PK80 Preview

- Ky McKeon

I’ve never been more hyped for attending a college sporting event than I am for the PK80, hands-down the best in-season basketball tournament in college hoops history. The Portland-based soiree celebrates Nike founder Phil Knight’s 80th birthday by bringing in 16 Nike-sponsored squads from across the country. Most of these teams are historic basketball powerhouses, combining for 23 National Championships and 89 Final Four appearances. It’s time to grab a whole turkey, slather it with a bucket full of gravy, and plop yourself on the couch – this tournament is as good as it gets outside of March.

Victory Bracket

Fun fact: Nike is the Greek Goddess of Victory, hence the corny bracket name. Also fun fact: the infallible NCAA requires there to be two separate brackets in this tournament because of dumb, arbitrary scheduling rules.

The Faves

Michigan State


Why They’ll Win
Top-to-bottom, Sparty is arguably the most complete team in the country on paper. Tom Izzo has a Mariana Trench-esque amount of depth in the frontcourt that features sophomore Nick Ward, freshman phenom Jaren Jackson, and Player of the Year candidate Miles Bridges. Michigan State is at its best when it works the ball into the post, forcing defenses to collapse on its capable block scorers, which creates open looks for guards on the perimeter. And if Bridges is locked in, there’s hardly a defender in the country that can stop him. Cassius Winston has wrestled the starting PG spot away from Tum Tum Nairn, giving Sparty a dynamic lead guard to attack off pick-n-rolls and find scorers and spot-up shooters like Josh Langford and Matt McQuaid. Add in a Tom Izzo game plan, and there’s little doubt in who the Victory Bracket favorite is.

What’s Holding Them Back
Duke exposed two key weaknesses of this Sparty team, both of which came as a result of the Blue Devils’ zone. 1) Turnovers. MSU turned the rock over 17 times against Duke, mostly as a result of Spartan guards, Bridges included, being indecisive on the perimeter. Sparty also handed North Florida the ball 21 times in their first game of the year.

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2) Shooting. Outside of Bridges, who shot 5/10 from deep, Sparty couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn against Duke. The Devil zone turned MSU into jump shooters, taking them away from their preferred inside-out game plan. MSU has competent shooters, but they’ll struggle to win against elite teams if forced to only score through the perimeter.

Round 1: Michigan State should have no issue slowing down the DePaul guards and limiting penetration. Sparty will also sport an enormous advantage on the block which is sure to result in plenty of easy buckets at the rim and foul shot opportunities.

North Carolina

Why They’ll Win
The defending champs are back playing Roy Williams’ preferred style of basketball – run like hell and feed the post. With Joel Berry back from injury, UNC defeated a very good Bucknell Bisons squad, crushing the boards in the process to the tune of 47-28. Despite concerns about the frontcourt coming into the year, Luke Maye has looked every bit an alpha in the paint, and freshmen Sterling Manley and Garrison Brooks have proved to be an effective center platoon. Berry is arguably the best point guard in the country and is one of the nation’s best attackers in transition. On defense, the Heels are an intimidating bunch with Theo Pinson, Kenny Williams, and Jalek Felton hounding ball handlers on the arc.


What’s Holding Them Back
Cam Johnson’s absence is going to matter soon once UNC plays a team that can compete with them physically. With Johnson’s and Brandon Robinson’s injuries, the Heels don’t have a ton of depth on the wing right now, with only Pinson and Kenny Williams serving meaningful time. Also, like MSU, shooting could be an issue for the Heels. Maye and Williams have been on fire thus far, but Pinson and Felton haven’t proven to be capable outside shooters yet, putting heavy pressure on glass dominance.

Round 1: UNC has an advantage over Portland in just about every sense – in fact I wouldn’t be surprised to see more UNC fans in Portland than Portland fans. Heels cover just about any number here.

The Contenders


How They Can Compete
Trae Young has been phenomenal in the early-going. His presence and stupid 55.2 Assist Rate lifts the Sooners’ potential to astronomical heights. OU plays fast and has a plethora of scoring wings in Christian James, Kameron McGusty, and Rashard Odomes to run at opponents. Inside, the Sooners can hang with bigger squads like UNC thanks to the girth of Khadeem Lattin and the speedy emergence of freshman Brady Manek. The variety of ways OU can beat opponents on offense (shooting, driving, post-ups, and transition) makes them a tough bunch to stop.


