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TBT Preview: Carmen’s Crew vs Mid American Unity

The Ohio State alumni team will look to avenge last season’s first-round exit in Columbus Friday evening

Miami v Ohio State Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Alrighty, let’s try this again.

After an unceremonious first round exit in The Basketball Tournament last summer, Carmen’s Crew is back for the fifth straight year, searching for their second TBT championship. After watching the Wichita and West Virginia regionals compete over the past week, the Columbus regional is set to tip off this afternoon at the Covelli Center on Ohio State’s campus. If you haven’t bought tickets and are interested, you can find more information here.

The first game in Columbus tips off at 2:00 pm ET between The Money Team (5) and The Region (12), but Carmen’s Crew won’t play until about seven hours later, as they’ll be tipping off around 9:00 pm ET. With the previous game beginning at 7:00, their start time may wind up being pushed back by a few minutes. Their game, as well as the game before them between the Ballinteers (9) and Men of Mackey (8), will be broadcast on ESPN.

Last season’s TBT was strange, as the typical 64-team field was cut down to just 24 teams amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. All games were played in a controlled environment in downtown Columbus, and every team had to test for COVID-19 each day. This year, with COVID more or less in check and vaccines widely available, TBT has returned to its full 64-team bracket, and fans are allowed at all the games.

As happens every year in TBT, there are a few new teams that cannot be seeded based on prior performance. Last year, Carmen’s Crew drew a very unlucky matchup with House of ‘Paign, an Illinois alumni team that also employs the services of the seventh-leading scorer in NCAA history, Mike Daum. Somehow, this team — that also included Malcolm Hill and Andres Feliz — drew the 16-seed in the tournament.

We don’t need to dwell on the past too much, but to make a long story short, House of ‘Paign was criminally under-seeded. The combination of Daum and Hill, along with a supporting cast of Leron Black, Feliz, and Michael Finke, was too much for Carmen’s Crew, as they fell 76-68 to the 16-seed last July.

Our merry band of former Buckeyes were respected enough by TBT to be given a 1-seed again this year, and they will, in fact, be facing another 16-seed. Luckily, it is not House of ‘Paign — they are a 2-seed. Instead, Carmen’s Crew faces Mid American Unity, a squad who is participating in its third TBT Tournament and is made up of several former MAC standouts.

The most noteworthy name on Mid American Unity is former Bowling Green Falcon and Ohio State Buckeye Ron Lewis, author of one of the most famous shots in Ohio State history.

The Buckeye great was apparently listed on Mid American Unity’s roster last season as well but did not play, so it will be interesting to see if the 6-foot-4 guard will lace it up against his alma mater this year in TBT.

Another member of Mid American Unity with Ohio State ties is Columbus-native J.D. Weatherspoon, who played two seasons at Ohio State from 2010-2012 before transferring to Toledo for his final two years of eligibility. Weatherspoon still spends time in Columbus during the offseason, and plays a lot of pickup basketball with the core of Carmen’s Crew when he’s not playing professionally.

A few other names Ohioans may be familiar with from this team are:

  • D.J. Cooper (Ohio University, MAC Player of the Year in 2013)
  • Demetrius Treadwell (Akron)
  • Nick Harney (Akron)
  • Malcolm Bernard (Xavier)
  • Antonio “Booman” Williams (Kent State, Second Team All-MAC in 2020)
  • Luke Knapke (Toledo, Third Team All-MAC in 2020)
  • Jimmy Hall (Kent State, 3x First Team All-MAC 2015-2017)

Mid American Unity also recruited former New Orleans Pelicans forward Javon Bess to their team after he competed with “Big X” last season. While Mid American Unity may be a 16-seed, they will not be a pushover, and will likely play eye-to-eye with Carmen’s Crew until the final moments tonight. Do not be surprised if Carmen’s Crew ends up in a slugfest with this 16-seed, because as you can see, they’ve got some real bucket-getters.

Carmen’s Crew has a few bucket-getters of their own, however, and return much of the same core that won the whole tournament back in 2019. William Buford, David Lighty, and Jon Diebler, Lenzelle Smith Jr, and Evan Ravenel are all ready to run it back. Aaron Craft announced last year that last season’s TBT would be his final time playing competitive basketball before he started medical school, but the rosy-cheeked thief is back this summer for one last run. Craft told the media on Wednesday that he’s been in school and has not been playing more than once per week, so it’s likely that he’ll come off the bench this weekend rather than starting at point guard.

Jeff Gibbs — who has played with Carmen’s Crew for several years and left last year’s TBT game very early with a calf injury — is also back, and could be the X-factor for the men donning the scarlet and gray. The 40-year old was the 2002 NCAA Division III Player of the Year at Otterbein University in nearby Westerville, where he averaged 23.5 points, 16.3 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game. At 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds, Gibbs will bring the ball up, fight for rebounds, set screens for shooters, or anything else that is necessary to win. He’s been a vital asset to Carmen’s Crew the past few years.

In addition to the holdovers, Carmen’s Crew added a few new faces who should be very familiar to Ohio State fans — Shannon Scott and Keyshawn Woods. Scott, a guard who played at Ohio Stat from 2011-2015, was named to the All-Big Ten Defensive team two separate times in college. He, paired with Dr. Craft, will give Carmen’s Crew a solid point guard tandem, especially on the defensive end.

Woods, a 6-foot-3 guard who played one season at Ohio State (2018-19) is best remembered for his big time performance against Iowa State in the 2019 NCAA Tournament. Woods brings a smooth offensive toolset and more importantly —younger, fresh legs that can help give the vets a break when needed.

Carmen’s Crew also added former Miami (OH) forward and the older brother of former Ohio State women’s basketball player Stephanie Mavunga — Julian Mavunga. He averaged 11.2 points per game over four years with the RedHawks. Along with Kosta Koufas (who played in TBT previously, just not last year), GM Evan Turner has assembled a quality committee of big men to share responsibilities down low.

Prediction: Carmen’s Crew 76, Mid American Unity 70

This game is going to be closer than many people think. Mid American Unity doesn’t just have solid players, they have some great players. Luke Knapke might be the most talented big man on the floor today, and Jimmy Hall is as dynamic as they come with the ball in his hands. That’s not even mentioning that they’ve got a former NBA player in Javon Bess or an Ohio State legend in Ron Lewis. The more I think about it, their being seeded the way they were (16) is downright criminal.

Something else to keep an eye on — how Aaron Craft performs in the first half of today’s game. He plays once per week while in school, but said that his conditioning is still “not quite where it was last summer.” Craft’s value comes mostly on the defensive end, but will his energy level be up to par with what we’ve seen in previous tournaments?

In the end, Carmen’s Crew is still the more talented team, and that talent should win out. William Buford is the 2019 TBT MVP. David Lighty is still playing at a very high level overseas. Kosta Koufos and Jon Diebler both spent time in the NBA. Jeff Gibbs does things on the floor that no 40-year old should be able to do.

It’ll be close, but I think Carmen’s Crew will make one final push in the fourth quarter to separate themselves from their MAC rivals. Onto the next one.