But starting Saturday, tournaments around the Thanksgiving holiday present a basketball feast of other top nonconference games.
College basketball is too often in the background during a busy sports calendar in November, but other than the last couple of weeks in February and early March, there is perhaps no more crucial time in the season. The tournaments and events over an eight-day span from the Caribbean to Portland, Oregon, contain enough quality matchups to make, and sometimes even break, NCAA tournament résumés. The opportunities are massive for programs whose best nonconference games come over Thanksgiving.
With UConn and Iowa as the headliners, the Phil Knight Legacy and Invitational events in Portland will get a lot of the spotlight wrapping up the holiday weekend. But the second-annual Battle 4 Atlantis could have as many as six games that are the quality of a second-round or Sweet 16 NCAA tournament game.
Here is your guide to the best games of the week and how to watch them.
Saturday, Nov. 19
The Scarlet Knights will be the Lady Vols’ third Big Ten opponent in the season’s first two weeks. The first two didn’t end well as Tennessee lost to Ohio State on the road and then at home to Indiana to fall to 1-2, its worst three-game start since 1981-82, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Perhaps the Lady Vols — who are missing injured Jordan Horston — can find what was missing in those double-digit losses to the Buckeyes and Hoosiers. Tennessee has won 10 straight against Rutgers.
These two teams met twice last season, first at the Gulf Coast Showcase around this same time of year and then in the WNIT semifinals. The Jackrabbits won both — hitting a combined 40 of 53 foul shots to the Bruins’ 23 of 36 — and UCLA had no answer for eventual WNIT MVP Myah Selland in the second game. Selland — one of four active players in Division I with 1,500 points, 600 rebounds and 300 assists, per ESPN Stats & Information research — is averaging 19.3 PPG through three games this season.
The Golden Eagles won’t present the same kind of problems that the UConn Huskies did, but Marquette is a veteran team that won’t let Texas advance easily, especially if Longhorns sophomore guard Rori Harmon isn’t back from a foot injury. Her availability — she hasn’t played yet this season — will be a storyline to follow at the Battle 4 Atlantis. Marquette is seeking its first 4-0 start since 2016-17 — but is 0-22 all-time against the top three teams in the AP Top 25, per ESPN Stats & Information research.
The Zags are the second of three high-quality mid-majors the Cardinals face in the regular season (Belmont and Middle Tennessee are the others). While Gonzaga is a heavy favorite in the WCC and might not need any help getting to the NCAA tournament, an upset here would almost guarantee an at-large bid even if it slips up in the conference tournament. This is also a rematch of a second-round game in the 2022 NCAA tournament, which the Cardinals won 68-59 behind 21 points from guard Hailey Van Lith. This season, the Louisville guard is shooting 49% from the field, up from 43% last season.
Sunday, Nov. 20
Battle 4 Atlantis semifinals
Noon and 2:30 p.m. ET, FloHoops
While a Louisville-Texas matchup isn’t guaranteed, it would be one of the best games of November if it happens. Both teams are incorporating new faces from the transfer portal, but each have Final Four aspirations. If Tennessee advances past Rutgers, either UCLA or South Dakota State would present a significant challenge. The Bruins’ Charisma Osborne is off to a fast start, averaging a double-double (20.3 PPG, 10.7 RPG) through three games and, despite all of Tennessee’s talent, would be the best player on the court in that matchup.
Monday, Nov. 21
Battle 4 Atlantis championship game
Noon ET, ESPN2/ESPN App
Tennessee vs. Texas. UCLA vs. Louisville. South Dakota State vs. Texas. Take your pick. With so many good teams in the Bahamas, the title game will deliver.
Take the day off from work, and get out your secondary viewing device for this one. With the championship game of the Battle 4 Atlantis being played at the same time, this game might slip under the radar. This will be a big step up for the Wildcats, who are off to a 4-0 start but have yet to face a top-200 team. It will be interesting to see how a Kentucky team built around its backcourt will try to neutralize Elizabeth Kitley, Virginia Tech’s 6-foot-4 All-American candidate.
