Game #9-273: Utah Valley Wolverines at Chattanooga MocsDecember 29, 2012 7:00 pm
After three games earlier in the weekend, it was time to crown yet another multi-team event champion. This would be my third MTE final; the others had previously been in the All-Military Classic at The Citadel
and the Charleston Classic at the College of Charleston
. But while multi-team events never seem that meaningful, the Dr. Pepper Classic of Chattanooga seemed even less important. The All-Military Classic was a true championship between schools linked by their military traditions. The Charleston Classic was a mashup of weak high-major and strong mid-major programs put together in an eight team field to help fill the lineup for ESPNU the weekend before Thanksgiving. So what is the purpose of the Dr. Pepper Classic in Chattanooga? Utah Valley, Austin Peay, High Point, and Chattanooga do not seem to have much in common. And this was not a tournament of elite mid-majors. This was the 23rd annual Dr. Pepper Classic, which seemed to fit the purpose of "let's help UTC get more games played to make their 11,000 seat arena more useful".
Chattanooga has hosted the Dr. Pepper Classic for the last 22 years. Unlike the Charleston Classic
where the Mocs' SoCon rival College of Charleston can only participate once every four years in a tournament they help host, UTC is in the Dr. Pepper Classic every year. It seems weird that the Mocs can play in the same MTE every year, although if they could not do so the Dr. Pepper Classic probably would not be worth having. There most likely is some technical difference between the multi-team events of Charleston and this one in Chattanooga that allows for a distinction in the tournament setup, but I do not what that is exactly. My guess is that the Charleston Classic is technically produced by ESPN and not College of Charleston, while Chattanooga produces their only invitational between Christmas and New Year's. In any case, the Dr. Pepper Classic seems to be a tournament all about its host (which is not the Dr. Pepper Company, although they do have Dr. Pepper bottles for sale in an arena that otherwise uses Coca-Cola products). Chattanooga has won well over half of the Dr. Pepper Classics, only once failing to reach the tournament championship. With numbers like that, it seems that the Dr. Pepper Classic is their own personal guarantee game tournament. I know that Indiana always hosts a tournament that features mostly guarantee game opponents that nearly always gives the Hoosiers the tournament title. But Chattanooga is not as strong as Indiana, and have struggled to get wins over any Division I team. Chattanooga barely beat High Point the night before
, and now would play Utah Valley. The Wolverines from the non-automatic bid Great West came here last year and lost by 15 to the Mocs in the final. This final was likely going to be a bit more of a challenge for the hosts against a UVU team on the rise as it prepares for WAC play next season.
Chattanooga would grab the early lead. The main advantages the Mocs had were playing at home and having a deeper team. Utah Valley as mentioned before
only had nine players dressed out for the tournament. And aside from a select few players, most of the team was not of a high Division I caliber. But the Wolverines are a team that can make the best of what few advantages they do have, and they denied Chattanooga from being able to pull away. Like many teams that struggle to pull in a high number of quality Division I players, UVU has one successful frontcourt player and one successful backcourt player. Nick Thompson was the leader of the Wolverine frontcourt, a Utah native that is playing his only season as a Wolverine after starting at a JUCO and playing his junior season at Oklahoma. The leader of the Wolverine backcourt was Holton Hunsaker, a smart playmaker whose father Dick Hunsaker serves as the Wolverines' head coach. Utah Valley briefly went ahead at led by as many as four before the Mocs' late first half charge gave UTC a 30-27 halftime lead.
But once again, the Wolverines kept coming back against the home team. Hunsaker caught fire and knocked down shots from all over the court to frustrate the Moc defense. Thompson did a good job at drawing fouls to also keep his team in the game. This would be the last game of my family holiday trip, and so I sat near my mom who frequently complained about the antics Thompson deployed in drawing fouls. My mom, a Moc fan for a day (unless she has an interest in the visiting team, she always roots somewhat vocally for the home team) came to really dislike Thompson and expressed disgust later when he was selected to the all-tournament team. It seemed that between that and Hunsaker's shots that Utah Valley had a shot at doing the unthinkable: deny Chattanooga from winning their own tournament. But that would not last, as the Mocs had Z. Mason get hot to match the production from Hunsaker. And while Thompson drew many fouls, ultimately a physical game favors the deeper team which was not Utah Valley. Thompson would end up fouling out towards the end of the game, while each of the other four UVU starters including Hunsaker were one foul away from doing so. This allowed Chattanooga to play more freely down the stretch and helped the Mocs preserve a seven point lead with five minutes left for a 76-69 win. Utah Valley did as well as could be expected from a team that can't make the NCAA with a conference tournament title, but they would come up short here in trying for a Dr. Pepper Classic title.
