CONWAY, S.C., November 19, 2018 – The basketball life couldn’t get much better for UCF coach Johnny Dawkins than what he just experienced at the inaugural Myrtle Beach Invitational. His team won the championship, and his son Aubrey was named the Most Valuable Player.
“How does that happen,” Dawkins asked with a wide smile following the Knights’ 78-62 victory over Western Kentucky in Sunday’s title game.
That was just one of the many highlights to take place throughout the tournament. There was the 40-point shooting performance with eight 3-pointers by Cal State Fullerton guard Khalil Ahmad against Saint Joseph’s. There was the intense, hard-fought semifinal showdown between West Virginia and WKU, won by the Hilltoppers 63-57. There was the wonder of watching 7-foot-6 UCF center Tacko Fall tower over the court.
There were memories of the past with Valparaiso center Derrik Smits (son of former NBA All-Star Rik Smits), and a glimpse of the future with a host of young players for Wake Forest and Monmouth (a total of 17 freshmen or sophomores on the two teams). There was even a guy named Charlie Brown, Saint Joseph’s sophomore forward who can shoot the rock (24 points per game in the tournament on 24-of-41 shooting).
One of the interested observes in attendance at the tournament was ESPN Backetologist Joe Lunardi. He currently has three of the teams from the Myrtle Beach Invitational making the NCAA Tournament: UCF, West Virginia and Western Kentucky.
West Virginia began the season ranked in the top-25, and was widely considered to the favorite to win the Myrtle Beach Invitational. But the Mountaineers lost their season-opener to Buffalo, then had some sloppy moments in finishing third in the tournament. Still, Lunardi said he fully expects WVU to be dancing in March.
“If it didn’t say West Virginia on the front of the jersey, you’d look at the results and the quality-of-play to date and say that they’re not a tournament team,” Lunardi said. “Having said that, Bob Huggins is the fourth-winningest active coach, so you have to believe he’s going to figure it out.
“Selection Sunday is still four months from now. I give them every opportunity to get in the mix. But West Virginia clearly is lacking the star power in the backcourt that they usually have. So they’re going to have to do it a different way.”
Meanwhile, Lunardi said he was impressed with what he saw at the tournament from UCF. “They have great guards, and Tacko Fall is a generational player,” he said. “I think they’ll be right in the hunt for the NCAA Tournament. Winning (the Myrtle Beach Invitational) gets a notch in their belt that people like me will be bragging about on their behalf in March.”
The Myrtle Beach Invitational will return next year with another great field. Hometown favorite Coastal Carolina will be joined by 2016 and 2018 national champion Villanova, along with Baylor, Memphis, Mississippi State, Utah, Middle Tennessee and Ohio.