Happy Thanksgiving! And while football tends to take center stage on this day there are also four in-season tournaments playing games, with action spreading from the Bahamas to Alaska. There really isn't a marquee matchup so to speak but there are games that could become important once March arrives, with New Mexico's game against Santa Clara in the 76 Classic being one. The Lobos were the preseason pick to win the Mountain West, and with players such as Drew Gordon and Kendall Williams there's no doubt that they can win this event.
The game between Duke and Kansas more than lived up to the pregame expectations on Wednesday night, but it was an unsung hero who stepped to the forefront late. Tyler Thornton, essentially a defensive substitute when Austin Rivers picked up his fourth foul, knocked down a pair of critical three pointers late to catapult the Blue Devils to the 68-61 win. Duke earned their fifth Maui Invitational title and moved to 15-0 all-time in the prestigious early season event.
On paper the matchup between Missouri and California looked to be a good matchup, with both teams fresh off of big wins in the semifinals of the CBE Classic in Kansas City. On the floor however, things got out of hand quickly for the Golden Bears as the Tigers rolled in front of a pro-Missouri crowd. Kim English scored 19 points and tournament MVP Marcus Denmon finished with 18 points and six rebounds as the Tigers won 92-53, and it could be argued that the 39-point margin doesn't do this result justice.
After both teams won their semifinal games at the CBE Classic in blowout fashion, Missouri (4-0) and California (4-0) should have a stiffer challenge on their hands as they play for the championship in Kansas City. Neither team has much of an issue with playing fast. but given their roots in the "40 Minutes of Hell" system used by former coach Mike Anderson the Tigers could be at an advantage if the pace becomes frenetic.
One of the keys in playing against Michigan is to remain composed and execute your game plan. Getting away from what you do well in attempts to get the Wolverines to play a style other than their own more times than not results in a loss. That was the lesson for the Memphis Tigers, who in spite of their athletic talents have some maturing to do before referring to themselves as sure-fire national title contenders. Tim Hardaway Jr.
Monday marks the beginning of one of the most prestigious in-season tournaments as the Maui Invitational begins at the Lahaina Civic Center. The big game of the day: Michigan taking on Memphis, with both teams having designs on bigger things after seeing their seasons end in tough fashion on the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament last year. Josh Pastner's Tigers have played just one game on the season but they were impressive in that appearance, beating Belmont 97-81 on Tuesday.
In-season tournaments can be tricky to analyze when the dust settles. Sometimes the winning team can build on the experience and move on to bigger and better things, with last year's Connecticut team (Maui Invitational champs) being a prime example. Others, like Minnesota (last year's Puerto Rico Tip-Off champs) can temporarily hide flaws that get exposed later in the season. Essentially these early season results should be taken with a grain of salt, because while we see flashes of teams in reality it's a small sample size.
The matchup between Arizona and St. John's in the second semifinal of the 2K Sports Classic Benefitting Coaches vs. Cancer was a highly-anticipated affair due in large part to the talented newcomers on both teams. And while those talented young players delivered what to this point in the season is the first big game to live up to the expectations, Arizona's more experienced players ultimately tipped the scales in their favor.
Thursday's schedule is highlighted by three in-season tournaments, with action in Charleston, New York City and San Juan. The 2K Sports Classic Benefitting Coaches vs. Cancer semifinals will be played at Madison Square Garden with Texas A&M playing Mississippi State in the opener and St. John's and Arizona doing battle in the nightcap. The second game jumps out not only because of the fact that it will be a home game for the Red Storm but also due to the roles that newcomers play on both teams.
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