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A Full Preview of All the Thanksgiving “Feast Week” Tournaments

Corporate America will try to tell you that Christmas is “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” but honestly, that’s a lie. Nope, the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year” (outside of March) is actually this coming week – “Feast Week.” It’s seven days of full on gluttony, where you can eat what you want, drink what you want, and watch college hoops from around noon eastern until well after midnight every, single day of the week.

Honestly, it’s just the best. Outside of conference tournament and NCAA Tournament week, Feast Week takes the cake (or maybe “takes the pie” is the more appropriate term during Thanksgiving week) as the best few days of hoops on the calendar. Where else can you see all the best teams in college basketball, playing two or three games, against other elite competition, from noon ET until well after midnight, for like six or seven straight days? The answer of course is “nowhere.”

And after a few days of pre-Feast Week festivities (the Charleston Classic and Myrtle Beach Invitational this weekend), Feast Week is off with a bang – and below is your full preview of what lies ahead.

Just to be clear I did not rank the tournaments from “Best to Worst” but instead, just put them in chronological order to hopefully help your viewing schedule.

Let’s do this, and for more on Feast Week, also make sure to download the “Aaron Torres Sports Podcast,” where I go even more in depth on this week’s big games.

Maui Invitational (Monday-Wednesday)

Teams to Watch: Michigan State, Kansas, UCLA, Dayton, Georgia

Although Atlantis has stolen some buzz in recent years, the Maui Invitational remains the gold standard of all Thanksgiving week tournaments. It starts Monday afternoon, with games played until well after midnight Eastern on Monday and Tuesday, guaranteeing that – although you weren’t planning on it anyway – you’ll get absolutely nothing done at work on Tuesday and Wednesday.

With Kansas and Michigan State headlining the field, the story is of course whether we’ll get a Jayhawks-Spartans final, but – like always in Maui – you don’t need to wait until Wednesday night for good hoops.

Heck, you don’t even need to wait until Monday night.

That’s because the first game of the tournament (Monday at 2:30 p.m. ET) gives us the first big narrative – not to mention the first big, national stage for Georgia freshman Anthony Edwards. Is he really the guy that is going to lead Georgia basketball to respectability, or will he be Markelle Fultz 2.0 – a really talented player on a bad team? We’ll start to find out on the opening afternoon, when the Bulldogs face Dayton. This will be no pushover for Georgia as Dayton is an NCAA Tournament caliber team with a player named Obi Toppin who many are saying could be a first round NBA pick.

Beyond Game 1, Maui also provides the first big national stage for Mick Cronin’s UCLA Bruins (and let’s be honest, how great is it going to see Cronin in a Hawaiian shirt these next few days, pretending to enjoy himself?). The Bruins are actually coming off a loss last week at home and need a win or two here to prove that they are a nationally relevant team worthy of our attention. They will open against BYU, which feels like a nice game on paper, but has unfortunately been marred by the suspension of the Cougars’ best player Yoeli Childs.

Of course, for all this blabbering from me (it’s what I do best) this whole tournament will come down to whether or not we get that Kansas-Michigan State final. Like the Spartans and Jayhawks or hate them, it would make for a heck of a matchup.

Legends Classic (Monday-Tuesday)

Teams to Watch: Auburn, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Richmond

This two-day event at Barclay’s Center piqued my interest back in the spring, and I’m only more excited as we get closer. Mainly because it should help us answer the question: Is Auburn actually good?

Seriously, you could legitimately argue that the Tigers have been the most surprising teams in college basketball this season. Just a few months after losing three of the most important players in school history (Jared Harper, Bryce Brown and Chuma Okeke) the Tigers have jumped out to a 5-0 start with their last two victories coming by a combined 75 points. SEVENTY-FIVE!!!

So yeah, the Tigers appear to be good. How good remains to be seen.

What’s especially interesting is that Auburn is playing one of the most interesting mid-major programs in college basketball, New Mexico. For those who know nothing about the Lobos (which I’m assuming is most of you), just know that they have a crazy talented roster that is better than a lot of Power 5 teams. That includes two players that most college basketball fans should be familiar with: Carlton Bragg, who began his career at Kansas. And JaQuan Lyle, who began his career at Ohio State.

Yes, they both still play basketball. And in addition to those two, the Lobos also have players on their roster who started their careers at UConn (Vance Jackson) and Texas A&M (JJ Caldwell) again, making them one of the most talented mid-major rosters in the country.

New Mexico is good enough to pull the upset, and this should be one of the more sneaky fun games in all of Feast Week. (As for the second game, Wisconsin-Richmond? Yeah, umm, you’re on your own on that one.)

Cancun Challenge (Tuesday-Wednesday)

Teams to Watch: West Virginia, Wichita State

South Carolina is also in this event, but considering that the Gamecocks lost to Boston University the other day I think we can just skip them and focus on the other two teams listed above. Because if we do get West Virginia-Wichita State in the final, that could be a matchup of two NCAA Tournament teams.

Starting with West Virginia, after one year of bad basketball, the Mountaineers might actually be good again, thanks in large part to freshman Oscar Tschiebwe (who yes, picked West Virginia over Kentucky). While he isn’t the team’s leading scorer, Tschiebwe had one of the best performances of anyone in college basketball this season, with a monster 20-point, 17-rebound, three-block performance against Pitt. So yeah, he’s a stud down low. And yes, he is the guy to watch for the Mountaineers here.
And then there is Wichita State, which is coming off its own disappointing season – but a disappointing season with a twist. That’s because while Wichita State went just 22-15 overall last season, they won 14 of their final 18 games and was one of the best teams anywhere in college basketball down the stretch.

