Thanksgiving week has arrived, and with it comes a complete slate of multi-team college basketball events.
This is a week where we really start to figure teams out, as it’s the closest action that many of them get to the NCAA Tournament with the setup of the events, playing daily or every other day.
Here are the five things that I’m looking at on the college basketball Thanksgiving table.
1. The potential for a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup at the Maui Invitational
First and foremost, the 40th annual Maui Invitational tournament is the best the event has ever been. You’re talking about five of the top-11 teams in our FOX Sports Top 25 rankings, highlighted by a showdown between Purdue and Gonzaga in the first round of the tournament. The fact that the semifinals could give us two games featuring top-eight teams with Kansas potentially facing Marquette and Purdue against Tennessee is downright wild. Regardless of what happens, this is going to be an epic event, but if you look even further ahead, the college basketball gods could give us …
No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 2 Purdue at 5 p.m. ET Wednesday for the championship.
If Zach Edey and Hunter Dickinson meet for the title, that would be incredible. It would also be interesting to see Marquette meet Kansas for the point guard matchup between Tyler Kolek and Dajuan Harris Jr. I’m interested to see if the Jayhawks can find perimeter shooting this week beyond Harris. Look for freshman Johnny Furphy to get opportunities. Another storyline to watch for Kansas is that KJ Adams will likely be out for Monday’s game against Chaminade. He is traveling to Honolulu to play after he was back home in Austin to be with his mother, Yvonne, who passed away from cancer on Friday.
My Maui Invitational Pick: Tennessee. The Volunteers won the Battle 4 Atlantis over Kansas last year. I like them to coast by Syracuse and getting the winner of Purdue-Gonzaga should help because they shouldn’t have to exhaust the same amount of energy in their first game of the tournament. I’m all in on the Dalton Knecht hype train and love what the transfer has brought to the table. Give me Rick Barnes.
We find out the answer to these questions on Thanksgiving when the Spartans and Wildcats meet in the Acrisure Classic in Palm Springs, California at 4 p.m. ET on FOX following the Packers–Lions game. First off, it’s great for college basketball that these two big-brand programs are getting together, with a women’s game between Tennessee and Indiana staged in Fort Myers to follow at 6 p.m. ET on FOX. To follow the institution that is the Lions Thanksgiving Day game should help move eyeballs to the hardwood.
As for the state of these two programs, they are in opposite places. The Wildcats have the signature road win of the season, having gone to Cameron Indoor Stadium and beaten Duke, 78-73. Can Kylan Boswell and Caleb Love keep it rolling? They’ll certainly have their hands full with Tyson Walker, who’s averaging 23 points per game in the first four contests of the season. Walker will need some help, and A.J. Hoggard must supply it. He’s looked better in the last two games, going for 25 points and 11 assists combined.
My Acrisure Classic pick: I’ll go out on a limb here. Tom Izzo seems to be at his best when you might not expect it, and in this early college hoops season, timing is everything. The Spartans are a better team than they’ve shown, and Walker steals the show on Thanksgiving Day. Michigan State knocks off Arizona.
Michigan State’s Tyson Walker shows off wild crossover and finishes strong to extend lead over Butler
3. A potential 2016 national championship game rematch in Atlantis? It could happen.
The Battle 4 Atlantis is headlined by North Carolina, Villanova, Michigan, Memphis and Arkansas. I’ll be really intrigued to see the first-round matchup between the Wolverines and Tigers, as well as the Wildcats and Texas Tech.
The Michigan-Memphis game on Wednesday features a great point guard showdown between Dug McDaniel and Jahvon Quinerly, and I’ll be curious to see if Penny Hardaway’s defensive mentality can translate to how that game gets played. The Wolverines, after routing St. John’s, gave back all the good will they built by losing at home to Long Beach State, 94-86. Still, I like this Michigan team and think they could be top-five in the Big Ten, but a critical bounce-back opportunity arrives Wednesday against the Tigers.
Meanwhile, Villanova is 3-1 and coming off a dominant performance against Maryland, but Wednesday brings a unique challenge with a Texas Tech team that will be all about defense. First-year head coach Grant McCasland is off to a 3-0 start with the Red Raiders. The unique thing is that he doesn’t have a single player averaging over 11.7 points per game and his team is shooting 21% from 3 on the season. This is a game Villanova should win, but the Cats have to prove they can be a consistent offensive team with Justin Moore, TJ Bamba and Tyler Burton leading them.
If Villanova can get by Texas Tech, a potential Thanksgiving Day showdown could loom with North Carolina. The 3-0 Tar Heels have Northern Iowa on Wednesday. RJ Davis vs. Moore on Turkey Day? Armando Bacot vs. Eric Dixon? That would be a war inside.
Battle 4 Atlantis also presents a week for Arkansas to show that it’s not a fluke after Eric Musselman’s team lost to UNC Greensboro this past weekend. One thing I’m monitoring with the Hogs is their perimeter shooting. They went 4-for-23 from distance in their last game. We’ll see if Devo Davis & Co. can bounce back Wednesday against Stanford.
My Battle 4 Atlantis pick: Arkansas
4. An underrated game in Brooklyn on Thanksgiving Eve
I’m looking at the NIT Season Tip-Off at the Barclays Center when Florida meets Pittsburgh. The Gators just throttled Florida State on Friday, 89-68, while Pitt is off to a 4-0 start. Blake Hinson has been charging the Panthers with 20.5 points per game thus far, and this is the type of matchup that Todd Golden got Seton Hall transfer Tyrese Samuel for. The winner of that game will likely meet star-studded freshman Ja’Kobe Walter, Jayden Nunn and a Baylor squad that could be a sleeper contender for the Big 12 title this year. That field in Brooklyn is sneaky good this week.
My NIT Season Tip-Off pick: Baylor
5. The inaugural Rady Children’s Invitational comes to FOX and FS1
Iowa, Oklahoma, Seton Hall and USC hit San Diego for a new multi-team event added to the FOX College Hoops calendar this year, with the Sooners and Hawkeyes meeting on Thanksgiving Day at 3 p.m. ET on FS1 before a Trojans squad that received significant preseason buzz takes on the 4-0 Pirates at 5:30 p.m. ET on FS1. The consolation game and final will begin at 3:30 p.m. ET on Friday, with both games televised on FOX.
I’ll be curious to see a great guard battle between USC’s Boogie Ellis, who’s coming off a 28-point showing against Brown on Sunday, against Seton Hall star Kadary Richmond, who’s averaging 14.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game this year. As for Iowa and Oklahoma, the Hawkeyes have a top-15 offense in the country. The Sooners sit at 26th in defensive efficiency. Something has to give!
My Rady Children’s Invitational Pick: Iowa
John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.
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