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Crossroads Classic Renewed: 15 College Basketball States Needing Similar Events

Scott HenryFeatured ColumnistJanuary 15, 2017

Crossroads Classic Renewed: 15 College Basketball States Needing Similar Events

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    College basketball fans in the state of Indiana will continue receiving a winter treat.

    The Crossroads Classic, a one-day doubleheader pitting Hoosier State basketball heavyweights Purdue and Indiana against rivals Notre Dame and Butler, has been extended for two more seasons, the Indianapolis Star reported earlier this week.

    The event illustrates the sheer power of basketball in the state of Indiana, as few other states in America have four programs of similar stature who aren't all conference rivals.

    Still, there are several other states with a blend of power conference schools and dangerous mid-majors who could produce their own compelling annual events similar to the Crossroads.

    While not all would feature the same casts from year to year, these 15 states or regions could provide great tests for their participants and interesting non-conference matchups for media to discuss.

Arizona/New Mexico

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    The Participants:

    Arizona
    Arizona State
    New Mexico
    New Mexico State

    A challenge between the states of Arizona and New Mexico would provide a compelling border war, but that wouldn't even be its most newsworthy feature.

    An event such as this could also serve as an early-season barometer on the relative strength of college basketball's western-most conferences. A win over a Pac-12 program usually confers some bragging rights, especially for a WAC program like NMSU's.

    The challenge could rotate between the four schools' on-campus venues, unless the New Mexico schools would be willing to journey to another state every season.

    Like Purdue and Indiana, Arizona and ASU would need to be separated, as they already meet twice a year during their Pac-12 schedules.

    New Mexico's results against this field were mixed last season, as they lost to the Aggies at The Pit before defeating ASU in Tempe.

    Arizona defeated NMSU in Las Cruces before splitting its season series with ASU, each team winning on its own court.

California

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    The Participants:

    Cal/Stanford/UCLA/USC (rotating)
    Fresno State
    Long Beach State
    Loyola Marymount

    This event would have numerous options for locations. NBA arenas like Staples Center, Oracle Arena or Power Balance Pavilion could all make good neutral-site venues, or the event could take place on the campus of the Pac-12 member rotating through the event that season.

    If the Pac-12 members don't want to play nice with the smaller Cali programs, San Diego State could easily be substituted with no loss of basketball quality.

    Fresno State faced five different Pac-12 members last season, recording a dominant win over Utah and also defeating Arizona State. Their only meeting with an in-state Pac-12 member, though, was a resounding loss to Stanford.

    Loyola began its season with an 11-point win over UCLA, the first sign that things weren't quite right in Westwood.

    Long Beach's murderous non-conference slate, second-toughest in America, included a narrow loss to San Diego State.

    The Aztecs laid a legitimate claim to a mythical state title, with wins over LBSU, USC and Cal.

Colorado

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    The Participants:

    Air Force
    Colorado
    Colorado State
    Denver

    Once again, CSU and Air Force would need to be separated, as they are already rivals in the Mountain West Conference. At least, they are until the Rams get invited to join the ACC, or some other realignment-related absurdity.

    The Pepsi Center, home of the NBA's Nuggets and NHL's Avalanche would make a fine venue for an event like this one. Its location in the city of Denver would seem to favor the Pioneers, but the Crossroads Classic's other participants don't seem worried about Bankers Life Fieldhouse being a stone's throw from the Butler campus.

    Lest anyone think Colorado would rule this event with an iron fist, early on in Air Force's woebegone 13-16 season came a three-point loss to the Buffs in which Air Force's Todd Fletcher missed a potential tying shot.

    In other unfortunate news for the Buffs, they also suffered a one-point loss at CSU on the final day of November.

    In addition to the win over CU, the Rams also defeated Denver by four at Moby Arena.

Florida

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    The Participants:

    Florida
    Florida State
    Miami (FL)
    South Florida

    This event could come closest to replicating the prestige of the four programs in the Crossroads Classic, as three of these schools reached the 2012 NCAA tournament, and Miami made the second round of the NIT.

