Monday, November 27, 2017

PK80 Reveals Plenty in Portland

By Jean Neuberger

There's a lot of great early season tournaments in college basketball.

One only needs to look towards Hawaii, where the Maui Invitational has become a household staple in the world of college hoops. Or, they can look east, where the Battle of Atlantis certainly has shown to be a premier tournament in its early years.

However, Nike and Phil Knight significantly raised the bar with their inaugural dual classics in Portland.

The PK80 is phenomenal. Loaded fields, great early resume builders and Nike swag combined into a Thanksgiving feast for basketball gluttons in Oregon. They wanted to make a statement with the teams they brought and for the most part, they succeeded.

The Victory Bracket showed that Michigan State might have their best team in years. Tom Izzo's squad has reignited their tough, blue-collar defensive reputation, winning the bracket in impressive fashion. They saved the best for last, absolutely shutting a good North Carolina team down. The Tar Heels still are a dangerous team but they were exposed today with their struggle to score; a good thing to learn now and not in March.

The bracket also featured Arkansas, who fell victim to North Carolina on Friday but showed incredible resiliency by routing UConn on Sunday, 102-67. Arkansas appears now, more than ever, to be returning to their fast-paced, frenetic "40 Minutes of Hell" that propelled them to success in the 90s. As for UConn, Kevin Ollie has to hit the reset button fast. His Huskies were overwhelmed and seemed fairly lethargic as the Razorbacks ran circles around them. We should see Arkansas in March Madness. Will we see UConn?

It also featured Oklahoma's super freshman Trae Young, who is a one-man machine for the Sooners. OU went 2-1 in the tournament, losing to Arkansas but taking down Portland and Oregon. Young was phenomenal both in victory and defeat, showing everyone why Lon Kruger wanted him as badly as he did. The Sooners could be a tournament team this year. If they are, it'll be because of Young, who, if he keeps up his torrid scoring pace, might be leaving for the pros shortly afterwards.

The Motion Bracket showed everyone that top-ranked Duke isn't invincible. Rather, far from it.

The Blue Devils struggled mightily this weekend, allowing Portland State to hang with them for a half (PSU actually led at halftime). They then had to rally to knock Texas off in overtime before facing a Florida buzzsaw in the finale. Florida, who reached the Elite Eight last year, looks like they could do the same, if not go further, this year. Jalen Hudson has All-American written all over him and it's the Gators, not Kentucky, that should be the favorite in the suddenly talent-rich SEC.

Gonzaga doesn't appear to be as strong as last year but, no doubt, they're still very, very good. Johnathan Williams is the latest great front court player that has made their way through Spokane and he's shown that he's a great catalyst for Mark Few's squad. Gonzaga had an epic overtime loss with Florida, as well as a great overtime win over Texas on Sunday. Given the youth on the 'Zags, two overtime games against good competition should be massively beneficial come March. And, speaking of Texas, Shaka Smart's squad went 1-2, but likely benefitted from the national exposure regardless, given their tight games with Duke and Gonzaga.

Also, Butler's down a step, but they did knock off their former coach on Sunday, taking down Ohio State in a thriller. Chris Holtmann will lead the Buckeyes back towards the top of the Big Ten; the fans will have to be a little patient with him though.

All in all, the PK80 had some suspense, some blowouts and lots of early information about a lot of teams we should see in March. It's a welcome addition to the college basketball scene.

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