Ranked teams face tough tests in holiday tournaments
The Thanksgiving week of holiday tournaments is almost always a feast of high-level college hoops.
While several top teams are playing home games against smaller-conference opponents, the programs in Maui, the Bahamas and Oregon are facing one stiff test after another.
Here’s a look at the tournaments taking place this week:
One of the deepest brackets in the tournament’s history descended upon tiny Lahaina Civic Center. The tournament includes five teams ranked in the AP Top 25 and other big-name programs.
No. 10 Creighton (5-0) tipped off the paradise festivities with a 76-65 win over No. 21 Texas Tech, dominating the Red Raiders in the second half.
No. 9 Arkansas (4-0) was even better in the second Maui game, routing Louisville 80-54 behind high-flying freshman Anthony Black’s 26 points.
That sets up Tuesday’s semifinal between the Bluejays and Razorbacks. Both teams like to get up and down the floor, so the packed-in Lahaina Center crowd could set off some seismographs on the islands.
No. 17 San Diego State entered the season with high expectations and lived up to those pre-Maui, knocking off BYU and Stanford. The Aztecs kept it going in Maui, overcoming a slow start to beat Ohio State 88-77.
No. 14 Arizona dominated its first three games, averaging a nation-leading 105.3 points and 26.3 assists. The Wildcats kept their roll going with a 101-93 victory over Cincinnati at the Maui Invitational to set up a semifinal game against San Diego State.
BATTLE 4 ATLANTIS
The bracket for the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas isn’t bad, either.
No. 3 Kansas and No. 22 Tennessee are the only ranked teams, but the tournament also includes North Carolina State, Southern California and Wisconsin.
The Jayhawks (4-0) moved up three spots to No. 3 in this week’s poll and have a tough opener against NC State on Wednesday.
Kansas already picked up a win over No. 8 Duke in its bid to repeat as national champion, but had a hard time shaking Southern Utah before winning 82-76 on Friday.
Like Kansas, the Wolfpack are 4-0, but have yet to face a true test this season.
NC State has added several veteran transfers, including big man DJ Burns, who could give the Jayhawks some trouble inside at 6-foot-9, 275 pounds. Kansas also will have to keep track of sharp-shooting sophomore Terquavion Smith, who can get hot from the 3-point line in a hurry.
Get past NC State, and Kansas will face the winner between Dayton and Wisconsin.
The Volunteers (2-1) turned some heads by beating No. 6 Gonzaga in an exhibition, but weren’t so impressive in a 78-66 loss to Colorado on Nov. 13. Tennessee was much better at both ends of the floor in an 81-50 win over Florida Gulf Coast last week.
The Vols open the Battle 4 Atlantis against a Butler team still trying to find the mid-major magic from several years ago, with a potentially tough next game against the USC-BYU winner.
PHIL KNIGHT INVITATIONAL
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo likes to test his teams early and this season has one of the nation’s toughest nonconference schedules.
Another big test comes against No. 18 Alabama in the first round of the Phil Knight Invitational on Thursday.
The Spartans have stood up to the demanding schedule so far, losing by one point to No. 6 Gonzaga on an aircraft carrier, beating No. 15 Kentucky in double overtime and outlasting a late push by Villanova to win by two Friday night.
Michigan State moved into the AP Top 25 at No. 12 this week after starting the season unranked.
The Crimson Tide (4-0) are without Jahvon Quinerly, who’s recovering from knee surgery, but have been better defensively so far this season after being among the nation’s worst on that end of the floor a year ago.
The winner of that game faces either Oregon or No. 20 UConn.
North Carolina has been the nation’s No. 1 team all season and doesn’t figure to face much of a threat against Portland in the first round Thursday.
It figures to get much tougher after that, with the Tar Heels playing Iowa State or Villanova in the second round.
North Carolina (4-0) hasn’t exactly faced the toughest competition through its first four games, but had a hard time putting away Gardner-Webb in a 72-66 win last Tuesday. The Tar Heels will need to play better no matter which team they face in the second round.
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