Giving Thanks: Setting the Table for the Rest of the Season

Posted by Shane McNichol on November 26th, 2015

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday by a significant margin. From the moment I wake up to the moment I slide into a food-induced coma at the end of the night, I have a wide smile on my face. My relationship with college basketball is much the same. It’s my favorite sport by a comparable margin and I certainly find my share of smiles throughout the season. The two are unquestionably intertwined, with Turkey Day acting as an unofficial turning point of the season. Everything prior feels like two boxers dancing and feeling each other out, but once Thanksgiving comes and goes, the real haymakers start to be thrown.


And a Happy Thanksgiving to All…

Even if that may be well and good, I want to mash them together even further. If notable college basketball teams were the dishes on your Thanksgiving table, what would you eat? What would you pass along? What would you hoard all for yourself?

Turkey – Wisconsin

The bird may be the centerpiece of Thanksgiving dinner, but even that status can’t outweigh the connotation of its name. If we’re calling someone the “turkey” of the young season, it’s not a compliment. And that distinction goes to the Badgers. Losing the likes of Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker wasn’t supposed to be easy, but count me among the masses who though Bo Ryan, Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes would be able to steady the ship in the wake of their run to the National Championship game last season.

Bo Ryan's crew was the most efficient offense in the country last season. With five less seconds to work with now, will Ryan have to slightly tweak what he preaches? (Getty)

Bo Ryan’s crew is off to a bit of a rock start so far. (Getty)

Instead, things have been rocky in Madison. Early losses to Georgetown and Western Illinois (plus a close win at home over VCU) have signaled trouble that Ryan and the Badgers will need to fix before heading into the Big Ten. The main issue has been depth. Ryan has essentially shortened his bench to a seven-man rotation, which includes three freshmen. That youth movement has led to issues on the defensive end, highlighted by Wisconsin allowing opponents to shoot 43.5 percent on three-point attempts thus far.

Green Bean Casserole – Michigan State

It’s a staple of the Thanksgiving meal, but it has no business being good. It looks mushy and discolored. Plus, most of the ingredients come from a can. But every year, you take a scoop, and it tastes great.  Is there a better metaphor for Tom Izzo’s Spartans? Rarely do we fawn over Izzo’s recruiting classes, and never more than we fear we’ll miss his departing players. Yet every year, they come back new and just as steady. This year’s edition of Sparty is speared by Denzel Valentine, who though he showed skills and flashes, had never appeared to be this effective before. He’s second in the nation in assist rate per Ken Pomeroy, dropping a dime on over half his teammates’ field goals when he’s on the floor, and averages 9.8 assists per night. Add that to his 15.3 points and 9.0 rebounds per contest and you’ve got a guy capable of a triple-double every single night. I didn’t see that sentence coming months ago, but here we are.

Gravy – NJIT

Whatever Jim Engles is telling his kids sure is working as NJIT is off to another solid start. (NJ John Munson/The Star-Ledger)

Whatever Jim Engles is telling his kids sure is working as NJIT is off to another solid start. (NJ John Munson/The Star-Ledger)

After a season that including victories over Michigan, Duquesne, and Yale, plus three postseason wins (who cares if it was the CIT?), the Highlanders have been rewarded with an invitation to the Atlantic Sun Conference. It was desperately needed, as the played four games against non-D-I opponents last year. You might say that any success on top of this would be… gravy? Jim Engles and his team would gladly grab the boat from you and promptly douse their plate with it! They are off to another hot start with three wins, including a toppling of South Florida. Their only losses thus far have come to top-ranked Kentucky and Providence, in a game in which the Friars’ Kris Dunn nearly recorded a triple-double. They won’t just be glad to be in a conference, they’ll compete for the league crown and a trip to the Dance in March.

Stuffing Cincinnati

We’ll take this one literally and look for the team consistently stuffing opponents both at the rim and all over the court. While this may feel like a pick just based on the reputation of Mick Cronin’s teams, the Bearcats have more than lived up to it this season. Cincinnati records the 12th-most blocks per game so far this year, and even more impressively, lead the nation in block/foul ratio. They also lead the nation in steals per game. No other team ranks in the top 25 in both categories. If you’re playing the Bearcats this year, points will be at a premium.

Pumpkin Pie – Radford

When Thanksgiving dinner ends, the food weariness settles in. Your train of thought is altered. There’s a hush throughout the room. Then, every year, suddenly, someone enters with a pie in hand. You knew coming in that dessert was going to happen, but in the blur of food-related excitement, it faded away. And now you’re treated to a sweet surprise. Early this year, no one has provided as many surprises and Radford. Not to be confused with NJIT, these Highlanders can boast wins at Penn State and at Georgetown. Coastal Carolina has won the Big South Conference the last two years, though if the early weeks of this season are any indication, Radford is ready to challenge them this year.

Mashed Potatoes – Kentucky

I welcome any discussion and debates pertaining to the Thanksgiving meal. When people eat, how they eat, and what they eat are so entrenched in personal traditions that any deviation seems like blasphemy. For me, mashed potatoes are the best thing on the plate each and every year and this will continue to be true for the rest of time. That being said, they should correspond to the best team in the land. While football lovers quarrel over whether their top teams should be the best, most deserving, or have the best resume, I think the basketball community can agree that one team satisfies all of those conditions so far.

Tyler Ulis Leads the #1 Wildcats' Attack (AP Photo).

Tyler Ulis Leads the #1 Wildcats’ Attack (AP Photo).

Kentucky has the best win of the young season, taking down Duke on a neutral court. Their switch from a team full of giants to a team led by speedy guards happened seemingly overnight. The tornado of Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe confounds opponents at both ends. Talk of an undefeated season won’t be as loud as last year, but it certainly didn’t take long for Coach Cal to return to the top.

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2 responses to “Giving Thanks: Setting the Table for the Rest of the Season”

  1. […] did write a post about basketball, but it does not live here on my blog. Instead, I made my debut as a national columnist at Rush the Court (that’s RushTheCourt dot net). If you wanted someone to compare college […]

  2. […] Giving Thanks: Setting the Table for the Rest of the Season – This is my debut over at Rush The Court, where I had some Thanksgiving related fun. […]

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