    The biggest logistical hurdle would be a big decision for Florida and Florida State. Those two schools could use a meeting in this type of challenge as a substitute for their annual home-and-home meetings, or simply play each other a second time.

    If UF decided to give this event a pass, it could turn into a virtual ACC-Big East Challenge with the possible addition of future Big East member Central Florida. After that, the pool of potential opponents dips sharply, down to the likes of Florida International or Florida Atlantic.

    Florida State met both UF and Miami last season, taking two of three from the 'Canes and losing to the Gators. The Seminoles also pasted UCF early on in the season.

    The other Florida heavies tended to avoid each other, choosing to feed on minnows such as Stetson, North Florida and Jacksonville. Up-and-down programs like Miami and USF could use a challenge like this as a good early-season test.

Illinois

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    The Participants:

    DePaul
    Illinois
    Northwestern
    Illinois State/Southern Illinois

    An event such as this one, perhaps best contested at the United Center, could benefit all four schools in trying to recruit Chicago area talent.

    Schools like Wichita State, Marquette and Kansas State were successful in poaching many of the state's top players from the Class of 2012. If, for example, DePaul was able to knock off the Illini, it could offer evidence that the Blue Demons are a more competitive program than their usual Big East basement finish would indicate.

    These schools don't often play each other when they don't have to. DePaul faced Chicago State and Loyola last season, but had no meetings with even the potential Missouri Valley representatives.

    This event could lend even more spice to the annual rivalry between Illinois State and SIU. An agreement could be reached for the team that finishes higher in each season's MVC standings to participate in the following season's Illinois challenge.

Kansas/Missouri

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    The Participants:

    Kansas State
    Missouri
    Saint Louis
    Wichita State

    Fans of both Missouri and Kansas State could get behind a border challenge between the two states with no involvement from Lawrence.

    The rancorous end of the Border War with Mizzou's move to the SEC still resonates in Columbia. Also, Manhattan would cherish an opportunity to play more non-conference games at Kansas City's Sprint Center.

    All four of these programs were participants in the 2012 NCAA tournament. The Billikens and Shockers show signs of joining the mid-major elite under respected coaches Rick Majerus and Gregg Marshall.

    SLU and WSU don't often cross paths with their neighbors, despite their geographic proximity. Wichita State last played Kansas State in 2003, and its last meeting with Mizzou was back in 1951. Saint Louis last played Missouri in 2001 and K-State in 2004.

Massachusetts

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    The Participants:

    Boston College
    Boston University
    Harvard
    Massachusetts

    Chalk this one up as another that may not happen, thanks to BC recently backing out of its annual series with UMass. The Eagles cited a lack of scheduling space due to the ACC expanding to an 18-game slate. The fact that the Minutemen blew BC out by 36 in its own building last season surely had no bearing. Surely.

    Harvard and BU also both got the better of the Eagles last season. With that in mind, if this challenge were accepted, BC could possibly only have to play one of its in-state rivals per season, giving it the opportunity to schedule other non-league games that it could actually win.

    Harvard has become one of the flagship programs in the Ivy League, and UMass is prepared to return to competitiveness in the Atlantic 10. The chance to play at TD Garden each November or December could be a major recruiting boon for any of these schools.

    Canny coaches like Joe Jones and Derek Kellogg could certainly motivate in-state recruits to play hard against BC, particularly if those players didn't get any interest from the ACC school.

Michigan

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    The Participants:

    Detroit
    Michigan
    Michigan State
    Central/Eastern/Western Michigan (rotating)

    Not to be outdone by its neighbors to the south, the Great Lakes State could benefit from its two Big Ten programs hosting an annual doubleheader.

    To start off, Detroit and Michigan's trio of MAC members don't look competitive compared to the Wolverines and Spartans. Let's not forget, though, that it wasn't so long ago that Butler and Notre Dame weren't highly relevant basketball programs, either.

