Here is your "Feast Week" College Basketball Viewing Guide
Let's be honest here: While corporate America (or "Big Christmas," as I like to call it) will try to convince you that holiday season is the most wonderful time of the year, here's the reality: The most "Wonderful Time of the Year" is this week, "Feast Week" in college hoops.
That's right while every time on the calendar has its plusses and minuses, there's nothing quite like this week, where pretty much from Monday through Friday, noon ET until after midnight, we get wall-to-wall college hoops pretty much all day, every day. Add in the fact that you're off of work, can eat good food and have no real commitments, and there is nothing that really beats staying up until 2am on Black Friday, catching some random Wichita State-East Carolina game, in some tropical locale, with both coaches wearing Hawaiian shirts, on some channel you didn't even know you had.
As a matter of fact, just about the only downside of "Feast Week" is that, in reality, there are so many big games, it's hard to keep track of them all. Thankfully, that's why I'm here, with one of my favorite articles every year:
Your full guide to college basketball's "Feast Week." Here is everything you need to know about all the big events, key teams, players and matchups:
Also, here there is a full preview of Feast Week on today's Aaron Torres Podcast as well - which you can listen to here:
Fort Myers Tip-Off Classic (Monday-Tuesday)
Teams: Seton Hall, Ohio State, Florida and Cal
Can't lie, as of about 10 days ago this was kind of one of those events I planned to monitor on my phone, all while watching other, more interesting stuff.
Then a few funny things happened: One, my guy Mike White and the Florida Gators took care of Florida State last Saturday in their heated in-state rivalry (love Mike White!) and two Seton Hall went to Michigan and picked up a road win over a Top 5 team. While Michigan might have been a tiny bit overrated coming into the year, it doesn't change the fact that the Hall looks like a legitimate Top 15 team, as one with length at all five spots, that could create defensive problems for every team they play (Michigan finished 3 of 15 from behind the three-point arc in that game).
So now all of a sudden this becomes a much more interesting team, with the Hall facing off against Ohio State on Night 1 in a nice, early 6pm ET tip-off, with the winner very likely playing the Gators on the second day.
(Oh, and if I haven't mentioned Cal forgive me, they shouldn't even really get credit for being a power conference team at this point.)
Credit to both the Pirates and Florida for looking better than anticipated early in the year.
Hall of Fame Classic (Monday-Tuesday)
Teams: Illinois, Arkansas, Kansas State, Cincinnati
One of the more underappreciated events of the week, the Hall of Fame Classic (not to be confused with the Hall of Fame Tip-Off that was just played with Purdue, Villanova, North Carolina and Tennessee) is one of the more intriguing events of the opening week.
One, we get to see the new look Cincinnati Bearcats under first-year head coach Wes Miller, and also a K-State club that Bruce Weber believes is better than people are giving them credit for.
Really though, you didn't come here for Bruce Weber talk (as exciting as that may be), you came here for what will hopefully be the title game on Tuesday night: Illinois vs. Arkansas.
The Illini are coming off a loss to Marquette where they simply turned the ball over way too many times, but of course get back All-American center Kofi Cockburn before heading to this event. They'll face the Bearcats on Night 1, while this will also double as our first real look at the Arkansas Razorbacks, coming off the school's first Elite Eight trip since 1995 last season.
Should we get an Arkansas-Illinois final, it would be a fascinating matchup between two teams - who, despite Cockburn's presence - have deep, talented and experienced backcourts, which should make for (hopefully) a fun watch on Tuesday night.
Good Sam Empire Classic (Monday-Tuesday)
Teams: Gonzaga, UCLA, Central Michigan, Bellarmine
It took us a couple tournaments, but we're finally here: The one every one has wanted to see all season long.
That's because after tune-up games on Monday (Gonzaga vs. Central Michigan, UCLA vs. Bellarmine), Tuesday night will bring us one of the marquee events of the entire season - No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 2 UCLA, a rematch of last year's Final Four thriller.
And while Jalen Suggs ain't walking through that door, to the credit of both of these teams, they've each looked the part of a Top 2 team in the preseason. UCLA held on to beat Villanova in overtime last Friday, all while the Zags easily took care of business against a Top 5 Texas squad.
Forget this week, this one might be one of the games of the year in college hoops. It's worth staying up for the 10 p.m. ET start - let's be honest, you're not getting anything done at work on Wednesday anyway, right?
Maui Invitational (Monday-Wednesday)
Field: Oregon, Houston, Texas A&M, Wisconsin, Butler, Saint Mary's, Notre Dame, Chaminade
One of the signature events of Feast Week is definitely going to have a different feel, as, due to travel restrictions, this event won't be played in Hawaii this week - but instead, will be yet another event in Las Vegas.
But hey, at least we can presume that we'll still spend all week seeing video of Bill Walton on a surf board, preaching the gospel of Maui Jim, right?
It seems so, and what will be kind of interesting is whether anyone can emerge from kind of a "meh" field.
