Thanksgiving Week College Basketball Tournament Previews

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College Basketball
Duke's R.J. Barrett, left, congratulates teammate Zion Williamson during a college basketball exhibition game against Toronto in Mississauga, Ontario, Friday, Aug. 17, 2018. (Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press via AP) ORG XMIT: CKL116

One of college basketball’s best traditions, the week of Thanksgiving features a boatload of great tournaments that gives fans a ton of opportunities to watch some quality early season basketball. With so many tournaments out there, I’ve picked out the five best and summarized the field and predicted a winner and tournament MVP for each. Read below to see who I think will win the loaded Maui invitational, NIT tip-off, and the rest of the best from this week’s awesome slate of college hoops.

Cayman Islands Classic

Dates/Location: Nov. 19-21, Cayman Islands

The Field: Akron, Clemson, Georgia, Illinois State, St. Bonaventure, Georgia State, Boise State, Creighton

This will be a great early week tournament with a solid field that features four 2018 NCAA tournament teams. 19th ranked Clemson is the headliner at the top of the bracket, as the Tigers return three-star players from last season’s sweet 16 club, and are off to a 3-0 start so far this year. They’ll face a pesky Akron team that is also 3-0 thus far. Georgia (2-1) faces off against Illinois State (2-1) in what should be the best game of the opening round. Tom Crean appears to have the Bulldogs headed in the right direction, but they’ll have their hands full with the Redbirds’ dynamic duo of Milik Yarbrough and Phil Fayne.

Creighton looks to be the team to beat in the bottom half of the bracket, as Coach Greg McDermott’s squad aims to bounce back from a close loss to Ohio State last week with a couple wins in the Cayman Islands. St. Bonaventure comes limping into this tournament with a 1-2 record and their two-star seniors, Courtney Stockard, and LaDarien Griffin, both injured and likely out for all three games. Their young group will be tested right away against a veteran Georgia State squad hungry for some quality non-conference wins. Panthers guard D’Marcus Simonds is probably the best player in the tournament, and is off to a great start this year, averaging 22.3 ppg.

Championship Prediction: Clemson over Creighton; Marcquise Reed MVP

It’s tough to see anyone getting in the way of the Tigers in this tournament, and that includes Creighton, who will have a tough time slowing down Clemson’s back-court of Reed and Shelton Mitchell. The emergence of Aamir Sims (14 ppg) alongside Elijah Thomas down-low gives Clemson the most complete team in the field. Ty-Shon Alexander’s stellar play has been a nice surprise for Creighton early, but the overall talent isn’t quite there for the Blue Jays to keep up with the Tigers.

Maui Invitational

Dates/Location: Nov. 19-21, Maui, HI

The Field: #9 Auburn, Xavier, #1 Duke, San Diego State, Arizona, Iowa State, #3 Gonzaga, Illinois

The Maui Invitational always has an excellent field, but this year’s bracket is just ridiculous. While everyone is hoping to see a Duke and Gonzaga final, that’s far from a guarantee given the tough paths both teams will face to get there. Duke will open up against a dangerous San Diego State team that features a guy that can test the Blue Devil freshman phenoms in NBA prospect forward Jalen McDaniels. If Duke wins, they’ll likely see #9 Auburn in the semi-finals. The Tigers look rock-solid early, as they’re off to a 3-0 start including a blowout win over a really good Washington team. They shouldn’t have too much trouble with Xavier, and under Jared Harper and Bryce Brown’s leadership, surely won’t back down against the mighty Blue Devils.

Arizona will meet Iowa State in a strong opening round contest. Brandon Williams and the young Wildcats squad are catching a break in this match-up, as Iowa State will be without injured guard Lindell Wiggington and forward Cameron Lard. Gonzaga, also dealing with the injury of a star in center Killian Tillie, have still looked like a final four contender early on thanks to a well-balanced roster and the monster play of Rui Hachimura.

