November 19, 2021 

Your complete guide to Thanksgiving week women’s basketball tournaments

Who's playing, what to watch for in this women's basketball feast

We have been treated to a great start to the 2021-22 women’s college basketball season with fantastic games, breakout performances and intriguing storylines that will be play out all year.  This is the fun part of the season when we hit the Thanksgiving holiday tournament circuit.  These trips can be a headache for coaches and support staff to plan, but it is an adventure to hop on a plane and play in sunny and tropical destinations.  It is also a big challenge for teams to go on the road and play multiple games in multiple days with quick preparation turnarounds and short rest.

These tournaments can tell us a lot about who is finding their sea legs to start the season.  It’s time to dip our toes in the sand and check out some of the best match ups during the holiday break.

BATTLE 4 ATLANTIS ~ PARADISE ISLANDS, BAHAMAS, November 20-22

2021 brings the tenth anniversary of the Battle 4 Atlantis men’s basketball tournament set in breathtaking Paradise Islands, Bahamas.  This year, the inaugural women’s tournament tips off with a field of great teams and high-profile players.  Here’s a look at the first-round games that set the bracket for much some anticipated matchups on day two and three – will we get the UConn versus South Carolina match up everyone wants on November 22?

Game 1 – UConn vs. Minnesota:  The Gophers will have their hands full with the insanely talented Huskies.  Coming off a loss in its season opener, Minnesota went on the road to rebound with an overtime win at Arizona State.  UConn will have played only one game before flying to the Bahamas, a 95-80 win over Arkansas with Paige Bueckers, a Minnesota native remind you, going for 34 points and singlehandedly controlling the game.  UConn has so much talent on their roster that any player can take over a game when necessary during this three-day tournament.

Game 2 – South Florida vs. Syracuse: South Florida is ranked #23 in this week’s AP poll and are 2-1 after suffering a 53-49 loss at Tennessee.  5’7 sophomore Elena Tsineke leads the Bulls in scoring, but it is their defense that sets the tone, causing almost 20 turnovers per game.  Syracuse, 2-1, is trying to find their way to start the season under acting head coach Vonn Read.  They suffered and 82-56 loss to ACC foe Notre Dame and it does not get any easier for them in paradise.  The Bulls defense will be coming for them for 40 minutes.

Game 3 – Oregon vs. Oklahoma:  Oregon is 2-0 going into this tournament, averaging 87.5 points per game in those two wins.  Four players for the Ducks are averaging double figures, including Sedona Prince and Nyara Sabally, who make for one of the most formidable frontcourt duos in the nation.  Oklahoma head coach Jennie Baranczyk has started her tenure in Norman 3-0 including a big road win at South Dakota.  Senior Madi Williams is proving to be a force, but without as much size as Oregon, the Sooners will have to dictate tempo, which could mean a high-scoring game.

Head coach Jennie Baranczyk has her Sooners off to a 4-0 to start this season, led by senior Madi Williams.
(Photo credit: Mike Houck, OU Athletics)

Game 4 – South Carolina vs. Buffalo:  Head Coach Felisha Legette-Jack begins her tenth season at Buffalo this year, who has started their season 1-0.  They will have a big challenge going up against 3-0 South Carolina, ranked #1 in the nation.  The Gamecocks went on the road to beat NC State in their opener and have not been pushed yet.  Their depth is built on a stacked roster of veterans – Zia Cooke, Aliyah Boston, Destanni Henderson, Victaria Saxton and Brea Beal give them playmakers at every position.  Look for South Carolina to get up and down in every game of this three-day tournament.


