CONWAY, S.C. – The 2018 Myrtle Beach Invitational is attracting college basketball teams from across the country, with no school traveling farther than Cal State Fullerton. The Titans journeyed more than 2,500 miles in advance of their opening-round tournament game against UCF, and that is just the start of a 13-day, five-game road trip.
Fullerton and UCF meet Thursday at 1:30 p.m. ET in one of the four first-round tournament games being held at the HTC Center on the campus of Coastal Carolina University. Saint Joseph’s and Wake Forest tip off the tournament at 11:30 a.m., while in the evening sessions, Valparaiso meets Western Kentucky at 5 p.m. followed by West Virginia vs. Monmouth at 7 p.m. All games will be televised on ESPN’s family of networks.
Fullerton and UCF might be located on opposite ends of the country, but the teams have several similarities. First, they both entered this season with high expectations. The Knights (1-1) are the preseason favorite to win the American Athletic Conference title, while the Titans (1-1) are coming off their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 10 years and are picked to finish second in the Big West Conference.
In addition, both teams are hoping to use the Myrtle Beach Invitational to rebound from a tough setback. The Knights let a 20-point lead slip away against Florida Atlantic and lost 80-79 on a basket in the final second. Meanwhile, Fullerton took Arizona State into double overtime before falling 102-94, done in partly by ASU’s 20 offensive rebounds.
Finally, they are both guard-oriented and capable of putting up some points. The Titans are averaging exactly 100 points per game, led by the starting backcourt of Kyle Allman Jr. (who scored 35 against ASU) and Khalil Ahmad (who is averaging 21 points per game). UCF counters with guards B.J. Taylor (25.5 ppg) and Aubrey Dawkins (16 ppg and 7.5 rebounds per game), and an overall offense that has made nearly 48 percent of its shots from the field.
In the opener of the Myrtle Beach Invitational, Saint Joseph’s will face Wake Forest in a regular-season game for the first time in 36 years. The teams did meet in the Sweet 16 of the 2004 NCAA Tournament, with St. Joe’s downing the Demon Deacons 84-80.
The momentum is different for these teams entering the season. The Hawks (2-0) were picked to finish second in the Atlantic 10 Conference and are aiming to return to the NCAA Tournament after a two-year absence. They are off to a good start, defeating Old Dominion 79-64 and Monmouth 78-63. Charlie Brown is averaging 20.5 ppg and Pierfrancesco Oliva 12 rpg.
As for the Deacons (1-0), they are trying to get back on track in head coach Danny Manning’s fifth season with the team. After making the NCAA Tournament for the first time under Manning in 2017, Wake slumped to an 11-20 record last season.
Wake opened the season with a 90-78 victory over North Carolina A&T. Six players scored in double figures for the Deacons, led by freshman forward Jaylen Hoard with 19 points, 13 rebounds and three assists.