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Andy Katz | Correspondent | November 25, 2019

The calorie-free guide to college basketball’s best Thanksgiving tournaments

Michigan State and Duke stay atop Power 36 rankings

The most important game of a non-conference schedule could be the first matchup in an in-season tournament. Win and the next game is likely against a fellow postseason team. Lose and there are no guarantees of playing a team bound for the NCAA tournament or even NIT.

There's a slew of tournaments over the extended holidays, beginning in South Carolina later this week.

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Here is a preview for what to expect and what could occur over the next two weeks:

Best field: Battle 4 Atlantis, Nassau, Bahamas (Nov. 27-29)

The field has four top 15 teams in Gonzaga, North Carolina, Seton Hall and Oregon. All four are legit Final Four contenders. Three of the remaining four teams — Michigan, Iowa State and Alabama — are all positioned to be in contention for NCAA tournament bids. Southern Miss is the only one that probably isn’t projected to end up in the NCAA tournament.

A matchup that needs to happen: Michigan State vs. Kansas in the Maui Invitational final (Nov. 27) 

The Spartans and Jayhawks entered the season as Nos. 1 and 2. They could still end the season that way and be in the title game. If this occurs, then the Spartans will end up playing teams ranked 2-4 in the preseason AP Top 25. Duke comes to Michigan State on Dec. 3.

Best field getting no respect: Emerald Coast Classic in Destin, Fla. (Nov. 29-30)

The Emerald Coast Classic features Florida State vs. Tennessee and VCU vs. Purdue, with the winners and losers facing each other in a second game. The Boilermakers are the only team among this foursome that are still searching for a high-profile win. The Seminoles won at Florida, the Vols beat Washington in Toronto and VCU beat LSU at home.

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Sneaky good field: Legends Classic, Brooklyn (Nov. 25-26)

Wisconsin vs. Richmond and Auburn vs. New Mexico are the early matchups featured in this field. The Badgers blitzed Marquette, Richmond beat Vanderbilt, Auburn rolled Davidson and the Lobos have an Ohio State transfer star in JaQuan Lyle. A Wisconsin-Auburn final is no guarantee.

Most physical field: Cancun Challenge (Nov. 26-27) 

Expect Wichita State-South Carolina and Northern Iowa-West Virginia to be two brutally physical games. This is also a sneaky good field where three of the four could be in the NCAA tournament.

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Best first-round games

1. Seton Hall vs. Oregon, Battle 4 Atlantis (Nassau, Bahamas, Nov. 27) — This could be an Elite Eight matchup. Love the potential of the offense in this game. 

2. Ole Miss vs. Penn State, NIT Season Tip-Off (Brooklyn, Nov. 27) — This is the game between two schools that get no love. Ole Miss should be back in the NCAA tournament. And after winning at Georgetown maybe everyone else will get on board that the Nittany Lions are the real deal.

3. Georgetown vs. Texas, 2K Classic (Madison Square Garden, Nov. 21) — The Hoyas are in desperate need of a power conference win. Texas already has a significant road win at Purdue. The winner likely will get Duke Friday night, which opens up with Cal.

4. Davidson-Marquette, Orlando Invitational (Nov. 28) — If Kellan Grady is clicking, he has the potential to get into a shooting exhibition with Markus Howard.

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Team that must have a good showing 

Florida. The Gators would have been the favorite in the Charleston Classic. But that was before the Gators lost at home to Florida State and at UConn. Now, the favorite may be Xavier. Florida needs to have a good showing to reset the season.

Final matchup that would be must-see entertainment 

Maryland vs. USC in Orlando on Dec. 1. If that happens, NBA scouts get a chance to see the Terps’ Jalen Smith go against the Trojans’ Onyeka Okongwu.

One-on-one matchup that may not happen

Myles Powell (Seton Hall) vs. Cole Anthony (North Carolina). The Pirates and Tar Heels are on opposite sides of the Battle 4 Atlantis bracket. So, they would have to meet in the final or in the consolation round in either the 7th-8th place or 5th-6th place game.

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Final that needs to happen at the Wooden Legacy

Providence vs. Arizona. While Pepperdine has a legit shot to be an NCAA tournament team, the rest of the field is likely not headed to the NCAAs outside of the Friars and Wildcats. They are on opposite sides of the bracket. And a Providence-Arizona final on Dec. 1 in Anaheim is the matchup this tournament must get.

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Stars ready to break out

Georgia’s Anthony Edwards will get the headlines in Maui on Day 1, but Dayton sophomore Obi Toppin and Virginia Tech’s Landers Nolley II are off to stellar starts. They haven’t had the national pub yet but they could get it after the Maui Invitational.

Get to know

Mississippi State’s Reggie Perry and Baylor’s Jared Butler in the Myrtle Beach Invitational (Nov. 21-22, 24). Both could be the player of the year in the SEC and Big 12, respectively. They are that good and may break through by the end of the event.

First impressions

UCLA’s Mick Cronin and BYU’s Mark Pope are in their first seasons at their respective schools. They meet in the Maui Invitational first round on Nov. 25. One of them has a chance to likely leave 2-1 and gain valuable momentum.

Tournament that could have the most rematches: Charleston Classic (Nov. 21-22, 24) 

Xavier beat Missouri State. They are on opposite sides of the bracket but could meet on Day 3. UConn lost to Saint Joseph’s and beat Florida. The Hawks and Gators play each other in the first round on the other side of the Huskies. So, UConn could play one of them again on Day 3.

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Players making their debuts 

UConn gets James Bouknight off suspension for the Charleston Classic. Villanova has Bryan Antoine healthy for the Myrtle Beach Invitational. Both were expected to have a heavy impact on their respective teams.

Teams that would love to play Virginia 

Something that is never said by any team or coach unless you are Arizona State or St. John’s. The Cavaliers play UMass and then play either ASU or St. John’s in the Hall of Fame tournament at the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut on Nov. 24. The Sun Devils and Red Storm need to get a shot at UVA for a chance for a Quad 1 win on a neutral court.

Bubblicious field

Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City (Nov. 25-26): Butler-Missouri and Oklahoma-Stanford is the field. All but Stanford should be in the mix for bids down to the final weeks of the season. Oklahoma has been the most impressive team so far this season among this group with neutral-court wins over Minnesota and Oregon State. That isn’t going to move the needle yet, but winning this event would help the overall resume. 

Tournament where the favorite should win

Continental Tire Invitational Las Vegas (Nov. 28-29) — Texas Tech should beat Iowa and then either San Diego State or Creighton.

MGM Main Event Las Vegas (Nov. 24, 26) — Colorado should beat Wyoming and then either TCU or Clemson. 

Paradise Jam (Nov. 23-25) — Cincinnati is the best team in a field with Western Kentucky, Bowling Green and Illinois State.

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