The week of Thanksgiving is quite arguably the best sports week of the year. We have college football, basketball, NBA, NHL and soccer at the same time; who can ask for anything more? Feast Week is the highlight, as the best college basketball teams play in tournaments from the Bahamas to Hawaii to Cancun. These Feast Week tournaments are often the first chance we get to see the top teams in the country tested, while being introduced to some of college basketball’s emerging talents (hi Obi Toppin). Here are the most notable winners and losers from my favorite sports week of the year.
Winner: The Michigan Wolverines and Juwan Howard
I did everything I could to avoid this, but Michigan was so impressive last week that I’m forced to put my anti-Michigan sentiment away for a painful few minutes. The Battle 4 Atlantis was the best Feast Week tournament, hosting the likes of Seton Hall, Oregon, North Carolina, Gonzaga and the team that dons that awful shade of yellow. Coming into the week Michigan was unranked and only three-point favorites to Iowa State in their opening matchup. After scraping by Iowa State, they beat two top 10 teams in North Carolina and Gonzaga. Following a slow start in the first five minutes against UNC, Michigan dominated for the next 75 on their way to the Atlantis title. In my estimation, the Wolverines were a team with an inexperienced head coach and one real player (Zavier Simpson). Isaiah Livers, Jon Teske and Eli Brooks showed that they’re far more than just Simpson’s sidekicks. What shocked me most was rookie head coach Juwan Howard beating two of the best college coaches ever back to back in Roy Williams and Mark Few. Road doesn’t get easier, as by the time you read this, they will have traveled to Louisville to play the No. 1 Cardinals. Good week for Michigan, we get it, moving on.
After writing that I need some Duke slander to feel clean again. Duke played their tournament two weeks ago winning the 2K classic in NYC, but they didn’t really have any notable wins. Duke came into the week ranked as the No. 1 team in the country. Stephen F. Austin came into Cameron Indoor to change that. To much of the country’s delight, the Lumberjacks broke Duke’s 150-game non-conference home win streak. Duke was 27.5 point favorites, making Tuesday’s upset one of the biggest in years. Literally adding injury to insult, the Blue Devils lost freshman stud Cassius Stanley to injury for couple weeks. For a team already doesn’t have much guard depth, that’s a huge loss. Duke has a chance to bounce back in East Lansing Tuesday night. Too bad they won’t.
Winner: Obi Toppin and the Dayton Flyers
If you watched a Dayton game last year you knew that Forward Obi Toppin was an absolute force to be reckoned with. Understandably, the casual fan had not heard of Toppin until this year, but boy did he burst onto the scene this week. The stands in Maui were littered with NBA scouts, many of whom project Toppin as a lottery pick following his performance on the island. In his three games, all against legitimate teams, he combined for 67 and 21 rebounds. Obi was awesome, but Dayton proved they’re an extremely well-balanced team around him. Jalen Crutcher and Ryan Mikesell made a ton of huge shots as the Flyers dominated their way to the Maui final. They pushed Kansas to the brink, as the Jayhawks needed overtime to overcome the team out of the A-10. Dayton is ranked as the fifth most offensively efficient team in the country according to KenPom and will be a bonafide contender come March.
Loser: Wisconsin and Michigan State
These two Big Ten teams came into the season with a lot of returners and high expectations. Opening day losses to Saint Mary’s and Kentucky made Feast Week a big opportunity for them to get some quality resume wins. Starting with the disaster Wisconsin had: They got upset twice in a row at the Barclays Center for an 0-2 record in the Legends Classic. Greg Gard’s team just could not seem to score. Sharpshooting junior guard Brad Davidson, who appears to be the reincarnation of Aaron Craft, was held to a combined seven points in Brooklyn. The Badgers look lost without the option of just feeding Ethan Happ on the block every play. As for my Spartans, the opening game loss to Virginia Tech was so disappointing for several reasons. The first being that the Hokies are very much rebuilding and should not be a team that MSU struggles against. What Tom Izzo is more upset about is that the loss took away the opportunity to play Dayton and Kansas, two quality opponents that Izzo would have loved to challenge his team. Instead they played Georgia and UCLA, neither of whom will be playing in March. The Spartans always peak around the NCAA tournament, but man that Virginia Tech loss was a real step back.
Bonus Winners: Anthony Edwards and Payton Pritchard
Anthony Edwards put up a dud against Dayton, but his performance against Michigan State alone makes him a winner (especially on draft boards). Georgia just is not a good team and MSU exploited that by jumping out to a 28-point lead early in the second half of their second game in Maui. Edwards, quite single handedly brought them within two, in what seemed like a blink of the eye. He had 33 second-half points, making some of the most ridiculous shots I’ve seen from any college player since Trae Young. The freshman is probably the most talented in the country and with some added consistency, will be a surefire top three pick come June. Payton Pritchard likely won’t ever drop 33 in 15 minutes, but he is the definition of a floor general. Oregon lost a lot of talent this year, but competed with the country’s best in the Bahamas due to Payton’s brilliance. If you look at the box scores he contributes a consistent 16-5-5, but that doesn’t begin to explain Pritchard’s significance. College basketball doesn’t keep track of plus-minus like the NBA does, but in Oregon’s 19-point comeback against Seton Hall I would guess Pritchard’s was at least a plus-25. His fundamentals are near perfect and he always seems to make the right play on both ends of the floor. Dana Altman is finally being recognized as one of the best coaches in the country; it’s about time his point guard earned the same respect.
Tamir March is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.