Why They Won’t
Oklahoma has played two favorable early games, matching up with Omaha and Ball State, two teams that play very fast and don’t emphasize defense at a high level, which plays right into Lon Kruger’s hands. It will be interesting to see if OU can play a half-court heavy game against a team that stops their initial push, and handle the rock against a team like Arkansas that will be in their jocks all game long. Young has been excellent, but he’s about to face a steep increase in competition.

Round 1: One of the best opening matchups features an exciting OU offense against a stout Arkansas defense. I think Oklahoma can beat Arky in the track meet and I trust Lon Kruger far more than Mike Anderson on a neutral floor. OU’s stable of wings and guards should be able to withstand the pressure and deflect the Hogs on D.


How They Can Compete
Dana Altman’s offense will be there (it is known). The Ducks have thrashed their first four opponents thanks to poor competition and blistering shooting from everywhere on the floor – Oregon is currently stroking 41.9% from downtown and 61.1% inside the arc. Transfer Elijah Brown and freshman Troy Brown have been as good as advertised thus far and Payton Pritchard looks to be one of the most poised point guards in the country. Freshman Victor Bailey has also been a present surprise on the wing. Altman’s crew can outscore anyone and so far Kenny Wooten and Mikyle McIntosh have shut down shots at the rim. If the latter continues, the Ducks can take home the Victory crown.

Why They Won’t
Despite the early success, I’m still dubious on the interior from a defensive, offensive, and rebounding perspective. McIntosh is great, and he’s a known entity from Illinois State, but he’s only 6’7” meaning bigger teams will likely pose a challenge. Wooten and Georgetown transfer Paul White are foul prone and it remains to be seen if Oregon can outrebound opponents that don’t reside in the MEAC or SWAC.

Round 1: Perhaps a little upset alert for the Ducks in Round 1 against UConn. Oregon doesn’t have the interior muscle to exploit the thin Huskies, meaning this game will come down to a battle in the backcourt. Pritchard/Brown/Brown is the better group, but Jalen Adams will be the best player on the floor. Ducks win, UConn covers.

The Dark Horses


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Intriguing Because
Per usual, UConn has a stud lead guard that can carry the Huskies to victory in games in which they otherwise have no business competing. Kevin Ollie’s seat is on fire right now despite the National Championship on his resume, but Adams and freshman PG Alterique Gilbert seem determined to save his job. The guards are dynamic enough to steal a couple wins, but can the frontcourt withstand greater competition? Also – will Kevin Ollie ever let his team run in transition?


Intriguing Because
The Hogs come in with one of the better early season schedules under their belts to date (at least among the 16 teams in the PK80). Arkansas handled Samford, Bucknell, and Fresno State with relative ease, scoring at will in transition and creating havoc with Mike Anderson’s patented pressure. Now of course, these games all came at home, and Anderson is notorious for being unable to win consistently on the road. Super guard duo Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon give this squad hope to make a run.

The Punching Bags


Only Hope
The Demons are close to being a contender, but I just couldn’t put them on that tier in good conscious. DePaul’s only hope is to get blazing hot from the outside, which is unlikely despite the shooting ability of Max Strus, Eli Cain, and Justin Roberts. Leitao’s defense, one that can create turnovers, also gives his squad a decent chance to compete and cover a few spreads, and the emergence of freshman Jaylen Butz inside has been a revelation for an otherwise soft interior.


Only Hope
It’s nice Mr. Knight is letting Portland compete. The Pilots are currently ranked 303rd per and hold two wins against non-D1 opponents. Considering Portland was one of the worst rebounding teams in the country last season, the Pilots will have to hope and pray UNC doesn’t show up on Thursday… or that the NCAA pulls a fast one and bans the Heels from participating due to that academics thing. Hey, at least the Pilots have the balls to show up *cough* Georgetown *cough*.


UNC over Portland
Oklahoma over Arkansas
Oregon over UConn
Michigan State over DePaul

Oklahoma over UNC
Michigan State over Oregon

Michigan State over Oklahoma

Motion Bracket

Fun fact: The “Motion Bracket” is a terrible name for a bracket!

