There are holiday men’s basketball tournaments going on all over the United States as well as in some Caribbean locales this Thanksgiving weekend, and the marquee matchup of them all should be No. 4 Arizona against No. 6 Duke in the NIT Season Tip-Off at Madison Square Garden on Friday evening. The ESPN game will have live betting at Bovada, with the Blue Devils set to open as slight favorites.
Both teams played Wednesday night in New York, with the Wildcats, the top seed, facing eighth-seeded Drexel and second-seeded Duke meeting third seed Alabama. The losers play in Friday afternoon’s consolation game.
Duke and Arizona have two of the nation’s most-hyped freshmen in Jabari Parker and Aaron Gordon, respectively. Parker has been better than advertised, averaging 23.0 points on 58 percent shooting from the field and 8.8 rebounds per game entering Wednesday. He may have surpassed fellow super-frosh Andrew Wiggins of Kansas as the early favorite for the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA draft.
The Blue Devils and Jayhawks played Nov. 12 in Chicago, with Kansas winning 94-83. Parker got the small edge in the individual battle with 27 points and nine rebounds to Wiggins’ 22 points and eight boards. This is the start of a tough stretch for Duke as the Blue Devils host defending national runner-up Michigan next Tuesday, although the Wolverines are struggling. Duke is 7-1 to win the national championship. They have won three consecutive Preseason NITs, most recently in 2009.
Arizona hasn’t played anyone the caliber of Kansas. The only team to give the Wildcats a game was San Diego State, which lost 69-60 at home on Nov. 14. Gordon is being compared to Blake Griffin for his similar stature and dunking ability. Gordon entered Wednesday averaging 13.0 points and 9.0 rebounds. The Cats don’t need him to score a ton because Arizona has four other players averaging in double figures, led by Nick Johnson‘s 16.8 points per game.
The Cats are 12-1 to win a national title. Arizona hasn’t been to a Final Four since losing to Duke in the 2001 national championship game. The Wildcats reached the Sweet 16 last year thanks to a 74-51 third-round win over Ivy League champion Harvard.
Also available for live betting Friday are two games (3:30 and 9:30 p.m. ET) in the Wooden Legacy Tournament from Cal State Fullerton. The favorite in that event is No. 20 Creighton (4-0), which is led by two-time first-team All-American Doug McDermott, whose father, Greg, serves as Creighton’s head coach. McDermott, a senior forward, is No. 4 in the nation in averaging 27.5 points per game and shooting 55.1 percent from the field. He has never finished a season shooting less than 52.5 percent, which is remarkable for a non-center. McDermott hit his first career game-winner on Nov. 16 at St. Joseph’s.
Creighton, 125-1 to win the national title, will have its hands full Thursday against unbeaten Arizona State, which is coming off a win over No. 25 Marquette. The Creighton-ASU winner faces the College of Charleston-San Diego State winner Friday night. Marquette is also in this tournament. The Golden Eagles should beat Cal State Fullerton on Thursday and play in the early winner’s bracket game Friday against the Miami (Fla.)-George Washington winner.