VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) For a debut tournament, the organizers of the Vancouver Showcase could not have done much better putting together an elite field.
The tournament getting underway Thursday includes top-ranked Notre Dame, No. 9 Oregon State and No. 13 South Carolina. But it's more than just the top of the field that makes it such a solid tournament in its first year. It also includes Rutgers and coach C. Vivian Stringer, who just picked up her 1,000th victory to become the fifth women's Division I coach to reach the mark, and teams like Drake, Gonzaga and East Tennessee, who were all picked to win their conferences in preseason polls.
In other words, this isn't a pushover field for the elite teams to march through, even if the idea of a final featuring Notre Dame against either South Carolina or Oregon State would be an appealing early-season opportunity.
"It certainly is among the strongest ever put together," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. "There isn't any other place in the country where you will see this sort of talent in one event. This is a mini-NCAA tournament. It's going to be great basketball that week."
The opening games feature Notre Dame vs. Gonzaga and Rutgers vs. Drake on one side of the bracket; and South Carolina vs. East Tennessee and Oregon State vs. Western Kentucky on the other half. The men's half of the tournament wrapped on Wednesday, but ended up featuring just four teams playing a modified round-robin format. Originally, organizers hoped to have two eight-team fields for both the men and women, but they struggled to fill the men's field.
There wasn't the same problem on the women's side.
"It's a tremendous opportunity. You usually don't get to play the best team in the country until later rounds or the championship game," Gonzaga coach Lisa Fortier said. "But we are excited and our players will be challenged. We are really looking forward to competing against the best. I'm looking forward to it and our players are as well."
The defending national champion Irish are certainly the headliners and at some point during the three days Notre Dame is likely to face its first major test of the season. The Irish opened with easy wins over Harvard and Penn before knocking off No. 16 DePaul by 24 points on their way out to Vancouver.
The Irish haven't shown any reason they shouldn't be No. 1 and haven't let last year's title linger into this season so far.
Gonzaga has never knocked off a No. 1 team and this will be its fourth chance. But the most interesting first-day game to watch could be Rutgers against Drake. Stringer won her 1,000th game last week in a blowout win over Central Connecticut State. But Drake is on the cusp of breaking into the AP Top 25 the Bulldogs' were the fourth team outside the poll this week and a good showing in Vancouver could land them in the poll.
"Vancouver is a destination for great hoops this week," said women's tournament director Deb Antonelli. "The past two women's champions are here South Carolina and Notre Dame. Vancouver wanted high-level hoops and we brought it here with a talented NCAA tourney-like field."
AP Basketball Writer Doug Feinberg contributed to this report.