Battle 4 Atlantis third-place game
2:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU/ESPN App
Even a matchup of Sunday’s losing semifinalists will look like an NCAA tournament game.
There will be plenty of chances to see Brittany Davis, perhaps the SEC’s most underrated player, later in the season, but this offers a chance to catch her against teams not as familiar with her game as her conference foes. The same could be said for Utah’s outstanding sophomore trio of Jenna Johnson, Kennady McQueen and Gianna Kneepkens, who were a big part of the 124 points the Utes hung on Oklahoma on Wednesday night.
Wednesday, Nov. 23
Missouri vs. No. 14 Virginia Tech
Pink Flamingo Championship (Bahamas), 1:30 p.m. ET, FloHoops
The Hokies get two solid opponents in Nassau, but two games they should win. This is another in which Kitley could put up big numbers, and that could be the case for Taylor Soule as well. The Tigers don’t have much size and will rely on spreading the floor and making jumpers. Of course, that strategy worked against a much taller South Carolina team when Missouri upset the Gamecocks last season.
Ole Miss vs. No. 25 Utah
Pink Flamingo Championship (Bahamas), 7 p.m. ET, FloHoops
The Utes face their second SEC team in three days, and both Alabama and Ole Miss are potential NCAA tournament teams. If Utah is a true Pac-12 contender, and if the Utes want to rise to the level coach Lynne Roberts has in mind, these are the games they have to win. The same could be said for Ole Miss, and since Oklahoma is the Rebels’ only other quality nonconference game on the schedule, this one could be vital.
Thursday, Nov. 24
The Tar Heels should be ready for some upgraded competition by the time they reach Portland, and the Ducks are exactly that. The game within the game is the matchup between two of the country’s best point guards — North Carolina’s Deja Kelly and Oregon’s Te-Hina Paopao. The winner of that battle likely decides the game, which should have significant NCAA tournament seeding implications.
The Cyclones are the clear favorite, but the Spartans are off to a solid start, enough to enter into the NCAA tournament discussion. An upset would have a huge impact moving that forward. Ashley Joens is the star for Iowa State, but this is the kind of game that will give a more accurate depiction of how much of an impact 6-6 NAIA transfer Stephanie Soares will make for the Cyclones.
Friday, Nov. 25
Featuring two of the sport’s most underrated players in the country, this game could easily be an 8-9 NCAA tournament matchup. Villanova’s Maddy Siegrist is the best scorer in the country not named Caitlin Clark, and Destinee Wells, who averaged 16.7 PPG and 4.5 APG last year, is also on the watchlist for every major postseason award. The winner will likely face a Baylor team that is dealing with multiple injuries.
The tournament tips off Thanksgiving Day in Cancun, but Friday represents the best of the schedule. The Boilermakers and Seminoles underwent significant personnel changes in the offseason, but have achieved early chemistry, each averaging better than 80 points per game in their first three contests. Florida State freshman Ta’Niya Latson is among the best scorers in the country over the first two weeks of the season, and Bradley and Rutgers transfer Lasha Petree has settled in seamlessly in West Lafayette.
This is the most important and intriguing matchup in the three-day event. West Virginia figures to be in the bubble conversation all season under first-year coach Dawn Plitzuweit. With sophomore JJ Quinerly and senior Madisen Smith, the Mountaineers have talent and experience in the backcourt that could challenge the veteran NC State backcourt of Diamond Johnson and Madison Hayes. The Wolfpack are sandwiching this trip to Mexico in between games at UConn and at Iowa Hawkeyes. This might be a chance for West Virginia to grab a résumé-building upset.
