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TBT viewing guide: First-round games to watch

CJ Jackson and Andrew Dakich’s Big X team is one of 16 who tip off this weekend in the opening round of TBT

Photo courtesy of Big X Twitter | @BigX_tbt

The Basketball Tournament returns to Columbus tomorrow and basketball is alive again, even if it is only for a short time. While reigning champion Carmen’s Crew will not play this weekend due to a well-deserved first-round bye, Big X does play, as well as 15 other teams. If you don’t know which of this weekend’s eight games to prioritize, that’s okay, we’ve got you covered.

Here are the three best first-round games that will take place this weekend. All of them will be be broadcast on ESPN. Sports are back, baby.

1) House of ‘Paign (16) vs War Tampa (17)

Saturday, July 4, 8:00 p.m. EST (ESPN)

Mike Daum (left) and Fletcher Magee (right). Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports.

The seventh-leading scorer in college basketball history vs the all-time three-point champion in college basketball history on the 4th of July after having no basketball for almost five months? Yes please.

The Illinois alumni team, House of Paign already had plenty of recognizable Big Ten talent, including Michael Finke, Andres Feliz, Nnanna Egwu, and Malcolm Hill — a certified bucket-getter and the third all-time leading scorer in Illinois history. Then they went out and added South Dakota State alum Mike Daum, the seventh-leading scorer in NCAA history who is and always will be an absolute matchup nightmare. House of Paign has two scorers who would be the scorer on most TBT teams, so they will be a tough out.

The Auburn alumni team, “War Tampa” has the talent to make a deep run in this tournament as well. Their roster includes recent Auburn players Bryce Brown (currently playing on the Boston Celtics’ G-League team) and Horace Spencer, but they also recruited former Wofford guard Fletcher Magee, the man who holds the record for most three-pointers in college basketball history. Two-time national champion Walter Hodge, who played alongside the likes of Joakim Noah and Corey Brewer at Florida, is a quality addition to an already talented roster.

This game is a true pick-em, and whoever wins this first-round game will advance to play Carmen’s Crew on Wednesday. If you think that game will be an easy opening round tuneup for Carmen’s Crew, think again.

2) Big X (9) vs D2 (24)

Saturday, July 4, 3:00 p.m. EST (ESPN)

Andrew Dakich (left) and CJ Jackson (right)

While it first looked like the makings of a second Ohio State alumni team, Big X has gone through rapid roster changes over the past two weeks and now looks like a more holistic representation of the Big Ten conference, with a few non-B1G players sprinkled in to spice it up.

The Big X roster originally included Jackson and Dakich, as well as both Andre and Kaleb Wesson, Jae’Sean Tate, and Keyshawn Woods. Unfortunately, the Wessons pulled out of the tournament to focus on pro opportunities, Woods withdrew due to illness, and Tate will miss at least one game after testing positive for COVID-19 (he tested positive before his team traveled to Columbus, so he will have a chance to come back if Big X makes a lengthy run). While it is no longer an Ohio State dominated team, Big X carries two Buckeyes, three Badgers and two Spartans.

To fill those holes, Big X added former Butler star Kellen Dunham and St. Louis alum and All Atlantic-10 selection Javon Bess. They also have former Wisconsin Badgers Vitto Brown, Khalil Iverson, and Trevon Hughes on the team, and recent Michigan State big man Nick Ward.

After going 1-1 each of the past two seasons, Big X will start TBT by facing D2. They were called in on short notice Wednesday night to fill in for the Jackson (TN) Underdawgs after they had a player test positive for COVID-19, and therefore withdrew from the tournament, per TBT rules. D2 is made up of all former Division-II stars, and was the most recent addition to the bracket. If Big X wins, they advance to face 8th-seeded Red Scare, the Dayton alumni team.

3) Team Hines (11) vs Sideline Cancer (22)

Sunday, July 5, 4:00 p.m. EST (ESPN)

Brandon Paul (left) and Marcus Keene (right). Photos courtesy of The Ringer and USA Today Sports.

An incredibly underrated team in this tournament is the 22-seeded Sideline Cancer squad, and they’re easy to root for, too. They’ve participated in TBT every year since its inaugural season of 2014, and advanced all the way to the Wichita regional final last season, knocking off the “Aftershocks”, the Wichita State alumni team, on their home court.

They’ve paired up with the Greg and Cathy Griffith Family Foundation to raise awareness for pancreatic cancer, which is one of the world’s deadliest cancers and afflicts over 50,000 Americans every single year. Cathy Griffith lost her husband to pancreatic cancer in 2011, and last year after Sideline Cancer’s upset win over the Aftershocks in Wichita, the team had her “move the bracket” for them.

Sideline Cancer has the only NCAA scoring champion participating in TBT in Marcus Keene, who scored 30 points per game during the 2016-17 season at Central Michigan. They also employ the services of former Xavier point guard Remy Abell, former Indiana and George Washington guard Maurice “Mo” Creek, and former Maryland center and NBA draft pick Diamond Stone. They’re not just here to be a feel good story, they have a chance to make a real run.

Team Hines, founded by Euroleague legend and UNC Greensboro alum Kyle Hines, put together a collection of mostly non-power five conference players, but the big additions to their roster this year are Brandon Paul and Ethan Happ.

Paul, one of the most dominant offensive players in Illinois history, also appeared in a few games with the San Antonio Spurs in 2018. He is one of two Illinois players to score 1,500 points, grab 500 rebounds, dish out 300 assists, and have 200 steals in a career. He was a two-time All Big-Ten selection, and scored 43 points against on January 10, 2012 to upset No. 3 Ohio State in Champaign.

Happ was a three-time All Big-Ten selection at Wisconsin, a two-time All-American, and the 2016 Big Ten Freshman of the Year. He is one of just six players in NCAA history to record 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, and 400 assists in a career. He averaged 15.3 points per game in his career, but only took 16 shots from beyond the arc and rarely expanded his range past the paint, so his options are limited. He’s the definition of a “good college player” who didn’t have the skill set (jump shot) to cut it in the NBA. Most recently, Happ played in Italy during the 2019-20 season.