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CBI gives Bulls hoops a bowl season

USF hosts a second-round game in this pay-to-play tournament
USF freshman Michael Durr (4) dunks during overtime in the College Basketball Invitational on March 20, 2019 at the Yuengling Center in Tampa, Florida. USF defeated the Stony Brook Seawolves, 82-79.
MONICA HERNDON | Times USF freshman Michael Durr (4) dunks during overtime in the College Basketball Invitational on March 20, 2019 at the Yuengling Center in Tampa, Florida. USF defeated the Stony Brook Seawolves, 82-79.
Published Mar. 25, 2019

TAMPA ― Far from the din of March Madness, in a sparsely-filled arena, USF’s men easily could’ve just played out the string Wednesday night.

They played out of their minds instead, and a mostly inconspicuous game became an instant classic.

Trailing by 25 in the first half, the Bulls staged the biggest comeback in school history for an 82-79 overtime triumph against Stony Brook in the opening round of something called the College Basketball Invitational.

“We’ve got a prideful group,” Bulls coach Brian Gregory said.

Which is precisely what the organizers of the CBI ― now in its 12th year ― are seeking.

Related: USF rallied from 25-point deficit to top Stony Brook

“We want teams who want to keep playing basketball,” said Ray Cella, media-relations director for the Gazelle Group, a sports-marketing outfit that runs the CBI. “We want teams that have had successful seasons or are peaking at the end of the season, and have a desire to continue to play.”

Welcome to college hoops’ version of a pre-January bowl game.

If the entire postseason were a bracket, the 16-team CBI would reside way below the 1-line (NCAA tourney) and even a rung or two below the NIT. Moreover, its teams must pay to play.

USF athletic director Michael Kelly, whose school hosts Utah Valley in tonight’s quarterfinals, said the school had to meet a $40,000 “guarantee” to the CBI. The Tampa Bay Times formally has requested a copy of USF’s contract with the tournament, and still is awaiting receipt of the document.

Cella said his group doesn’t discuss tournament finances, but referred to the CBI as “an investment in your basketball program.” He also suggested teams that have hosted more than one tournament game have a chance to recoup all or part of their investment.

As an example, he points to Nevada, which hosted five CBI games in 2016, drawing at least three crowds of more than 6,000.

“(An investment) is how I’m looking at it,” Kelly said.

Though the event generally attracts mid-major programs, this year’s tournament features three teams ― USF, DePaul and West Virginia ― from major conferences. Oregon won the CBI in 2011, and Pitt won it a year later.

And generally, CBI games have been more competitive than other tournaments.

In four of the last six years, the average margin of victory in CBI games has been lower than the NCAA or NIT. It’s a statistic pushed by CBI organizers, perhaps suggesting a correlation between the quality of play and the collective desire of the teams involved.

“These aren’t teams that just missed out on the NCAA and have to go to the NIT and aren’t ready for it,” Cella said.

“And you’ve seen that happen before with teams that lay an egg in the NIT. These guys don’t have to play, but they want to play, and that’s why our games are pretty good.”

Contact Joey Knight at Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.


  1. USF coach Brian Gregory's club dropped its third consecutive game Thursday, falling 65-55 at Wichita State.
  2. Florida Gators running back Lamical Perine (22) smashes into LSU Tigers safety John Battle (26) in the second quarter. (Bronte Wittpenn, Times)
  3. BRONTE WITTPENN   |   Times
Florida Gators wide receiver Trevon Grimes (8) catches the ball near the end zone in the third quarter in a game against LSU at Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at the University of Florida in Gainesville on Saturday, October 6, 2018.
  4. USF defensive back Mike Hampton (7), returning an interception during the 2018 season opener, will help lead the Bulls through what could be the American Athletic Conference's toughest schedule in 2020.
  5. USF wide receiver Randall St. Felix (84) and the Bulls have only one open date in the 2020 season. USF's complete 2020 schedule was finalized Tuesday.
  6. Former USF coach Charlie Strong (left), greeting Alabama coach Nick Saban at a 2017 summer football camp on the Bulls campus, reportedly has joined Saban's staff in an analyst role.
  7. Connecticut's Megan Walker, left, drives past USF's Shae Leverett during the second half of the Huskies' 67-47 triumph Sunday at the Yuengling Center. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)
  8. Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma brings his team to the Yuengling Center for the final time as an American Athletic Conference member today.
  9. USF coach Brian Gregory, pacing the sideline during a January game at the Yuengling Center, watched his team score only 11 first-half points in Saturday's 56-48 loss to Tulsa. [OCTAVIO JONES | TAMPA BAY TIMES]
  10. USF interim coach Jess Moore watches her team from the dugout on the opening day of the St. Pete/Clearwater Elite Invitational at Eddie C. Moore Complex in Clearwater.
  11. Florida quarterback Kyle Trask (11) reacts after scoring a touchdown during the second half of the Orange Bowl against Virginia on Dec. 30 in Miami Gardens.
  12. Bishop McLaughlin alumnus Carson Ragsdale, a clutch reliever for USF two seasons ago, returns after missing a season due to Tommy John surgery.