The Faves



Why They’ll Win
Duke is the best team in the country, so that’s a good reason they’ll win. The Devils of course have one of the premier freshman in the country in Marvin Bagley, who is WAY bigger than I thought, an All-American candidate in Grayson “Trip” Allen, and a competent supporting cast of athleticism and length. Nobody has been able to stop the Wendell Carter / Marvin Bagley combo inside yet, and Trevon Duval has like a 2,000 to 1 assist to turnover ratio (it’s actually 38:7). Grayson Allen is shooting 53.1% from behind the arc and Gary Trent is asserting himself on both ends. Coach K is even playing his bench! Javin DeLaurier has emerged as a decent option off the pine and Jordan Goldwire and Alex O’Connell have provided extra shooting. Additionally, K has implemented a 2-3 zone look on defense, which has turned out to be a stroke of brilliance (instead of an actual stroke) due to the Devils’ immense length (just ask ole Sparty). When firing on all cylinders, Duke is simply too talented to be stopped.


What’s Holding Them Back
Superman has his Kryptonite and Duke has its shooting and role allocation. While Duval has looked admittedly great in the early season, I’m still not 100% convinced he won’t flip a switch into alpha mode and shoot the Devils out of the game. Duval is an amazing playmaker, but when he starts trying to get his, how will Duke fair? Bagley, too, needs to get his on offense, as does Allen and even Trent to a degree. When games get tight or adversity strikes, it’ll be interesting to see how Duke responds. As far as shooting goes, I promise Trip won’t shoot above 50% all year. He and Trent represent the only legitimate significant outside threats. Watch for Duke to get zoned quite a bit in the upcoming year, forcing Duval and others to become shooters. 

Round 1: Duke will be able to keep PSU off the glass and limit transition opportunities. The Vikes could get hot and pull a cover on a 20+ point spread, but the Devils move on easily.


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Why They’ll Win
Florida is the one team in this bracket that can challenge Duke. The Gators have the requisite athleticism, shooting, and experience to hang with the Devils, despite being just a tad thin up front. Mike White’s team thrives in transition and is one of the better ball handling units in the country behind Kevaughn Allen and Chris Chiozza. Good ball protection and smart decision making, two hallmarks of this Florida squad, allows them to have the ability to beat anyone in the country. Look for Allen to continue to assert himself on the offensive end and for Egor “The Mad Russian” Koulechov to go from best kept secret in college basketball to household name.

What’s Holding Them Back
The Gators looked human in their most recent tilt against New Hampshire. Most of this was due to poor outside shooting, which begs the question “if the shots aren’t falling, can the Gators score enough in the paint to win ball games?” It was also a bit concerning at the number of open looks the defense gave up and the lack of disruption in the backcourt. Florida ranked 32nd last year in forcing turnovers, but has thus far not shown that same ability to turn teams over. Is this most likely a fluke? Yes. Does it show Florida is vulnerable and can be defeated? Also, yes.

Round 1: An experienced Stanford squad likely won’t be too intimidated by the Gator aura, and Reid Travis should be able to get his inside. But, Florida’s guards are light years ahead of Stanford’s and the Cardinal will probably go long stretches without scoring the basketball. Gators cover a 9 or 10 point spread.

The Contenders


How They Can Compete
Offensively, this is yet another Butler team that can shoot the lights out and protect the ball. Different from years past, however, is the emergence of a dynamic point guard that can break opponents down off the bounce and wreak havoc on defense. This is Kamar Baldwin, a sophomore guard that has so far measured up to the preseason hype surrounding his potential breakout campaign. The Dogs also found another PG option in Aaron Thompson, allowing Baldwin to step off the ball and be a more immediate threat from the wing, which has further opened up the offense. Kelan Martin looks comfortable in an undersized 4-role which allows LaVall Jordan to spread the floor on offense and rain threes down on opponents from nearly every position.

Why They Won’t
Overall size is a concern for the Bulldogs. Paul Jorgenson, Aaron Thompson, and Kamar Baldwin are the primary 1 and 2-guards and all are under 6’2” and 200 pounds. This size factors into the defensive end more than the offensive side of the ball. While Martin is a great scorer on offense, his lack of size at the four can leave Butler vulnerable to better and bigger forwards. Tyler Wideman is still a load inside but backups Nate Fowler and Joey Brunk have yet to provide consistent paint protection and rebounding. Maryland converted 67% of their shots from inside the arc against Butler, and the Dogs have been sending teams to the foul line far too often.

