By Kyle Koso
Temperatures in the United States are starting to tumble, but the sweat is just beginning to roll in the world of NCAA D-I basketball.
One of the rewards for eight men’s and eight women’s teams in 2014 is the Cancun Challenge at Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya, slated for the Thanksgiving holiday window at the all-inclusive resort on the Yucatan Peninsula.
From Nov. 27-29, the women’s teams from Charlotte, Florida State, Furman, Hartford, Montana, Princeton, Wake Forest and Washington will each play three games at the newly remodeled Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya. The resort’s ballroom will be converted to a basketball court, offering fans a uniquely upfront view of the action.
On the men’s side, from Nov. 25-26, the Cancun Challenge welcomes Elon, Liberty, Miami (Ohio), Morgan State, North Florida, Northern Iowa, Northwestern and Virginia Tech. Each team will play twice on the ballroom-modified court.
A strong contender for the men’s title will be Northern Iowa, a team hardened by the rigors of play in the Missouri Valley Conference that returns all five starters from a year ago. Another squad drawing attention is Virginia Tech, which has struggled in Atlantic Coast Conference play lately but is now coached by Buzz Williams, who put together several quality teams at Marquette.
On the women’s side, Washington has a blend of youth and experience in a potent backcourt to present a stiff challenge, while Wake Forest has four starters back in action as well as an impact freshman, Amber Campbell, who rang up more than 4,000 points in her prep career.
Lesser-known programs are worth keeping an eye on as well, as these teams like getting a crack against the majors on a neutral court. For the men, North Florida (Atlantic Sun Conference) matched the program record for overall and conference victories in 2013-14. And for the women, Hartford (American East) and Princeton (Ivy) are expected to maintain their gritty, pesky standard of play.
Men’s game times are (all Central Standard Time): 12:30 p.m., 3:00 p.m., 6:00 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Women’s times are 12:00 p.m., 2:30 p.m., 5:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Fans interested in purchasing game tickets can do so through the Cancun Challenge website CLICK HERE.