By Steve Silverman
The Thanksgiving holiday tournaments present a number of interesting interconference and intersectional matchups that will determine the direction that top coaches will go with their teams throughout the season.
Teams that are challenged somewhat regularly by high-quality opponents will give a sharp coach a chance to prepare for what is coming in January, February and March.
Coaches that protect their teams’ won-loss record by scheduling less challenging opponents are not doing their players or the team’s fans any favor.
Here’s a look at some of the top college basketball matchups for the coming week.
(All times Eastern, records as of November 24)
Friday, Nov. 24
Duke (6-0) vs. Texas (4-0), 5:30 p.m., Portland, Oregon
This PK80 tournament game will feature two of the top freshman in the country as Marvin Bagley III and the Blue Devils will square off against Mo Bamba and the Longhorns.
Bagley, a 6-10, 230-pound forward, was the nation’s top recruit last spring, while the 6-11, 220-pound Bamba was No. 4 in that category. Bagley appears to be the more complete player with a slew of brilliant offensive moves, while Bamba is a defensive specialist with extremely long arms.
Bamba is at the top of the class when it comes to shot blocking.
The unbeaten Blue Devils were in quite a bit of trouble Thanksgiving Day as they trailed Portland State 49-45 at halftime. Duke woke up in the second half and came away with a 99-81 triumph, but Mike Krzyzewski needs to see a more consistent effort against the Longhorns.
Texas handled Butler 61-48 as Andrew Jones scored a game-high 16 points. Bamba was held to six points, but he had 12 rebounds and four points.
Florida (4-0) vs. Gonzaga (4-0), 11:30 p.m., Portland, Oregon
College basketball fans will have to stay up late for this matchup, but it could be a worthy sacrifice since these two teams are among the best in the nation and quite evenly matched.
The Gators are coming off a 108-87 triumph over Stanford that featured brilliant outside shooting. Florida made 15-of-22 from beyond the arc, and they were led by Egor Koulechov, who made 5-of-5 from 3-point range.
While Florida was asserting itself, Gonzaga was just as impressive in pounding Ohio State by an 86-59 margin.
Johnathan Williams had a game-high 21 points in the win over the Buckeyes, while Josh Perkins added 20 points.
Gonzaga’s main goal will be to take away Florida’s three-point shooting. Both teams have been averaging a 27-point margin of victory, and it seems likely that fans who stay up late will see a tight game.
Saturday, Nov. 25
Alabama (4-0) vs. Minnesota (5-0), 5 p.m., Brooklyn, NY
Both teams will face major tests in this Barclays Center Classic matchup.
The Crimson Tide is coming off a one-point victory over Utah, while the Golden Gophers were tested earlier in the season by Providence, but have had four other relatively easy games.
Alabama is led by guard Collin Sexton, who is filling it up this year by scoring an average of 25.3 points per game while shooting a remarkable 63.4 percent. Power forward Donta Hall is a doing a solid job on the boards and he leads the team with 6.8 rebounds per game. Hall is 6-9 and 232 pounds, and he will be difficult for the Gophers to control.
Minnesota will lean on swingman Jordan Murphy, who is averaging 23.8 points per game and connecting on a remarkable 65.7 percent of his shots. Murphy is a 6-6, 240-pounder who can punish opponents down low and screen opponents out from the boards. He is also averaging a team-high 12.2 rebounds per game.
Guard Nate Mason is helping to trigger the Minnesota attack by averaging 4.0 assists per game.
Alabama is beating opponents by an average of 18 points per game, while the Gophers are dominating opponents by 25 points per game.
Tuesday, Nov. 28
Toledo (3-1) at Kansas (4-0), 8 p.m.
The Jayhawks are used to welcoming visitors to Allen Fieldhouse and pounding them into dust.
That could happen to the Rockets, but this team has some grit and Toledo may be able to hang in with Kansas for at least a half before the home team takes over.
Toledo is led by guard Jaelan Sanford, who is averaging 20.2 points per game along with 3.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists. Sanford is a go-to-scorer who should be the Rockets’ best player this season. Tre’Shaun Fletcher is an emerging force who is averaging 9.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game.
Kansas head coach Bill Self certainly has a big job to do since the Jayhawks lost Frank Mason and Josh Jackson to the NBA last spring. There’s still plenty of talent, but the Jayhawks are still developing their game plan at this point.
Senior guard Sviatoslav Mykhailliuk is averaging 20.0 points per game while shooting 54.5 percent from the field. Senior guard Devonte Graham is the triggerman for the Jayhawk attack, averaging 9.8 assists per game, while freshman guard Marcus Garrett is an emerging force who is leading the team with 7.8 rebounds per game.
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