The 2016 Cancun Challenge will be played at the all-inclusive Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya,
which sits along the Caribbean coastline of the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, located on the
eastern portion of the Yucatan Peninsula.
This will be the 9th year of the men’s tournament and the fifth time it has been played at the
Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya. Since its inception in 2008, the tournament has hosted 58
teams representing 24 conferences with a total of 131 games played (68 in U.S. and 63 in
Mexico). It is the only Division I men’s basketball tournament held in Mexico.
This year, the event features eight teams split into two divisions: Riviera and Mayan. Representing
the Riviera Division is Auburn (SEC), Purdue (Big Ten), Texas Tech (Big 12) and Utah
State (Mountain West). The Mayan Division features Idaho State (Big Sky), Georgia State
(Sun Belt), Eastern Kentucky (Ohio Valley) and NJIT (Atlantic Sun).
All eight teams are making their first-ever appearance in the Cancun Challenge. Three teams
competed in postseason play last year with Purdue and Texas Tech both losing in Round One
of the NCAA Tournament and NJIT falling to Columbia in the semifinals of the CIT.
The tournament format includes eight games played in the United States and eight games
played in Mexico. The four Riviera teams host the four Mayan teams with two games in the
U.S. before all eight travel south of the border. Once in Mexico, each team is guaranteed two
more games with a champion crowned in both divisions.
For the ninth consecutive year the Riviera Division games in Mexico will air live in HD on CBS
Sports Network. Thad Anderson (play-by-play) and Doug Gottlieb (analyst) will be calling the
action. Anderson has worked as play-by-play for the Cancun Challenge since its inception in
2008. Anderson has been a sports broadcaster for 20 years calling football, basketball, baseball,
softball and volleyball on ESPN, Pac-12 Networks and SEC Network. Gottlieb, a former
college basketball standout at Oklahoma State, hosts the late-afternoon program on CBS
Sports Radio. His show can also be seen live on CBS Sports Network, where it is simulacast.
This is his first time calling the action at the Cancun Challenge. All Mayan Division games in
Mexico will be streamed live on YouTube and are free to view.
2015-16 record: 11-20 overall (5-13 SEC)
Auburn finished last season at 11-20, losing in the opening round of the SEC tournament to Tennessee. In a rebuilding year, Bruce Pearl and the Tigers produced quality regular season wins against Tennessee, a top 25 team in Kentucky, and rival Alabama. A young class of Tigers including
sophomore Bryce Brown (10.2 ppg, 1.7 rpg) earned valuable minutes last season and is primed for leaving a big mark in 2016. T.J. Dunans, who still averaged in double digits (11.2 ppg, 2.4 rpg) despite missing 15 games due to injury, is expected to contribute. Junior T.J. Lang also finished last season strong, averaging 12 points and shooting 45 percent from the field in the Tigers’ final seven games. Auburn lead the SEC with 8.9 three pointers made per game in 2016. Pearl also brings in a top 25 recruiting class this season, complete with the school’s first five-star recruit, Mustapha Heron.
Eastern Kentucky (Ohio Valley)
2015-16 record: 15-16 overall (6-10 Ohio Valley)
Eastern Kentucky finished out last year with an overall record of 15-16 under first-year head coach Dan McHale. McHale led the Colonels to Ohio Valley Conference top marks in both 3-point field goal percentage (39.5) and field goal percentage (49.3). Senior Javontae Hawkins will return for his final campaign. Hawkins averaged 17.1 points per game last season, fifth-best in the Ohio Valley Conference. Hawkins will be complemented by sophomore forward Nick Mayo, who as a freshmen started all 30 games for McHale and averaged 14.5 points per contest. Along with Hawkins and May, McHale returns 10 players from last year’s roster.
Georgia State (Sun Belt)
2015-16 record: 16-14 overall (9-11 Sun Belt)
Georgia State finished out the 2015-16 season with a first-round loss in the Sun Belt Tournament to the Texas State Bobcats, 63-61. The Panthers finished with a 16-14 overall record and a 9-11 mark in conference play. Head skipper Ron Hunter enters 2016 a mere four wins away from holding the all-time wins record as head coach at Georgia State. Hunter has racked up 103 victories in just five years. Since 2013, no Division I school in the state of Georgia has put together more victories than the Panthers (66-32). Along with nine other players, Hunter will get back forward Jeremy Hollowell,who pulled down five rebounds and 14.7 points per game last season. Junior guard Isiah Williams will also make his return. Williams averaged 15.2 points per game in the final six games last season. Hunter inked two high-valued recruits, signing 6-9 forward Chris Clerky and four-star guard D’Marcus Simmonds.
