To catch up on all of the posts in this series visit the 2017-18 Early Season Events Hub.
With the Phil Knight Invitational split into two brackets, I only wrote about the basics (location/schedule/TV) once. That information may be found in the Victory Bracket Primer.
While 2017 NCAA champ North Carolina Tar Heels and Michigan State Spartans headline the Victory Bracket, 2017 runner-up Gonzaga and UNC’s eternal Tobacco Road rivals are the main attractions here.
It’s funny that the “home” teams, Portland and Portland State, get the “honor” of facing the ACC powers in the quarterfinals.
- Duke Blue Devils (ACC) vs. Portland State Vikings (Big Sky)
- Butler Bulldogs (Big East) vs. Texas Longhorns (Big 12)
- Florida Gators (SEC) vs. Stanford Cardinal (Pac-12)
- Gonzaga Bulldogs (WCC) vs. Ohio State Buckeyes (Big Ten)
You can find printable versions of both brackets at this link.
Are There Any Non-Bracketed Games?
When this event was first announced, I expected that ESPN and Nike would have gotten creative in terms of non-bracketed games. “Perhaps they’ll pair power conference teams from the two brackets against each other in the form of home-and-home series that would carry on into the 2018-19 season.” In fact, when North Carolina’s series with Stanford was announced, I thought that perhaps the 2017 game would be tied to the PK80.
Wrong, Wrong. Wrong.
As has become the in-thing for eight-team MTEs, ESPN Events attempted to set up a pair of “subregional” brackets to provide the main bracket teams a fourth PK80 game, played at home. While that goal wasn’t successfully met for the Victory Bracket, all eight Motion Bracket teams will play an actual Division I squad before heading to Portland. Here’s where each of the four visitors will be traveling this November.
- Furman Paladins (SoCon) at Butler and Duke
- New Hampshire Wildcats (America East) at Texas and Florida
- Northeastern Huskies (CAA) at Stanford and Ohio State
- Utah State Aggies (Mountain West) at Gonzaga and Portland State
The Aggies were originally signed up for the Diamond Head Classic over Christmas weekend, but pulled out in favor of participating here. For their trouble, they’ll have to travel to Nashville, where the visitors will play a pair of neutral site games apiece at Municipal Auditorium (according to Furman’s schedule).
- Day 1: Furman vs. New Hampshire and Utah State vs. Northeastern
- Day 2: New Hampshire vs. Utah State and Northeastern vs. Furman
Did Any Of These Teams Reach The 2017 Postseason?
Butler (Sweet Sixteen), Duke (Second Round) and Florida (Elite Eight) joined runner-up Gonzaga in the NCAAs. As for the other four teams in this bracket, Ohio State was the only one to finish above .500. And the Buckeyes ended up skipping the postseason and changing coaches anyway.
Among the visitors, Furman lost in the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament semifinals to eventual champion Saint Peter’s.
How Strong Is This Event?
Based on the average four-year rankings of the participants, the Phil Knight Invitational’s Victory Bracket ranks second of 14 eight-team bracketed tournaments and sixth of 38 bracketed tournaments.
Have Any Of These Teams Participated In Other ESPN Events Tournaments?
There isn’t quite the history of participation in ESPN-run tournaments among the Motion Bracket’s eight members that there is on the Victory side. Duke, Ohio State, Portland State, and Texas have never participated in one before. And while Gonzaga has won the tournament held at Walt Disney World three times, including last season’s edition, the Bulldogs haven’t played in any others. Florida’s drive down the Florida Turnpike last season was their first participation, while Stanford’s trip east was their third all-time and second in a row (2015 NIT Season Tip-Off).
Butler leads the way with four prior all-time trips to ESPN Events MTEs, though they’ve only won all three games once—in the 2010 Diamond Head Classic.
Are There Any Other Notable Recent Meetings Between These Teams?
Perhaps most famously, Butler came within centimeters of stunning Duke in the 2010 National Championship game. But the Blue Devils also won a rematch in December of that year by 12 in New Jersey. However, the Bulldogs have a more recent encounter with quarterfinal opponent Texas, having bounced the Longhorns from the round of 64 of the 2015 NCAAs, Rick Barnes’s last game in charge in Austin. Duke also eliminated the Horns from a relatively recent NCAAs—in 2009’s Second Round played in Greensboro.
Butler’s last meeting with Florida, a 74-71 victory in 2011’s Southeast Regional final, snapped a string of two straight NCAA Tournament wins for the Gators in the series. The Bulldogs split a home-and-home series with their Gonzaga namesakes in the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons and swept one over Stanford that ended in December 2011. Ohio State lost two of its three meetings to Butler early in the 10-year window I examine in this series, but any future meeting in Portland will pit new Buckeye coach Chris Holtmann against his former charges.
Just last season, Gonzaga won a thriller over Florida in the AdvoCare Invitational semifinals on Black Friday—the first time the two teams had met in 17 years. (Stanford missed both teams in Orlando last fall.) The Gators had dropped three in a row to Ohio State after defeating the Buckeyes to win 2007 National Championship, but that streak ended with a 74-66 road win in the 2016 NIT.
Ohio State did win a 2012 NCAA Round of 32 matchup with Gonzaga, played in Pittsburgh.
Texas and Stanford split a pair of December games in 2014 and 2015—affairs decided by a total of five points.
Duke topped Florida by 10 in last season’s Jimmy V Classic, knocked Gonzaga out of the 2015 NCAAs in the South Regional final, and won the 2014 Coaches vs. Cancer Classic by defeating Stanford. But the Blue Devils split a home-and-home with Ohio State that was played as part of the 2011 and 2012 ACC/Big Ten Challenges.
Portland State’s December 23, 2008 win (really) over Gonzaga (in Spokane!) and November 2009 loss to Stanford are the Vikings’ only games against teams in this field over the past 10 seasons.
Gonzaga and Texas missed each other in the 2015 Battle 4 Atlantis, and it was the same story for Butler and Florida in the Bahamas the season before as well as Duke and Stanford in 2012. Texas and Butler didn’t cross paths in the 2012 Maui Invitational, while Duke and Gonzaga failed to play in the 2010 CBE Classic. Sadly, we also missed a Butler-Gonzaga mid-major showdown in the 2007 Great Alaska Shootout.
Who’s Your Pick To Win It?
With Gonzaga needing to replace a lot of production from last season’s Final Four squad, it’s likely this tournament ends with a rematch of last season’s Jimmy V Classic. Just like in the Victory Bracket, it could be a long weekend for the host team.
Duke over Portland State
Texas over Butler
Florida over Stanford
Gonzaga over Ohio State
Duke over Texas
Florida over Gonzaga
(consolation) Butler over Portland State
(consolation) Stanford over Ohio State
Championship: Duke over Florida
3rd/4th: Gonzaga over Texas
5th/6th: Butler over Stanford
7th/8th: Ohio State over Portland State
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