By Nick Giannandrea
The last California community college women's basketball tournament of its kind figures to be a dandy.
That's because many of the state's best teams are headed to Visalia.
The 42nd annual Gilcrest Invitational, which runs Nov. 29-Dec. 2 at College of the Sequoias, boasts 10 teams ranked among the Top 15 in either Northern or Southern California, headlined by the NorCal No. 1 Giants and SoCal No. 1 Mt. San Antonio College.
The tournament also includes NorCal-ranked teams in No. 2 San Joaquin Delta, No. 5 Chabot and No. 11 Sacramento, SoCal-ranked teams in No. 4 Ventura, No. 10 L.A. Valley, No. 11 Pasadena, No. 13 Canyons and No. 15 Riverside, as well as four teams receiving votes in the polls in Solano, Cerritos, Santa Rosa and Mission. Antelope Valley and Reedley round out the tournament field.
It's the kind of collection of top teams that former COS coach Tom Gilcrest envisioned when he helped launch the tournament in 1977. The philosophy then was to get the best teams from Northern and Southern California together in the middle of the state for a mid-season showcase, which is exactly what the Gilcrest Invitational has become.
"Without a doubt this has been the most respected tournament in the state," Giants athletic director Brent Davis said. "Every year it's like a state championship preview. If you can do well at the Gilcrest, you will be right there when it comes time for the state championships."
But the long-standing 16-team, double-elimination tournament format of the Gilcrest Invitational is likely in its final season, according to Davis.
California community college women's basketball is expected to follow men's basketball's lead and adopt a system that allows a maximum 28-game season, making every date on the schedule equal to a game played.
Under current rules, a double-elimination tournament counts as two dates whether a team plays two, three or four games.
If women's basketball makes the same change as the men, schools won't be interested in spending four dates while possibly playing only two games, Davis said.
Which means the Gilcrest Invitational in 2019 will likely be a four- or six-team affair, under a format still to be determined.
The Wyndham/Mannon Classic, COS's annual men's basketball tournament set for Dec. 14-16, will feature a six-team field with all match-ups set in advance.
"This is the last chance to watch this type of tournament," Davis said. "It's sad that it's going away in the format that it's been. I voted against it, but I was in the minority."
The state's athletic directors are expected to approve the change during the California Community College Athletic Association convention in April.
The change is designed to help eliminate disparity when it comes time to seed teams for the state playoffs. The seeding committee has had difficulty over the years assigning priority to teams with differing numbers of games played.
If the proposal passes as expected, all teams will have the same number of games (28) at the end of conference play.
"When I was coaching JC basketball, it was a lot of fun to have those kind of (double-elimination) tournaments where you were able to give your team a short-term goal," Davis said. "And if you played on Sunday, it meant a lot. For our state organization, I'm a little disappointed even though I understand why they are making the move."
COS is set to open the Gilcrest Invitational against Antelope Valley in the showcase game of the event's first day. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. Nov. 29 in Porter Field House.
Other first-round match-ups include Sacramento vs. L.A. Valley at 1 p.m., Mt. SAC vs. Solano at 3 p.m., Chabot vs. Cerritos at 5 p.m. and Riverside vs. Delta at 7 p.m. in the old gym, and Reedley vs. Pasadena at 1 p.m., Ventura vs. Santa Rosa at 3 p.m. and Canyons vs. Mission at 5 p.m. in Porter Field House.
Games continue at 1 p.m., 3 p.m., 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. in both gyms on Nov. 30, and at 10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m., 4 p.m., 6 p.m. (semifinal) and 8 p.m. (semifinal) on Dec. 1 in Porter Field House.
The tournament concludes Dec. 2 in Porter Field House, with the consolation championship at 10 a.m., the fifth-place game at noon, the third-place game at 2 p.m. and the championship at 4 p.m.
COS is the defending tournament champion, having defeated Mt. SAC 64-51 in last season's final.