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Thursday, December 19, 2013
Weekend Homework: Island springboard

By Andy Katz

The last traditional neutral-site tournament, this weekend's Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu, could end up being a memorable event for at least three teams with high hopes.

And all for different reasons in their respective conferences.

Iowa State.

Saint Mary's.

Boise State.

The Cyclones are rolling, undefeated and poised to be a Big 12 title contender with Kansas, Oklahoma State, Baylor and now perhaps Texas.

Saint Mary's suddenly is surging, undefeated, underappreciated and ready to resume being the pest to Gonzaga that the Zags seemingly cannot dismiss in the WCC.

Boise State, which is off its axis after losing at Kentucky and in Boise last week to the Gaels, must find its footing or face a long road to an NCAA tournament bid after making the NCAAs a year ago out of the Mountain West.

The bracket is favorable for the Cyclones, matching Iowa State against George Mason first (Sunday, 5:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU), then an erratic Oregon State or untested Akron.

The other side of the bracket pits Saint Mary's against South Carolina (Sunday, 11 p.m. ET, ESPNU), which has played only a handful of games, while Boise State drew the short straw and has to play a true road game against hometown Hawaii (Monday, 1 a.m. ET, ESPNU).

If the two meet in the semifinals, Boise State must avenge the loss, much in the way Memphis did in beating Oklahoma State after losing to the Cowboys in Stillwater.

If Iowa State gets derailed, the Cyclones will take a hit, but it won't take the luster off the Cyclones' home game against Kansas in early January. Iowa State already has wins over BYU on the road and over Michigan, Iowa and Northern Iowa.

Boise State is yearning for something to put on the shelf for the selection committee. Saint Mary's could use another neutral-site win of note to put it back in play for a spot if it is in the mix in the WCC.

The Beavers boast a prolific scorer in Roberto Nelson and could spoil the party and boost the Pac-12's power rating if they could pull off a few upsets.

A win by Mason, Akron, South Carolina or the hometown Warriors would shift the momentum of the event and for the losers who went to paradise looking for a springboard to March.

This event can get swallowed up by Christmas, but it has a chance to be a window again into a legitimate sleeper in Iowa State and a new darling in the Gaels or a much-needed restart for Boise.