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TBT Illinois Regional: All You Need to Know

Carver Arena before a Bradley men’s basketball home game. Photo courtesy of Bradley Athletics.

by Jonathan Michel

Sports Editor

By now, you have most likely heard the buzz surrounding The Basketball Tournament (TBT) and its triumphant return to Peoria. The tournament marks the return to normal of Carver Arena, which has not hosted a ticketed basketball game since February 29,2020, a pulse-pumping contest between Bradley and Loyola Chicago. 

This is not Peoria’s first rodeo welcoming TBT to town though, as the more intimate Renaissance Coliseum played host to the tournament in 2017. TBT’s smaller popularity four years ago allowed for the choice of venue, however the 2021 edition is poised to be one of the larger athletic events to grace Peoria in recent memory. 

16 teams will descend on Carver Arena this weekend: some being formed of a given school’s alumni, some representing a city or larger geographic region, and some playing to bring awareness to a good cause. 

Come to the tournament and you may see former NBA or current G-League players, in addition to college standouts who may have taken your breath away in past NCAA Tournaments or on local high school courts from years past.

From rule explanations, top players, top teams, tournament schedule, and other miscellaneous notes, here’s what you need to know for the 2021 TBT Peoria Regional. 

The Elam Ending: The Basketball Tournament is unconventional in its method of finalizing games. All former basketball players know that during the waning seconds of the 4th quarter of a closely contested game, the importance of watching the clock is imperative. Not so in TBT. 

The Elam Ending, coined by longtime TBT fan and Ball State University professor Nick Elam in 2017, is described by TBT on their website to “allow teams to play at a high level all the way through the end of the game and take their best shot on the last possession of the game.” Rather than prolong a contest with late-game fouling, the clock is shut off after the first dead ball with under four minutes to play. Eight points are added onto the leading team’s score and the first team to reach that score wins the game. In short, all games will end on a made basket. 

While TBT plays under most NCAA rules, other differences include nine-minute quarters, taking six fouls to foul out, shooting bonus free throws starting with the fifth foul of a quarter. In late-game situations, certain replays will only be allowed when a team is within three points of the posted Elam Ending score.

Top Teams: Fans of the World Cup in soccer often refer to the most competitive grouping of teams as the “Group of Death”. Simply put, the Illinois Regional is the bracket of death this year and here’s why. 

#1 seed Golden Eagles (Marquette Alumni): The champions of TBT in 2020, it is a surprise to no one that the Golden Eagles are the #1 seed in Peoria this year. Possessing nearly an entire starting lineup’s worth of players with NBA experience, the Golden Eagles also possess enough youth and depth to be a contender for the championship again in 2020. While they lose 2020 tournament MVP Darius Johnson-Odom, names like Jamil Wilson, Dwight Buycks and Travis Diener are more than capable of delivering multiple wins. 

#2 seed House of ‘Paign (Illinois Alumni): The Illinois Regional co-hosts along with Bradley, House of ‘Paign demanded attention in their 2020 TBT when they knocked off overall #1 seed Carmen’s Crew. While they ultimately fell in the next round, expect the Orange and Blue to be back with a mindset of revenge and their eyes on the finals. Headed by former Illini Mike LaTulip, the team boasts overseas pros such as Mike Daum, Andres Feliz, and Leron Black. Guards Brandon Paul and Demetri McCamey also have years of G-League experience on their resumé. 

#3 seed Boeheim’s Army (Syracuse Alumni): The other can’t-miss team in orange, Boeheim’s Army could be the most stacked team on paper in their 7th year of playing in TBT. Shooting guard Andrew White III, small forward D.J. Kennedy, and shooting guard Eric Devendorf all possess at least three years of TBT experience. Kennedy joins the team after playing for Overseas Elite, winning an astounding four TBT titles and two tournament MVP awards. Sounds like a pretty good player to have on your team, no? 