Idaho State (Big Sky)
2015-16 record: 16-15 overall (11-7 Big Sky)
Idaho State finished with a 16-15 overall record in the 2015-16 season and a Big Sky mark of 11-7. It was the first winning record in conference play for the Bengals since 2008. Head coach Bill Evans will get back his star point guard, Ethan Telfair (20.3 ppg, 5.5 apg). The Big Sky newcomer of the year ranked top two in the conference in nine statistical categories including points per game, steals per game and assists per game. Evans returns 10 additional players to the 2016-17 roster. The Bengals also signed graduate transfer Hayes Garrity, who won a WAC regular season title at Utah Valley, and Lyle Sutton, who averaged better than 17 points a game and earned all-district honors at his high school in Idaho.
NJIT (Atlantic Sun)
2015-16 record: 20-15 overall (8-6 Sun Belt)
Postseason: CIT - Lost to Columbia in the Semifinals
New Jersey Institute of Technology has found a new home in the Atlantic Sun Conference. In their first season as a member of the conference, the Highlanders put together eight conference victories adding to their overall record of 20-15. Jim Engles, who led the program to two consecutive 20-win seasons, has left to take the helm at Columbia University. Engles’ top assistant Brian Kennedy will take over the program which returns 13 players from last year’s roster, including A-Sun defensive player of the year Tim Coleman, who gobbled up 1.5 steals and 7.3 rebounds per game. The Highlanders are coming off back-to-back appearances in the CIT Postseason Tournament semifinals. NJIT set a program record last year with 19 wins against Division I opponents.
Purdue (Big Ten)
2015-16 record: 26-9 overall (12-6 Big Ten)
Postseason: NCAA - Lost to Little Rock in First Round
Purdue ended the 2015-16 season with a record of 26-9, a Big Ten mark of 12-6, and a 5th seed in the NCAA tournament. Head coach Matt Painter’s crew set a school record with 17 home victories at Mackey Arena. Two of the Boilermakers’ top scorers, Vince Edwards (11.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.9 apg) and Caleb Swanigan (10.2 ppg, 8.3 rpg), are set to return. Swanigan, who started all but one game for Painter last season, became the second freshmen in school history to finish with 300 points, 200 rebounds and 50 assists. In total, Purdue will return 11 players from last season including Ryan Cline, who played in all 35 games and finished fifth on Purdue’s freshmen 3-pointers made list with 42.
Texas Tech (Big 12)
2015-16 record: 19-13 overall (9-9 Big 12)
Postseason: NCAA - Lost to Butler in First Round
Texas Tech finished the 2015-16 season with a first-round exit in the NCAA tournament, a 71-61 loss to Butler, but it was the Red Raiders’ first appearance in the big dance since 2007. West Texas native Chris Beard became the program’s 17th head coach in the offseason. Last year, at the helm of Little Rock, Beard led the Trojans to a school-record 30 wins, including a double overtime thriller over Purdue. Beard will be welcomed by 12 returners, including two of the top scorers in Aaron Ross (10.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg) and Zach Smith (10.0 ppg, 7.3 rpg).
Utah State (Mountain West)
2015-16 record: 16-15 overall (7-11 Mountain West)
Utah State finished with a winning record (16-15) for the 23rd consecutive year. Junior Jalen Moore (15.1 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.5 apg) is on pace to finish in the top 10 in Aggie history in scoring and is already in the top 15 in blocks with 54. Moore will join 11 other returning Aggies for the 2016-17 season. Among those returning is guard Shane Reactor, who averaged 8.7 points per game and led the team in assists with 101. First-year head coach Tim Duryea became the first in program history to win a conference tournament game in his first year, toppling Wyoming, 88-70. Duryea spent 14 years as an assistant in Logan with the Aggies before accepting the head coach position. Utah State holds the sixth-best winning percentage (.730) in the nation since 2000.