Both these teams are sneaky good. And this could be a sneaky fun final.

Battle 4 Atlantis (Wednesday-Friday)

Teams to Watch: North Carolina, Gonzaga, Oregon, Seton Hall, Alabama, Michigan

Again, there are times the last few years where Atlantis has stolen the Maui Invitational’s thunder, and this is one of those years. Which pains me to say because I’m a Maui guy. But looking objectively at this field, there are as many as six – SIX!! – potential NCAA Tournament teams. This is the best field of “Feast Week” and it’s not close.

It starts at the top of the bracket with North Carolina, and their star freshman Cole Anthony. What’s especially cool is he’ll be going up against one of the better point guards in the country in Alabama’s Kira Lewis, which will make for a heck of a fun matchup. The winner of that game will likely face Michigan, which – don’t forget! – is now coached by Juwan Howard. The Wolverines open with a struggling Iowa State team and should cruise to the second round.

Then there is the bottom-half of the bracket where things get really juicy. That’s because if the Battle 4 Atlantis has the best field of “Feast Week,” Seton Hall-Oregon (the final quarterfinal of the day) is the best, single, game of any opening round this week. I know it doesn’t sound totally sexy on paper, but let me tell you, those are two of the best teams I’ve seen so far early in the season. Remember, Oregon already beat Memphis when the Tigers were at full-strength, and Seton Hall’s only loss came in the final seconds against Michigan State.

So to recap, Seton Hall-Oregon will be one of the best games of the week, and the winner will play Gonzaga… with the winner there potentially playing North Carolina.

Again, this tournament is just bananas.

Orlando Invitational (Thursday-Sunday)

Teams to Watch: Maryland, Marquette, USC, Davidson, Texas A&M

While the Orlando Invitational doesn’t have the pizzazz (wait, do people still use the word “pizzazz?”) of Maui or Atlantis, this one has some sneaky fun potential.

It also has this: The earliest tip-off on Thanksgiving day, when Maryland takes on Temple at 11 a.m. ET. Eleven AM!!! You won’t even have time to shake off your hangover from Wednesday night before basketball is on your TV, and with two good teams to boot. Temple just won at USC last week, and this will be our first look at Maryland – a club with Top 10 talent that has yet to play anyone of significance this off-season. The winner here will likely get Buzz Williams’s Texas A&M Aggies in the second round.

(And for those wondering, yes, Buzz Williams looks weird on the Texas A&M sideline. It’s going to be a while before any of us get used to that)

Moving on to the bottom half of the bracket, that’s where things really get interesting.

In one game you have a sneaky-interesting USC team, that has enough talent to make the NCAA Tournament. Whether they will or not is another question, after a surprising loss at home to Temple the other day. Still, watch this game if only to check out USC’s two, star freshmen, Isaiah Mobley and Onyeka Okongwu. If you need a quick refresher in who these guys are, well, umm, check out the tweets below.

Then in the final game of Round 1 we have the best matchup of opening day, with a Davidson team that I had ranked in the Top 25 in the preseason, against a Marquette team which already beat Purdue early in the season. Markus Howard is obviously the star at Marquette, but don’t sleep on the importance of backcourt-mate Koby McEwen, who has averaged over 17 points per game early in the year.

Continental Tires Las Vegas Invitational (Thursday-Friday)

Teams to Watch: Texas Tech, Creighton, San Diego State

If such a thing as a “Breakout Star” of Feast Week existed (an admittedly weird award), last year it would have gone to the Las Vegas Invitational, which featured North Carolina, Michigan State and Texas.

This year doesn’t have the name-brand power of a season ago. But with three potential NCAA Tournament teams (Texas Tech, San Diego State and Creighton) plus, a generous 10:30 p.m. ET tip on Thanksgiving night well, I promise you’ll end up watching these games while crushing a fifth piece of apple pie in the wee hours of the morning.

Obviously, the story here is Texas Tech which will play its first marquee game since last year’s Final Four run. They open against an Iowa club which they should beat convincingly. The nightcap is the one to keep a close eye on however, with Creighton and San Diego State. Creighton should be a fun watch all season; their whole team is basically guards, meaning all they do is play fast and shoot threes, which let’s be honest, is just awesome. San Diego State meanwhile is 4-0 (they do play Monday, meaning they could in theory lose before this event) with enough talent to win the Mountain West.

Plus, again, and I cannot emphasize this enough: Creighton and San Diego State will tip around 10:30 p.m. ET on Thanksgiving night. How great is Feast Week!??!?!!?!?

Wooden Classic (Thursday-Sunday)

Teams to Watch: Arizona, Providence, Wake Forest

You know the only thing better than a 10:30 ET tip on Thanksgiving night? An 11 p.m. Thanksgiving night tip, when Arizona and its star-studded freshman class will open the Wooden Legacy against Pepperdine.

Speaking of the Wooden Legacy, well…

Look, I could try to totally play up this event, but the bottom-line is Arizona is really the only team of note (unless you like Providence) and only seems appropriate to begin to wrap the article here.

Again, you’re going to have a Top 25 hoops team playing at 11 p.m. ET on Thanksgiving night and again on Friday.

What’s better than that?

The answer is “nothing.”

Which is why this truly is the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year!”

Article written by Aaron Torres

Aaron Torres is covering football and basketball for KSR this season after four years at Fox Sports. Follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres, Facebook or e-mail at [email protected] He is also the author of the only book written on the Calipari era, “One and Fun: A Behind the Scenes Look at John Calipari and the 2010 Kentucky Wildcats.”