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Joe Boozell | | November 20, 2017

Does Thanksgiving tournament success translate to March success?

  North Carolina dominated in Maui last season and went on to win the national title.

As we dive into one of the most fun weeks on the college basketball calendar, a fair question arises: does winning a Thanksgiving tournament really matter?

Of course, there are prime opportunities to pick up the kind of nonconference wins that can boost an NCAA tournament resume. But with so much time between now and March, these may feel like noise. Conference tournaments played in early March would seem to be more indicative of NCAA tournament success than tournaments played in November.

But recent history suggests that we can learn plenty from these Thanksgiving events, even if the real madness if months away.

MORE: Full holiday tournament preview

A quick disclaimer: not all tournament championships are created equal. For example, it’s going to be harder to win this year’s PK-80 Phil Invitational (eight teams in each bracket) than it will be to win the Hall of Fame Classic (four teams).

With that said, the last 14 national champions have generally dominated Thanksgiving week. Check it out:

Recent NCAA tournament champions Thanksgiving results
Year Team Tournament Result
2016-17 North Carolina Maui Invitational Won
2015-16 Villanova NIT Season Tip-Off Won
2014-15 Duke Coaches vs. Cancer Classic Won
2013-14 Connecticut 2k Sports Classic Won
2012-13 Louisville Battle 4 Atlantis Lost in final
2011-12 Kentucky Did Not Participate N/A
2010-11 Connecticut Maui Invitational Won
2009-10 Duke NIT Season Tip-Off Won
2008-09 North Carolina Maui Invitational Won
2007-08 Kansas Did Not Participate N/A
2006-07 Florida Las Vegas Invitational Lost in final
2005-06 Florida 2k Sports Classic Won
2004-05 North Carolina Maui Invitational Won
2003-04 Connecticut Preseason NIT Lost in first round
  • Seven of the past eight national champions who've played in a Thanksgiving tournament have won it.
  • Kentucky and Kansas are the only schools on the list in the past 14 years that haven’t participated in a Thanksgiving tournament. Nine of the last 11 national champions who have played in a Thanksgiving tournament have won it.
  • North Carolina has won three national championships since the turn of the century. It won the Maui Invitational in all three of those seasons. The Tar Heels, however, will play in the PK80 in 2017.
  • Since 2004, every national champion that’s played in a Thanksgiving tournament has at least made it to the final game.

Winning the NCAA tournament isn’t the only way to be “successful” in March Madness – for most schools, anyway. Success is relative. For some programs, making the NCAA tournament can be deemed a success, regardless of what happens when they’re there. For others, making it to the second weekend is a huge accomplishment. And for some, of course, it really is national title or bust.

With that in mind, we researched the winners of the Battle 4 Atlantis and the Maui Invitational in recent years and noted what they did in the NCAA tournament. We chose those two tournaments because they each have eight teams in the field instead of four, and lately, they’ve had the most talent from top to bottom (note: this is the first year of the PK80, but it has the best crop in 2017).

Anyway, here’s how the Atlantis winners have fared:

Battle 4 Atlantis winners
Year Team NCAA tournament results
2016 Baylor Lost in Sweet 16
2015 Syracuse Lost in Final Four
2014 Wisconsin Lost in national championship
2013 Villanova Lost in Round of 32
2012 Duke Lost in Elite Eight
2011 Harvard Lost in Round of 64

Of course, winning these tournaments doesn’t guarantee anything. But if nothing else, you’re a near lock to make it to the NCAA tournament, and you’ll usually win at least a couple of games while there.

For instance – that Syracuse run in 2016 seemingly came out of nowhere. But the Orange started out well that year, winning the Battle 4 Atlantis. Harvard is the only school on this list not to win an NCAA tournament game in the same year.

Now, a look at Maui:

Maui Invitational Winners
Year Team NCAA tournament result
2016 North Carolina Won national championship
2015 Kansas Lost in Elite Eight
2014 Arizona Lost in Elite Eight
2013 Syracuse Lost in Round of 32
2012 Illinois Lost in Round of 32
2011 Duke Lost in Round of 64
2010 Connecticut Won national championship
2009 Gonzaga Lost in Round of 32
2008 North Carolina Won national championship
2007 Duke Lost in Round of 32
2006 UCLA Lost in Final Four
2005 Connecticut Lost in Elite Eight
2004 North Carolina Won national championship
2003 Dayton Lost in Round of 64
  • Every team to win the Battle 4 Atlantis or Maui Invitational since 2003 has gone on to make the NCAA tournament.
  • Four of the last 13 Maui winners have gone on to win the national championship.
  • Duke and Dayton are the only schools since 2003 to win the Maui Invitational and not win an NCAA tournament game.
  • Eight of the last 14 Maui winners have reached the Elite Eight.

    Dominating a tournament in November doesn’t mean you’ll do the same in March. But, these Thanksgiving events allow us to see what these teams look like in a tournament atmosphere.

    Maybe these schools win in November and March because they’re just good. Or, it’s a combination of the two. These are really good teams that elevate themselves a notch in a win-or-go-home environment.

    One thing we can all agree on: this is going to be such a fun week.

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