And so begins one of the best weeks of the college basketball calendar.
For the next seven days, we’ll get afternoon hoops, wild finishes late into the night and a nice pivot to make from tilting fantasy football on Thanksgiving. Bet a few Maui overs and use the PK80 as a cover to get away from that one uncle that always wants to talk politics.
It’s a foolproof move.
And I’m here to get you ready for all you need to know about this week in basketball.
What makes this week particularly intriguing this year is that there are not only a handful of tantalizing events, but those events feature teams and programs that still have quite a bit to prove. With very few exceptions, this is going to be the first chance that we get to see some of the best teams in the country play competition they didn’t pay for.
It’s almost time for the morning tip-off in Maui.
Lets’s dive into these tournaments, breaking them down event by event, from the most intriguing to the snooze-worthy:
BATTLE 4 ATLANTIS
- WHEN: Wed-Fri
- WHO: No. 3 Arizona, No. 5 Villanova, No. 19 Purdue, Tennessee, SMU, N.C. State, Northern Iowa, Western Kentucky
- WHERE: Paradise Island, Bahamas
FAVORITE: This is tough, as Villanova and Arizona both look like top five teams with a legitimate claim to being the best team in college basketball. No one in the country is playing better than Allonzo Trier is right now, and the size the Wildcats have inside – senior center Dusan Ristic and potential No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton – would be a nightmare for NBA teams to deal with, let alone a program like Villanova that has thrived with undersized guys.
That said, Philly’s Wildcats have looked the part early on. Jalen Brunson is flat-out one of the best point guards in college basketball and maybe the most indispensable player in the country. Villanova has the perimeter pieces to stretch Arizona out and, if Mikal Bridges, Eric Paschall and Donte DiVincenzo continue their hot start, Villanova can win that game.
TEAM WITH SOMETHING TO PROVE: Is it crazy to think that Purdue is better after having lost Caleb Swanigan to the NBA? Maybe, but the Boilermakers have certainly looked like the second-best team in the Big Ten. What you may not realize about this group is that they can play big if they need to – hello, Isaac Haas – but with Vincent Edwards, Carsen Edwards and Dakota Mathias on the roster, they can matchup small with anyone. With the way they shoot, anyone can get beaten on any given night. This is their chance to make a statement nationally.
MATCHUP WE NEED TO SEE: It’s easy: Arizona vs. Villanova. Whenever there is a chance to get two top five teams squaring off, we need to hope that it will come to fruition.
THE STUD: Ayton is arguably the best prospect in college basketball, and Brunson is every media member’s favorite quintessential point guard, but Trier is the best player in this event. He’s scored 90 points in three games this season while taking 40 shots. That’s pretty good.
PREDICTION: Villanova squeaks past Purdue but cannot handle Arizona’s size inside.
- WHEN: Thu-Sun
- WHO: No. 2 Michigan State, No. 9 North Carolina, Oregon, Oklahoma, Arkansas, UConn, DePaul, Portland
- WHERE: Portland
FAVORITE: Even after their loss to Duke last week, Michigan State is my pick to win the national title. Much of this depends on whether or not Miles Bridges is healthy – he sprained his ankle on Sunday night – but the Spartans should have enough talent to get them to the title against a field that is intriguing but just doesn’t have the kind of high-end talent that can pick them off.
TEAM WITH SOMETHING TO PROVE: Everyone?
This is what makes this bracket so appealing to me. We don’t really know anything about most of these teams. North Carolina is rebuilding their front line, and while the early returns have been impressive, they haven’t come against programs of a similar caliber. Oklahoma, and specifically Trae Young, have been very impressive through their first two games of the season, but they didn’t really play anyone. The same can be said for Oregon, who is currently sitting at 3-0 in the SWAC. Arkansas and UConn both have team with veterans on the roster and talent on their perimeter, but neither of them have done much of anything to date. How this tournament plays out will be quite illuminating.
MATCHUP WE NEED TO SEE: I want to see either Oregon or Oklahoma get a shot at Michigan State. Both the Ducks and the Sooners have looked terrific, and I think both have a shot of finishing within the top three of their league. Getting a test against one of the best would help determine just how good they could end up being.
THE STUD: Miles Bridges is the stud of this event, while Luke Maye has been North Carolina’s best player in Joel Berry II’s absence, but the guy to watch here is Trae Young. He’s a terrific passer that loves to fire up heat checks from 28-feet and Lon Kruger has given him the reins of the offense. You’ll enjoy watching him play.
