Save some room Thanksgiving weekend for the inaugural PK80 Phil Knight Invitational, college basketball’s newest — and arguably most loaded — early-season tournament.
The brackets for the debut PK80 were released Wednesday, and the opening rounds on both sides of the bracket feature some of the best matchups of the entire 2017-’18 nonconference slate.
8. Duke vs. Portland State
Local PK80 participant Portland State fills one of two roles akin to Chaminade in the Maui Invitational. The Vikings started 2016-’17 strong with eight wins before the New Year, including a defeat of Big Sky Conference champion North Dakota. They faded in the latter-half of the season, however, finishing 15-16.
Duke rolls into Oregon with an absolutely stacked roster, combining a proven commodity in Grayson Allen with one of the most impressive recruiting classes ever assembled. Coach K brings in three 5-star recruits, giving the 2017-’18 Blue Devils roster a look very much reminiscent of the 2014-’15 national championship squad.
7. North Carolina vs. Portland
PK80’s other mid-major host, the University of Portland, has the honor of hosting the defending national champion. Considering the Pilots also see Gonzaga at least twice in West Coast Conference play, they’ll have more experience against the 2017 finalists than any other team in college basketball.
If the Pilots are to have any chance, Portland may need head coach Terry Porter to suit up and conjure some of the 3-point shoot that defined his career with the local Trailblazers.
6. Georgetown vs. Michigan State
Hoyas legend Patrick Ewing will be only a few games into his tenure as head coach of a young, rebuilding Georgetown team. Contrast that with Michigan State, headed by elder statesman Tom Izzo, and featuring one of the most impressive lineups in the nation.
Ewing’s going to endure some hard knocks in his debut campaign, as he must replace transfer Akoy Agau, as well as last season’s leading scorers L.J. Peak and Rodney Pryor. Few of those hard knocks will be as rough as a matchup with Miles Bridges, Nick Ward, Cassius Winston and 5-star newcomer Jaren Jackson.
5. Oregon vs. UConn
To call UConn’s 2016-’17 season a disappointment would be a gross understatement. The Huskies plummeted from an initial Top 25 ranking immediately and never recovered from the initial tailspin. A bad November set the tone for UConn’s entire, 16-17 campaign. In contrast, a rebound season’s tone could be set with a strong November.
The Huskies draw Oregon at the right time, as Dana Altman is in the early phases of rebuilding from a Final Four run. Tyler Dorsey, Dylan Ennis, Jordan Bell, Chris Boucher and Dillon Brooks are all gone from the Ducks’ regular-season Pac-12 championship roster. Peyton Pritchard remains as the sole returner — though Kavell Bigby-Williams is still technically with the Ducks.
Altman will rely on newcomers to step up. Oregon has a strong recruiting class coming in, with 5-star Troy Brown and 4-stars Kenny Wooten and Victor Bailey. Former New Mexico Lobo Elijah Brown provides a veteran boost. Nevertheless, UConn will come in with more experience after retaining Jalen Adams and Rodney Purvis, and bringing back Terry Larrier from injury. This will be a prime opportunity for UConn to score a meaningful win.
4. Stanford vs. Florida
Florida came just a few possessions away from returning to the Final Four for the first time since completing its repeat in 2007. While the Gators were denied in their bid for a trip to Glendale, Mike White returns a roster more than capable of landing in San Antonio next March.
With KeVaughn Allen, John Egbunu and Kevarrius Hayes all back in the mix, Florida’s very much a known commodity. Stanford is not, but the Cardinal have an opportunity to make an impressive statement in PK80.
The NCAA granted Reid Travis an additional season of eligibility, giving second-year Stanford head coach Jerod Haase arguably the best returning player in the Pac-12, and a solid cornerstone around which to build. A Travis vs. Hayes showdown in the post has the potential of matching the physicality of any Thanksgiving football game.
3. Arkansas vs. Oklahoma
A season removed from the Final Four, Oklahoma regressed badly in its follow-up campaign. That can understandably happen when a program loses a player like Buddy Hield, whose 2015-’16 ranks among the best individual seasons in college basketball history — not to mention key supporting cast like Ryan Spangler and Isaiah Cousins.
The Sooners have the pieces to rebound from a disappointing 11-20 finish. Kameron McGusty and Rashard Odomes return from averaging double-figures as underclassmen, and the addition of 5-star prospect Trae Young headlines an impressive influx of new talent.
An early-season pairing against an Arkansas team drawing preseason Top 25 buzz should provide a test of just how prepared Oklahoma is to bounce back. With Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon back, the Hogs are dark-horse contenders in the suddenly deep SEC.
2. Ohio State vs. Gonzaga
The 2017-’18 season is pivotal for Ohio State head coach Thad Matta. After a first-weekend exit from the 2015 NCAA Tournament with D’Angelo Russell, and missing the Big Dance each of the last two seasons, the Buckeyes need a breakthrough in the coming campaign.
Matta brings a more experienced lineup into the PK80 than Gonzaga’s Mark Few, whose national runner-up was gutted in the offseason. Nigel Williams-Goss and Zach Collins entered the NBA draft, while Jordan Mathews and Przemek Karnowski exhausted their eligibility. That leaves Silas Melson and Johnathan Williams as the building blocks for a new-look Zags squad.
An early-season matchup of Williams against Ohio State’s Jae’Sean Tate has plenty of intrigue. Speaking of intrigue, redshirted Derek Funderburk’s on-court debut and the progression of promising Keita Bates-Diop in his return from injury may well define Ohio State’s prospects for the 2017-’18 campaign.
1. Butler vs. Texas
The best first-round matchup of the inaugural PK80 features two teams that should be ranked in the Top 25 — albeit their respective roads there are in stark contrast.
Year 2 of Shaka Smart’s tenure at Texas went about as poorly as it could have. The Longhorns took plenty of lumps at 11-22, but have generated considerable chatter as a breakthrough team in 2017-’18. Landing the nation’s fifth-ranked recruiting class certainly heightens expectations, and the additions of Mohamed Bamba, Jericho Sims and Matt Coleman to a roster retaining Kerwin Roach, Eric Davis and James Banks should turn Texas’ fortunes 180 degrees.
Coming off a Sweet 16 season, Butler is likely to open 2017-’18 ranked somewhere in that neighbor. Kelan Martin, Nate Fowler and Tyler Wideman return from last season’s lineup, and Kamar Baldwin looks ready for emergence as a bona fide superstar.
If you see no other game from the opening round of the PK80, make sure to squeeze some Turkey Day time for Butler and Texas.