PORTLAND, Ore. — Upsets, plot developments and performances that will come to define the stories of this season. All of that and a lot more emerged over four days in the Rose City. Sunday brought about the championship games and consolation matchups in the Phil Knight Legacy and Invitational brackets. There is no shortage of things to get to, so this is my final hefty notebook of need-to-knows. If you want to read up on North Carolina, . Here, we have to start with No. 24 Purdue's thorough and exact 75-56 domination of No. 8 Duke in Sunday's Legacy title game.
Purdue is a top-five team with the POY frontrunner
Purdue lost top-five pick Jaden Ivey plus one of the better bigs in college hoops in Trevion Williams from last season's team ... and might be better? Probably is better? That's incredible.
Only Matt Painter, man.
Heck, if you're the type of hoops fan who wants to proclaim Purdue is the best team and Zach Edey is the best player through the first three weeks of the season, I can't fault ya. The Boilermakers, who were unranked to start November, have blown away expectations and rearranged our understanding of the top of the Big Ten. Remember how there were questions back in October about which team in the Big Ten should be regarded as the favorite? Indiana, Illinois and Michigan got consideration. Purdue was not in that discussion. Good, yes, but top-10 good?
Nobody had that.
Now there's no debate. Right now, it's not close: In performance and in résumé, Purdue is the Big Ten's best. Maybe it's the best team in the country. Consider: The Boliermakers won 80-68 vs. West Virginia, 84-66 vs. No. 6 Gonzaga and 75-56 vs. No. 8 Duke. A three-game romping over four days here in PDX with an average win margin of 16.3 points.
If Edey, the 7-foot-4 powerhouse, isn't yet clearly the best player in college hoops — KenPom.com says he is — he's obviously the most unstoppable. Hard to see that changing moving forward. Through six games Edey's had five double-doubles and is averaging 21.7 points and 12.0 rebounds.
"Coach Painter trusts me to play through my mistakes," Edey said. "If we're highly touted after this, it doesn't really matter."
Good thing his stats aren't as humble as he is; Edey's demeanor is that of a satisfied role player. That's what he was for the first two years of his college career. Now he's the centerpiece on a team that Painter told CBS Sports is as accomplished and together as any group he's had at Purdue at this point in the year. Duke gets the young-team reputation, and that's fair, but Purdue is younger.
It didn't look young at all in the Rose City. Not against Duke, not in any game. Consider that the Boilers were able to basically bleed the clock out in the final three minutes. Duke's two key bigs, Dereck Lively and Kyle Filipowski, had both fouled out with 2:35 to go. Here's what's also outrageous: Purdue didn't allow a point in the final seven minutes. Completely cut off Duke's water.
"Promise normally comes with guys that have done it before," Painter told me. "Not to say that I didn't think we could come here and win some games. But early in the season, it's hard. I think it's hard for everybody to kind of piece it together. I think we have guys that have good basketball IQs and I think that really helps. And we have some unselfishness."
Painter later told me he's got "human beings" across his locker room. Every one of them. Meaning: well-balanced, willing to be coached, wanting to learn. It's a group poised for success. The freshman guard duo of Fletcher Loyer and Braden Smith is the backcourt for the future for this team. They're already so good and still have so much more to grow.
"For us to win against Marquette, West Virginia, Gonzaga and now Duke right in a row, you know, we have a lot of young guys," said Painter, "but we also have some guys that are competitive and they do a good job of playing together. I think that's the competitiveness and the unselfishness really separated us at times."
Separated the entire time at PK85. Purdue was my biggest winner of the event.
UConn also belongs in the top five
The Huskies are 1b to Purdue's 1a for the biggest winner in Portland. Dan Hurley's off to the first 8-0 start of his college coaching career as No. 20 Connecticut beat Iowa State 71-53 to win the PKI late Sunday night. If we're going to put Purdue in the top five, UConn needs to be in that group as well. The Huskies have so much weaponry, toughness, defensive capability and size distribution. When describing their potential, it's hard to know where to start. UConn destroyed a tough Iowa State team on the glass. Rebound margin can be a deceiving stat, but there's nothing misleading about a 29-rebound differential. UConn 48, Iowa State 19. A butt-kicking.
