Here’s hoping all had a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with family, friends, fellowship and football. And perhaps even some basketball.
Thanksgiving Day traditionally hasn’t been a hotbed for college basketball, but in recent years the sport has had an increasing presence on the day, with the continued proliferation of exempted tournaments. (And that’s not an all bad thing, considering the lackluster quality of the NFL games yesterday…)
Perhaps starting that trend, ESPN and Disney have staged a pair of your-name-here events over the holidays for nearly 10 years now, including the AdvoCare Invitational (nee: Old Spice Classic, Orlando Classic) in Orlando and the Wooden Legacy (formerly: Anaheim Classic, 76 Classic, DirecTV Classic) in southern California. Both have ebbed and flowed in their quality, but this year the Orlando event in particular is as good as any preseason eight-team tourney.
Quarterfinal play on Thursday produced three outstanding games, including a pair of upsets plus arguably the game of the day. The day left us with a pair of unlikely semifinals, as well as the potential for a pair of old rivals to finally meet again in the championship game.
Xavier’s 64-45 win over Alabama tipped off the day, but the fun really started in the second game when USC held off depleted Wichita State 72-69 to set up a semifinal against the Musketeers. The win is the biggest in Andy Enfield’s two-plus years with the Trojans. And while the truth is that Southern Cal very likely does not win this game if Fred VanVleet is in the lineup, it doesn’t for a second diminish the importance of this win for Enfield’s young team.
The night session produced a pair of dandies, including a major upset. Though perhaps it’s time to stop calling any win by Monmouth a surprise, even after the Hawks defeated Notre Dame 70-68 for the first win over a ranked opponent in school history.
Monmouth was in the tourney only because the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference sponsors the event, and the Hawks took full advantage and now have wins over the Irish and UCLA this season. Incredible. Stories like this are exactly what make college basketball, and why designations like “Power 5” or attempting to separate schools by TV contracts is futile; when teams take the court, a Monmouth can compete-and win-with a fraction of the budget of a UCLA or Notre Dame.
The night ended with Dayton and Iowa staging a game worthy of March. The Flyers held a 10-point lead with eight minutes to play before the Hawkeyes came back with a 16-2 run. Dayton rallied back, and the teams went back and forth until UD went ahead in the final minute and finished it with free throws for an 82-77 win.
The possibility exists that Xavier and Dayton could meet in the final and renew a rivalry that has disappeared since X moved to the Big East, and is on the short list of ones many would like to see return. Meanwhile, Monmouth and Dayton now will face off in a semifinal game in Orlando, while Notre Dame and Iowa meet in a consolation game. That’s right. College basketball. We love it.
- The Battle 4 Atlantis had the most touted field of the exempt events but its first day was a flop. No such issues with the second day. The semifinals were decided by a combined four points, as Texas A&M nipped Gonzaga 62-61 and Syracuse held off Connecticut 79-76 in a classic ex-Big East rivals clash. The Aggies and Orange will meet in the final on Friday, and the winner will get a huge early boost to their season.
- The Wooden Legacy is set up as a collision course for an Arizona-Michigan State final, though that was endangered late Thursday night. Santa Clara missed a pair of free throws with less than seven seconds left in regulation that would’ve given it the lead, and Arizona held on in overtime for a 75-73 win after blowing a 17-point first-half lead. Jared Brownridge was unreal for the winless Broncos, scoring 44 of their 73 points. The Wildcats certainly showed some vulnerability, and it should be noted this was their first time not playing at home.
- The Spartans did their part with a 99-68 blowout of Boston College. Denzel Valentine delivered another triple-double (29 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists) and Tom Izzo won his 500th game. Michigan State will face Boise State in the semifinals after the Broncos defeated UC Irvine 71-64, while Arizona now gets Providence after the Friars handled Evansville 74-64 behind a career-high 24 points from Ben Bentil.
- Villanova is a heavy favorite to win from the NIT Season Tipoff’s predetermined semifinals, and the Wildcats are in the final after a 59-45 win over Stanford. Their opponent will be Georgia Tech, which defeated Arkansas 83-73.
- The Las Vegas Invitational semifinals included four quality teams. West Virginia got by Richmond 67-59 for a quality win, and the Mountaineers will now play San Diego State after the Aztecs rallied with a big second half for a 72-58 win over California. Big, big win for SDSU and the Mountain West.
- The last two quarterfinals in the Great Alaska Shootout took place. Middle Tennessee State edged the always-tough host Alaska-Anchorage 75-72 and UNC-Asheville surprisingly hammered Drexel 85-66, outscoring the Dragons 51-28 in the second half.
- Sad news from the college basketball world as former Houston coach Guy V. Lewis passed away on Thursday at the age of 93. Lewis was the red polka dotted towel-clenching coach of the Cougars from 1956-86 and won 592 games in his career. He is best known to many as the coach of Elvin Hayes and later the famous Phi Slama Jama teams in the 80s with Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and others. His 1983 Houston team famously was defeated by heavy underdog North Carolina State in the national championship game on a Lorenzo Charles dunk at the buzzer, and his Cougar teams appeared in five Final Fours in all, including three straight from 1982-84. A terrific coach, may he rest in peace.
Today’s menu: A cornucopia of options the day after Thanksgiving…
- As mentioned above, the Battle 4 Atlantis concludes, as does the NIT Season Tipoff, while the AdvoCare Invitational and the Wooden Legacy both conduct their semifinals.
- The semifinals continue at the Great Alaska Shootout, with Toledo against Loyola (Ill.) followed by Middle Tennessee State against UNC-Asheville.
- Interesting scheduled non-conference games as Northeastern is at Miami (Fla.), Florida Gulf Coast goes to Florida in a rematch of a 2013 NCAA Sweet 16 game and Winthrop is at N.C. State.
- The Barclays Center Classic has Cincinnati against Nebraska and George Washington facing Tennessee, with the possibility of a very appealing final between GW and Cincy.
- The Emerald Coast Classic begins with semifinals including Virginia Tech against Iowa State and UAB vs. Illinois, and the possibility is real of a rematch in the finals of this spring’s NCAA tourney game between ISU and UAB that was a Blazers’ upset.
Enjoy your Friday on this holiday weekend.