#5 seed Autism Army: Making their TBT debut, Autism Army is playing with hopes to benefit Life’s WORC, an organization designed to provide resources and care for those with disabilities. With a feel-good backstory, their team is also something to feel positive about as well, unless you are playing against them. Point guard and former Dallas Maverick Chris Wright is a name to watch but do not forget about combo guard J’Covan Brown and center Darryl Monroe; both are former Israeli League MVP’s. 

Other teams to watch for: 

#4 seed Always Us (Oregon Alumni): Making tournament debut with elite scorer Bryce Taylor at their disposal. The former Ducks lack size, but will make noise if they don’t get beat in the paint.

#6 seed The Overlooked (Murray St. Alumni); Also enjoying their first TBT birth, The Overlooked feature former NBA guard Isaiah Canaan but suffered the roster loss of key forward Rasheed Sulaimon. Don’t fall victim to the team’s name though. 

#11 seed Team Heartfire: At the heart of every successful team is a respected coach and Team Heartfire may have the best of the bunch in Valparaiso legend Homer Drew. Former Los Angeles Clippers forward Branden Dawson will be a problem. 

Top Players: The Illinois Regional boasts more players with NBA experience than you can count on one-hand. However, some of the tournament’s legends make their living playing in the some of the highest-ranked leagues overseas. While it is naturally harder to rank players who are at different stages of their career and play at varying levels, these are 15 players you should try not to miss in no particular order:

15.Vernan Macklin- Center, Forces of Seoul. 52nd pick in 2011 NBA Draft.  

14. Malachi Richardson- Shooting guard, Boeheim’s Army. 22nd pick in 2016 NBA Draft. 

13. Mike Daum- Power forward, House of ‘Paign. Dubbed “The Daumintaor”, the headband-sporting Daum shot an mind-blowing 61% from 3-point range during TBT last year. In fact, his play in last year’s tournament was so good, he had fans across social media begging for an NBA team to sign him. 

12. D.J. Hogg- Small forward, SCD Hoops. Large for position at six-foot-nine, won G-League Championship with Lakeland Magic in 2021 after a standout career at Texas A&M. 

11: Donte Thomas- Small forward, Always a Brave. Perhaps the fan-favorite along with teammate Darrell Brown, Thomas plays in Serie A, Italy’s premier basketball league.

10. Darrell Brown- Point guard, Always a Brave. Claim partiality all you want, but Brown’s clutch genes are made for the Elam Ending. His young legs and speed will overtake much of the opposition.

9. Bryce Taylor- Shooting Guard, Always Us. Taylor ranks 16thin Oregon history in points. Athleticism may fade at 34 years old, but the art of shooting is timeless.

8. DeAndre Kane- Small forward, Boeheim’s Army. Kane and D.J. Kennedy were both teammates of TBT dynasty Overseas Elite. Kane has dominated for Maccabi Tel Aviv, one of Europe’s best clubs.

7. Branden Dawson-Small forward, Team Heartfire. Dawson terrorized Big Ten opponents at Michigan State in the early 2010’s. Will be the primary scoring option for an upset-minded team.

6. Dwight Buycks- Guard, Golden Eagles. A former Toronto Raptor, Buycks was nothing but lethal from behind the arc in TBT 2020.

5. Isaiah Canaan-Point guard, The Overlooked. Relatively small in size but a towering presence on the scoresheet, Canaan averaged 11 points per game with the Philadelphia 76ers just five years ago.

4. Andres Feliz- Guard, House of ‘Paign. The Dominican Republic native showcased outstanding hustle and knack for shotmaking in last year’s TBT. House of ‘Paign may rise or fall depending on how Feliz contributes.

3. Tyler Lydon- Power forward, Boeheim’s Army. Believe it or not, Lydon’s last team was the Denver Nuggets in 2019. At 25 years of age, Lydon has plenty left in the tank compared to other big men in the Illinois Regional.

2. Jamil Wilson-Small forward, Golden Eagles. No stranger to TBT, Wilson takes the court for his fifth tournament with the Golden Eagles. The former Oregon and Marquette guard has played for 3 NBA teams during his career.