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CANCUN CHALLENGE ~ CANCUN, MEXICO, November 25-27

This tournament is set up with two divisions where four teams play three games and the others will play two.  The teams are Arizona State, Baylor, Fordham, Houston, UCF, Idaho State, Iowa, Seton Hall, Toledo, and USC.  The schedule is confusing but trust us that out of the twelve games that will be played over three days, here are the ones we think you should keep an eye on:

November 25

Arizona State vs. Houston:  Arizona State sits at 1-2 with a home game on November 21 against Marist.  In their two losses to Minnesota and BYU, the Sun Devils have had trouble scoring and did not win the rebounding battle in either one.  These are uncharacteristic stat lines from a Charlie Turner Thorne squad.  Houston is 1-2, suffering a tough overtime loss to UT-Arlington and will play one more contest before heading to Cancun.  The Cougars have been plagued by way too many turnovers in their losses and will have to value every possession against the ASU pressure defense.

USC vs. Central Florida: Head coach Lindsay Gottlieb is in rebuilding mode at USC, a program that has not been to the NCAA tournament in the last seven seasons.  USC is a mix of talented returners and new faces such as freshman Rayah Marshall and graduate transfers Jordan Sanders and Tera Reed.  Those are leading this team in scoring to start the year.  Central Florida, 2-1, will be ready to cause all sorts of trouble for the Trojans with their pressure defense – they are forcing 24 turnovers per game. Veteran guards Diamond Battles and Tay Sanders are their consistent leaders.  UCF has an important matchup with Belmont on November 21 before they hit the beach.

November 26

Baylor vs. Arizona State:  Baylor is one of teams playing three games in Mexico, facing Fordham before they take on the Sun Devils.  It will be interesting to see how each team reacts to this being their second game in two days.  We know that #6 Baylor is still finding their sea legs under first year head coach Nicki Collen and quick turnarounds with only a roster of nine players is something to keep an eye on.  Arizona State does have more depth and will run a lot of different players and lineups at the Bears to disrupt their rhythm and make them work for every possible possession.

Guard Caitlin Clark and the Iowa Hawkeyes are off to a fast start and will look to keep the momentum going in sunny Mexico.
(Photo credit: Stephen Mally/hawkeyesports.com)

Iowa vs. USC: This will be the second game in two days for both teams and a challenge to find high percentage shots and get stops on the defensive end.  USC will likely throw many defenders at sophomore sensation Caitlin Clark, who is averaging over 20 points a game heading into the Cancun Challenge.  Look for the Trojans to push the ball in transition when they can and limit possessions for Iowa – keeping the ball out of Clark’s hands as much as possible and forcing other Hawkeyes to beat you may be their best game plan.

2021 U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS PARADISE JAM, November 25-27

This tournament will have four games being played each day over a three-day stretch.  There are two divisions (Island and Reef) with four teams in each playing a round-robin schedule.  Day one will provide great matchups to kick things off and then from that point, it will be how well teams respond on 24-hour turnarounds:

November 25 – Island Tournament

DePaul vs. Rutgers:  DePaul is always ready for a challenge early in the season and 2021-22 is no different.  Their fourth non-conference game will be against Chicago rival Northwestern before heading to the Virgin Islands.  The Blue Demons currently have five players averaging double figures, including 6’1 freshman Aneesah Morrow, who was named Big East Freshman of the Week after her performance in their first two games.  Rutgers will be without head coach C. Vivian Stringer on the sidelines this season as she is extending her leave of absence through the end of the season.  The Scarlet Knights have responded well and should be 4-0 when these two teams face off.  Both teams will turn up the heat with their defense and apply pressure to generate turnovers – who ends up with the least amount after 40 minutes has the best chance for an opening round win.

#11 Arizona is off to a hot start at 3-0 under – head coach Adia Barnes and her team will be ready for a heavy workload in the Virgin Islands. (Photo by Mike Mattina / Arizona Athletics)

Vanderbilt vs. Arizona:  Vanderbilt is still feeling their way through the start of this season under new head coach Shea Ralph.  The Commodores are undersizedm with the tallest player on their roster listed at 6’2 (freshman Sacha Washington). Their struggles to score in early games and high turnover numbers (22 per game) do not bode well against the tough defense of Arizona.  The #11 team in the nation is 3-0 heading to the Virgin Islands and led by 6’2 forward Cate Reese (16.7 points per game).  High expectations have been set for the Wildcats and they are living up to them already.

