Familiar foes Missouri, Kansas State highlight 2018 Paradise Jam

The Tigers will take on Kennesaw State in the first round of the pre-Thanksgiving tournament, with former conference rival Kansas State potentially waiting in the final.
Forward Kevin Puryear prepares for a pass during the Showdown for Relief at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri, on Oct. 22, 2017.

The 2018 Paradise Jam championship matchup may prematurely appear all but determined following the release of the tournament bracket on Thursday. But whether Missouri and Kansas State coaches Cuonzo Martin and Bruce Weber get their wish granted with a showdown in the U.S. Virgin Islands will remain to be seen until November.

Missouri, competing in the early-season tournament hosted in St. Thomas on the Virgin Islands as part of its nonconference schedule, will be cast into a first round matchup with Kennesaw State at 2 p.m. Central time on Nov. 16 at the 2018 Paradise Jam.

The Tigers are one of just three teams from major conferences featured in the eight-team tournament, along with the Big 12’s Kansas State and PAC 12 product Oregon State. The other contenders are Kennesaw State, Old Dominion, Northern Iowa, Penn and Eastern Kentucky.

But it’s Weber’s Wildcats that Missouri will have its eyes on from across the bracket, perhaps rooting for a collision in the finals. The two head coaches’ relationship spans back 25 years, to when Martin played college ball for a Purdue team that featured Weber as an assistant coach under Gene Keady.

Weber said in a phone interview in April that he and Martin have been in touch about scheduling a potential ‘home-away’ pair of games across two seasons, but they held off on doing so in 2018 due to the possibility that they would clash in the Paradise Jam.

“Because of that tournament we kind of put it off, but we definitely would like to do it,” Weber said. “Some of that stuff in the future, we’ll definitely think about scheduling.”

The two programs haven’t been pitted against each other since 2015. That game was also played on a neutral court, at Kansas City’s Sprint Center. Kansas State won 66-42 to take a 120-116 lead in the all-time series.

Martin was not coaching the Tigers at the time of that game, but Weber was still the skipper at Kansas State. The two schools were conference foes until Missouri transitioned to the Southeastern Conference in 2012.

“To be honest, for me, it’s sad that Missouri is not in the Big 12,” Weber said in the phone interview. “I think it's a great rivalry whether it’s them and us or them and Kansas. Those are natural rivalries.”

Weber also has plenty of familiarity with Missouri’s program from his days as head coach at Illinois, when the Fighting Illini would square off with the Tigers in St. Louis for the annual Braggin’ Rights game.

In this year’s tournament, Kansas State poses the most challenging threat. Ending 2018 at No. 38 in the RPI, the Wildcats were one of the NCAA Tournament’s darlings this March, upsetting SEC power Kentucky en route to an the Elite Eight run as a No. 9 seed.

To get to that potential championship game clash, Missouri will first have to triumph twice in St. Thomas. Kennesaw State, its first round opponent, went 10-20 last season and was a perpetual bottom feeder in the RPI, ending the season ranked No. 301. Coach Al Skinner is experienced though, formerly of Atlantic 10 and ACC schools Rhode Island and Boston College before taking over Atlantic Sun program Kennesaw State.

That tournament opener for the Tigers will tip at 2 p.m. Central time on Nov. 16. With a win, they would advance to the second round against the winner of Old Dominion and Oregon State. That semifinal would tip at 4:30 p.m. Columbia time on Nov. 18.

Old Dominion finished last season at No. 74 in the RPI, far above its first round PAC 12 opponent’s end mark of No. 140. The Beavers went 16-16 in 2017-18 to finish 10th in the conference. Their 2018 recruiting class is ranked No. 80 in the country and doesn’t feature any newcomers above three stars.

At 25-7, Old Dominion finished second in Conference USA behind Middle Tennessee State, but didn’t survive its conference tournament to punch an NCAA Tournament ticket. Marshall went as the only team representing Conference USA and pulled off an upset of 4-seed Wichita State.

The championship game of the Paradise Jam will be at 6:30 p.m. Central Standard Time on Nov. 19. Last year’s winner of the pre-Thanksgiving invitational was Colorado. Missouri has a chance join the club of its champions due in part to this year's relatively weak field.

The rest of Missouri’s 2018-19 schedule is yet to be released.

Edited by Adam Cole | acole@themaneater.com

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