Turkey, family and football are commonly referenced when talking about Thanksgiving.
But this year, in particular, we have a massive serving of college hoops.
The two Phil Knight events (Invitational and Legacy) and the ESPN Events Invitational begin, while the Battle 4 Atlantis continues from the Bahamas.
We have games from 11 am ET to the final tip-off between Gonzaga and Portland State at 12:30 am ET.
And guess what? There’s plenty of value — from a betting perspective — across the board. With that in mind, our staff has four best bets for the Thanksgiving slate.
College Basketball Best Bets for Thanksgiving
The team logos in the table below represent each of the matchups that our college basketball staff is targeting from Thursday’s slate of games. Click the team logos for one of the matchups below to navigate to a specific bet discussed in this article.
Army vs. Princeton
A service academy getting double-digit points? Check. A service academy getting double-digit points on foreign soil? Double check.
Army (2-2) and Princeton (2-2) will travel across the pond before matching up in London, England to kick off the 2022 London Basketball Classic.
We’re clearly still in the early stages of the season when we build out quantitative and qualitative assessments of all 363 Division I teams. However, there are constants around service academies that we can rely on for an edge in this game.
It goes without saying, but playing basketball for the US Military isn’t your traditional coed college experience.
The Black Knights will be exceptionally well positioned to handle the difficult journey to England and the accompanying loss of five hours.
I am confident in Army’s ability to keep this game close for three reasons.
First, the Black Knights are shooting exceptionally well this season. Army ranks 12th in the nation in 2-point field goal percentage, hitting 61.1% of its shots from inside the arc.
Secondly, Army plays an up-tempo style of ball, ranking 65th in the nation in Adjusted Tempo. This will create a mismatch for Princeton, which runs at a slower pace (216th in Tempo).
Finally, and consistent with the discipline theme, Army is excellent at creating opportunities at the free-throw line. The Black Knights rank 85th in the nation in free-throw rate, which captures the ratio of free throws attempted to field goals attempted.
Army has plenty of contributors on offense, with a quartet of players that are averaging double-digit points this season.
Juniors Chris Mann (17.2 PPG) and Jalen Rucker (15.0 PPG) are providing veteran leadership, while spark-plug freshmen Coleton Benson (15.8 PPG) and Ethan Roberts (10.0 PPG) have been welcome additions.
I am projecting Army as 8-point underdogs in this matchup, but I see value in the double-digit number Vegas has hung on Thanksgiving.
Look for the Black Knights to come out with a disciplined and up-tempo offense out of the gates.
Grab the double-digit points in London.
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Duke vs. Oregon State
Duke travels out west to take part in the Phil Knight Legacy Tournament on Thanksgiving, and the Blue Devils draw Oregon State in the first round.
The Beavers are 3-1 this season, but they showed their true colors last time out in a 13-point loss to 260th-ranked Portland State. Let’s not forget this is the same Oregon State program that finished 3-28 last season with a 320th defensive efficiency rating.
This year hasn’t been much better despite having a cakewalk schedule to date. The Beavers have turned the ball over on 23% of their offensive possessions. Giving the Blue Devils extra possessions is a recipe for disaster.
In addition, the program has no outside shooting threats this season, hitting just 17-of-67 from deep, which ranks 311th. It won’t be able to find success in the paint against the size Duke presents.
The Blue Devils will be able to dominate the paint offensively against an Oregon State defense that allowed opponents to hit 56% from 2-point territory last year. That was the ninth-worst market in the entire country.
Duke has crushed opponents this season, snatching rebounds on 46% of its misses, which is the second-highest rate in the nation.
Duke owns a significant talent gap in this matchup. Through extended possessions on turnovers and second-chance points, the Blue Devils will turn this game into a rout early.
I’ll also be looking to play the first half in this matchup. After starting slow last time out, I expect Jon Scheyer to want to set the tempo early.
Florida vs. Xavier
By Cooper Van Tatenhove
Florida and Xavier go head-to-head in the second game of the Phil Knight Legacy Tournament.
Both teams are 3-1 coming into this matchup.
Florida is coming off a 76-67 win on the road against in-state rival Florida State, while Xavier is coming off a tough battle with Indiana (lost by two).
Both of these teams have had success on the offensive end this season, ranking inside the top 50 in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency.
Although both are effective, Xavier has shown a much more balanced offensive attack — ranking 19th nationally in effective FG%, while Florida is 171st in the same category.
Additionally, Xavier has been able to create extra possessions through a 38.1% offensive rebounding percentage, which is inside the top-20 nationally.
Florida has been heavily reliant on the play of 6-foot-11 center Colin Castleton, who has scored 25+ in three of the Gators’ four games this season. Xavier will be able to match Castleton with the experienced senior duo of Zach Freemantle and Jack Nunge.
Look for Xavier to bounce back from a tough home loss to Indiana by containing Casleton and creating extra possessions off the offensive glass.
Alabama vs. Michigan State
By DJ James
In the Phil Knight Invitational, Alabama and Michigan State will face each other to round out a great day of hoops.
Alabama has notched three wins, but none have been of the magnitude that the Michigan State Spartans have under their belt. MSU has beaten both Villanova and Kentucky and nearly upset Gonzaga, as well. The Spartans are for real, while Bama has yet to be tested.
MSU distributes its points fairly well. The Spartans are not necessarily an interior team with Malik Hall, Joey Hauser and Mady Sissoko, but they have the bodies down low to contest the Crimson Tide.
That said, MSU is far better from deep. The Spartans are shooting 36.8% versus Alabama’s 33.6%.
One thing to keep in mind is how often the Crimson Tide shoot 3s. Nearly 40% of their scoring has been from beyond the arc. MSU defends the arc really well, only allowing opponents to shoot 26.5% from deep. They have seen some of the best, too.
One issue is MSU does not rebound nearly as well as Alabama. Nate Oats’ guys rank first in offensive rebounding, so the frontcourt for Tom Izzo will have his hands full.
Still, once Michigan State takes the 3-ball out of the equation for Bama, the Tide will struggle to find other areas to score. Only 38.9% of the Tide’s points are on 2s, so their only alternative is driving and getting fouled, which they are accustomed to.
Alabama has its own issues with fouling, so this may not become the edge the team needs.