So the tournament was now over, and Chattanooga had won for the 15th time in 23 tries. So what did this tournament mean? For Chattanooga, it meant that they finally got wins under their belt going into conference play after flopping in an event they hosted in November. For Utah Valley, it meant getting some much needed respect even if they only went 1-1. For High Point and Austin Peay, it meant getting two games in during a stretch of the calendar where it is tough to schedule games. And ultimately, that is what the Dr. Pepper Classic is about: playing games. The same is true for most multi-team events, and it holds up here. When you won't get many fans playing guarantee games at home, you do what you can with just trying to pack in the schedule. It seems odd with that in mind to award championship trophies, and all-tournament honors. Like the All-Military Classic, it was a four game tournament with everybody playing two games each. That does not seem like enough (or meaningful enough of a tournament) to warrant having honors. It was especially funny that Utah Valley got a runner-up trophy for beating Austin Peay and losing to Chattanooga (High Point on the other hand did not get a third place trophy despite having the exact same results as UVU). But this allows the schools to fill their trophy cases at the same time they fill their schedules. For most college basketball fans, this is not particularly relevant. But if you were here, relevance is all relative anyway as I mentioned in my recap of the consolation game
And for my holiday trip, it was now over as well. I did go several days without seeing a game while visiting relatives, but here I was able to get to see five games in over three days. That is the best thing about a multi-team event. If you are a crazed enough fan, you get what you want for the same reason the teams are getting what they want. And while these teams had little in common, that made it more fun as well. I would never have before had any reason to get to know the Utah Valley Wolverines. And coincidentally enough, less than 48 hours after this game I was at a high school MTE in Myrtle Beach hundreds of miles away where one team from Utah Valley's home of Orem had a star point guard had a player named Zach Hunsaker. And yes, Zach Hunsaker's older brother is Holton and his dad is UVU coach Dick Hunsaker. That gave these two very different MTEs a common thread, and without this tournament in Chattanooga I would not have known why to pay attention to a player named Hunsaker. What was also great about the tournament and this holiday vacation was to see new places, and get to know one of the SoCon's geographic outliers better. It also gave the Hopping Cats more mileage points, although the oddities of a weekend MTE meant that the robot thought I was at High Point for the consolation game, worth six less points than if it had been correctly identified as being in Chattanooga. I guess this is robot payback for when I got seven more points than I should have for the All-Military Classic consolation game, which it had as being at VMI in Lexington, Virginia (worth seven more points than at the Citadel in Charleston where I actually was). Regardless, this was a great experience. Now it is time to get back to normal life as we start conference play.
at CHATTANOOGA 76, UTAH VALLEY 69
UTAH VALLEY 7-9 (0-0) -- H. Hunsaker 12-22 5-5 37; A. Hubbard 6-16 0-0 12; B. Aird 0-2 2-2 2; N. Thompson 3-8 2-4 9; T. Brown 2-4 0-2 6; J. Johnson 0-4 2-2 2; K. Enos 0-0 0-0 0; Z. Jones 0-1 1-2 1; W. Sinclair 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-57 12-17 69.
CHATTANOOGA 5-8 (0-1) -- Z. Mason 8-15 9-12 26; G. McGhee 1-5 9-12 11; R. White 4-14 0-0 11; D. Zlovaric 4-8 0-1 8; M. Bareika 0-4 2-2 2; F. Cobb 0-5 0-0 0; S. Watson 1-1 0-1 2; A. Bran 4-7 0-0 9; E. Robertson 2-3 0-0 5; J. Bryant 1-1 0-1 2. Totals 25-63 20-29 76.
Three-point goals: UVU 11-30 (T. Brown 2-4; N. Thompson 1-4; H. Hunsaker 8-15; Z. Jones 0-1; A. Hubbard 0-3; J. Johnson 0-3), CHAT 6-24 (M. Bareika 0-1; Z. Mason 1-4; R. White 3-8; A. Bran 1-3; F. Cobb 0-4; G. McGhee 0-2; E. Robertson 1-2); Rebounds: UVU 30 (B. Aird 13), CHAT 44 (Z. Mason 13); Assists: UVU 18 (T. Brown 4), CHAT 12 (R. White 3); Total Fouls -- UVU 23, CHAT 13; Fouled Out: UVU-N. Thompson; CHAT-None.