The first of many MTE’s being held in the Bahamas begins on Friday with the Baha Mar Hoops Bahamas Championship.
It may not have the largest field, but it does have some exciting teams looking to prove themselves early in the season.
Let’s take a look at the first-round matchups.
UCF vs. Oklahoma State
The Knights arrive in the Bahamas looking to turn a two-game winning streak into three. Their last win came in blowout fashion, as they took down Western Illinois 70-37.
While they have looked good this season, I think this matchup with the Cowboys will be far from a blowout.
One of the major reasons for the Knights’ early success has been Taylor Hendricks, who seems to be picking up the next level with ease. Just three games into his freshman season, Hendricks is leading the team with 14.7 points and 6.7 rebounds per game.
Senior CJ Kelly isn’t far behind — putting up 14 points a game — and the team as a whole has been beyond impressive on the offensive end.
The Knights have been the 10th-best team in the nation when it comes to offensive rebounding. Sure, being the 26th-tallest squad helps, but the Knights’ commitment to getting every second-chance opportunity possible is what sets them apart.
The Cowboys head to the Bahamas looking to put the struggles of their first two games behind them.
They looked better in their third game against Oakland, coming away with a win, as well as their first cover against the spread so far this season.
However, there’s still a lot of work to do for the Pokes.
Oklahoma State’s Moussa Cisse will have his hands full against UCF, but I think he can manage. Cisse is averaging 10 rebounds per game and has been a dominant force around the rim so far.
UCF vs. Oklahoma State Lean
This game will come down to which team is truly better on the glass.
I think UCF will have the upper hand, though, especially if it can control the pace.
UCF has been one of the slowest teams so far when it comes tempo, ranking 345th in pace of play. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State looks to make the game move as quickly as possible, ranking 45th in tempo.
Limiting possessions will give the Knights an opportunity to keep this one close.
I would back UCF at +5 or better in the Bahamas.
DePaul vs. Santa Clara
Nobody gave DePaul any respect coming into the season — not even me, and I love DePaul.
But after so many key players departed the program in the offseason, it seemed like 12 wins would be about the most we could expect from the DePaul this year.
DePaul won his first two games, but since those were at home against teams outside the top 200, many still doubted the Blue Demons.
However, heading into Minnesota for the Gavitt Games and coming away with not only a win, but ending the Gophers’ streak of 16 straight non-conference wins at home, leaves little doubt when it comes to the Blue Demons.
Few teams have found as much success via the transfer portal as the Blue Demons — every starter on their team came to them via the portal. They are playing well despite the lack of experience together.
What’s stood out the most to me from DePaul is its defense. It was a given some of the starters on this team would find offensive success, but its ability to work together as a team and shut down opponents on defense has been stounding.
In the Demons’ last outing, the Gophers did not score a single field from five minutes left in the game until there was just 39 seconds left.
The Blue Demons could have something special here and are my favorite to win the Bahamas Championship.
To get to the finals, DePaul will have to face his toughest test yet in Santa Clara. The Broncos lost their leading scorer from a season ago, but much like the Blue Demons, they have found major success from the transfer portal.
The focal point of that success is Brandin Podziemski from Illinois. Podziemski outshined all expectations in his first two games, dropping 30+ in each. But in Santa Clara’s last game against Utah State, the entire team struggled.
Utah State seemed to have an answer to Santa Clara’s attack, which is pressure defense and pushing the pace. That resulted in a 22-point win for the Aggies.
Can DePaul follow that same formula?
DePaul vs. Santa Clara Lean
The Blue Demons don’t push the pace much, but I do think their defense will be effective enough to stop Santa Clara.
I’d back the Blue Demons as high as a five-point favorite in this matchup.