Houston looks like its usual awesome self, but Oregon - a preseason Top 15 team - has already taken a blowout loss (to BYU), as have Wisconsin (at home to Providence) and Butler too (to Michigan State). Notre Dame is sort of interesting in a lousy ACC, we know about Texas A&M, so maybe Saint Mary's - which is looking like the third best team in the WCC behind Gonzaga and BYU - is the most interesting team?
Anyway, it's kind of a sterile field, and I'll be curious if this will have a sterile environment being played in Vegas, or whether the fans will still show out, even if the games aren't being played a short drive from the beaches of Maui.
NIT Season Tip-Off (Wednesday and Friday)
Field: Memphis, Xavier, Iowa State, Virginia Tech
Look, we could beat around the bush here and bury the lead (or "lede" as my journalism professor would prefer I write it) but let's not: You need to watch this event for one, simple reason. It is the first look at Penny Hardaway's new look Memphis Tigers.
After quite a bit of ink was shed writing about this team this off-season (myself absolutely included in that group) we get to see what they look like against real competition, opening Wednesday night, at 9:30 ET against Iowa State. To their credit, the Tigers have looked the part so far this season with Emoni Bates, averaging 14 points, as a 17-year-old freshman. Oh, and Jalen Duren just dropped a cool 19-point, 17-rebound performance the other night against Western Kentucky as well.
So we know the freshmen are balling out against inferior competition. Let's see what they look like in their first matchup with a power conference opponent on Wednesday night.
The other side of the bracket features Xavier, who to its credit picked up a nice win against Ohio State late last week.
Still, Xavier was a buzzy, preseason Top 25-ish team, so this isn't about one win, but if they can string them together. They'll have two chances, starting with Virginia Tech on Wednesday night.
Battle 4 Atlantis (Wednesday-Friday)
Field: Baylor, Michigan State, UConn, Syracuse, Auburn, VCU, Arizona State, Loyola (IL)
Now THIS, my friends is an event! The defending champ. Five legitimate Top 25-ish teams. One of the best mid-majors in the country. Great fan-bases. Sandy beaches. While Maui will be played somewhere along the Vegas strip, the Battle 4 Atlantis will be played right where the basketball Gods intended: In a ballroom, at one of the swankiest hotels in America, just minutes from some crazy water slide that they always show video of during this event.
And this event, the premiere one this month, opens with a bang first thing Wednesday, with Michigan State facing off against Loyola of Chicago, before what might be the best first round matchup we get in any tournament all week. That is Auburn-UConn around 2:30 ET on Wednesday, as the Tigers and Huskies are legit Top 15 teams, and will prove to be an interesting match of styles. While UConn has one of the biggest rosters in college basketball they're still led by their guards (Tyrese Martin, RJ Cole etc) while Auburn has the twin towers of Walker Kessler and Jabari Smith down low.
The winners of those two matchups will face each other in the semifinals, while the obvious draw on the other side of the bracket is the defending national champion Baylor Bears. The Bears have quietly been steamrolling teams, with five different players averaging double-figures, led by LJ Cryer, a former high scoring high school guard, who simply couldn't get on the court in Baylor's crowded backcourt last year.
Syracuse and VCU will play in the other quarterfinal, with the Bears likely facing Syracuse in Round 2. The Orange are coming off a strange loss to Colgate this weekend, but still have an NCAA Tournament caliber team.
While this is literal and figurative Monday morning quarterbacking, I'd expect the winner of the UConn-Auburn game to be facing Baylor Friday morning for the title.
ESPN Events Invitational (Thursday-Friday and Sunday)
Field: Kansas, Alabama, Miami, Belmont, Iona, Drake, Dayton, North Texas
This event has gone through roughly a million sponsorship and name changes through the years, but just know this is the one that is played at Disney's Wide World of Sports. Often in half empty gyms.
But it doesn't change the fact that it is actually one of the most complete and loaded events of the week.
First off there is Kansas, rock chalk, and our first good look at the Jayhawks since the Champions Classic. On the other side is our first real look at Alabama, which might just have the most loaded out of conference schedule in college hoops. Yet before they play Gonzaga two weeks from now, Memphis, Houston, Colorado State and eventually Baylor (that one isn't until January), they have to get through this tournament, where they open with Rick Pitino's Iona Gaels. Anyone remember who Alabama opened the NCAA Tournament with last year? Oh, it was Iona. And they gave them all they could handle.
Beyond those two, don't sleep on a bunch of other intriguing teams in this event. Never forget that Drake went 26-5 last year, made the NCAA Tournament and won a game before bowing out to USC, or that Belmont went 24-3 before losing in their conference tournament. They return all five starters off that squad. Heck, even Miami is a semi-interesting team that could make a run in a lousy ACC.
Ultimately, we're all hoping for a Kansas-Alabama final. But enjoy their tough road to get there.
Baha Mar Bahamas Championship (Thursday-Friday)
Field: Maryland, Richmond, Louisville, Mississippi State
So I can't lie, I don't really remember this event ever existing before this season but it's actually a sneaky fun event featuring four teams that in theory, should all be competing for NCAA Tournament berths.