Reef Tournament, November 25

South Dakota vs. Northwestern:  This game is set to be a battle of two very skilled teams known for offensive execution and lock down defense.  Northwestern is 3-0 with a game against Chicago rival DePaul on November 21 before they face the Coyotes.  No one has scored 50 points on them and behind the sharp shooting of senior Veronica Burton, they are difficult to stop.  South Dakota should be 2-2 when they see Northwestern, bouncing back from losses to Oklahoma and South Carolina.  They are led, no surprise here, by their three “super seniors” – guard Olivia Korngable has been the most consistent so far, averaging 20 points per game. 

Pitt vs. Texas A&M:  #24 Texas A&M is off to a hot start at 4-0 with decisive wins to begin the season.  Head coach Gary Blair has announced his retirement at the end of the season and the Aggies are inspired to have him go out on a high note.  Their roster is full of speed, athleticism, and scoring punch which they are getting from junior Jordan Nixon and graduate students Kayla Wells and Destiny Pitts.  Pitt has started the year 3-0 and is winning games with their defense.  The Panthers play on November 20 versus cross-town rival Duquesne as one more tune-up to get their defense ready to dig in and stop the Aggies.

Jordan Nixon (#5) and the Aggies would love to celebrate multiple wins during their time in the Virgin Islands.
(Photo courtesy of 2021 NCAA Photos).

DAYTONA BEACH INVITATIONAL ~ Daytona Beach, FL, November 25-27

A stacked field heads to sunny Florida for two games for each team in a three-day period.  The teams are Dayton, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, Middle Tennessee State, Mississippi State, Notre Dame, Oregon State and Marquette.  Each game will be a big test, with contrasting styles and talented players making an impact early in the season, including some new faces.  Here are a few of the games that will tell us a lot about each team respectively and if they are living up to the early season hype:

November 26

Middle Tennessee State vs. Marquette:  Head coach Rick Insell has his Blue Raiders getting after it early this season with defense and intensity.  MTSU should be 4-0 heading into their first game in Daytona Beach, including a win over Vanderbilt 55-46.  Three players are averaging double figures, and no one has scored over 50 points on them yet.  Marquette will need to keep their offense in overdrive behind 5’7 guard Karissa McLaughlin, a graduate transfer from Purdue who is averaging almost 18 points per game.  The Golden Eagles go to Colorado on November 19th – that road test and how they respond will set the tone for their time in Florida.

Notre Dame vs. Georgia:  Last year was the perfect storm of how not to have your first year go as a head coach, but Niele Ivey’s Notre Dame squad is starting the 2021-22 season off on the right foot.  They should be 5-0 when they take on Georgia, led early by sophomore Maddy Westbeld and Stanford graduate transfer Maya Dodson.  Watch for freshmen Sonia Citron and Olivia Miles to be ready to take on a physical and fast Georgia team.  The Bulldogs should also be undefeated when they hit Daytona Beach, behind strong starts from 6’4 center Jenna Staiti and 6’0 guard Sarah Ashlee Barker.

6’1 freshman Sonia Citron, reigning ACC Freshman of the Week, is one of many on the Notre Dame roster that have gotten this team off to a hot start in 2021-22. (Photo credit: Notre Dame Athletic Communications)

Oregon State vs. Michigan:  This game will be a battle of top 15 teams and who both have young players who are ready for the spotlight.  #13 Michigan has two starters down right now with injuries – seniors Amy Dilk and Leigha Brown.  Brown could be back soon, but in their absence, three talented freshmen are getting more minutes to help All-American Naz Hillmon carry the load.  #15 Oregon State is led by 6’4 sophomore center Taylor Jones, who is garnering early national attention.  There are three freshmen guards who also are making an impact for the Beavers but having 6’6 sophomore Kennedy Brown in the frontcourt with Jones will be an issue defensively for Michigan.

