Feast Week Meaning for College Basketball
College basketball’s “feast week” features special out-of-conference match-ups. There are a few factors that make these pairings special. For one, similar to the college basketball tournament itself, these holiday tournaments represent a cross-section of conferences big and small. Another special factor is that games are played on a truly neutral floor. This means that neither team has home court advantage. This very rarely happens during the college basketball regular season. In the case of Kansas playing in Kansas City’s Sprint Center, or Duke playing in New York’s Madison Square Garden, there are times that blue bloods are advertised as playing at a “neutral site,” but those places actually represent a hotbed of fan support for those respective programs. Third, the championship games (and even third place consolation games) often serve as a defacto playoff game. It may determine which teams survive the famed “bubble.” Because of the reasons mentioned above, committee members will be looking back to November’s rare match-ups to decipher which team has a resume worthy of a tournament invite. Lastly, there is the element of rawness to these tournaments. You’ll see a lot of rosters loaded with new talent, but still without ironing the roles within their team. That makes for an exciting watch!
Below are eye test analysis of games, a work-in-progress on 11/24
2K Empire Classic
The 2K Empire Classic’s invite list reads like a veiled excuse to have Georgetown battle Duke in a championship game. And that’s exactly what happened. Coach Patrick Ewing’s Hoya squad looked like a poised group. Its guards went on the offensive in the first half, and Georgetown actually led by about 10 points early. In the end, Duke’s talent (and therefore #1 national ranking at the time) took over. However, Georgetown’s electric play under the bright lights should be noted. Mainly, sophomore point guard James Akinjo accelerated for 19 points and 6 assists in 35 minutes of play. He made the audacious move of wearing #3 as a Georgetown point guard…mildly acceptable.
Air Force Reserve Tip-Off Tournament
The Air Force Reserve Tip-Off Tournament featured a team no one is talking about. Ironically, that team is the national champion. Virginia returns more talent than it gets credit for. Kihei Clark and Mamadi Diakite are names you’d recognize. But fans should be excited about Jay Huff this season with long-time center Jack Salt graduated. Huff brings more range and scoring pop. Jay Huff had some big points in a pivitol stretch again Vermont. This may be the marquee game worth taking a second look at come March 2020.
Battle for Atlantis
There are many layers of the onion to pull away here from the 2019 Battle for Atlantis. Four teams in the top 13 came to paradise to see whose sand castle would stand up to the rocky waters of stiff competition. UNC’s did not.
You watched as the Tarheels started the tournament with a sleepy performance against the inferior Alabama team. They coughed up 20 turnovers and gave up a lot of easy baskets at the rim. The 38% shooting percentage for Alabama won’t tell the story about some of the lackadaisical plays that UNC allowed. Then they got crushed by Michigan. Finally, they won against Oregon (a team exhausted by two heavyweight battles: Seton Hall and Gonzaga contests decided by a total of 3 points).
Now, for that Michigan win. Wow. We saw that this was a team with all the right pieces. Jon Teske was awarded the tournament’s MVP as he shows a lot more skill down low than many people thought. Zavier Simpson is a veteran point guard who can orchestrate and defend. Isaiah Livers looks like a lot of Michigan wings of recent years. He can go inside, he can float out and cause matchup issues. It’s not easy to speed him up. His game looks some like D.J. Wilson, his predecessor at SF/PF who now plays in the NBA. Coach Juwan Howards looks really comfortable. When the broadcasts show his moments in the timeout, he is loose and sharing the huddle with his fellow coaches and players. He is a pro. Howards has incredible credentials as a professional coach. And, what better motivational speaker for a young Wolverine? This team passes the eye test with flying colors.
Next, you have Oregon and Gonzaga. The two Northwest schools couldn’t be more different. But they’re about equal. Oregon PG Peyton Pritchard is as advertised. Last year’s 16 Sixteen run he led was not a fluke. He is one of college basketball’s best competitors. And Dana Altman’s attitude of just making it work year-to-year with a motley crew of junior college transfers and highly touted recruits is incredible. This guy knows how to cultivate a winning culture on a deadline. On the flip side, Gonzaga has its renowned international basis and the versatility that comes with it. That said, Serbian Filip Petresev looks to be what makes this team go. This is going to sound crazy, but his game resembles a young Kevin Garnett. He is long, lean, crafty, can shoot the midrange jumper, and has a mean streak. Petresev thrives on the jump hook, and likes play with his back to the basket or off the offensive glass. Watch his activity and compare it to a rookie Timberwolf. All in all, both these Pacific Northwest teams could be playing in an Elite 8. I put the odds in Oregon’s favor given their strength at point guard. But the highlights of this game is worth a re-watch in early March as you’re prepping to fill that bracket.
Michigan State losing to Virginia Tech might be the headline of this entire week. We saw glimpses that Michigan State might not be the no-doubter #1 seed as it struggled against Kentucky’s athleticism in the first game of the season. And then Virginia Tech happened. The V-Tech Hokies won wire-to-wire against Michigan State by swinging the ball all around the horn and daring to hit 3’s all night. Spartans coach Tom Izzo sat Cassius Winston midway through the first half as he had 2 fouls. That ended up biting them in the Sparty. Winston committed his second foul at the 9:56 mark. They trailed 17-18 at that point. It looked like Virginia Tech seized all the momentum in the building for the next quarter, hitting two 3-pointers and taking a 32-28 lead into the locker-room. Virginia Tech now gets the luxury of playing the rest of the season with house money, with a 6-0 record at a top 5 win on a neutral floor already on its resume. If the Hokies played to a .500 record in the ACC, it would be hard to argue against them getting into the NCAA tournament. As the broadcasters said on the telecast, this team was put together with 3 players having to reclassify in order to make a roster (after the offseason departure of coach Buzz Williams). New coach Mike Young had made noise during his tenure at tiny Wofford. In this “Maui Wowie,” he proved his cinderella story isn’t done being written yet.
Myrtle Beach Invitational
The championship game from the Myrtle Beach Invitational was HUGE. The 17th ranked Villanova Wildcats took on the 24th ranked Baylor Bears. When you do the math, you can see how the winner may be rewarded with a 3 or 4 seed in the Big Dance, and the loser a 5 or 6 seed, if things remain mostly equal going forward. The winner was Baylor. And it seemed that the Bears learned from their disappointing loss to the Washington Huskies in another early season yet gigantic non-conference opportunity. Coach Scott Drew got more shooters into the game late and made defensive subs as needed. The Bears actually made it look easy in the final four minutes against a very young Villanova bunch.