Several have not looked very good early on though.
In the early game we get a matchup between two schools that are just two hours apart by car, but would almost certainly never play except in an event like this. I'm of course talking about Richmond and Maryland, two squads that came into the year with high expectations but have somewhat struggled so far.
For Richmond, this was seen as a headliner event for a team that returned a bunch of starters off a good team last year - but just one problem, they've already lost two games this season. Their chances of getting an at-large bid have already taken a big hit, although winning a game (or two) in the Bahamas wouldn't be the worst thing for them. Meanwhile, Maryland has already taken a loss to George Mason and had to hold on for dear life against Hofstra late last week.
Then there is the other side of the bracket, and boy oh boy oh boy, Louisville. The Cardinals are currently without Chris Mack (serving an early season suspension for the Dino Gaudio stuff earlier in the fall) and will be without him here as well. Not a good sign for a team that already took an overtime loss to Furman and struggled to put away Detroit-Mercy at home over the weekend.
The Cardinals will face a good Mississippi State team that - to its credit - loaded up in the transfer portal and looks like a legit NCAA Tournament contender. Among the new players on their roster, Shakeel Moore (NC State), Garrison Brooks (North Carolina) and DJ Jeffries (Memphis) are all averaging double-figures, along with returnee Iverson Molinar who is averaging 18 points and five assists to lead the team in both categories. This could be a statement week for Ben Howland's crew in the Bahamas.
Plus, be honest, we all kind of just want to see Ben Howland in a Hawaiian shirt in this one, don't we?
Will anyone in the history of flowered shirts look less happy wearing one than Ben Howland does this week? Stay tuned.
Wooden Legacy (Thursday-Friday)
Field: USC, San Diego State, Georgetown, St. Joseph's
Ahhhhhh it's a tradition unlike any other. No, I'm not talking about the Master's - I'm talking about staying up well after midnight on Black Friday to watch the Wooden Legacy, an always good, but never necessarily great event out in California.
As someone who lives in SoCal, I can tell you, this event has taken on a million different name changes, venue changes and whatever - but the good news is, this year there is at least some intrigue in this event.
The intrigue really comes from two teams, as USC continues to roll after last year's Elite Eight appearance. Evan Mobley is gone to the pros (where he was dominating until an injury just a few weeks ago), but his older brother Isaiah Mobley is back, along with Memphis transfer Boogie Ellis - and to their credit, both have been balling out. Ellis is averaging a team high 16 points on a staggering 45.5 percent shooting from three, while Mobley is chipping in 12 and eight on the boards.
The other specifically intriguing team is San Diego State. The Mountain West is surging early with Colorado State and Utah State both looking good in their Thanksgiving week tournaments, and we'll see if the Aztecs can keep up. They already have a victory over Arizona State on their resume.
These games tip-off at 9:30 and midnight ET on Thursday and Friday, so grab some leftovers and be ready to stay up late.
Feast Week! America!
Continental Tires Challenge (Friday)
Field: Gonzaga vs. Duke
Admittedly this might just be a made-up event, for the sole purpose of getting these two teams on the court.
But ultimately who cares.
It's Duke vs. Gonzaga. In Vegas. On Black Friday at 10:30 p.m. ET.
I mean at this point you really don't need me to tell you much about these two teams, but they are two legitimate Top 5 teams, both with national title aspirations and this could be a future matchup of the No. 1 vs. No. 2 picks in the NBA Draft, Paolo Banchero and Chet Holmgren.
Again, stay up late, grab some apple pie and relax.
This is gonna be a good one.
And a great way to wrap the most wonderful time of the year!
Follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres
Follow Aaron on Facebook here
College hoops is back and our partners at DraftKings Sportsbook have an INCREDIBLE offer for college hoops junkies.
For new users, bet $1 - JUST $1 on any game - and if your team scores one point, you get $100 in free bets. Yes, you read that correctly: ONE DOLLAR, ONE GAME, $100 in free bets!!!
Here's what you do:
1. Click this link and sign up for a new account with DraftKings Sportsbook and make your first deposit.
2.) Make a $1 bet on any team
3.) And if your team scores ONE POINT, you get an automatic $100 thanks to our friends at DraftKings.
It's the best offer going in sports betting - so act now!
If you or someone you know has a gambling problem, crisis counseling and referral services can be accessed by calling 1-800-GAMBLER (1-800-426-2537) (IL).
Gambling problem? Call 1-800-GAMBLER (MI/NJ/PA/WV/WY), 1-800-9-WITH-IT (IN), 1-800-522-4700 (CO), 1-800-BETS OFF (IA), 1-888-532-3500 (VA), 1-800-NEXT STEP (AZ) or call/text TN REDLINE 1-800-889-9789 (TN).
*21+ (18+ WY). AZ/CO/IL/IN/IA/MI/NJ/PA/TN/VA/WV/WY only. Min $5 deposit. Min $1 wager.
Eligibility restrictions apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for full terms and conditions.