Get the Athlon Sports Newsletter
The final in the Maui Invitational, Arizona-Duke, teams on the spot and more
The Maui Invitational wraps up Wednesday evening, but the rest of Thanksgiving weekend will provide plenty of opportunities to gorge on basketball through Sunday.
The Battle 4 Atlantis again brings us the top tournament with Kansas leading the way in a compelling field. But the best game should be in Madison Square Garden. If Arizona and Duke can handle business against Drexel and Alabama, the NIT Season Tipoff will provide a top-10 matchup, headlined by two of the nation’s top freshmen.
While marquee matchups are one storyline, other teams are trying to find their way before the first month of the season ends. Teams like Memphis, LSU, Marquette and more are searching for identities and this weekend will provide key opportunities.
Thanksgiving Weekend College Basketball Viewers’ Guide
Best Tournament: Battle 4 Atlantis (Thursday though Sunday)
Full preview on Kansas, Iowa, Villanova and Xavier
Best Pre-Thanksgiving Game: Syracuse vs. Baylor
Maui Invitational final
Wednesday, 5 p.m., ESPN
Expect a big-time matchup on the glass. Syracuse, as usual, has plenty of long, athletic forwards. C.J. Fair has played all but two minutes in Maui with a combined 30 points and 17 rebounds. The 6-8, 210-pound Jerami Grant came off the bench for 19 points and eight rebounds against Cal, delivering the highlight with a thundering put-back dunk. Baylor’s Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin controlled the boards Tuesday as the Bears came back to beat Dayton in the semifinal. For the long term prospects of both teams, keep an eye on newcomers at point guard with freshman Tyler Ennis for Syracuse (28 points, four assists vs. Cal) and junior college transfer Kenny Chery for Baylor (13 points, four assists vs. Dayton).
Best Player Matchup: Arizona’s Aaron Gordon vs. Duke’s Jabari Parker
NIT Tipoff championship
Friday, 6 p.m., ESPN
For the sake of a good matchup, let’s hope the semifinals (Arizona against Drexel and Duke against Alabama) are mere formalities. The two star freshmen could put on a show as both can contribute just about anywhere on the court. Parker has been sensational so far, shooting 60.9 percent from 3-point range on nearly four shots per game and contributing 8.8 rebounds. Gordon will play a little closer to the basket, but he’s nonetheless in the freshman of the year conversation.
Can’t Miss Pairing: Creighton’s Doug McDermott and Arizona State’s Jahii Carson
Wooden Legacy first round
Thursday, 11 a.m., ESPN2
The best matchup in the Wooden Legacy may be the first round pairing of Creighton and Arizona State — the other side of the bracket includes disappointing Miami and Marquette. This first round game will feature two of the nation’s most prolific scorers, and both are averaging career highs at this early stage of the season. Carson, the speedy point guard, is a little more than a week removed from scoring 43 on the road against UNLV. McDermott picked up where he left off last season, averaging 27.8 points per game.
Team Looking for a Reboot: LSU
The Tigers opened the season with 92-90 loss to UMass, but freshman Jarell Martin exited the game after less than a minute after landing awkwardly on his ankle. Martin, the No. 12 prospect in the class of 2013 in the 247Sports Composite rankings, returned Friday to play 16 minutes against Southeastern Louisiana. With veterans Johnny O’Bryant III and Anthony Hickey plus the freshmen Jordan Mickey and Martin, LSU should be one of the top teams in the SEC. The Old Spice Classic could give the Tigers a chance to make a statement with Oklahoma State, Memphis and Purdue in the field.
Team Looking for Redemption: Memphis
The Tigers have the veterans and the ability to contend in the American Athletic Conference, but they embarrassed themselves in a 101-80 loss to Oklahoma State on Nov. 19. Lose in Stillwater? Help Marcus Smart put on a show? Maybe not a big deal, but the Tigers were down by 34 with 6:50 to go. Memphis could draw a potential rematch with Oklahoma State in the final of the Old Spice CLassic (Sunday, 7:30 p.m., ESPN2), but Memphis would need to defeat either LSU or St. Joe’s to get there.
Team in Desperation Mode: Marquette
Marquette has proven it’s not as bad as the team that scored 35 and shot 18.3 percent from the floor on Ohio State earlier this season. But the Golden Eagles also lost to Arizona State 79-77 in Tempe on Monday. The Sun Devils shot 53.7 percent from the floor and 45.5 percent from 3. Marquette needs to put together some complete games in the Wooden Legacy. The bracket should be favorable for Marquette to reach a final, likely against Creighton, San Diego State or a rematch with Arizona State.
League on the Spot: Big East
Georgetown already lost to Northeastern in the Puerto Rico Challenge, though the Hoyas rebounded to defeat Kansas State at VCU before returning to the mainland. Providence nearly overcame a 19-point deficit before losing 56-52 to Maryland in the Paradise Jam final. Plenty of teams from the reconfigured Big East will be involved in big-time Thanksgiving matchups with Villanova and Xavier in the Battle 4 Atlantis, Marquette and Creighton in the Old Spice Classic and Butler in the Old Spice Classic. This will be a good weekend for the league to build its identity or slip behind.
Mid-Majors To Watch: Harvard and Indiana State
Great Alaska Shootout final
Saturday, 8:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network
The Great Alaska Shootout doesn’t have a strong field — TCU is the lone representative from a power conference. If Harvard and Indiana State can reach the final (Saturday, 8:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network), it should be a quality matchup between teams that have already made noise this season. Harvard may be the best team to come out of the Ivy League since Cornell reached the Sweet 16 in 2010. Led by Jake Odum, Indiana State should contend in the Missouri Valley.
Best Stray Games
Florida State at Florida (Friday, 7:30 p.m., ESPN2)
The Gators are starting to get a full roster back together with injuries and suspensions limited Florida early in the season. Billy Donovan reinstated point guard Scottie Wilbekin on Monday, following Virginia Tech transfer Dorian Finney-Smith, who was reinstated four games ago. Freshman point guard Kasey Hill, though, remains out with an ankle injury
VCU at Belmont (Sunday, 5 p.m., CSS)
Without Ian Clark, Belmont was not expected to have one of its better teams this season, but the Bruins upset a shorthanded North Carolina in Chapel Hill on Nov. 17 for the marquee win in program history. VCU’s season has been a mixed bag with a win at Virginia and a blowout loss to Florida State.
Wichita State at Saint Louis (Sunday, 1 p.m, CBS Sports Network)
Wichita State has some staying power as the Shockers beat up BYU in a 75-62 win to win the CBE Classic on Tuesday. Ron Baker, who missed most of last year’s regular season with injury, has topped 20 points in three consecutive games. Defending Atlantic 10 champion Saint Louis was sloppy against Wisconsin on Tuesday, losing 63-57.