May 3, 2013 8:44:53 AM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- The Mississippi State University men's basketball program will return to the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas for the second time in three years.
MSU announced Thursday morning it has been invited to participate in the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic on Dec. 22-23. MSU will join the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, the University of South Florida, and Santa Clara University. The bracket will be announced at a later date.
Last year, Colorado State defeated Virginia Tech University 88-52 to win the tournament.
In December 2010, MSU lost to Saint Mary's College 94-72 in New Orleans Arena.
All four teams also will play two on-campus games as part of the event. Similar to the games last year before the Maui Invitational and the 2011 2K Classic that MSU participated in, the four highlighted schools still will play in Las Vegas even if they lose either of the home games.
"I am excited about the opportunity to go out and compete in the Las Vegas Classic," MSU coach Rick Ray said in a university release. "Santa Clara, South Florida, and UNLV are quality teams that will provide our players tough out-of-conference competition. Our guys look forward to the opportunity in Las Vegas."
UNLV is coming off a 25-10 season under second-year coach Dave Rice. The Rebels were a No. 5 seed in the 2013 NCAA tournament, but they lost to the University of California at Berkeley 64-61 in the round of 64 in San Jose, Calif. UNLV features forward Anthony Bennett, a 6-foot-8 low post threat, who averaged a team-high 16.1 points per game. UNLV also returns a double-figure scorer at guard (Bryce Dejean-Jones), but will lose forward Mike Moser as a graduating transfer who will be eligible to play for another school next season.
USF returns eight members from a 12-19 season that saw it drop to 13th in their final season of the 14-team Big East Conference, which will be called the American Athletic Conference in 2013-14). Bulls coach Stan Heath has brought in the No. 22 recruiting class, according to ESPN.com. That class is headlined by four-star, 6-foot-10 center John Egbunu, of Fort Walton Beach, Fla., and four-star power forward Chris Perry, of Bartow, Fla.
Santa Clara won the 2013 College Basketball Invitational tournament to complete a 26-win season that included a fourth-place finish in the West Coast Conference. It won eight games in 2011-12, and was 0-16 in conference play. The Broncos will lose their two leading scorers from last season to graduation. Guard Evan Roquemore is the only returning double-figure scorer.
Hours after the announcement of the tournament invitation, a MSU spokesperson confirmed one of MSU's two on-campus games will be against Florida Gulf Coast University. The first matchup between the schools at Humphrey Coliseum will be Dec. 19. FGCU won 14 of its last 17 games to finish with 26 victories, a program record for its time in Division I. The Eagles earned the nickname "Dunk City" for their high-flying, up-tempo style. The success in the NCAA tournament, which included upset victories against Georgetown University and San Diego State University, helped coach Andy Enfield land a new job at the University of Southern California. FGCU hired University of Kansas assistant coach Joe Dooley on April 17 to replace Enfield. Two years ago, Dooley's name was discussed as a possible replacement for Rick Stansbury before Ray was hired.