"It was ridiculous," ISU coach T.J. Otzelberger told CBS Sports.
Freshman Donovan Clingan is 7-2 and a monster. When I saw UConn practice in October, Hurley told me his hope was he could get 10-12 minutes per night from Clingan in spot duty in the first month of the season. Basically to help potential All-American Adama Sanogo catch a breather.
That idea got blown up this weekend. He's quickly gone from role player to someone you don't want to take off the floor. Clingan could be the best backup center in the country and he's only played eight games in college. He went for 15 points and 10 rebounds vs. Iowa State and won the PKI MVP. Sanogo was a non-factor (four points) due to some foul issues. But the fact Sanogo and wing Jordan Hawkins didn't have it on Sunday, but UConn won by 18? This looks like UConn's best team since the group that won the 2014 national title — and remember, that team was a No. 7 seed. There's a far higher ceiling with this squad.
"We have so much depth to where anyone can step up, we have too many players for them to worry about," freshman Alex Karaban said.
Karaban and Clingan, a pair of baby-faced frosh, flanked Hurley at the postgame podium after a 3-0 run. Nobody saw that coming four days ago.
"I've talked about our depth, these guys are two top-50 players in the country, so it's not a surprise they're playing well," Hurley said. "I thought we were encouraged in terms of where we could be throughout the year post-closed scrimmage with Virginia."
Virginia, like UConn, is undefeated and can claim a right to top-five status.
UConn's best overall player was Andre Jackson, who came off the bench to grab 13 rebounds, score 10 points, dish five assists and make a couple of ridiculous athletic plays. What Jackson brings to UConn is a versatility that few other teams have at the ready.
"Sometimes I just stare at him. How did he do that?" Karaban said about his teammate.
"I don't even know what's going on out there with him," Hurley said. "He's like an American ninja. He's an incredible player to watch. Your eyes get drawn to him the whole time."
No question. UConn is not only one of the best teams in the country, it's also among the most watchable. Top 10 in offensive and defensive efficiency, can play fast, medium-paced or slower. Can play big or small. And nine-deep. Hurley's got the best roster of his career. If anything, I was surprised by how subdued he was in celebration afterward!
Duke a tier or two below the top level for now
One team was ranked No. 8 and the other No. 24, but those identifiers were inaccurate. Purdue will rightfully jump Duke in Monday's poll refresh. Different teams playing different games and trying to achieve different objectives at the moment. Blue Devils first-year coach Jon Scheyer has a lot to figure out and not a lot of time to do it. Duke isn't at full speed and will probably need the remainder of its nonconference slate to gather its identity.
I'm not concerned about two-loss Duke right now. It's not at 100%. Lively and Dariq Whitehead weren't healthy throughout the preseason, with Whitehead requiring foot surgery. Lively fouled out vs. Purdue but played a spirited game. They need a few more weeks to get into consistent game conditioning.
"I think we did well overall," Scheyer said about going 2-1 in Portland. "There's just a level that we want to play, and we have to learn how to win these kinds of games. It's the little plays you didn't have to make in high school. The rebounds and loose balls, being disciplined on defense, all those kinds of things. And I think we learned a lot from losing the way we did."
Scheyer said Purdue's as good as anyone in the country right now. Understandable to believe that after getting dropped by 19 in a game that wasn't competitive for much of the second half.
"They're ridiculously good and Edey is a problem," Scheyer told me. "And then trying to scout one day for a young team. It's a handful."
