College basketball is really interesting on Thanksgiving weekend, mostly with neutral site, eight-team tournaments played in places that never see basketball at any other time of year. Empty gyms are the other thing these tournaments have in common.
The weekly update:
Charlotte: The 49ers are sort of lost souls, playing their last year in the Atlantic 10 where they’ve never been competitive and heading to Conference USA because of football. Quite unexpectedly, they won the Great Alaska Shootout. Sorry to say it came at the expense of Northeastern, which had a nice tournament up north.
Duke: Man, was I off target with the Blue Devils, they’re tremendous again. Many players have surprised me. Sophomore guard Quinn Cook is healthy and a decent point guard, Seth Curry looks much improved, freshman Rasheed Sulaimon is a deadly shooter, center Mason Plumlee looks bigger and is tough to handle down low, and Ryan Kelly, a small forward in a center’s body, is a dependable player. Looks like Coach K has it going again.
Northwestern: Could this finally be the year the Mildcats make the tournament? It’s possible based on their gritty victory over Illinois State in the South Padre, Texas tournament final. They’re 6-0.
Michigan: The Wolverines looked awesome in beating Pitt and Kansas State in the tip-off NIT. They are Final Four material.
California: The Golden Bears have been totally overlooked, but they do have three starters back from an NCAA team and they showed they’re going to contend in the Pac 12 (maybe no longer the Lack 12? Wait. UCLA lost to Cal Poly? Jury still out).
Old Dominion: The Monarchs are often a threat for an at-large bid out of the CAA. Not this season. They’re 1-5 with losses to Holy Cross, Texas San Antonio and VMI. Elevator going down.
Mississippi State: First-year coach Rick Ray inherited zero starters and it has showed. The Bulldogs couldn’t compete while finishing last in the Maui Tournament.
Northern Iowa: The Panthers figure to be a contender in the Missouri Valley, but they couldn’t compete in the ultra-tough tournament in the Bahamas and finished last.
Saint Mary’s: The Gaels, a personal favorite with All-Sully guard Matthew Dellavedova, were really disappointing in the Disneyland tournament. They were manhandled by Pacific in the semifinals and then failed with the game on the line against Georgia Tech in the third-place game. I liked those semi-throwbacks Tech wore. Made me thing of Rich Yunkus playing in the NIT at MSG in the late 60s.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores did salvage one victory in the Disney World tournament, but that came after they were physically overwhelmed by Davidson in the first round and then embarrassed by Marist 50-33 in a consolation game. This team’s going to compete in the SEC?
This week’s George Mason (best mid-major): Murray State.
This week’s Final Four: Indiana, Michigan, Creighton, Duke
This week’s national champion: Indiana
- Michael Vega
- Mark Blaudschun
- Nancy Marrapese-Burrell