PREDICTION: The Spartans get it done. What’s more intriguing to me is who actually gives them a run for their money.
- WHEN: Thu-Sun
- WHO: No. 1 Duke, No. 8 Florida, No. 17 Gonzaga, Texas, Butler, Stanford, Ohio State, Portland State
- WHERE: Portland
FAVORITE: Duke. They’re the best team in the country right now, and I’m not sure there is anyone in this event that is going to have the horses to run with them if Marvin Bagley III is healthy.
TEAM WITH SOMETHING TO PROVE: To me, it’s Texas. We know Gonzaga is going to have something of a rebuilding year with everything they lost from a national runners-up, and Florida is Florida. They are who they are: Good enough to be in the mix, probably not good enough to be considered a Final Four contender. Texas, however, is the team that really intrigues me. The addition of Mo Bamba to their front line changed their defense and adding Matt Coleman has made them more difficult to guard in the half court, but they also added Dylan Osetkowski, and he’s been terrific. It’s far too early to make any sweeping claims on the Shaka Smart era, but he’s in year three, his two best players may end up leaving after this season and he’s yet to really do anything. This is the year to make some noise. Can they do it?
MATCHUP WE NEED TO SEE: I think Texas might be the second-best team in the Big 12. Let’s see them get a shot at Duke in the semifinals.
THE STUD: It’s gotta be Bagley. Grayson Allen is Grayson Allen. As good as Mo Bamba is, watching defensive-minded centers is only so entertaining. Bagley, however, is the guy with the potential to be a franchise-changing draft pick and the one player in this event that is always going to be must-see TV.
PREDICTION: Duke gets it done. They’re just better than everyone else in this field.
HALL OF FAME CLASSIC
- WHEN: Mon-Tue
- WHO: No. 23 UCLA, No. 25 Baylor, Creighton, Wisconsin
- WHERE: Kansas City
FAVORITE: At this point, I think Baylor is probably the best team in this event, although this field is as balanced and as difficult as any to predict. Manu Lecomte is playing as well as any guard in the Big 12 right now, and the next-man-up mantra that Scott Drew has developed within the Baylor program seems to be paying dividends. UCLA is probably the most talented team, and Creighton and Wisconsin both have potential all-americans on their roster, but for my money Baylor is the team to beat.
TEAM WITH SOMETHING TO PROVE: With everything swirling around the UCLA program right now, the Bruins are in danger of having the bottom fall out of their season. Having players get arrested overseas for shoplifting while getting ready to play games is bad enough, but the Bruins now have to deal with the media circus that is LaVar Ball vs. Donald Trump. LaVar will be on CNN on Monday night to discuss this war of words less than an hour after UCLA’s game against Creighton finishes.
MATCHUP WE NEED TO SEE: We got it in the first round, as we were not only gifted an uptempo battle between UCLA and Creighton but we’ll also get to see the Badgers go toe-to-toe with Baylor. Ethan Happ vs. Jo Lual-Acuil is a better matchup than you probably realize.
THE STUD: It would be easy to say Lecomte, or Happ, or even Marcus Foster here, but I’m going to go with Foster’s teammate, Creighton guard Khyri Thomas. I’ve long held Thomas in very high regard given his ability to shoot the three and lock-up defensively, and he’ll have a chance to showcase that on a national stage tonight.
PREDICTION: Baylor beats Creighton in the final, UCLA goes 0-2 and LaVar Ball is still the topic of conversation.
NIT SEASON TIP-OFF
- WHEN: Thu-Fri
- WHO: No. 22 Seton Hall, Virginia, Vanderbilt, Rhode Island
- WHERE: MSG
FAVORITE: It’s probably Seton Hall. The Pirates have yet to really get things going this season, particularly with Angel Delgado on the interior, but they are tough and they are old and they are loaded with New York City guys playing their final season of college basketball. This will be something of a homecoming for Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodriguez, and I expect them to play like it.
TEAM WITH SOMETHING TO PROVE: Virginia fans are all over my mentions since I don’t have the Cavaliers ranked in my top 25. I’m not convinced that a win over a down-VCU program on the road makes the Wahoos one of the best teams in the country. They are, as is my colleague Raphielle Johnson. Win this tournament, and we’ll talk.
