ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- The Great Alaska Shootout will, once again, serve up a Thanksgiving feast of Division I play for Alaska basketball fans. But a proposed NCAA rule change could spell the end of the state's premiere holiday tournament.
The 23rd annual Shootout starts Wednesday at the Sullivan arena with Missouri against Rhode Island and Valparaiso against Division II Anchorage. First-round games continue on Thanksgiving Day with Florida State against Ohio State and DePaul facing Syracuse. Second-round and consolation-round play continues Friday and Saturday with the championship game set for Saturday night.
A rule change to be debated at the NCAA's annual convention in January would eliminate an exemption given to the Shootout and a few select preseason tournaments. That exemption allows teams to play in the tournaments without counting all the games toward their NCAA regular season limit of 28.
Without the exemption, many Division I teams wouldn't make the trip north. The measure could put an end to the Shootout and similar tournaments by 2002.
''I feel very bad about it,'' said DePaul coach Pat Kennedy. ''Schools of all different levels have benefited from these tournaments. We get matchups with teams we wouldn't normally see.''
DePaul, ranked 22nd in the The Associated Press basketball poll, is the marquee Shootout team this year. Kennedy said the tournament teams are evenly matched this year and he isn't taking anything for granted.
''I don't think there are any favorites in this tournament. The polls have been very hard to judge and there are number of good teams,'' Kennedy said.
Kennedy sees the long trip to Alaska as a good opportunity to work out kinks before the regular season.
''Playing three games in three days, you learn a lot about your team and the team learns a lot about itself. I think you come away with a better defense,'' he said.
The Blue Demons are rebuilding after losing five players, including top scorer and rebounder Quentin Richardson, a first-round NBA draft pick of the Los Angeles Clippers.
''He was an outstanding player,'' Kennedy said. ''When you lose a guy like that, you make up for it collectively.''
Syracuse travels north without the lineup that helped it win a spot in the NCAA Sweet 16 last year. The Orangemen lost three starters to graduation and a fourth transferred.
''The last couple of years we've pretty much known what we had,'' coach Jim Boeheim told the Anchorage Daily News. ''This year we're going to have to find out as we go along.''
Missouri returns for its third appearance at the Shootout with Big 12 Conference co-freshman of the year Kareem Rush at forward and four freshmen considered to be part of a top-10 recruiting class.
Second-year Coach Quin Snyder says guards Wesley Stokes, Michael Griffin and Rickey Paulding and center Arthur Johnson are the type of athletes he's looking to recruit as he molds the team to his liking. The Tigers posted an 18-13 record last year and advanced to the NCAA Tournament.
Missouri opens against Rhode Island, which wrapped up last year with a 5-25 record. The Rams ended a 13-game losing streak Saturday with an 86-61 win over Fairfield in their season opener.
Valparaiso faces Division II Alaska Anchorage. The Crusaders have won six consecutive Mid-Continent Conference championships. But given UAA's history in the Shootout and its hometown advantage, Valparaiso coach Homer Drew said, he doesn't want his team to underestimate the Seawolves.
''The toughest team in our bracket is Anchorage, just because of what they've done in the past. They've won 15 games against Division I teams,'' Drew said.
The trip to Alaska gives his team a chance to learn, both on and off the court.
''They've seen the Portage Glacier, they've seen moose and caribou,'' Drew said. ''It's a wonderful time for us. Just to get better and find out what combinations work best for us. We're going to come out a better basketball team.''
The Ohio State Buckeyes make their debut at the Shootout. Coach Jim O'Brien has led the Buckeyes to a 50-16 record the past two seasons, plus two appearances in the NCAA tournament and a trip to the Final Four in 1999.
Ohio State returns 6-foot-11 senior Ken Johnson, the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and one of the top returning players in the country.
The Buckeyes face the Florida State Seminoles, who finished last season 12-17. They return two starters, guard Delvon Arrington and forward Antwuan Dixon.
Head coach Steve Robinson says he has a young team but plenty of depth.
''Playing three games in three days, a lot of guys have got to contribute,'' Robinson said.
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