PORTLAND, Ore. — CBS college basketball insider Matt Norlander is spending Thanksgiving weekend at the PK85, covering the Phil Knight Invitational and Phil Knight Legacy tournaments. He’s providing updates throughout as he talks to players and coaches at college hoops’ biggest event of the regular season.. Friday’s running diary will update throughout the evening.
No. 1 UNC toppled by Iowa State
The noisiest result of the day gets its own story. To see my expanded takes, plus quotes from the top-ranked Tar Heels’ 70-65 loss to Iowa State,.
Iowa State will play Sunday in the PKI title game against either No. 20 UConn. UNC will face No. 18 Alabama for third place in the PKI bracket.
Elsewhere on Friday in Portland …
Duke advances to Sunday’s Legacy title game
Quick history lesson: The last time Xavier played Duke, and I don’t mean Friday afternoon, Sean Miller was in fact coaching the Musketeers. He was in his final season of his first stint at X. A young man named Jon Scheyer played for Duke. It was a top-10 matchup that aired on CBS. Duke blew the doors off Xavier, holding a 31-point halftime lead before mercifully allowing an 82-64 ending. Scheyer had a game-high 23 back then, on Dec. 20, 2008.
I was courtside and right next to Xavier’s bench for Friday’s first big matchup in the Moda Center. No blowout, but another Duke win over X with the same point total in the end for the Musketeers as 14 years ago: 71-64. Miller’s team now isn’t as good as Miller’s team then, but it fared better. If not for an unusually bad shooting night for center Jack Nunge (1-of-13 for 5 points). Xavier got a tough draw in this tournament; it will try to get out with a 2-1 record when it plays either Gonzaga or Purdue in Sunday’s third-place game.
Scheyer’s got Duke at 6-1, its only loss by five points in the Champions Classic to Kansas. We’re still waiting to see Dereck Lively, Dariq Whitehead and Tyrese Proctor emerge, but the 1-2 of Jeremy Roach and Kyle Filipowski is enough so far to get the job done. Roach was a game-changer vs. the Musketeers. He scored 21 on 9-of-15 shooting, had five assists, four boards and just one turnover. Duke hasn’t needed to play like a loaded team just yet. Between Roach and Filipowski (good early, but finished with 12 points), one of those two has been the guy for Duke in each of its seven games. The third player who stepped up was freshman Mark Mitchell (16 points) in 31 minutes. Xavier held one of the best offensive rebounding teams in college hoops to nine boards, but credit Duke’s defense for keeping X off-balance for almost the entire game.
After the loss, Miller told me he’s been trying to work on a few defensive designs with his team that keep failing. Those concepts will be abandoned for the rest of the season and the staff will implement simpler concepts to hopefully better results.
Conversely, Scheyer’s players are connected on defense and have been able to win with a slowed-down approach, size and length. Not pretty, but they’re finding their way.
UConn off to its best start under Dan Hurley
And Hurley is off to the best start of his career. He’s never started 7-0 while coaching in college hoops. He’s also enjoying his longest winning streak since becoming the Huskies’ coach in 2018. The 20th-ranked Huskies ran away from Alabama 82-67. It was the Crimson Tide’s first defeat of the season. Hard to deny that UConn has looked like the best team through two days here in Portland. (Purdue and Iowa State are right there, though.) In the greater landscape of college hoops, UConn’s got a top-10 case as well.
“The whole mindset of this team this year,” Hurley said. “We’ve been contending the past couple of years, but we’re trying to go from contenders to champions.”
It starts with Big East Preseason Player of the Year Adama Sanogo, who’s at an All-American level right now. Sanogo had a game-high 25 points. After attempting one 3-pointer in his first two seasons, he’s 7 for 13 this season, including 1-of-4 on Friday. But that one was the bucket to clinch the game and put UConn out of Alabama’s reach down the stretch.
“He’s a gym rat, blue collar, lives in the gym keeps his life simple” Hurley said of Sanogo. “Like, it’s school and basketball. The thing about him is the self-confidence and the belief. He bricked his first 3s there. … A lot of player that don’t make a lot of 3s would not have taken the fourth one, but that was the kill shot.”
Jordan Hawkins had 16 points, Alex Karaban added 12 more. UConn has never looked as fluidily reliable under Hurley like it does now.
“We have a lot of confidence where our program’s at,” Hurley said. “March hasn’t gone the way we’ve liked.”
Look around the country and there’s no shortage of ranked teams that aren’t playing up to potential. Doesn’t apply to the Huskies, who are clicking on both ends and are nine-deep.
“The good thing about losing to UConn is you get to face the No. 1 team in the country in two days,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said sarcastically after taking the loss.
UConn plays Iowa State in Sunday’s PKI final.
Villanova has its worst start since 1997
On Thursday, I had an encouraging takeaway from Villanova’s rally of a loss against Iowa State. Sub-.500 through five games, yes, but competitive in its losses. A shorthanded team trying to figure it out after losing its Hall of Fame coach. Understandable bumps.
But there’s no spinning a 2-4 start with two losses to mid-major teams. The Wildcats lost 83-71 against Portland on Friday and allowed the Pilots to score at a 1.20 points per possession clip. For first-year Villanova coach Kyle Neptune, not having Cam Whitmore and Justin Moore at his disposal yet is an outright hindrance. At this stage, even with so much road left in the regular season, starting 2-4 has put Villanova’s NCAA tourney prospects in some doubt. It’s almost a definite that Villanova will need to be a top-three team in the Big East standings come March in order to ensure it gets back to the Big Dance. The Wildcats’ wins so far have come against La Salle and Delaware State.
Maybe a good thing, maybe a bad thing: If Michigan State loses to Oregon later today, Villanova will get a rematch nine days after falling by two at MSU.
A big shout to Portland coach Shantay Legans, by the way. He’s got the Pilots well on their way to being in the top half of the WCC this season. This program was 7-61 in four seasons under Terry Porter. Now it’s on the precipice of cracking into the top 100 at KenPom.com. That’s a major accomplishment for a program that last made the NCAA Tournament in 1996 and it’s no fluke about how this team has played the past two days after Portland gave UNC a genuine scare on Thanksgiving.
Phil Knight Invitational bracket
Phil Knight Legacy bracket