How much more time does Duke need to find itself? Consider that the entire roster has had one full practice with everyone available. They don't have chemistry yet. It can't only be Jeremy Roach and/or Kyle Filipowski carrying them to every win. Against Purdue, those two accounted for 28 points on 10-of-24 shooting, and Roach was hobbled with a bum ankle.
"We have a lot of room to grow, I don't want this to be a whole year thing where I'm saying in March 'we have room to grow,'" Scheyer said. "These next couple of months are huge for us to get to know each other."
"The thing for us is, we can't expect that — we're not experimenting," Scheyer added. "We have to play Ohio State on Wednesday. We have to play Saturday, our first ACC game against BC. Next Tuesday, we play Iowa in Madison Square Garden. We've never had a stretch like this, it's incredible."
Right into the fire for the young Scheyer. Give it time. Going 2-1 here is progress, even with some roster issues lingering.
Gonzaga gets sorely needed win over Xavier
I spent a good 15 minutes postgame with Bulldogs coach Mark Few, and he admitted that this team and its psyche would have been hindered significantly if it failed to leave PK85 with fewer than two wins. After cruising late Thanksgiving night against Portland State, the Zags were upended Friday by Purdue, then rallied for an entertaining 88-84 win over Xavier in the third-place game of the PK Legacy.
"Extremely important," Few said of edging Xavier. "Some of these guys haven't experienced this. I know they were in our program, but they weren't playing the alpha role. ... They're trying to figure out how to manifest and process pressure, where everybody thinks we're gonna win every game and 'What do you mean we're not No. 1?' and all that stuff."
Few has always made sure to build up tough nonconference schedules, but he said this year is a tier to itself. Gonzaga (5-2) has already played Michigan State, at Texas, Kentucky, Purdue and Xavier. Next is Baylor (in South Dakota), home to one of the better mid-major teams (Kent State), home against Washington, then a de fator road game against Alabama in Birmingham on Dec. 17. Could be eight Quad 1 or 2 games in the first 12 tilts of Gonzaga's season.
"It's brutal," Few said. "This is far and away the hardest schedule we've ever played."
Remember, Gonzaga also had the pay-per-view exhibition vs. Tennessee, which the Bulldogs lost. Gonzaga's got some fundamental stuff to work through with its guys (they blew a lot of assignments in the second half), but for this team and its schedule (Baylor next, what a biggie), a win here has to get the Zags better mentally before trying to avenge the loss from the 2021 title game.
"I just gotta get to Christmas, man," Few said. "To be honest with you, we shouldn't have been ranked 2 or whatever we were. We're not there yet. Now, I do think there's some growth that's happened. Nolan (Hickman)'s grown up down here. He's much better guy than he was at Texas. ... I think, Ben Gregg's gonna give us a different entity."
Hickman had 14 points, six rebounds and five assists. Guard play is essential for Gonzaga's postseason prospects. Backcourt mates Hunter Sallis and Malachi Smith aren't up to speed yet. Drew Timme had a weird night: 16 points, seven assists and seven turnovers. Few told me Timme has to play like a top-three player almost nightly in order for Gonzaga to have a shot at a high seed and Final Four, but just as important to that end is having a second key leader. Julian Strawther probably needs to be that guy. Strawther came up big against Xavier: 23 points, the majority of that in the second half, including a pair of 3s that helped Gonzaga separate from a Xavier team that was threatening down the stretch.
"Jules needs to play like that," Few said.
The difference for Gonzaga was not missing a shot in the final 6:30 of the game. GU finished at 1.19 PPP, Xavier at 1.14. Good hoop. X very nearly stole this one. Sean Miller knows it. Few and that staff certainly know it. And after both head coaches finished their press conferences, Miller came to greet Few and they swapped compliments on each other's teams. After taking the close/respectable loss, Miller jokingly (or not!) told Few he never wants to have to play Gonzaga again. He's 3-6 all time against Few.
As Miller started to make his way back to Xavier's locker room in Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Few called him back over and said, "Hey. It's great to have you back." Miller appreciated the gesture. A cool moment between two high-level coaches.