    Butler might actually be helping Detroit by bailing for the Atlantic 10, as the Horizon League is about to experience a power vacuum. The Titans are in as good a position as anyone else in the league to carry the conference's flag into a string of NCAA tournaments.

    Much like in the Illinois challenge, the three MAC members here could dangle a spot in the next state event, and the revenue up for grabs therein, as the carrot for finishing highest in each season's standings.

    A challenge like this may not carry much appeal for UM and Sparty, but there's always the ripe trash talk material that can come from seeing your rival knocked off by a regional mid-major rival.

New York

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    The Participants:

    Fordham
    Iona
    LIU-Brooklyn
    St. John's

    Three of these programs have been to the NCAA tournament in the past two seasons. Only one--LIU--has made both of the past two Big Dances.

    Just in case anyone was concerned about the state of New York basketball, meetings between these four programs could put them front and center for in-state recruits, particularly if the games were held at Madison Square Garden. Don't discount the new Barclays Arena in Brooklyn, though.

    LIU and Iona's high-octane offensive styles could turn heads if they're allowed the chance to face off against St. John's. Fordham is still a member of the Atlantic 10, even if it's one of the schools that escapes the memory when you try to name them all.

    Affording an event like this a large enough profile, including television exposure on ESPN or CBS, would go a long way in helping New York re-establish itself as a college basketball mecca, a status it seems to have left behind when Lou Carnesecca retired.

    If any of these schools decide not to participate, the likes of St. Bonaventure, Cornell and even Syracuse would surely love to jump in. Syracuse still fancies itself "New York's College Team," and would jump at an opportunity to stay active in the area as it leaves for the ACC.

North Carolina

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    The Participants:

    Charlotte
    Davidson
    Duke/North Carolina/NC State/Wake Forest (rotating)
    East Carolina

    Never mind the Pirates and 49ers, who are soon to be Conference USA rivals again.

    Forget whichever ACC representative would serve as the heavy each year.

    Davidson may be the program with the most to gain from a Tar Heel State showdown. The Wildcats have had one losing season in their last 20, reaching six NCAA tournaments in that span.

    NC State has also made six tournaments in 20 years. Just saying.

    The city of Charlotte could benefit immensely from seeing some good basketball for a change. This tournament would surely help get the bitter taste of the Bobcats out of fans' mouths.

    The major downside of this arrangement would be the impossibility of seeing Davidson match up against the ACC teams, since Charlotte and ECU wouldn't be allowed to play each other barring an agreement with C-USA. To that end, the inclusion of a second ACC team in place of Charlotte or ECU could be acceptable.

Ohio

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    The Participants:

    Cincinnati/Xavier
    Cleveland State
    Dayton
    Ohio State

    This particular grouping could easily be billed as a battle for state bragging rights, as the potential members could be drawn from each of Ohio's biggest cities. Any of the four could host, but Cleveland would be the first suggestion.

    Each season's Cincinnati-Xavier Crosstown Shootout could carry yet another incentive if a spot in the next year's Ohio challenge was also on the line. Of course, in the wake of last season's ugly brawl, perhaps those two schools don't need any more motivation to take one another down.

    Under Gary Waters, Cleveland State has been a consistent winner, racking 21 or more victories in four of the last five seasons. The pride of CSU, Norris Cole, now plays a significant number of minutes on national television with the Miami Heat.

    Dayton does CSU one better, winning at least 20 games in each of the last five seasons.

    Ohio State has had no problems matching up with its in-state rivals in recent years. The Buckeyes faced Cleveland State in 2006, 2007 and 2009 and also matched up with Cincinnati in 2006. OSU has not, however, played Dayton in a regular season game since 1988.

    Ohio University, fresh off its first Sweet 16 run since 1964, could also stand in if one of the other schools refused to join.

