Four teams from the Big 12, Pac-12, ACC, and SEC will get together in Vegas on Thanksgiving. NC State -Vanderbilt and BYU-Arizona State will tipoff Thursday night with the winners and losers playing each other Friday. Below is the bracket and schedule.
BYU is currently the betting favorite, according to Action Network, with -145 odds followed by NC State at +320, Arizona State +600, and Vanderbilt +700.
Below is a breakdown of the four teams and my prediction.
Wins: Houston Christian, San Diego State, SE Louisiana, Morgan State
I won’t go deep into BYU since most of the people that will read this are BYU fans, but BYU has been the best team through two weeks. BYU has the most impressive win of the group over SDSU and won their other three games by an average of 49 points.
BYU has been without Center Aly Khalifa the last two games as he rests his knee, and my guess is that he’ll be held out these games as well. UC Irvine transfer Dawson has yet to play this season as he recovers from a foot injury and is likely nearing a return, but I think he’ll sit out this week as well.
Even without those two players, BYU has been just fine. The Cougars return the most returning production in the Big 12, and that has paid major dividends so far. That advantage may minimize as the season progresses as more transfer heavy teams take time to gel, but for now BYU has been riding that continuity.
Fousseyni Traore is reliable on the low block and is surrounded by a legion of shooters that are collectively shooting the three ball at a 37% clip. BYU makes a lot of threes, but they also rebound a lot of those misses. BYU is 11th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage.
Turnovers plagued BYU last season but have not reared their ugly head yet. If BYU can continue to limit turnovers they’ll have a great shot to win.
Wins: Texas Southern, UMass Lowell
Loss: Mississippi State
The Sun Devils are coming off a NCAA Tournament appearance last season, but haven’t been particularly impressive to start the year. They weren’t competitive versus a good Mississippi State team, and narrowly beat Texas Southern and UMass Lowell. They erased a 10-point deficit with under two minutes remaining versus UMass Lowell to win 71-69.
ASU’s strength is pressure defense and in its guards and wings. They are one of the worst shooting teams in the country, but are 7th nationally in defensive turnover percentage. Junior guard Frankie Collins was ASU’s starting point guard last year and is back again to run the show. Through three games he averages an absurd 4.7 steals per game. ASU pressed late versus UMass Lowell and forced a ton of turnovers. BYU has took care of the ball through four games, but turnovers will be a major key to watch. If BYU can limit turnovers to below 13 or so, I think they win comfortably and could even win by 15+. Turnovers were BYU’s achilles heel last year, so if ASU can turn BYU over here they’ll have a shot to pull the upset.
One key piece of news is that ASU starting center Shawn Phillips is expected to be out with a foot injury.
Hurley said that LSU center transfer Shawn Phillips has a foot sprain and will miss "significant time." Hurley didn't put a timetable for his return.— DevilsDigest.com (@DevilsDigest) November 21, 2023
Phillips is an athletic 7-footer who leads the Sun Devils in rebounds and blocks. His absence could change the defensive attack and leaves ASU thinner up front.
Players to watch:
Frankie Collins, Guard — I mentioned Collins above, but he is arguably ASU’s most important player. Collins averaged 9.7 points and 4.3 assists last year as the starting point guard for a NCAA Tournament team. Trey Stewart and Dallin Hall will need to be strong with the ball — Collins had 5 steals versus Mississippi State and 8 versus UMass Lowell.
Kamari Lands, Guard/Wing — The 6-foot-8 Louisville transfer came off the bench in the first three games but leads ASU in scoring at 11.7 ppg. Lands hasn’t been particular efficient — shooting 33% from the field and from three — but he’s been a focal point for ASU.
Jose Perez, Guard — The sixth-year senior is on his fifth team after committing to Arizona State just one month ago in October after a late departure from West Virginia. Perez has averaged over 15 points in three prior college seasons. Like Lands he’s not a particularly efficient scorer, but on any given night either one of them could pop off for 20+ points.
Alonzo Gaffney, Forward — With no Shawn Phillips, Gaffney may slide from the four into the five spot in the starting lineup. One stat jumps off to me for the senior forward. Gaffney averaged just 4.7 ppg, but he’s shot 14 threes in just three games, making 1. That suggests that coaches trust him to shoot the ball despite him not making the shots. I’m curious to see how BYU defends Gaffney from the three-point line.
Bryant Selabangue and Zane Meeks, Forward/Center — These transfers will likely will the frontcourt void. Selabangue is a transfer from Tulsa and Zane Meeks comes from a familiar foe in San Francisco. Meeks had a game last year versus BYU where he scored 13 points and made three threes. Without Phillips, ASU isn’t particularly proven in the frontcourt.
Win: The Citadel, Abilene Christian, Charleston Southern
On paper, BYU and NC State are the clear-cut two favorites in the tournament. NC State was picked to finish 7th in the ACC and have three talented guards and one giant man in the middle. The Wolfpack start three transfers and return two starters from last year. They’ve played exclusively an 8-man rotation. Of the three bench guys, two are transfers and one is freshman. So six of the eight rotation players are new to the program this season. Compare that to BYU where all nine main rotation players that have played in each game are returnees.
NC State is very talented, and if they do play BYU it will be a battle of returning experience versus new experience; i.e., NC State has some college veterans but they are new to NC State. NC State isn’t a long team on the perimeter, but they have talented guards that put a lot of pressure on a defense.
Players to watch
DJ Burns, Center — The 6-foot-9, 275 pounds big man is a mountain in the middle. Burns isn’t a huge rebounder and shot blocker at his size, but he is a load to handle in the post. He averaged 12.5 games last for for NC State and is up to 14.7 this season.
DJ Horne, Guard — The fifth-year senior averaged double-figures in two seasons at Arizona State and is at 13 ppg to start the year. The 6-foot-1 guard shot over 35% from three in both seasons at ASU on a high volume.
Jarden Taylor and Casey Morsell, Guards — NC State’s other two starting guards also averaged double figures last season. Morsell is the best shooter of the group — he shot 41% from three last year for NC State.
Wins: USC Upstate, UNC Greensboro, Central Arkansas
Vandy has had the slowest start to the year. They lost to a subpar low-major in the season opener and have won their other three games by a combined 15 points. They were picked to finish 11 in the SEC. KenPom ranks them 329th in terms of D1 experience. Vandy has some talented pieces and could win a game if things go right, they just haven’t shown much to start the year.
Vandy is not afraid to shoot the three, but they shoot 31.6% from distance compared to 37% by BYU.
Players to watch
Ezra Manjon, guard — Manjon’s 18.8 ppg is tops among all players in the tournament. The fifth-year senior has averaged double-figures every season in his college and leads the Commodores in points, assits, and steals.
Collin Smith, Forward — The 6-foot-8 stretch forward averages just under 10 points and 10 boards a game. Smith shot nearly 100 threes last season as a freshman and is on pace to shoot more this season.
I think BYU and NC State win Thursday to set up a Friday showdown. BYU would likely be favored, but NC State’s guard line and DJ Burns would really test the Cougars. Conversely, BYU’s shooting and continuity would pose a big challenge to the Wolfpack. I think DJ Burns would neutralize Fousseyni Traore some and allow NC State to play BYU tight on the perimeter, so I predict NC State beats BYU in the final in a competitive game.
If BYU can win both games to come out 6-0, a road test at Utah December 9 would be the last big hurdle standing in the way for BYU between a 13-0 non-conference record.