To catch up on all of the posts in this series visit the 2017-18 Early Season Events Hub.
What Is It?
The Phil Knight Invitational (AKA PK80)
How Long Has This Event Been Around?
While this event has been in the works since 2012 (seriously, click that link), this is a one-time event bringing together 16 Nike-backed college basketball programs to celebrate company co-founder Phil Knight. He happens to be turning 80 this year, hence the PK80 shorthand you’ll see for much of the first month of the season.
When And Where Is It?
Thanks to the NCAA’s exempt tournament rules, conferences can only place a single representative in a field. To get around that and make this event as star-studded as possible...it’s actually two eight-team brackets. That allows two teams from seven conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC, and WCC) to compete alongside lone entries from the American Athletic and Big Sky. That division means the declaration of the event as “the most-loaded college basketball tournament of all-time” rings a bit hollow (and looks even more so when you consider the presence of three or four particular teams in the field).
The two brackets—Motion and Victory—will bounce between two venues in the Rose Quarter in Portland on Thanksgiving Day, November 23rd (quarterfinals); Friday, November 24th (semifinals); and Sunday, November 26th (finals). The Victory Bracket will spend day one at the Moda Center, home of the Trailblazers, while the Motion Bracket’s quarterfinals will occur simultaneously at the Blazers’ old digs, Memorial Coliseum. The two brackets will switch sites for Friday. As for Sunday, the Moda Center will host the championship and third-place games for both brackets, with the fifth- and seventh-place games at the Coliseum.
And there are non-bracketed games too, which I’ll get into later.
The remainder of this post, except for the TV info at the end, focuses on the Victory Bracket. I previewed the other, the Motion Bracket, in a separate entry.
Naturally, the presence of the defending National Champions and the local squad they eliminated in the National Semifinals are the highlights here. Additionally, Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis was a guiding force in getting this event together.
Originally, the Georgetown Hoyas were supposed to fill the Big East’s slot in this bracket. But the Hoyas withdrew and DePaul was called up from another ESPN Events-run tournament, the Wooden Legacy, to fill the spot. About a month later, GU released a non-conference schedule that’s laughable, ranking as the second-worst nationally in my rankings.
As for the teams that didn’t bail, their quarterfinal matchups line up like this...
- North Carolina Tar Heels (ACC) vs. Portland Pilots (WCC)
- Arkansas Razorbacks (SEC) vs. Oklahoma Sooners (Big 12)
- DePaul Blue Demons (Big East) vs. Michigan State Spartans (Big Ten)
- UConn Huskies (American) vs. Oregon Ducks (Pac-12)
You can find printable versions of both brackets at this link.
Are There Any Non-Bracketed Games?
For seven of the eight teams, yes. ESPN Events had a bit more trouble getting subregional opponents for this half of the field than for the Motion Bracket, as that side’s four visiting opponents seemed to fall into place rather quickly this summer.
But for this half of the PK80, everyone but DePaul will play some sort of non-bracketed game. Portland was the last to announce one—adding a November 19th game against non-Division I Oregon Tech in late September. Since that’s the Pilots’ 13th non-conference game and 31st overall, that counts as a fourth Invitational game. As for the D1 visitors, here are the road games they’ll play. I’ve bolded the away game for each team in the subregional round-robin.
- Ball State Cardinals (MAC) at Oklahoma, Oregon, and Bucknell
- Bucknell Bison (Patriot) at North Carolina, Arkansas, and Stony Brook
- Stony Brook Seawolves (America East) at UConn, Ball State, and Michigan State
Did Any Of These Teams Reach The 2017 Postseason?
NCAA champion UNC defeated two potential PK80 during its title run—Arkansas (Second Round) and Oregon (Final Four). Meanwhile, Michigan State ended a relatively unsuccessful season with a loss to Kansas in the round of 32. However, none of the other four participants in this half of the bracket managed a .500 finish. At 16-17, UConn came the closest.
