College basketball’s packed early-season slate of tournaments is underway. Feast Week provides huge opportunities for teams to make an early statement, and the fields for some of the highest-profile tournaments are absolutely packed with talent. Last year, UConn’s ripping through the Phil Knight Invitational in Portland set the stage for a championship season in Storrs. Will this year’s champ make a similar impression during Thanksgiving week?
Here are the events you won’t want to miss and picks on who will head home victorious.
Maui Invitational (Nov. 20–22)
Field: Gonzaga, Kansas, Marquette, Purdue, Syracuse, Tennessee, UCLA, Chaminade
This tournament is always fun, but the 2023 field is as loaded as it has ever been. Three of the top four teams in the Associated Press poll (and five of the top 11) will be in Hawai‘i for this year’s event, played in Honolulu rather than Maui due to the wildfires that devastated the island earlier this year. That means this year’s tournament will have a massive impact on shaping the early-season narrative of who the best of the best in college basketball is.
The headliner of the opening round is the showdown between Purdue and Gonzaga, a rematch from last year’s PK85 that served as a coming-out party for the Boilermakers. We’ll also see Kansas, coming off a huge win over Kentucky at the Champions Classic, attempt to retain its spot at No. 1 in the polls. A potential semifinal between the Jayhawks and No. 4 Marquette would be must-see TV. Meanwhile, Tennessee might be the most impressive team in the country thus far thanks to the play of transfer wing Dalton Knecht, who’s averaging nearly 20 points per game through three games. Win this event, and the Vols may find themselves at No. 1 in the polls post-Thanksgiving.
The Pick: Tennessee over Marquette
Battle 4 Atlantis (Nov. 22–24)
Field: Arkansas, Memphis, Michigan, North Carolina, Northern Iowa, Stanford, Texas Tech, Villanova
If not for the loaded Maui field, this Battle 4 Atlantis group would be the story of Thanksgiving week. Some huge brands with big expectations for 2023 face off in this one. And while Arkansas is the highest-rated team in the field based on the polls, this event feels wide-open.
It’s a huge litmus test for North Carolina’s progress in Year 3 under Hubert Davis. The Tar Heels have rolled in a pair of early-season games against mid-major foes, but the competition level picks up in a big way this week. How will this new-look roster built around veterans Armando Bacot and RJ Davis respond? Assuming they get past Northern Iowa in their opener, a semifinal matchup with either Villanova or Texas Tech should be telling.
On the other side of the bracket, the Memphis vs. Michigan first-round matchup is quite appealing. Michigan is off to a surprisingly hot start thanks to the play of dynamic sophomore guard Dug McDaniel, while Memphis was impressive on the road at Missouri in its first big test. The winner of that one gets the winner of Arkansas and Stanford.
The Pick: Michigan over North Carolina
ESPN Events Invitational (Nov. 23–26)
Field: Boise State, Butler, FAU, Iowa State, Penn State, Texas A&M, VCU, Virginia Tech
Florida Atlantic’s first big test coming off its Final Four run comes at Disney World, where the No. 10 Owls will play three games against high-level competition and begin building their NCAA tournament résumé. FAU has won comfortably against Loyola Chicago and Eastern Michigan thus far, but the competition ratchets up here, with an opener against a Butler team that has looked impressive in Thad Matta’s second season.
Another team worth watching here is Iowa State, which has dominated lower-level competition so far. The Cyclones do look much improved on the offensive end thanks to a sophomore breakout from point guard Tamin Lipsey, averaging 13 points and more than six assists per game thus far. Freshman Milan Momcilovic has also been piquing NBA scouts’ interest with his shooting ability and will have a chance to make a bigger impression in this event.
The Pick: Iowa State over Texas A&M
Empire Classic (Nov. 19–20)
Field: Indiana, Louisville, Texas, UConn
This four-team event is loaded with big brands, albeit ones in very different places at the moment. UConn is flying high off its national championship and has looked the part of a contender thus far, blowing away overmatched competition in three home games. The competition level rises this weekend, starting with a talented Indiana team still very much finding its way with a new-look roster. But so far, big man Donovan Clingan has seamlessly replaced Adama Sanogo, while transfer wing Cam Spencer has shot the lights out filling the role Jordan Hawkins played a year ago.
On the far opposite end of the spectrum is Louisville, where Kenny Payne is feeling the heat after an exhibition loss to Kentucky Wesleyan and an early defeat at the hands of Chattanooga. Winning a game this weekend is likely unrealistic for the Cardinals, but just looking competitive against high-major competition would be a step forward.
The Pick: UConn over Texas
NIT Season Tip-Off
Field: Baylor, Florida, Oregon State, Pittsburgh
Baylor has one of the best wins of the early season: an impressive neutral-court victory over Auburn that saw freshmen Ja’Kobe Walter and Yves Missi shine in big moments. Walter’s 28 points were an illustration of why he’s considered one of the best freshmen in college basketball and a likely first-round pick next summer—and he’ll be tested in this event against other intriguing guard talents like Florida’s Riley Kugel and Pitt’s Carlton “Bub” Carrington.
The most important game of this event isn’t the eventual championship game, but rather the semifinal between Florida and Pittsburgh. Assuming Baylor isn’t stunned by lowly Oregon State, the difference in résumé opportunities between getting the Bears in a title game and getting the Beavers in the consolation is immense. For two teams that could be near the bubble come Selection Sunday, staying on the winner’s side of the bracket is huge.
The Pick: Baylor over Florida
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Title: The Top Matchups of Men’s College Basketball’s Feast Week
Author: Kevin Sweeney