South Carolina

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    The Participants:

    Clemson
    College of Charleston
    South Carolina
    Winthrop

    Clemson and South Carolina face off every season, even though they're no longer conference opponents. Kansas and Missouri could learn a lesson.

    Their in-state rivals are nothing to sneeze at. Winthrop was on a run of nine NCAA tournaments in 12 seasons before slumping the last two years. Charleston was always dangerous under John Kresse and began winning games again under Bobby Cremins, even though it has struggled to reach the NCAA tournament with Southern Conference rivals like Davidson and Wofford in the way.

    Clemson played all three of these opponents at Littlejohn Coliseum this past season, dropping the meetings with USC and Charleston. They pasted Winthrop by 20, but the bragging rights were already gone.

    The difficulty in a South Carolina challenge would lie in finding the best venue. USC's Colonial Life Center is the state's biggest basketball arena, but Greenville's BI-LO Center could be an acceptable neutral site.

Tennessee

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    The Participants:

    Belmont
    Memphis
    Tennessee
    Vanderbilt

    Perhaps a Tennessee challenge would come closest to replicating the stature of the Crossroads Classic's members.

    Vanderbilt and Tennessee are frequent challengers in the SEC and Memphis has not fallen completely off since John Calipari's departure. In fact, the Tigers are soon to be members of the Big East, and it's a safe bet that their football team was not the most attractive feature of that pitch.

    Belmont has potential to play the Butler role in this foursome, the frequent class of a one-bid conference that catches a bigger league's attention. The difference is that the Bruins haven't quite been able to upgrade to a brand-name league like the Atlantic 10 yet, having to bide their time in the Ohio Valley Conference for the near future.

    Nashville's Bridgestone Arena is a tailor-made neutral site venue, much larger than Belmont's Curb Events Center and lacking the quirky configuration of Vanderbilt's Memorial Gym.

    If any school declines an invitation, Middle Tennessee State would likely jump at the opportunity, fresh off a school-record 27 wins. MTSU split a pair with Belmont, losing one in double overtime for the second straight year, and also suffered a narrow loss to Vanderbilt. Finally, the Blue Raiders walked into Thompson-Boling Arena and ended Tennessee's second-half surge in the second round of the NIT.

Utah

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    The Participants:

    BYU
    Utah
    Utah State
    Weber State

    BYU isn't likely to admit it, but it would relish the chance to watch its rivals from Salt Lake City get stung by an upset-minded USU or Weber squad.

    Utah slumped badly in its first Pac-12 season, and the program might welcome the opportunity to rehabilitate its image in the state.

    Utah State is no pushover for either of the state's heavies, recording 13 straight seasons of 20 or more wins, making eight NCAA tournaments under Stew Morrill.

    Finally, there's Weber State, which is a constant threat in the Big Sky Conference. The Wildcats are sending Damian Lillard into this year's NBA draft, and every March, the name of Harold "The Show" Arceneaux is evoked reverently when a team with one transcendent star battles a heavily favored power program in its first NCAA tournament game.

    Energy Solutions Arena, home of the NBA's Utah Jazz, would be the best--and perhaps only--fit for a neutral venue.

Virginia

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    The Participants:

    Richmond
    Virginia
    Virginia Commonwealth
    Virginia Tech

    The other schools in Virginia may be loath to admit it, but VCU is undoubtedly the Old Dominion State's marquee basketball school these days.

    Virginia and Tech have combined to make four NCAA tournaments in the last 15 years, winning two games total. Richmond has made by four tournaments by itself in that span, winning three games.

    VCU has been to five of the last nine tournaments, with seven wins and the state's only Final Four since Ronald Reagan was trying to get re-elected by name-checking Bruce Springsteen.

    The Richmond Coliseum may be the most likely venue for this event, which would function as a quasi-challenge between the Atlantic 10 and the ACC. That angle would likely draw much of the media interest, even though the Cavaliers and Hokies are hardly indicative of the ACC's strength in any given season.

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