- There's lots to feast on through the entire Thanksgiving weekend, with compelling matchups in both bracketed tournaments and regular season games.
Every season, college basketball fans have a slew of compelling tournaments to be thankful for during Thanksgiving weekend. We’ll predict the winners of all of them in the weekend preview for this week, and also cover the handful of intriguing games that aren’t part of bracketed tournaments. We hope you all have a Happy Thanksgiving weekend—how could you not with all this hoops goodness?
Great Alaska Shootout
Nov. 22-25, Anchorage, Alaska
Teams: Cal Poly, College of Charleston, Central Michigan, Sam Houston State, Idaho, Santa Clara, CSU Bakersfield, Alaska-Anchorage
Charleston is the favorite in the Colonial Athletic Association this season and the team is the one squad in this tournament that harbors realistic hopes for the big dance. If you catch any of the games from Anchorage, make sure to pay attention to Charleston’s big three of sophomore Grant Riller and seniors Cameron Johnson and Joe Chealey. Those are three names you will want to know come March.
Predicted Winner: College of Charleston
Las Vegas Invitational
Nov. 23-24, Las Vegas, Nevada
Teams: No. 15 Xavier, Hampton, Northern Arizona, George Washington, Kansas State, Arizona State, Rider, UC-Irvine
This tournament is divided into two brackets, with Xavier, George Washington, Kansas State and Arizona State in one and the four remaining teams in the other. For the purposes of this column, we’ll focus on the teams from major conference, with a special look at the one power among them. The Musketeers have won their first four games of the season, headlined by a win at Wisconsin. Trevon Bluiett is off to a huge start, averaging 24.3 points per game on a 62.5% field goal percentage. Last year’s shocking Elite Eight team won’t surprise anyone if they play that deep into the tournament again this year. With all due respect to the Colonials, Wildcats and Sun Devils, it would be a huge letdown for the Musketeers if they left Vegas without a trophy.
Predicted Winner: Xavier
Nov. 23-24 and 26, Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Teams: No. 23 West Virginia, Missouri, St. John’s, Oregon State, UCF, Nebraska, Long Beach State, Marist
This tournament lost some of its shine when it was announced that Missouri freshman Michael Porter Jr. underwent season-ending back surgery earlier this week. With Porter out, the AdvoCare Invitational lost its best player and one of the teams that realistically could have walked away with the championship. Porter’s absence opens the door for St. John’s, which is finally going to get the test it needs this weekend to see where it stands against some of the better competition in the country. After significant growing pains the last two seasons, Chris Mullin has his team headed in the right direction in his third season at the helm of the program. Shamorie Ponds and Marcus Lovett may be undersized, but they’ll give the Red Storm one of the best scoring backcourts in the Big East this season.
On the other side of the bracket is the tournament’s only ranked team. West Virginia will undoubtedly be happy to get back to facing power-conference teams after getting blown out by Texas A&M in its season opener and feasting on cupcakes ever since. We won’t know just how good this team is until Esa Ahmad returns from his suspension in the second half of the season. Until then, the offense rests on the shoulders of seniors Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles. Their path to the championship game is largely clear, especially with UCF point guard B.J. Taylor out, but an Ahmad-less West Virginia team just might not be as good as St. John’s.
Predicted Winner: St. John’s
Phil Knight Invitational
Nov. 23-24, 26, Portland, Ore.
Teams in Victory Bracket: No. 4 Michigan State, No. 9 North Carolina, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Oregon, Connecticut, DePaul, Portland
Predicted Winner: Michigan State
Teams in Motion Bracket: No. 1 Duke, No. 7 Florida, No. 17 Gonzaga, Butler, Texas, Stanford, Ohio State, Portland State
Predicted Winner: Duke
Wow, talk about a loaded tournament. The Phil Knight Invitational, better known as the PK80, features 16 teams spread across two different tournaments. Both include two top-10 teams slotted in different halves of their respective brackets. In other words, you could be ending your Thanksgiving weekend with two excellent college basketball games.
We’ll start in the Victory Bracket, where Michigan State is the favorite. The Spartans lost their only competitive game of the season to date, falling to Duke 88-81 in the Champions Classic in Chicago earlier this month. They had trouble figuring out Duke’s zone for a couple of prolonged stretches, and that—coupled with heroics from Grayson Allen—made the difference. While Miles Bridges ended that game with 19 points, he was too passive at times, especially in the first half. The Spartans need him to be a player who takes over games with greater regularity if they are going to achieve their full potential this season.