MATCHUP WE NEED TO SEE: Seton Hall vs. Virginia. If you don’t like defense, don’t tune in. That game may not crack 60 points, but it will feature two potential Sweet 16 teams.
THE STUD: Angel Delgado is probably the best player in this tournament, but I’m most exited to see what will happen should Kyle Guy of Virginia get squared off with Seton Hall’s perimeter defenders.
PREDICTION: I think Virginia wins this tournament if they can get past Vanderbilt. I think The ‘Dores matchup much better with the pack-line defense than Seton Hall does.
- WHEN: Mon-Wed
- WHO: No. 6 Wichita State, No. 13 Notre Dame, VCU, Marquette, Michigan, LSU, Cal, Chaminade
- WHERE: Maui
FAVORITE: At this point, it has to be Wichita State. I wrote a column last week on how we need to put the Shockers into the discussion as the best team in college basketball, and I truly believe that. But the only NCAA tournament team that they’ve beaten in the post-Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker era is Dayton in last year’s tournament. This is their chance to do just that, although the field leaves a little something to be desired.
TEAM WITH SOMETHING TO PROVE: Technically, it’s Wichita State, but since we’ve talked enough about them I’m going to go with Michigan. The Wolverines have not looked good through the first 10 days of the season. They are going through some issues at the point, and Charles Matthews is still figuring out what he’s going to be asked to do by John Beilein. I thought this was a team that could compete for the top four in the Big Ten. That looks like a bad take so far.
MATCHUP WE NEED TO SEE: If we don’t get a matchup between Wichita State and Notre Dame in the title game, it will be a massive disappointment. Those are two top 15 teams in college hoops, and there would be nothing better on the Wednesday night of Thanksgiving weekend than seeing them face-off in Lahaina Gymnasium for the Maui crown.
THE STUD: Bonzie Colson. If you’ve never seen this kid play, you have to tune in. He’s not only one of the best players in college hoops and a legitimate National Player of the Year contender, but he’s also one of the most unique players I’ve ever come across.
PREDICTION: Wichita State wins a thriller over the Irish in the final.
LAS VEGAS INVITATIONAL
- WHEN: Thu-Fri
- WHO: No. 15 Xavier, Arizona State, Kansas State, George Washington
- WHERE: Las Vegas
FAVORITE: Xavier has been very good early on this season, landing one of the most impressive wins of the year to date when they went into Wisconsin and knocked off the Badgers. There is a reason they are ranked where they are ranked.
TEAM WITH SOMETHING TO PROVE: Arizona State has started off the season quite well, as they are sitting at 4-0 on the season with a back court that has looked unguardable at times. There are two players on their roster – Tra Holder and Shannon Evans – averaging more than 20 points and six assists while shooting better than 46 percent from three. Yikes.
MATCHUP WE NEED TO SEE: We know Xavier is good. We’re not quite sure if Arizona State is good, but they sure have looked good. Let’s get them facing off in the final, for the good of America.
THE STUD: Trevon Bluiett. He may be the best scorer in college basketball – he’s yet to finish with less than 25 points in a game this season – and he’s one of the heavy favorites to win Player of the Year as of today.
PREDICTION: Xavier gets the job done. As impressive as Arizona State has been, I think their guards will struggle with the size and length of Xavier’s back court.
- WHEN: Thu-Sun
- WHO: No. 24 West Virginia, Missouri, St. John’s, Oregon State, Nebraska, UCF, Long Beach State, Marist
- WHERE: Orlando
FAVORITE: I’m going to go with West Virginia here simply because I think that West Virginia’s loss to Texas A&M had more to do with circumstance and matchup than anything else, but I’m not sure there is a favorite. To me, this is the tournament we’ll learn the most from because …
TEAM WITH SOMETHING TO PROVE: … all six of the high-major programs in the event have something to prove. West Virginia got their tails kicked in the highest-profile game on the season’s opening night. Was that a fluke? We don’t know if or when Missouri if going to get Michael Porter Jr. back, or if they’re any good with him. UCF looked like a potential top 25 team heading into the season and then proceeded to get decimated by injuries. They’re playing key games for their NCAA tournament standing in their own back yard. I think St. John’s and Oregon State are going to be good this year, but we won’t know until we see them in this event. And with Nebraska, we’re trying to figure out if Tim Miles has a team that’s good enough to keep him employed.