Of the three visiting teams, Bucknell lost to West Virginia in the NCAA First Round—and is heavily favored to represent the Patriot League again—while Ball State (CollegeInsider.com Tournament) and Stony Brook (CBI) dropped their respective first games in consolation tournaments.
How Strong Is This Event?
Based on the average four-year rankings of the participants, the Phil Knight Invitational’s Motion Bracket ranks third of 14 eight-team bracketed tournaments and eighth of 38 bracketed tournaments. The presence of both DePaul and Portland State really drags this field’s average ranking down.
Have Any Of These Teams Participated In Other ESPN Events Tournaments?
A relationship with Nike was a bigger prerequisite for participation than previous trips to places like Lake Buena Vista and Anaheim. Still, every team here not named ‘Oregon’ has played in at least one ESPN Events-run MTE since the first Old Spice Classic in 2006 (won by Arkansas). Last season, Oklahoma finished third at the relocated Puerto Rico Tip-Off and Portland claimed seventh in the Wooden Legacy.
Oklahoma (2015 Diamond Head Classic) and Michigan State (2016 Wooden Legacy) join the Hogs as programs in this bracket that have previously won an ESPN-run tourney.
Are There Any Other Notable Recent Meetings Between These Teams?
Thanksgiving’s quarterfinal will be the first meeting for Arkansas and Oklahoma since 2012—the last of six straight seasons when the two met, with each meeting won by the home team. On the other hand, Oregon and UConn met just last season in the Maui Invitational’s fifth-place game—a 79-69 Duck win.
Last March’s Tar Heels-Hogs encounter was not the first between the two teams in recent years, as UNC also eliminated Arkansas from the 2008 and 2015 NCAAs, each time in the Round of 32. Going further back, the Heels kept Oklahoma out of the 2009 Final Four by claiming the South Regional final in Memphis. (UNC blew Oregon out earlier that season in Maui, though everyone will be talking far more about last year’s encounter if the two play on day three in Portland.) A second-day UConn-DePaul meeting would be their first since the Big East split at the end of the 2012-13 season. I don’t think the Blue Demons have missed the regular beatings suffered at the Huskies’ hands, however. UConn has also won three in a row over its other potential Friday opponent, Michigan State. The most recent of those victories put the Huskies in the 2014 Final Four.
UNC has won all of its five meetings against Michigan State over the past 10 seasons, something to keep in mind if they meet on Thanksgiving Sunday. On the flip side, Sparty has defeated Oklahoma twice in as many tries, including in 2015’s Sweet Sixteen. (MSU even has a 2013 win over Portland in its recent history, if things get really crazy.) Buddy Hield and the Sooners claimed their tickets to the 2016 Final Four by eliminating Oregon in the West Regional final. Going further back, an eighth-ranked UConn squad took out visiting Arkansas in December 2011. Finally, Portland won its last meeting against its in-state rival, topping Oregon 88-81 on November 21, 2009 at the Chiles Center.
In terms of missed opportunities in exempt tournaments, Oklahoma missed both UConn and Sparty in the 2010 Maui Invitational (when the Huskies defeated MSU in the semifinals) and UNC in the 2014 Battle 4 Atlantis. UNC didn’t face UConn or Oregon in Maui last November.
Will This Event Be On TV?
All 24 games from both brackets will appear on one ESPN outlet or another, and this event will have priority placement throughout Thanksgiving weekend. The two finals will run consecutively from the Moda Center on ESPN, starting at 8:30 p.m. Eastern to close out the long holiday weekend.
Who’s Your Pick To Win It?
While UNC will travel west as the defending national champs, Michigan State—fresh off a “down” year—might be in position to outshine the Heels here. Otherwise, I predict pain for both Portland and DePaul.
North Carolina over Portland
Arkansas over Oklahoma
Michigan State over DePaul
Oregon over UConn
North Carolina over Arkansas
Michigan State over Oregon
(consolation) Oklahoma over Portland
(consolation) UConn over DePaul
Championship: Michigan State over North Carolina
3rd/4th: Oregon over Arkansas
5th/6th: UConn over Oklahoma
7th/8th: Portland over DePaul
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