The annual Paradise Jam Basketball Tournament tips off Friday, giving local residents a chance to watch one of the best women’s brackets in the country, according to organizers, and some strong, competitive men’s teams.
Now in its 11th year, the Paradise Jam will once again be held at the UVI Sports and Fitness Center on St. Thomas, beginning with the men’s field on November 19 and ending on November 27 with four action-packed women’s games.
The women’s tournament is once again broken up into two divisions, the Island and the Reef, each fielding four teams. The Island Division is made up of Iowa State, West Virginia, Virginia and Texas Christian University, while the Reef Division has the powerhouse Tennessee, along with Georgia Tech, Georgetown and Missouri.
All four participants in the Island Division earned berths in the NCAA Tournament in March, with Iowa State advancing to the Sweet 16 before falling to the University of Connecticut. On the Reef side, three out of four of the teams earned NCAA Tournament berths, with Tennessee also moving onto the Sweet 16 before falling to Baylor.
Tennessee, Georgia Tech, Virginia, West Virginia and Iowa State are all Paradise Jam alums, some from 2003 and others from 2005.
“It’s clearly the best,” said Craig Jonas, one of the tournament’s organizers, of the women’s field. “We run 18 other tournaments right now, but this is the best event in the country pretty much every year on the women’s side.”
Jonas said the “word on the street” is that Tennessee will give UConn — which has lost a few of its stars to the Women’s National Basketball Association — a run for its money this year.
“A lot of Tennessee fans are coming down, and what’s great about that is it’s sometimes hard for them to get a good seat back at home, so they’ll be able to sit here and watch the action front and center,” Jonas said.
While the men’s field doesn’t sport some of the more higher-ranked names in college basketball, it’s still a well-balanced bracket, which gives the chance for upsets and sets the stage for every game to come down to the wire.
“It’s actually a very interesting field. Every team is vying for their conference championship, and they have a viable chance. Everyone has a lot going for them, so it’s going to be very competitive,” Jonas said.
The eight men’s teams competing this year are: Alabama, Clemson, Iowa, Long Beach State, Old Dominion, Seton Hall, Saint Peter’s and Xavier.
Alabama, ODU and Xavier are making this their second Paradise Jam appearance in five years.
Xavier is the No.1 seed coming into the tournament, but according to Jonas, Seton Hall has a new coach and players, and is “supposed to be extremely strong.”
This year’s men’s games are all going to be broadcast, either on television on Fox College Sports or streaming live online at Fox Sports Net, according to Jonas. The only exception might be the University of the Virgin Islands mens’ basketball game against Puerto Rico’s Pontifical Catholic University, which is scheduled for 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 20.
PCU is one of the stronger teams in UVI’s division, so the Bucs will have to bring their A-game in order to pull off the win in front of their hometown crowd.
“We’re excited about the expanded television and media coverage we’re getting this year,” said Jonas, who also said that several National Basketball Association scouts will be in the stands checking out the collegiate talent.
“Every year things seem to continue to grow and improve,” Jonas said. “The teams all enjoy the support from the local community, which really appreciates the excellent play and really gets into the game. Here in the USVI, people really appreciate and love basketball, so it provides for an incredible climate.”