MATCHUP WE NEED TO SEE: Are we assuming that Porter, who has been dealing with a leg injury, is healthy? If so, I would love to see him square off with West Virginia. If not, then St. John’s has a back court – Marcus LoVett and Shamorie Ponds – that is talented enough to give the Mountaineers press fits. That game would be sloppy, but it would be so much fun.
THE STUD: It’s Porter. He’s a top five player in the sport and the potential No. 1 overall pick. He also might not play, in which case West Virginia’s Jevon Carter would probably take the title of ‘best player in the event.’
PREDICTION: This is tougher to predict than you think, but I’m going to go with St. John’s. I think the talent is there for them to make their statement this weekend.
- WHEN: Thu-Sun
- WHO: No. 21 Saint Mary’s, San Diego State, Harvard, Georgia, St. Joseph’s, Washington State, Cal State Fullerton, Sacramento State
- WHERE: Anaheim
FAVORITE: Randy Bennett has done an unbelievable job building up the Saint Mary’s program and developing the kind of continuity that most mid-major coaches only dream of. The Gaels return quite a bit from last season’s team, including star big man Jock Landale, and badly need to add some quality wins to their name. Like Gonzaga in years past, Saint Mary’s still needs to prove themselves, even if they are the favorite to win the WCC.
TEAM WITH SOMETHING TO PROVE: Is San Diego State really going to be a contender in the Mountain West? Is the Mountain West anywhere near being a multi-bid league? Can the Aztec program survive the departure of Steve Fisher? We’re not going to get those answers this week, but a strong performance may slow down the torrent of questions.
MATCHUP WE NEED TO SEE: Two of the ten best big men in college basketball will be in Anaheim for this event, and the world will be done a disservice if we don’t get to see Yante Maten of Georgia take on Landale in the title game.
THE STUD: While the easy answer is Landale, the truth is that it is Maten. Both are terrific players that deserve far more attention than they’ve gotten.
PREDICTION: Saint Mary’s wins the title, and does it in relatively easy fashion.
EMERALD COAST CLASSIC
- WHEN: Fri-Sat
- WHO: Maryland, TCU, St. Bonaventure, New Mexico
- WHERE: Niceville, Florida
FAVORITE: At this point, I think it’s Maryland. The Terps have been impressive through four games, as Anthony Cowan looks like he may be an upgrade from Melo Trimble, Kevin Huerter seems to have taken a step forward and the freshman class of the Terps has played well. And they still haven’t gotten Justin Jackson right yet.
TEAM WITH SOMETHING TO PROVE: No one is going to take TCU seriously until they do something to make us take them seriously. It’s TCU, and while they were a fringe top 25 team heading into the season, they’re still TCU. Winning this event would certainly put them on the map.
MATCHUP WE NEED TO SEE: Maryland vs. TCU is the best final that could happen, but I’m going to go with the first round battle between the Terps and St. Bonaventure. Specifically, Jaylen Adams vs. Anthony Cowan at the point, because …
THE STUD: … Adams is the best player in this event. He’s a legitimate NBA prospect that, when paired with Matt Mobley in the back court, makes the Bonnies one of the most dangerous teams in the country.
PREDICTION: TCU brings home the title after St. Bonaventure does them the favor of picking off Maryland behind a 30-burger from Adams.
- WHEN: Mon-Tue
- WHO: No. 16 Texas A&M, Pittsburgh, Penn State, Oklahoma State
- WHERE: Barclays Center
FAVORITE: The Aggies are the default favorite here seeing as they are the only team that looks destined to get to the NCAA tournament.
TEAM WITH SOMETHING TO PROVE: Oklahoma State has been the trendy pick to finish last in the Big 12, and Pitt has been an absolute disaster during the Kevin Stallings tenure, but my pick here is Penn State. If the Nittany Lions are truly going to be in the mix for an NCAA tournament bid – that’s not the craziest thing in the world, given the talent on their roster – they need a good showing here. And at the very least a win over Pitt in the opening round.
MATCHUP WE NEED TO SEE: Texas A&M vs. Penn State? Does anyone really need to see that?
THE STUD: Big Bob Williams. He is the Aggies best prospect even if he’s not their best player. He will be the guy that will draw NBA scouts to this game, as he has a chance to be a lottery pick.
PREDICTION: If the Aggies don’t cruise to a title in these two games, it’s time to be worried about my pick of them winning the SEC.