By DAVE SKRETTA, AP Basketball Writer
This time of year is all about friends and family, turkey and pie, and plenty of football to keep the day busy.
Better to make room for basketball as well.
The increase in exempt tournaments over the past few years has turned Thanksgiving week into a reason to thank for some college hoops. Almost everyday is teeming with tantalizing matchups, which not only serve as a Top 25 reshuffle at the start of the season, but could also serve as resume builders when March arrives.
Whether taking place in the Virgin Islands or the Bahamas, Mexico or somewhere in the United States, here’s a look at some of the early-season tournaments that should provide a televised feast for sports fans.
Might go big first: Top-ranked Gonzaga will face UCLA’s No.2 in Tuesday night’s Good Sam Empire Classic in Las Vegas, a rematch of the Bulldogs’ thrilling domestic semi-final in overtime.
“I was broke last night watching our UCLA game – they literally got their whole squad back,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “We’re definitely totally different, and to Mick’s (Cronin’s) credit they used that as a stepping stone. They play really confidently and much like they played in the NCAA tournament.
This will be the first time the Bruins face the nation’s No.1 team in the regular season since Dec. 3, 2016, when they defeated Kentucky at Rupp Arena.
“Mick and I have worked really hard to prepare for this game,” said Few. “We realized that we have to do things like this because of West Coast basketball, and we will continue to do so in the future. But for us to work our way into this game with these high ratings, whether real or not – we’ll find out in February – should be a fun night out.
One of the major start-of-season tournaments will once again be played on the mainland due to COVID-19, with No.12 Houston joining Oregon, Wisconsin and Butler in the Maui Invitational. The matches will be played at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas after being played in Asheville, NC last season.
Seton Hall jumped into the Top 25 at No.21 after beating the then No.1. 4 Michigan last week. The Pirates will join Florida and Ohio No. 23 headlining the Fort Myers Tip-Off at Suncoast Credit Union Arena.
Another of the best early-season tournaments is back after COVID-19 forced it to be canceled. The Battle 4 Atlantis offers a series of important clashes from the start on Wednesday: No.19 Auburn against No.22 Uconn, Michigan State against Loyola-Chicago, Syracuse against Virginia Commonwealth and Arizona State against No.6 Baylor.
The longtime staple of the New York hoop scene these days takes place at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Number 25 Xavier faces Iowa State and ninth Memphis faces Virginia Tech in the first round on Wednesday night.
The Southern California No.24 won’t have much to do when he takes on Saint Joseph’s Thursday night in the first round at the Anaheim Convention Center. San Diego State faces Georgetown the same night in the Wooden Legacy.
Fourth-ranked Kansas and No. 10 Alabama headline the ESPN Events Invitational which kicks off Thursday at HP Field House in Kissimmee, Fla. The Jayhawks face North Texas and the Crimson Tide face Iona in the first round games, while Belmont faces Drake and Dayton faces Miami in the other two clashes.
Elsewhere in Florida, LSU faces Penn State and Oregon State faces Wake Forest on Friday in the main installment of the Emerald Coast Classic hosted by Northwest Florida State College. The championship game is Saturday.
For more information on AP College Basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and http://twitter.com/AP_Top25
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