Villanova's trip was a disaster for the résumé
First-year Villanova coach Kyle Neptune is nowhere near in the same situation as Scheyer and Duke. The shorthanded Wildcats went 0-3 in the PKI, losing Sunday 74-67 to an underwhelming sub-.500 Oregon team with six scholarship players available. A major reason for Villanova's Portland pratfall: abundant-yet-anemic 3-point shooting. The Wildcats took 108 (yes, ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHT) 3-pointers in three games and made 32 of them. That's a 29.6% success rate, which is well short of where a team needs to be if it's going to deploy an unleash-the-cannons approach.
It's reasonable for Villanova fans to start panicking. A team without Jay Wright running the show was given the benefit of the doubt in the preseason; Villanova was ranked 16th in the AP Top 25. That was a missed evaluation by the voters. Villanova doesn't register as top-50 quality right now. At 2-5, the program's mired in its worst start since 1991.
Villanova's next game? VU welcomes in 7-1 Oklahoma on Saturday. It's the Wildcats' last nonconference opportunity against a quality opponent, and winning that game will be mandatory to keeping alive any slim at-large chances Villanova hopes to have months from now. A loss against Oklahoma would mean Villanova would have to win the Big East Tournament in order to get a bid come March. There's no chance a team that starts 2-6 could rally to win enough regular-season games and become an at-large candidate.
— Alabama going 2-1 by beating Michigan State and UNC will wind up being Quad 1 wins that prove crucial come March, when I expect the Tide to be pushing for a top-four seed. Freshman Brandon Miller had some ups and downs, but he'll probably be a top-20 pick.
— Otzelberger told me he was satisfied to get out of PDX with a 2-1 mark, and I can't blame him. That upset of UNC will be an all-time memory for those players and coaches. Iowa State is limited offensively and will win more than 20 games this season by breaking teams' spirits. UConn had too much size and firepower. Iowa State could be 7-1 the night it plays at Iowa on Dec. 8 in what would be a tasty tilt.
— Entering the season, I thought Florida would make the NCAAs in Year 1 under Todd Golden, but the Gators are 4-3 and don't have a top-200 KenPom win yet. West Virginia mauled UF on Sunday, 84-55. Gators leave here 1-2 and face a critical game at home vs. UConn on Dec. 7.
— Xavier leaves 1-2 with a win over those Gators, the value of that one W diminished for now. But Sean Miller's team played with Duke for 39 minutes and with Gonzaga for 39 as well. I don't know what seed line X will land on in March, but I probably won't shake the belief that this team will have the personnel and coaching to make the second weekend of the tourney. I spent some time on Thursday and Friday with Miller and will have much more on him in the coming days.
— Portland (and Portland State) got the benefit of playing in this event because they're based in the city. It was nice to see Nike afford these teams the opportunity again after doing the same five years ago. The Pilots went 1-2 but aggressively flirted with beating North Carolina and Michigan State. Mark Few jokingly gave national media members grief about not giving the WCC enough credit. (I'd argue otherwise in the past year!) Portland finishing top-three in the WCC this season seems plausible. Coach Shantay Legans has been a revelation there.
— Three off-the-court notes to close out. No. 1: If you ever get to Portland and are a music lover, 2nd Avenue Records is one of my favorite wax shops in the country. You can lose an hour in that place in no time. After years and years of searching, I finally found a copy of Steely Dan's debut album, "Can't Buy a Thrill." What a W. No. 2: My best dinner was at an old-style joint, Jake's Famous Crawfish restaurant. Elite meal, classic vibe. And on the donut side, Portland has many great options, but Blue Star remains the clear winner. I'll be picking up another at the airport on my way out Monday morning. I don't know if or when they'll have another Phil Knight-type of event here, but it should be every few years at least. The setup is perfect and it's a basketball-first city. Let's not wait another five years.