NEW YORK — Oregon coach Kelly Graves is excited to bring his team to the U.S. Virgin Islands for the holidays.
The No. 1 Ducks will play three games in three days at the Paradise Jam Tournament beginning Thursday, including the finale against No. 8 Louisville on Saturday. Oklahoma State and UT Arlington are also in the Ducks’ bracket.
That’s only half of a loaded field that will spend Thanksgiving off the continental U.S. Second-ranked Baylor, No. 5 South Carolina and No. 17 Indiana are in the other bracket. The Lady Bears and Gamecocks will face off on Saturday, too. The eight teams in the tournament haven’t lost a game this season, going a combined 37-0.
“We play three really good teams back to back to back. None of them have lost yet. And they all pose different challenges. Oklahoma State, Texas-Arlington, and then Louisville,” Graves said. “It’s going to test us. We knew this stretch would, and after those three games we go home for South Dakota State. These are five NCAA Tournament teams that we play back to back to back in lots of different time zones. We’ve got our work cut out for us and our bench is going to need to come up really big in that tournament.”
Usually Thanksgiving tournaments might have one or two good teams, but to have four of the top 10 in the same field makes the Paradise Jam loaded.
“It’s like an Elite Eight or Final Four with really good teams playing in the same place,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. “We will see a lot of great basketball down there.”
Both Walz and Graves said that if their team’s look ahead to Saturday’s matchup, there is a good chance they could falter before that game.
“Oklahoma State just dismantled a really good Rice team,” Walz said. “Texas-Arlington is also good. Our depth is going to get tested.”
This is the first time this season that so many top teams will be in the same place. So far, of the top 10 teams, only South Carolina and Maryland have faced each other. That will change this week.
South Carolina coach Dawn Staley would love to see an early season women’s doubleheader like the one the men have with the Champions Classic that features Duke, Kentucky, Kansas and Michigan State.
“I think it would create a lot of buzz, even if we played it during the day. I would like to see that game on ESPN like the men’s game,” Staley said. … I think it would be a great thing.”
The tournament this weekend in the Virgin Islands will only be available to watch on a streaming service.
Here are a few other tidbits from the tournament:
ALL IN THE FAMILY: The Gerlich family loyalties will be divided Saturday when UT Arlington faces Oklahoma State. Krista Gerlich is the coach of the Lady Mavericks and her daughter Bryn plays for Oklahoma State. This will be the first meeting between them. Bryn, a sophomore, is averaging about 7 minutes a game.
CHALLENGING TRIP: Washington State will be the only program to face three-ranked teams in the tournament. The Cougars (4-0) play Baylor, South Carolina and Indiana. The Cougars already have an impressive win at Boise State and have won their first four games for the fifth time in program history — the last came in 2015-16.
“I’m happy for this team. We’re at a different level in practice compared to last year. We’re seeing real signs of growth and we’re proving it by winning some early games,” coach Kamie Ethridge said. “I think that’s a reflection that we’re better than we were a year ago. It feels like we’re going in the right direction.”