No. 5 UConn vs. Duke
Phil Knight Legacy (Portland, Oregon), 6 p.m. ET, ESPN2 or ESPNU/ESPN App
These two historic programs haven’t met since 2018, and that might be a good thing for Duke. The Huskies have won the past games against the Blue Devils by an average of nearly 27 points. The good news for Duke is that none of the current players on either team have anything to do with that streak. This is a big opportunity for the Blue Devils, who haven’t been to the NCAA tournament since 2018. Including this game, UConn will play three ACC opponents in two weeks (NC State and Notre Dame are the others).
Two big-time shooters in Georgia Tech’s Cameron Swartz and Sammie Puisis of the Bulls have gotten comfortable quickly in their new homes. Both will be invaluable in a matchup of notoriously outstanding defensive programs. This game and their performance in this tournament will be more important to the Yellow Jackets, who face big challenges in the ACC and will need a marquee win or two to solidify their NCAA tournament résumé. That Michigan is the next likely opponent could help even more.
Iowa vs. Oregon State
Phil Knight Legacy (Portland, Oregon), 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU/ESPN App
The Hawkeyes have all five starters back. The Beavers have one. Iowa has its sights set on March, while Oregon State is still searching for its identity. The Beavers are capable of reaching the NCAA tournament, but these programs are in distinctly different places. Unsurprisingly, Clark and Monika Czinano are the highest scoring duo in the country. If the Beavers are to pull the upset, controlling the pace will be imperative. That job will fall to sophomore guards Talia von Oelhoffen and AJ Marotte.
The Bears, the winner of the last four Southern Conference tournaments, have already pulled off one mid-major upset, beating Middle Tennessee at the buzzer in the season opener. A pair of highly productive small guards highlight this one. Mercer’s 5-6 Amoria Neal-Tysor already has a 32-point game this season, and 5-5 McKenna Hofschild of the Rams handed out 11 assists against Montana and scored 20 points a game later. Colorado State figures to be the biggest challenger to UNLV in the Mountain West.
Saturday, Nov. 26
After falling in a close game at home to Princeton, the Pirates might need this game for their résumé. In what should be a fun individual matchup, Lauren Park-Lane is a big-time scorer and playmaker for Seton Hall, while Georgia’s Diamond Battles is a big-time defender.
Perhaps these games should be labeled Bubble Teams vs. the SEC. The Wildcats are figuring out life without star center Ayoka Lee, sidelined this season with a knee injury, but Oklahoma transfer Gabby Gregory has been a revelation. Erynn Barnum, a 6-2 senior, has been even better for the Razorbacks.
Sunday, Nov. 27
Phil Knight Legacy championship game
1 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN App
The anticipation of a UConn-Iowa title game will be high even without Paige Bueckers on the floor to go toe-to-toe with Caitlin Clark. An Azzi Fudd-Clark shootout seems pretty fun, too. Regardless of the individual matchups, this game would be the filet mignon of this Thanksgiving week basketball smorgasbord. Both teams should be vying for No. 1 seeds all season, and a win here is a significant steppingstone toward that goal.
Phil Knight Invitational third-place game
1 p.m. ET, ESPN2/ESPN App
This is another time to use that second television as you eat the last of the leftovers since the third-place game and the Phil Knight Legacy title game will be played at the same time.
Phil Knight Invitational championship game
7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2/ESPN App
North Carolina and Iowa State are the favorites to get here, but an appearance by the Ducks would add more local flavor.
Gulf Coast Showcase championship game
7:30 p.m. ET, FloHoops
The field is wide open. Baylor would have been considered the favorite in this event had the injury bug not hit the Bears so hard. Baylor could still make it this far, but now something like a Villanova-Michigan final is a stronger possibility. Belmont and South Florida will also be in the mix.
Phil Knight Legacy third-place game
10 p.m. ET, ESPN2/ESPN App
Oregon State and Duke will have something to say about who end up in the title game, but for whichever teams end up here, the game will still have large enough ramifications that it could be costly to let the disappointment of losing Friday linger.