Round 1: I think Texas gives Butler some issues in round 1. The Horns have the athleticism advantage and rookie PG Matt Coleman won’t be fazed by Baldwin’s pressure. Butler may have trouble scoring over Mo Bamba and getting stops on defense on the run and off the bounce. Texas won’t have much of an answer for Martin though. Texas to cover and win.



How They Can Compete
Gonzaga checks just about every box in terms of what a team needs to be successful. The Zags protect the ball despite a few Josh Perkins hiccups now and again, they shoot it from deep with freshmen Zach Norvell and Corey Kispert, Perkins, and Silas Melson, and they have the size to hang with the blue bloods. Killian Tillie and Johnathan Williams III aren’t very wide, but they are long and uber-skilled on both ends of the floor. Williams has turned into a legitimate first option on offense with his ability to pick up fouls and Tillie is shooting 80% from 2 and pulling down rebounds at an elite rate. Rui Hachimura, the much talked about Japanese sophomore, has provided key minutes off the pine at the 3 and 4, and Few has played 10 guys pretty consistently to start the year.

Why They Won’t
Two things worry me about Gonzaga. First, the Zags do not force turnovers. This isn’t a MAJOR issue by any stretch, but a lack of pressure can sometimes allow better teams to get whatever they want on the offensive end and let inferior ball handling squads off the hook. Second, Gonzaga does not have a true go-to scorer they can rely on in crunch time. Williams could be that guy down the road, but I’ve long believed that it’s far more important to have a guard with game-saving ability versus a member of the frontcourt. I don’t think Perkins can score at will and Norvell and Kispert are still a year or two away from developing that skillset.

Round 1: The Zags should be able to match whatever Ohio State throws at them, but Holtmann is a crafty coach and could steal one in Portland from the superior team. The Buckeyes can contend in the paint and may be able to stop Gonzaga’s efficient offensive attack. On the other end, the Zags shouldn’t find it too difficult to stop the plodding Buckeye offense. This one is likely Gonzaga favored by 7 or 8, in which case I’ll take the Buckeyes to cover and the Zags to advance.

The Dark Horses

Ohio State


Intriguing Because
Chris Holtmann is a fantastic coach and has so far shown Buckeye faithful that he can lead the school to glory down the road. JaQuan Lyle is gone, but maybe that’s a good thing, a Ewing Theory if you will. The veteran core of Jae’Sean Tate, CJ Jackson, Keita Bates-Diop, and Kam Williams is formidable if not spectacular, and freshmen Musa Jallow and Kaleb Wesson are future stars. The Buckeyes have just enough punch on offense and resistance on defense to make things interesting in Portland.


Intriguing Because
In theory, Stanford should be a good team. Reid Travis is one of the better forwards in the country and the Cardinal have a veteran backcourt and some promising freshmen. Do they actually have a chance to compete? No, I don’t think so. Point guard play is a real question mark with Robert Cartwright and freshman Daejon Davis, and the loss to Eastern Washington does not inspire much confidence. EWU got whatever it wanted from outside against Stanford while the Cardinal were satisfied with throwing up bricks on the offensive end.


Intriguing Because
This is the year Shaka Smart turns things around in Austin. Smart has a roster chock full of athletes, a new unselfish ball handler in Matt Coleman, and an impenetrable wall inside in Mo Bamba. Add in a stretch four in Dylan Osetkowski, which gives the Horns’ offense a completely new layer, and this Texas team looks scary on paper. Shooting overall will continue to be a concern, as will decision making by Andrew Jones and Kerwin Roach, but this squad should be elite defensively and can compete with anyone in the country on the athletic spectrum.


The Punching Bags

Portland State

Only Hope
Like its neighbor Portland, the Vikings of Portland State are just happy to be nominated to the PK80. PSU has real intrigue as an uptempo squad that hits the boards hard and lets it fly from deep. Barret Peery’s squad is also one of the most experienced in the country, starting four seniors and a junior. Could all of this culminate into a shocking upset of world-beater Duke? I hope so! But, sadly I think we will be seeing the Vikings on the consolation side of the Motion Bracket.


Duke over Portland State
Texas over Butler
Florida over Stanford
Gonzaga over Ohio State 

Duke over Texas
Florida over Gonzaga

Florida over Duke