Halftime Sports

Thanksgiving College Basketball: What to Look for at PK80

November 23, 2017

Thanksgiving is here. As the holiday pertains to college basketball, it means that we are treated to a full slate of marquee early-season tournaments, including the Phil Knight Invitational (PK80). The PK80 features 16 Nike-affiliated schools, split across two brackets, Motion and Victory, that will compete in Portland in an exciting event for college basketball fans and NBA draft scouts alike. Of course, there is one team whose presence would have made PK80 an even more enjoyable experience, but I won’t go there.

Without further ado, here are 10 things to look out for during PK80, including my predicted winners for each bracket.

1. How much will Miles Bridges play, if at all?

The electrifying sophomore forward made waves when he announced last spring that he would be returning for a second season as a Michigan State Spartan. In the era of one-and-done in college basketball, it is rare for a prospect of Bridges’ caliber to postpone the opportunity to make millions of dollars in the NBA. Many have wondered if Bridges would have been better off leaving for the NBA than spending another year in green & white, and the forward’s current ankle injury may stand in the way of contributing in the PK80 and possibly beyond. If Bridges does see time on the court, expect him to be aggressive as ever for a Spartans squad that has high aspirations for this season.

2. Payton Pritchard is an under-the-radar star, for the Oregon Ducks

When Oregon made its improbable run to the Final Four last season, the nation zeroed in on the stellar play of now-Golden State Warrior Jordan Bell and all-American Dillon Brooks. Payton Pritchard, an unheralded freshman from West Linn, Ore., quietly controlled tempo and provided some tough-nosed defense for the Ducks, who were a Bell box-out away from potentially competing for a national championship. Now, the rosy-cheeked sophomore is back for more at the PK80, and is putting up numbers that belie his appearance. Don’t be surprised if Pritchard walks out of Portland with the PK80 MVP and some recognition across the college basketball landscape.

3. Oklahoma’s Trae Young is as good as advertised

Young raised some eyebrows in the college basketball world when he committed to play for Lon Kruger’s Sooners over Kansas and Kentucky. Regardless, the young point guard has dazzled in his first two games, recording 23 total assists against just five turnovers. Young’s first national audience and real test arrives on Thursday, when his hometown Sooners go up against the notorious defensive pressure of the Arkansas Razorbacks. Look for Young to not only handle the Hogs’ ball-hawking, but to force turnovers on the defensive end as well.

4. The defending national champion, North Carolina, is primed to walk out of Portland with more hardware

While North Carolina lost their fearsome starting frontcourt in Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks, and Justin Jackson, they do return the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four, Joel Berry, as well as Elite Eight hero, Luke Maye, and a skilled passer in Theo Pinson. The Heels have their limitations, as the lack of a proven interior scoring presence may hinder their traditional secondary break and offensive rebounding. However, experienced guards, bereft of early-season jitters, are at a premium in college basketball, and North Carolina boasts two of them in Berry and Pinson. While the Heels may not have the most talent in the Victory bracket, they certainly have the intangibles and the chemistry to bring home yet another trophy.

5. Will we be treated to a matchup of Bagley vs. Bamba?

Assuming Texas and Duke can survive their opening games, we have a potentially enticing freshman vs. freshman matchup on our hands on Black Friday. Marvin Bagley III, Duke’s 6-11 forward from Las Vegas, has been compared to a more athletic Chris Bosh for his feathery touch and rim-running capabilities. Texas’ Mohamed Bamba, on the other hand, has a more limited offensive arsenal but boasts an unconscionable 8-0 wingspan, creating havoc on the defensive end. NBA scouts will also be keenly watching each prospect, as Bagley and Bamba are both projected lottery picks.

6. How will Ohio State adjust to new coach Chris Holtmann?

Holtmann was one of the bigger names to find a new home this offseason, leaving a Butler program that he had inherited from now-Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. Holtmann’s Buckeyes are anchored by a throwback player in senior Jae’Sean Tate, a 6-4 forward who averages nearly eight rebounds a game. If the Buckeyes are going to make any noise in the PK80, it will be on the backs of Tate’s bruising style of play and Holtmann’s meticulous coaching.

7. Will Bill Walton manage to stay on topic for at least 20% of each game?

Bill Walton, the legendary NBA forward whose career was tragically cut short by injuries, has made a name for himself through esoteric rants as a color commentator. What completely unrelated topic will Walton find a way to speak about this time around? Will it be the passing of Tom Petty, or will it be international diplomacy between the United States and China? Stay tuned.

8. The PK80 jerseys are a disgrace

Nike released the apparel that each school will sport during the event, and let’s just say that they leave something to be desired. The insistence on solid colors will create an eyesore on the screen, and I am in particular irked by the designers’ choice of “UNC” as North Carolina’s lettering (Carolina or North Carolina are the only acceptable titles). Besides that, the lettering on several of the jerseys, including Portland and DePaul, is barely readable.

9. Duke will win the Motion Bracket

Assuming Grayson Allen doesn’t throw another temper tantrum and Coach K doesn’t forget about half of his freshman bigs, the Blue Devils should cruise through their bracket. Neither Butler nor Texas boasts Duke’s combination of talent (Bagley, Carter, Duval, and Trent) and experience (Grayson Allen). Gonzaga has two formidable big men in Killian Tillie and Johnathan Williams, but the Blue Devils’ considerable depth should overwhelm the Bulldogs should they meet in the tournament final. Chalk up another November championship for the Blue Devils, who seem to be much more adept at succeeding in November than in March as of late.

10. Michigan State will prevail in the Victory Bracket

I know, you’re going to ask me why I would pick the Spartans over the Tar Heels, an opponent that Tom Izzo has lost seven in a row to. The truth is that I do not project the Heels will even make it to the finals, as a hungry Arkansas Razorbacks squad that almost upset them in the NCAA Tournament last season will have their revenge on Friday. The Spartans will face off against the Hogs, whose pressure and hot shooting they will handle with relative ease. Even without Miles Bridges, I do not imagine Michigan State facing a tough road en route to claiming the PK80 Victory Bracket trophy.


Photo: Michigan State Sports Information

Santul Nerkar
Santul is the Voice's former executive culture editor and Halftime Sports editor. Follow him on Twitter @SantulN to become one of his rare few followers.


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