(AP Photo/Otto Kitsinger)

Championship Prediction: Duke over Gonzaga, Zion Williamson MVP

If we’re lucky enough to see this championship game, it’ll feel like an Elite 8 or Final Four contest with all the talent on the floor. The Zag’s experience will help, but the overall talent level and the absence of Tillie will ultimately prevent them from winning this game. The Duke freshman are just too good, and while you can try to game-plan to stop R.J. Barrett or Zion Williamson, I think it’s nearly impossible to shut down both. Zion vs. Rui and Barrett vs. Zach Norvell would be so fun to watch, just cross your fingers that we get to see it happen.

Advocare Invitational

Dates/Location: Nov. 22-25, Orlando, FL

The Field: Villanova, Canisius, Oklahoma State, Memphis, Charleston, #22LSU, UAB, #14 Florida State

This is an intriguing field that should be competitive from top to bottom. Villanova’s surprising skid has been one of the biggest storylines of the young season, but a match-up versus lowly Canisius is just what they need to get out of their slump. Oklahoma State meets Penny Hardaway’s Memphis Tigers in a match-up of two teams desperate for a quality win. I give the slight edge to the Tigers here, as they are the more talented all-around team and have the best player in Jeremiah Martin.

In the lower half of the bracket, Florida State is the team to beat, but LSU looks like a true top 25 team and should give them a tough game in the semis. Young Tiger stars Tremont Waters and Naz Reid have been absolute studs thus far, but they haven’t faced anything close to the talent and toughness of this Seminoles team.

Championship Prediction: Florida State over Villanova, Terrance Mann MVP

A combination of Jay Wright’s excellent ability to make adjustments and simply being on the easier side of the bracket will be enough for the Wildcats to reach the finals. However, this team has too many issues to figure out to be able to beat this tough, talented Seminoles unit. The defense, depth, and balance of the Noles is too much for anyone in this tournament to handle.

NIT Season Tip-Off

Dates/Location: Nov. 21 & 23, Brooklyn, NY

The Field: Louisville, #5 Tennessee, Marquette, #2 Kansas

Another tournament that never disappoints, the NIT tip-off delivered once again with a strong field. Louisville is still down talent-wise in year one for Chris Mack, but he has this team playing hard early and they’ll put up a fight against Tennessee. The Vols received the most preseason hype in school history entering this season, and they’ve lived up to the billing thus far behind the play of Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield.

Marquette got blitzed at Indiana last week but still has a tough squad that could give Kansas a run for their money, especially if Markus Howard and the rest of the Eagles’ shooters get hot. Kansas is uber talented and has looked dominant at times, but they’re still gelling as a team and need to tighten up their defense as a unit.

Grant Williams

Championship Prediction: Tennessee over Kansas, Admiral Schofield MVP

This match-up between two top 5 teams would be a real treat for college hoops fans. Schofield and Williams versus Lawson and Azubuike down-low and Vick/Grimes/Dotson versus Bone and Bowden will provide some great individual battles. I give a slight edge to the Vols here because of the significant advantage in team experience and established chemistry. Don’t be surprised if we see a rematch in a late-round NCAA tournament game.

Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational

Dates/Location: Nov. 22 & 23, Las Vegas, NV

The Field: #7 North Carolina, Texas, #20 UCLA, #11 Michigan State

This is without a doubt the best top to the bottom field of any tournament you’ll see this week. These teams own a combined record of 14-1, with Michigan State’s loss to Kansas as the only blemish on any of their records. Every game will be competitive, starting with Shaka Smart’s Texas club versus Roy Williams’s mighty Heels. Kerwin Roach and co. will pressure UNC freshman point guard Coby White and try to force him into mistakes, but he’ll have enough help in veteran guards Cameron Johnson and Kenny Williams to get the job done.

The second semi-final offers a great match-up that has the makings of a game that will go down to the wire. While I love the Spartans back-court of play-maker Cassius Winston and wing scorer Joshua Langford, I’ll take the inside-out combo of Kris Wilkes and Moses Brown to pull out a close one.

Cameron Johnson

Championship Prediction: North Carolina over UCLA, Kenny Williams MVP

The Tar Heels just have too many scoring options for the Bruins to handle. They can try and double Luke Maye in the post and pressure Nassir Little, but that just leaves open shots for Williams and Johnson, who are both too deadly to help off of. With so many weapons on the floor, it’s a pick your poison situation with Carolina and someone is going to have a field day every time out.

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