1.D.J. Kennedy- Small forward, Boeheim’s Army. Arguably one of the best players in TBT history, fans are eager to see how Kennedy fares playing for a team that hasn’t won 4 TBT titles.

About Always a Brave: Bradley’s alumni team, Always a Brave is slotted into the 7thseed and will battle the 10th seed Chicago Hoopville Warriors on Saturday night at 6 PM. The Hoopville Warriors are a replacement team in the bracket, filling the void left by Tubby Time after the squad of Tubby Smith-coached players withdrew due to unforeseen, non-medical related events. 

This past week, the team announced that former Peoria High School legend Daniel Ruffin would not only coach, but would be a rostered player for TBT as well. Always a Brave’s starting lineup will most likely feature the aforementioned Brown and Thomas, with Nate Kennell, Andrew Warren and Jimmy Gavin likely to earn either starting duties or primary roles off the bench. Always a Brave features a guard-heavy roster, especially with Ruffin playing, so smaller forwards like Thomas and Kennell, and to soak up considerable minutes in the post. Max Bielfeldt and Patrick O’Bryant look to anchor Bradley’s alumni down low. 

About the Chicago Hoopville Warriors: The Hoopville Warriors enter their sixth year in TBT with the distinction of being one of the tournament’s original participants from 2014. Sporting a 5-5 record all time in the tournament, the Warriors fell in the first round to #1 seed Loyalty is Love in 2019, their most recent tournament appearance. The team will be led by former G-League point guard Anthony Harris and forward Tajuan Agee. The Warriors’ biggest downfall is their age, with more than half their roster over the age of 29. 

The sheer smattering of alumni teams from major NCAA conferences promises to turn heads across the country towards Peoria. Squads like the Golden Eagles, Boeheim’s Army and House of ‘Paign can easily win TBT’s $1 million prize at the championship in Dayton, Ohio. With Always a Brave promising to entertain the hearts and eyes of the majority of fans, TBT’s return to Peoria promises to be full of ecstatic smiles, great basketball, joyous celebrations, dramatic Elam Endings and most of all, magic. 

The Illinois Regional will begin Saturday morning at 11 A.M. with a pair of games broadcasted on ESPN. Full schedule is listed below and ticket information can be found here.

Saturday, July 24 • First Round • Session 1

Game 1 – 11:00 AM – (3) Boeheim’s Army (Syracuse alumni) vs. (14) Forces of Seoul

Game 2 – 1:00 PM – (2) House of ‘Paign (Illinois alumni) vs. (15) Jackson TN Underdawgs 

Saturday, July 24 • First Round • Session 2

Game 3 – 4:00 PM – (6) The OverLooked (Murray State) vs. (11) Team Heartfire

Game 4 – 6:00 PM – (7) Always A Brave (Bradley) vs. (10) Chicago Hoopville Warriors

Sunday, July 25 • First Round • Session 3 (New times)

Game 5 – 12:00 PM – (5) Autism Army vs. (12) SCD Hoops

Game 6 – 2:00 PM – (4) Always Us (Oregon) vs. (13) Peoria All-Stars 

Sunday, July 25 • First Round • Session 4

Game 7 – 5:00 PM – (1) Golden Eagles (Marquette) vs. (16) B1 Ballers

Game 8 – 7:00 PM –  (8) Team Brotherly Love vs. (9) Playing for Jimmy V

Monday, July 26 • Second Round • Session 5

Game 9 –  1:00 PM:  Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner

Game 10 – 3:00 PM:  Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner

Monday, July 26 • Second Round • Session 6

Game 11 – 6:00 PM – Game 1 winner vs. Game 3 winner

Game 12 – 8:00 PM – Game 2 winner vs. Game 4 winner

Wednesday, July 28 • Third Round • Session 7

Game 13 – 6:00 PM:  Game 10 winner vs. Game 11 winner 

Game 14 – 8:00 PM:  Game 9 winner vs. Game 12 winner

Winners advance to the TBT Championship round in Dayton, Ohio

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