Thanksgiving. A time to cherish your loved ones, gather together for possibly the first time since last Christmas, enjoy home cooked meals and appreciate what you have. Or, you can watch non-stop college basketball action all holiday weekend. Of course, the decision is up to you.
While everyone else goes home for the holidays, some of college basketball’s best teams and programs gather for their own events. These events are the preseason tournaments and most of them occur during Thanksgiving weekend. On Thursday alone, there were 18 different games across the college basketball landscape. Some may have missed these due to watching the three NFL games throughout the day or being interrupted by their main meal of the day. Luckily, the action doesn’t stop there.
Throughout the rest of the Thanksgiving weekend, there are several college basketball games to keep an eye on that could have huge ramifications in the national rankings and potential NCAA Tournament seedings in March.
(4) Arizona Wildcats vs. (6) Duke Blue Devils – NIT Season Tip-Off Championship; Friday
Much has been written about Jabari Parker for Duke. The freshman has already become the most reliable and versatile player for the Blue Devils, leading the team in scoring and rebounding by a wide margin. Arizona’s Aaron Gordon wants to make sure you don’t forget about him, though, and the game pitting him against Parker is set to be his coming out party. Gordon is nearly averaging a double-double for the Wildcats.
This is a statement game, not just for the two freshman but the two collective teams. Arizona is looking to make a move by taking out the highly touted Blue Devils. A win against Duke would solidify Arizona’s top five AP ranking and immediately put them into the national championship conversation. On the flip side, Duke has been struggling as of late. Losing to Kansas during the Champions Classic was just the tipping point. They have not lost since, but their wins have come in less-than-desirable fashion, beating Eastern Carolina and Vermont by nine and one point at home, respectively. Losing two non-conference games on highly ranked teams on neutral floors is not the end of the world for Duke, but it would spell trouble for down the road. Everybody will begin to question if the Blue Devils can get it done this season. “If they can’t get it done now, how can they in March?”
Perhaps more importantly, this will be Parker’s second game of the season against one of his freshman foes. Andrew Wiggins and Kansas already got the best of Parker and Duke this season. Now it will be up to Parker to decide which direction this team will go throughout the rest of the season. The schedule may say Duke versus Arizona, but the real headline is Jabari Parker versus Aaron Gordon. Sometimes having bragging rights is just as important as earning a win in college basketball.
(5) Oklahoma State Cowboys vs. Butler Bulldogs – Old Spice Classic Semi-Final; Friday
Marcus Smart has already silenced some doubters about his choice to return to Oklahoma State for his sophomore season rather than take the money and enter the 2013 NBA Draft. Smart has shown an improved jump shot, better free throw consistency and true leadership that NBA general managers are falling in love with each and every game.
Butler is a team attempting to come back from the loss of their head coach and star player to injury in one summer. So far, so good for the Bulldogs. Butler is off to a 5-0 start this season with solid wins against Vanderbilt and Washington State. Khyle Marshall and Kellen Dunham are proving to be a lethal 1-2 punch for the Bulldogs, accounting for over 30 points per game for Butler. Now comes the first real test: a date with the loaded Oklahoma State Cowboys for the right to play for the Old Spice Classic championship.
For Oklahoma State, this has the potential to set them up for a huge rematch against (13) Memphis, the same team the Cowboys destroyed in Stillwater just over a week ago. A potential rematch is exactly what Memphis wants as well. The Tigers know that they played a terrible game last time out, allowing Marcus Smart to go insane against them in the process. The rematch would allow Memphis to refocus and show the first time was a fluke. Oklahoma State wants the rematch to prove that it was no fluke and that the Cowboys are just a better overall team than the Tigers.
For Butler, the win would likely propel them into their first Top 25 ranking of the season and silence their own doubters. Nobody expect Butler to have a successful season. It’s too much to ask of a team going through a transition period after Brad Steven’s departure to the Boston Celtics and Roosevelt Jones’ season ending injury this summer. What those people didn’t realize is that Butler always plays the same type of basketball no matter who is on the court for them. Winning against the Cowboys looks awfully sexy on a potential at-large resume for the NCAA Tournament. Not only that, but that win plus another game (potentially against Memphis) could be just what the doctor ordered for the Bulldogs’ season.
BYU Cougars @ Utah State Aggies; Saturday
It may not be the highlight game many would expect, but BYU traveling to Utah State is, at the very least, worth mentioning.
BYU has a very talented roster with Tyler Haws, Matt Carlino and Eric Mika leading the charge for the Cougars. Their two losses this season have come to (21) Iowa State at home and to (12) Wichita State in the CBE Hall of Fame championship game. Neither of those losses should shame BYU as both the Cyclones and Shockers are talented teams.
Utah State, on the other hand, wants to win the in-state rivalry game. The Aggies are 5-0 with wins over USC, Mississippi State and Weber State. Senior Jerred Shaw is averaging over 16 points and seven rebounds per game for Utah State.
Every statistical category dictates that BYU should win this game, but never count out the home team in a rivalry game. Last season, Utah State traveled to Provo and left with a two-point loss, 70-68. Don’t think they have forgotten about that too quickly.