remy Abell who could cause some trouble for the Golden Eagles as well. He contributed 14 points against Overseas Elite hitting half of his four long range attempts and is averaging 15 points in the tournament. He played two years at Xavier from 2014-2016 and averaged 7.5 points for the Musketeers.
If Sideline Cancer have their way, they will shoot a lot of threes. As a team, they’ve attempted the second-most threes per game in the tournament at 29.8 per game. Their conversion rate is 31.1% which is below average If we’re being honest. But since they shoot so many, that still comes out to about 10 made threes per contest. The focus for the Golden Eagles should be to force Keene and company to shoot contested threes and not give away any easy baskets from the perimeter. We’ve heard Golden Eagles head coach Joe Chapman scream “hands up, hands up!” many times in previous games alerting his defenders to close out on perimeter shooters. That’s exactly what the Golden Eagles need to do and force it inside where Jamil Wilson eagerly awaits to deny you the basket.
Another point of emphasis for the Golden Eagles will be on the glass. Sideline Cancer leads TBT this year with just over 40 rebounds per game. One-fourth of those are coming on the offensive end, so it’s imperative for the Golden Eagles to fight hard in the paint and deny Sideline Cancer those 10 second-chance opportunities per game. Wilson is just the guy you want in the paint defensively as he’s averaging seven rebounds in the tournament. Forward Elgin Cook has also done his lion’s share defensively hauling in five boards per contest. The only question I have is whether the Golden Eagles will be able to contain Sideline Cancer’s streaky offensive firepower led by Keene.
The Golden Eagles will have no issues making baskets. They are second behind one-and-done losers The Money Team in threes, hitting 43.8% for the tournament. It’s been Darius Johnson-Odom leading the way in the first half then handing the baton off to Wilson to close out the game. Both are averaging exactly 17.3 points per game to lead the squad in scoring. Although Dwight Buycks was quiet against Red Scare, he’s averaging 12.3 points and 3.7 assists in the tournament, so he’ll be looking to have a bounce back game in the finals and grab his share of the $1 million. The Golden Eagles have the best offensive output in the tournament and it comes from all directions. I haven’t even mentioned Maurice Acker, Travis Diener, and Andrew Rowsey who are all veryyy confident sharp-shooters. Diener got his first action of the tournament on Sunday casually sinking a three and playing very dynamic offense, dishing 3 assists and setting the screen that got Wilson open for the Elam Ending three.
I’m just excited to see who out of all of those lethal scorers I just mentioned will go berserk shooting the basketball. My guess is DJO and Wilson will light it up as they have in previous games. I just love both of their styles. DJO is a great multi-dimensional attacker who can bully you inside and get tough layups while also having the step-back jumper in his arsenal. While Wilson can literally do anything he pleases offensively. However, don’t be surprised if the other guys do something special. This is the TBT championship game where crazy things are bound to happen. You don’t want to miss this one tipping off at 6pm Central on ESPN with Fran Fraschilla and Bob Rathbun on the call. I hope you haven’t gotten tired of those two goofballs yet.
I want to close by mentioning the feel-good story of why Sideline Cancer is in TBT to begin with. If you were wondering why they’re name is “Sideline Cancer” it’s because they are playing to raise money for those that are suffering from pancreatic cancer. They partner with the Griffith Family Foundation whose mission is to raise money for people and families that are currently fighting pancreatic cancer. Just by making it to the finals of TBT, Sideline Cancer has brought so much more awareness to the battle. It’s a great cause and regardless of what happens in the game, I encourage you to donate to the Griffith Family Foundation.