Thanksgiving week typically brings us the best tournaments, other than the tournament, of the college basketball season. It all starts this Monday, with the beginning of the Maui Invitational, and goes through next weekend, when the AdvoCare Invitational crowns its champion. All told, the five best Thanksgiving week tournaments will give us 44 games featuring 14 ranked teams, including eight inside the top 10.
Dates: Nov. 19–21
Location: Maui, Hawaii
Teams: No. 1 Duke, No. 3 Gonzaga, No. 9 Auburn, Xavier, San Diego State, Arizona, Iowa State, Illinois
Predicted Winner: Duke
The Maui Invitational is always one of the best Thanksgiving week tournaments, and this year’s field guarantees it will be again. Duke has already become appointment television, assembling one of the most exciting teams to watch in recent memory. Thankfully, Duke and Gonzaga are on opposite sides of the bracket, so they could meet one another in the championship game the day before Thanksgiving, a worthy appetizer to the nationwide feast 24 hours later. If the chalk holds, Duke and Auburn would meet in the semifinals, a game that could look like an Elite Eight matchup. Auburn beat Washington at home last week, but it would be great to see it get this early-season test, given that the Tigers don’t have too challenging a non-conference schedule otherwise. Bruce Pearl’s team faded down the stretch last year, but the defending SEC regular season champions are harboring legitimate Final Four hopes this season. A game with Duke would be a good barometer to see where it stands, and is one of the best possible matchups the Maui has to offer. On the other side of the bracket, pay close attention to Iowa State, which has reloaded after saying goodbye to one of the program’s best ever classes after the 2016–17 season. This is a great opportunity for Nick Weiler-Babb to introduce himself to the country.
Battle 4 Atlantis
Dates: Nov. 21–23
Location: Nassau, Bahamas
Teams: No. 4 Virginia, Wisconsin, Dayton, Florida, Stanford, Oklahoma, Butler, Middle Tennessee
Predicted Winner: Wisconsin
There is plenty of name-brand value in this tournament, even if Florida, Oklahoma and Butler have had to replace some huge names over the last couple seasons, Stanford and Dayton aren’t quite at the level they’ve been in recent years, and Middle Tennessee graduated Giddy Potts, Nick King and Brandon Walters last year. There’s not a bad matchup in the entire tournament, with opening round games of Florida-Oklahoma, Wisconsin-Stanford, Butler-Dayton and Virginia-Middle Tennessee. The Florida-Oklahoma winner is particularly capable of steering this tournament away from the chalk, but a championship game matchup between Wisconsin and Virginia would be one of the best games of the week. Why do we favor the Badgers over the fourth-ranked Cavaliers? Wisconsin is significantly undervalued after snapping its 19-year NCAA tournament streak last season. With D’Mitrik Trice and Kobe King healthy, the Badgers are deeper than they’ve been since their Final Four runs, and Ethan Happ is a nightmare cover for any team in the country.
Las Vegas Invitational
Dates: Nov. 22–23
Location: Las Vegas, Nevada
Teams: No. 7 North Carolina, No. 11 Michigan State, No. 20 UCLA, Texas
Predicted Winner: North Carolina
Can anything derail North Carolina and Michigan State meeting in the championship of this four-team tournament? The Tar Heels should take care of Texas, but UCLA could be a problem for the Spartans. The Bruins’ size is going to be an issue for every team it faces this season, and Nick Ward is going to expend a lot of energy on the defensive side of the floor matching up with Moses Brown. North Carolina-Michigan State may be a better game on paper, but Bruins-Spartans is my favorite game of this tournament, no matter who wins the opening night matchups. The point guard battle between Jaylen Hands and Cassius Winston will be worth the price of admission alone for people lucky enough to attend this tourney. North Carolina is mostly a known commodity this season, but it hasn’t yet asked for too much from freshmen Nassir Little and Coby White. That could change in short order, with the two games it will play in this tournament, and games against Michigan, Gonzaga and Kentucky all before Christmas.
Dates: Nov. 21–23
Location: New York City
Teams: No. 2 Kansas, No. 5 Tennessee, No. 24 Marquette, Louisville
Predicted Winner: Kansas
This is yet another loaded four-team tournament, with three ranked teams, including two in the top five. Tennessee will play Louisville on Wednesday to get this tournament started, with Kansas and Marquette meeting in the nightcap. The teams will get Thanksgiving off before returning to the floor on Friday, starting with the third-place game at 7 pm ET. Kansas-Tennessee is a dream matchup, with Lagerald Vick and Admiral Schofield matched up on the wing, Grant Williams facing a formidable frontcourt in Dedric Lawson and Udoka Azubuike, and an elite backcourt battle, with Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson on one side, and Jordan Bone and Jordan Bowen on the other. Let’s take some time, though, to talk about Marquette, which could use this tournament as a bounceback opportunity after getting waxed at Indiana earlier this week. Markus Howard is one of the country’s most electrifying scorers, while Sam and Joey Hauser help make the Golden Eagles one of the best offensive teams in the country. Defense is going to be an issue, but this team can score with anyone. That makes Wednesday’s matchup with Kansas one you will not want to miss.
Dates: Nov. 22–25
Location: Orlando, Florida
Teams: No. 8 Villanova, No. 14 Florida State, No. 22 LSU, Oklahoma State, Memphis, UAB, Charleston, Canisius
Predicted Winner: Florida State
Look at all the storylines in this tournament. Defending champion Villanova trying to figure out what it is this season without Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges and Donte DiVincenzo, and coming off a thrashing at the hands of Michigan. Can Eric Paschall carry this team the way his forebears did? Leonard Hamilton’s Florida State team, fresh off a run to the Elite Eight and primed for more this season, even without the currently injured Phil Cofer, thanks to increased roles for M.J. Walker, Terance Mann and P.J. Savoy. The Seminoles may not be deep, but they have one of the best go-to five-man lineups in the country. LSU surging in its second year under head coach Will Wade, building off of last year’s No. 3 seed in the NIT to look like a real contender in the SEC. The Tigers are one of the youngest teams in the country, with three freshmen and a sophomore among their top-five players in minutes per game, but sophomore Tremont Waters is a true leader at point guard. They’re comfortably the three best teams in the tournament, though Oklahoma State and Memphis could make some noise on the at-large radar this season. On top of that, Charleston and Canisius are expected to contend for the automatic bids from the Colonial and MAAC, respectively. We’ll all be winners if we get three matchups among Villanova, Florida State and LSU, but it’s the Seminoles who should enter this tournament as the favorite.