November 27

Notre Dame vs. Oregon State:  This will be a great “next day” match up to watch and see how each team responds on a 24-hour turnaround.  The athleticism of Notre Dame can be a problem for Oregon State, but the Beavers will have the size advantage inside.  Taylor Jones and Kennedy Brown are a matchup problem for everyone they face.  The Fighting Irish will have to attack from the perimeter (penetration and 3-point shooting) and be ready to battle on the boards for 40 minutes. 

GULF COAST SHOWCASE 2021 ~ Hertz Arena in Estero, FL, November 26-28

Past champions of this tournament, including teams such as UConn, Stanford and Gonzaga most recently in 2019, have used that success as a springboard to great season.  Who is going to do that this year?  Here’s a look at the first-round games that set the bracket for exciting matchups on day two and three:

Game 1 – South Dakota State vs. UMass:  South Dakota State will play twice more before heading south but they continue to be without All-American candidate Myah Selland, who has yet to play this season.  In her absence, senior Tylee Irwin and newcomer 5’6 freshman guard Paige Meyer are carrying the scoring load. UMass is picked sixth in the pre-season Atlantic 10 poll, but head coach Tory Verdi has experienced playmakers leading his team including 6’1 forward Sam Breen and 5’7 guard Destiney Philoxy.  Depending on who is in the Jackrabbits’ lineup, look for this to be a tight game for 40 minutes.

Game 2 – UCLA vs. Kent State:  UCLA is still adjusting to life without the services of 6’4 post Emily Bessoir who went down with a preseason knee injury.  The Bruins should be 3-0 heading into this tournament behind the scoring punch of 5’9 guard Charimsa Osborne and Cincinnati transfer 5’10 Ilmar’I Thomas, who dropped 21 points in their opener.  Kent State is picked fourth in the MAC pre-season poll but should finish higher than that, considering they return over 90% of their scoring from a year ago.  Four players, led by forward Katie Shumate, are averaging double figures to start the year. The key is if they can handle the speed of the Bruins for 40 minutes. 

Game 3 – Iowa State vs. Charlotte:  The Cyclones most likely will be 4-0 when they arrive in Florida, led by their All-American forward Ashley Joens.  Guards Lexi Dornarski and Emily Ryan are most definitely not suffering a sophomore slump to start the season and that is bad news for opponents.  Charlotte, picked to win the Conference USA regular season title, will have their hands full in containing three-point shooters and keeping Joens in check.  The 49ers have many new faces on the roster, including three transfers and are led by preseason Conference USA Player of the Year Octavia Jett-Wilson, a true playmaker in her own right.

Sophomore Emily Ryan and the Cyclones will be combing the Florida beaches for three wins in the 2021 Gulf Coast Showcase. (Photo credit: ISU Athletics)

Game 4 – Penn State vs. St. John’s:  Penn State is scoring at will to start the season, averaging 96 points per game in the first three contests.  They will face Clemson on November 21 before they tussle with St. Johns.  Three Nittany Lions are scoring in double figures, let by 5’11 junior Makenna Marisa.  The Red Storm are looking for a bounce-back year and how they fare against their matchups in this tournament will show whether they are on track.  Junior guard Leilani Correa can fill a stat sheet (22 points in their opening game), but she and her teammates will have to slow down Penn State’s offense if they want to advance on the winners’ side of the bracket. 

Written by Missy Heidrick

I am a former shooting guard at Kansas State and spent almost 20 years working in Higher Education and Division 1 athletics. I am currently a basketball analyst for television and radio, contributing correspondent at The Next, WBB Naismith Award board of selectors member and run my own consulting business. I am a proud mother of two and wife to a patient husband who is almost as big of a sports junkie as I am!

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