PORTLAND, Ore. — It's been a blast of a past 48 hours out here in the Rose City. If you're going to build brackets, you best expect a little bit of busting, and that's exactly what the PK85 got.
The two eight-team men's tournaments will not have chalk in Sunday's finals. In the Phil Knight Invitational, Iowa State, which upset No. 1 North Carolina 70-65 on Friday, will play No. 20 UConn. (The anticipated final was UNC vs. Alabama, now a third-place affair.) And in the Phil Knight Legacy, No. 8 Duke will face No. 24 Purdue, which blew by No. 6 Gonzaga 84-66 late Friday night. The Boilers played spoilers, negating Gonzaga a chance at facing Duke, just as Arkansas did in this year's NCAA Tournament.
Duke vs. Purdue will begin at 3 p.m. ET on Sunday. Iowa State vs. UConn will close out a huge weekend of college basketball with a 10 p.m. ET tip. Of the four teams left standing, only Duke has a loss. All four teams have gone 2-0 the past two days through different means and paths. There's a lot to get to from Friday. Let's start with Purdue.
Boilers were vastly underrated heading into the season
Zach Edey is becoming a point of national concern, but the reality is Purdue's guard play keyed the Boilermakers to an emphatic win. It was impressive. It was a statement. With an unproven backcourt — two freshmen starting — Purdue had some skeptics heading into November.
After Friday night, it's hard to shake off the feeling that Purdue will compete for a Big Ten title. Yes, Edey's a huge (pun intended) factor. The 7-foot-4 behemoth is figuring it all out, and we're watching it happen with each game. Edey made Gonzaga All-American Drew Timme look 6-5 and overmatched at times on his way to having his way with Gonzaga's defense. Edey finished with 23 points, seven rebounds and three blocks.
Purdue coach Matt Painter told CBS Sports that Edey's growth is aided by great cardio capability. He has tremendous stamina for a player his size, something that's always been there but wasn't obvious because he split minutes previously in his college career. Edey is unique in college hoops, and at this stage he's one of the five most dominant players through nearly three weeks of the season. I'm not sure how Duke is going to match up with him. Dereck Lively and Kyle Filipowski will likely trade off duties, but there is no stopping him completely. He'll eventually get his. To this point, Edey's averaging 22-and-12 along with three blocks.
Edey got in his dunks and took advantages of his spots, but the Boilermaker freshman guards are the ones most responsible for spoiling the Blue Devils-Zags matchup many wanted to see.
"Early in the season very few teams play with a purpose collectively," Painter said.
He's right. That's been on display a lot here in Portland. But his team has played with purpose and in every game of this young season. Freshman Braden Smith has something about him that gives the offense confidence. Smith finished with 14 points, seven assists and five rebounds. Fellow freshman Fletcher Loyer added 14 more points. Painter said Smith is the type of guard "that can really manipulate the defense with their eyes."
For as much as we could make this about Gonzaga, Purdue's dominance feels like the bigger story. Gonzaga will have its chance at some smaller redemption on Sunday against a Xavier team that lost its opportunities to upset Duke. Gonzaga also still has more big games awaiting in the next few weeks, and I'm not there yet on selling Gonzaga's Final Four stock. I need to see a little bit more of this team.
Purdue is the goods, though. Purdue won with its schemes. It took away some of the space Gonzaga often thrives in. Painter told me Smith's play wasn't surprising at all. He knew he'd be an impactful point guard immediately. As in: Game1. He's wired for it. Sure looks like it.
"They listen to you," Painter said of his young guards. "You talk about things and they want to know what the hell's going on. They want to get it figured out. That's across the board with our guys."
Purdue finished at 1.25 points per possession on 10 made 3-pointers with just eight turnovers and 13 fouls. Purdue's been a 4-seed or better in five consecutive tournaments, and that streak seems poised to continue this season.
Duke cruises into Sunday's Legacy title game
Quick history lesson: The last time Xavier played Duke, and I don't mean Friday afternoon, Sean Miller was 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. The task of matching up with Purdue is going to be fascinating. It's also going to be Scheyer's biggest X-and-O challenge yet in his young coaching career.
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 No. 18 Alabama 82-67. It was the Crimson Tide's first defeat of the season. For me, UConn has played better over 80 minutes/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, we've been contending the past couple of years, but we're trying to go from contenders to champions," Hurley said.
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 made 3 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 three 3s. ... A lot of players 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. Inspiring past 48 hours for this group.
"We have a lot of confidence where our program's at," Hurley said. "March hasn't gone the way we've liked."
Winning in a tournament like this can be a harbinger for March. UConn fans know that quite well. 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.
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 UConn. UNC will face No. 18 Alabama for third place in the PKI bracket.
"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.
The Crimson Tide will be a spicy matchup for a UNC team that's got plenty to prove.
Villanova off to 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.
A few thoughts still on the table after two days and 16 games in Portland.
— Drew Timme had 22 points vs. Purdue but Gonzaga's guard play remains a major concern.
— Florida dodged a résumé rock by not getting cute with Oregon State. Gators won 81-68 and scored almost 30 more points than Duke did on the Beavers.
— West Virginia had no issues with Portland State. Mountaineers will try to fly home 2-1, face Florida Sunday night. WVU's had a quiet run here so far.
— Shorthanded Michigan State still found a way to beat Oregon, avoiding falling to .500 thanks to Joey Hauser and Tyson Walker combining for 36 points. Now pesky Portland awaits on Sunday.
— Either Oregon or Villanova will leave Portland 0-3. Both teams are 2-4 overall. The loser will be forced to smash the panic button and face a huge uphill climb to build an NCAA tourney case over the next three months.