Thanksgiving week has long been synonymous with football. But in recent years, college basketball junkies have gotten their fix thanks to ESPN’s made-for-television “Feast Week.”
From the Bahamas to the Cayman Islands to Maui and everywhere in between, dozens of college basketball teams will be competing in holiday tournaments this week in North America.
Two of the first tournaments – the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas and the Phil Knight Invitational in Portland, Oregon – feature a total of six ranked teams.
Kansas, the defending champion, #3, and Tennessee, #22, are the two top picks to win Battle 4 Atlantis. Meanwhile, No. 1 North Carolina is favored to outlast No. 12 Michigan State, No. 18 Alabama and No. 20 UConn in the Phil Knight Invitational.
Wisconsin, USC, North Carolina State, Dayton, Butler and BYU join Kansas and Tennessee in the eight-team Atlantis field. The Phil Knight Invitational is also an eight-team tournament, with the four top-25 entrants joined by Villanova, Oregon, Iowa State and Portland.
Who are the best bets to win these festival week events? Here are our picks for the Battle 4 Atlantis and the Phil Knight Invitational.
Note: Odds were updated at 2:45pm ET on November 21st.
Odds (via Caesars Sportsbook)
State of North Carolina
Interestingly, Kansas is the clear favorite to win the Battle 4 Atlantis at FanDuel, which has the Jayhawks at +130 and Tennessee at +250. However, at Caesars Sportsbook, the Volunteers have the same +250 odds, but the Jayhawks are the #2 pick at +260.
In setting its Battle 4 Atlantis odds, Caesars was likely influenced by the opinion of highly respected analyst Ken Pomeroy. Pomeroy ranked Tennessee (2-1) 7th in his KenPom rankings, four spots ahead of Kansas in 10th (4-0).
This is despite the fact that Tennessee was beaten by Colorado 78-66 as a 15-point favorite on Nov. 13 on a “neutral” court in Nashville. However you slice it, that’s a tough loss – but one made worse by the fact that Colorado lost two of its next three games, both as favorites (66-63 to UMass and 68-55 to Boise State) .
Tennessee, who followed Colorado’s defeat with an 81-50 win over Florida’s Gulf Coast on Nov. 16, also have a tricky opener in the Bahamas on Wednesday. The Vols meet Butler, who goes into the tournament with 3:1 SU and ATS.
The Bulldogs’ only blemish was a 68-62 loss at Penn State as a 5.5-point underdog. But the Nittany Lions got off to a flying start (5-1 SU, 6-0 ATS) and moved up to 31st on KenPom.
As usual, Butler has relied heavily on his defense, scoring just 57.5 points per game. That ranks in the top 40 of all Division I schools.
Now compare that to Colorado, where Tennessee shot 25% from the field (16 to 63). Even with that effort, the Buffs rank 227th defensively (70.7 points per game).
We will take the value Caesars offers with Kansas to win the Battle 4 Atlantis. Though the Jayhawks looked shaky as a 21.5-point favorite in Friday’s 82-76 home win over Southern Utah, they still got off to a perfect start.
That includes a 69-64 win on the neutral side against Duke as a one-point underdog last Tuesday — a game coach Bill Self sat out while he was serving a self-imposed four-game suspension. Self will return to the sidelines in Wednesday’s opening round game against North Carolina State (4-0).
Self’s presence in the Bahamas is another reason why we welcome Kansas as the winners of the tournament. First, the Jayhawks shouldn’t have much trouble defeating NC State, which is ranked No. 69 in KenPom. The Wolfpack’s four wins came against Elon, Florida International, Campbell and Austin Peay.
Should Kansas win their first two games and meet Tennessee in the Battle 4 Atlantis finals, we’ll take Self against chronically underperforming Vols coach Rick Barnes any tournament format.
» READ MORE: Full sports betting coverage from The Philadelphia Inquirer
Phil Knight’s Invitation Choices: Michigan State +450 (at FanDuel)
Dark Horse Pick: Oregon +850 (on FanDuel)
We’re relying on two main factors in this prediction that Michigan State will claim the Phil Knight Invitational, which ends Thursday: KenPom and our own eyeballs.
Let’s start with the latter.
Tom Izzo stayed true to his form and once again planned to run the gauntlet of tough opponents out of goal. After an opening race in northern Arizona, Izzo took his players to San Diego to face Gonzaga on an aircraft carrier, then went to Indianapolis and took Kentucky to do double overtime, and returned home on Friday to face Villanova battle.
The results: A resounding 64-63 loss to then-No. 2 Gonzaga; an 86-77 double OT upset victory over then-No. 4 Kentucky; and a 73-71 squeaker over Villanova, who was ranked 16th in the preseason.
The Spartans’ performance certainly caught the attention of the top 25 voters and KenPom. Michigan state rose from unrated to 12th in Monday’s The Associated Press poll, while KenPom has Michigan state at 21st.
The latter ranking still places the Spartans below three other teams in Phil Knight’s field: Alabama (No. 12 KenPom), North Carolina (No. 16) and UConn (No. 19).
But none of these teams arrive in Portland as battle-hardened as Michigan State.
Take Alabama for example. The Crimson Tide, who take on the Spartans in Thursday’s opening round, started the season with four straight double-digit wins … against Longwood, Liberty, South Alabama and Jacksonville State. The only away game was in South Alabama, and the Tide won 65-55 as a 10.5-point favorite.
North Carolina’s first four opponents: UNC Wilmington, College of Charleston, Gardner-Webb and James Madison (all at home).
UConn’s first five enemies: Stonehill, Boston University, Buffalo, UNC Wilmington, and Delaware State (all at home).
Will it be easy for Michigan State to emerge unscathed from the Phil Knight Invitational? Probably not. In fact, we recognize that Alabama is a tough opponent in the opening round who will likely take the favored spot to beat the Spartans.
But it’s hard not to support Izzo at this generous price point when we know its players are already navigating tough, tight games comfortably. That can’t be said with confidence about any of the other Phil Knight Invitational contestants.
The Inquirer is not an online gambling operator or gambling site. We provide this sports betting information for entertainment purposes only.