North Carolina leads the other half of the Victory Bracket, and a showdown between the Tar Heels and Spartans would give us another great non-conference game in November. The Heels have played a couple of decent teams in Bucknell and Stanford this year, but it’ll be a step up in weight class when they get the Oklahoma-Arkansas winner in the second round of the PK80. Oklahoma, in fact, is the one team that could really upset the apple cart here. Freshman Trae Young is already starting to live up to expectations, and while North Carolina would be favored in that potential matchup, Young would be the best player on the floor.
In the Motion Bracket, college basketball fans have to be dreaming of a Duke-Florida championship game. Marvin Bagley played just 10 minutes in the win over Michigan State before getting poked in the eye, which kept him out the rest of the night. Duke’s second-round game with the Butler-Texas winner will be his first sustained run against high-level Division I competition. Gonzaga is a threat to knock off Florida and prevent the Blue Devils and Gators from meeting in the championship game, though the Bulldogs would have their hands full with KeVaughn Allen, Jalen Hudson and Egor Koulechov. The bet here is that nothing derails Duke and Florida from meeting in the Motion Bracket championship and that the Blue Devils have too much firepower for the Gators.
Nov. 23-24, 26, Anaheim, Calif.
Teams: No. 21 Saint Mary’s, Harvard, Saint Joseph’s, Washington State, Georgia, Cal State Fullerton, San Diego State, Sacramento State
For years now, we’ve seen teams flying under the radar early in the season start to get national attention after winning a holiday tournament. If one team does that this Thanksgiving, it will be Saint Mary’s. Now, to be fair, the Gaels are already ranked 21st in the country, so it’s not like they’re completely overlooked. Still, people still look at the West Coast Conference and broadly assume it belongs to Gonzaga—that is not the case this season. The Gaels, at worst, should be considered co-favorites in the conference and they’ll get to show a national audience why this weekend. Jock Landale is the best player in the country without a national following, and Calvin Hermanson and Tanner Krebs give the Gaels firepower from the outside. Saint Joseph’s and Georgia could provide some resistance, but this tournament should belong to Saint Mary’s and help put them on the national radar.
Predicted Winner: Saint Mary’s
Emerald Coast Classic
Nov. 24-25, Niceville, Fla.
Teams: Maryland, TCU, St. Bonaventure, New Mexico, Jackson State, Maryland-Eastern Shore, Omaha, Tennessee Tech
Like the Las Vegas Invitational, this is a two-tournament event, with the teams from major conferences in one bracket, and the ones from smaller conferences in the other. TCU and Maryland are heavy favorites to advance to the championship in the power-conference bracket. Assuming that happens, the winner will score a significant non-conference victory. Why will it be Maryland that comes away with the championship? Justin Jackson will be the best player on the floor in the contest, no disrespect to Vladimir Brodziansky or Kenrich Williams. Jackson is off to a slow start this season, but the Terrapins still own strong wins over Butler and Bucknell, with fellow sophomores Kevin Huerter and Anthony Cowan picking up the slack. Those three will simply be too much scoring for the Horned Frogs to handle.
Predicted Winner: Maryland
No. 14 Minnesota vs. No. 25 Alabama
Saturday, 5 p.m. ET
These two teams, along with BYU and Massachusetts, will play in the Barclays Center Classic this weekend. The event is not a bracketed tournament. Instead, all four teams will play two games against predetermined opponents. The Minnesota-Alabama matchup on Saturday is clearly the marquee game of the event. The Golden Gophers picked up a huge win in their second game of the season, going into Providence and knocking off the Friars, 86-74. Alabama, meanwhile, will get its first real tests of the season against BYU and the Gophers. The top thing to watch for is how freshman point guard Collin Sexton handles his first taste of true high-level competition. Minnesota’s guards, Nate Mason and Dupree McBrayer, both score the basketball, so Sexton will have to work on defense while being asked to carry the offense against a Minnesota team that has allowed 95.2 points per 100 possessions this season.
Minnesota 77, Alabama 70
No. 16 Texas A&M at No. 10 USC
Sunday, 10 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network
The final game of Thanksgiving weekend isn’t part of a tournament, but is rather a regularly scheduled game between two potential powerhouses this season. Both these teams have already planted flags this season, though it’s Texas A&M with the most impressive win between the two: an 88-65 drubbing of West Virginia in Germany to start the year. D.J. Hogg and Admon Gilder have shot the lights out thus far, and could make the Aggies one of the most dangerous teams from distance in the country. USC’s best defense will likely be its offense, which plays at a much faster tempo than the Aggies. If the Trojans can get out and run in this game, the Aggies may not have enough of an answer for Jordan McLaughlin and Bennie Boatwright.
USC 80, Texas A&M 72