Phil Knight Brace Takeaways: Duke, UNC Survive Scare; Michigan State falls to Alabama, loses key players

PORTLAND, Ore. – CBS college basketball insider Matt Norlander is spending Thanksgiving weekend at PK85 covering the Phil Knight Invitational and Phil Knight Legacy tournaments. He’ll be providing updates all the time as he speaks to players and coaches at College Hoops’ biggest event of the regular season. Here are five food stalls from Thursday’s action at the Moda Center and Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

Tar Heels have yet to look or play like the No. 1 team

This PK85 took almost no time to serve up some drama. UNC flirted with becoming the first No. 1 team since Duke in November 2019 to lose to an unranked team that did not participate in a power conference (Stephen F. Austin). The Tar Heels continued their trend of playing against medium-sized opponents in competitive games. Portland led with five 11 minutes remaining and initiated 13 lead changes before UNC shoved off the troublesome Pilots in the last minute of a 98-91 Tar Heels victory.

UNC coach Hubert Davis was not surprised by Portland’s performance; He wants his team to play with that kind of panache, spirit and power. Davis also admitted that Carolina players still haven’t embraced or collectively learned how to carry the weight of not only being the top target in every game, but holding the No. 1 team title.

“The position we’re in is that people have an expectation of what it should be like,” Davis said. “And so we were supposed to get up at halftime at 8pm. We should win every game by 30. No, we should compete and play hard and keep improving and see what kind of team we can become.”

Davis later added, “I think they’re trying to figure that out. I don’t think they’ve ever had to deal with that in their lives – the weight of other people’s expectations – and I brought it up. We’ve talked a lot about whether it comes from criticism or praise. It’s still noise and it’s no use to us.”

Portland averaged 1.12 points per possession and became the second team in five games to hit 80 on UNC. The pilots set the tone and UNC came out flat, Tar Heels senior wing Leaky Black told CBS Sports. It’s an ongoing theme with every game so far, and he’s pretty much done with it. UNC is winning, but not like it should, he said.

“Lack of detail, lack of enthusiasm, lack of energy,” Black said. “Obviously we have the talent, we have to stop coming out slow and expecting to beat everybody because we have North Carolina on our chest and the No. 1. Coming out flat obviously doesn’t work for us and just trying to do anything we want to do instead of doing what the coaches want us to do obviously doesn’t work for us and puts us in a difficult position.”

Black said there are far too many properties where “no one’s out there talking” and the team are “just staring at each other.” Black also told me that it doesn’t matter how well he plays on defense, if the team fails collectively, it starts with him and his leadership.

The Good: Northwestern transfer Pete Nance has a career-best 28 points for UNC. If he hadn’t been in that game, the Heels almost certainly would have lost. Junior guard Caleb Love, who doesn’t shy away from taking his shot, added 23 on 10-of-15 shots. Too much freelance, but not enough defense. After that, when we were in the dressing room, the UNC players felt that they couldn’t afford to play like this and come out of this tournament with three wins. Davis said so in the press after the game.

“To play for me, you have to have my personality,” Davis said. “I’m emotional. I’m ready to fight. I’m ready to compete. I’m ready to strive. And as a player, if you can’t achieve that or you can’t emulate that or something that doesn’t belong to your personality, this is going to be very hard for me to play… One of the things I always talk about is: is there hunger and thirst? thirst, and I’ve told them several times: I’m not even close to full. I’m starving right now .”

UNC plays Iowa State on Friday at 5:30 p.m. ET (more on that below).

Blue Devils looking for a rotation – and a contact person

Both Carolina Blue Bloods got scared, and I would say Dukes was a little more concerning. Because as wishy-washy as UNC was on defense, Duke was even worse on offense. The Blue Devils won 54-51 against Oregon State but had their worst scoring since Jon Scheyer PLAYED for the school.

As a percentage, Duke managed just 26.7% off the field and 0.98 points per possession in a stormy possession game (55). Credit to Oregon State for screwing it up and throwing Duke off balance with a zone defense look that Scheyer told me Duke hasn’t seen this season. Wayne Tinkle’s team has already matched last year’s miserable win total (3) and almost pulled a prank on Thanksgiving.

“It’s up to me not to prepare them for it,” Scheyer told me.

Why did Duke win? Maybe more bodies. Mike Krzyzewski famously played with a short bench, but that’s not Scheyer’s approach at the moment. Unannounced guys like Ryan Young and Jaylen Blakes were on the floor along the course while hailed newcomers Dariq Whitehead and Dereck Lively sat.

“We believe that depth is a great strength of ours,” said Scheyer. “And that can mean we end games differently than we start, or depending on how the game is going, someone really has it going.”

Similar to UNC, Scheyer said his team is coming out slowly and it’s a habit that needs to be shaken off. I asked him why Duke was slowly coming off the top; He said he honestly didn’t have an answer.

It will be interesting to see on Friday if Whitehead, who was the most proven scorer among Duke freshmen who came to school, gets more than the 17 minutes he had today.

“He can’t fall in love with his jump shot, and he’s shaking off some rust,” Scheyer told me of Whitehead. “I thought he had some really good steps today.”

While Kyle Filipowski (game best 19 points) has been Duke’s most indispensable player, the mostly young Blue Devils are looking for a good man. Instead of getting that on Thursday, Duke mostly survived and stayed out of Oregon state. There is a lot of untapped potential at Duke. I could see this team winning the Legacy bracket as easily as I could see them being brought down by Xavier in Friday’s semifinals. The Musketeers uncorked their best offensive game of the season in Florida, and now X vs. Duke has the potential to be Friday’s best game of the day.

MSU’s injuries prevent the title hunt in the city of roses

No. 18 Alabama produced a great performance from freshman Brandon Miller (24 points, nine rebounds, two blocks) as the Crimson Tide defeated No. 12 Michigan State 81-70 in the final game of the night at the Moda Center. Alabama could be on the way to a good season, but I’ll save the Tide talk for tomorrow – when Alabama meets UConn in the PKI semifinals.

MSU is a little more intriguing and shaky right now. Sparty is 3-2, his losses to Gonzaga and Bama. Wins over Kentucky and Villanova catapulted Tom Izzo’s team from 12th to 12th in the AP Top 25. The truth is, this isn’t a top 20 team now, not with a plethora of injury setbacks. MSU was hampered from the jump Thursday due to the absence of starting wing Malik Hall (stress reaction) and reserve guard Jaden Akins (ankle).

To complicate matters, Joey Hauser also had an ankle injury against Alabama. Hauser is expected to play Oregon on Friday. Izzo said after the game that akin could Playing on Sunday, but that’s not the expectation. Hall’s injury is the worst. He could be MSU’s best player, but his left foot problem (which surfaced against Villanova) will keep him off the ground for at least three weeks.

It’s an issue compounded by the fact that MSU has one more away game against Notre Dame next week, and we’ll see if it can come out with a 2-1 record from Portland. Next up is Oregon, then we’ll see.

Villanova’s troubles have some positive signs

No top-25 team last season had a rockier start than Villanova. After losing to Iowa State 81-79, the Wildcats are 2-3 and now need to avoid getting in on a slippery Portland team on Friday. Villanova still doesn’t have star newcomer/projected lottery winner Cam Whitmore, nor is Justin Moore back from his Achilles injury. But the damage being done to the CV now will have a lasting impact in March.

However, Villanova rebounded from double-digit deficits at Michigan State and here on Thursday against Iowa State, only to lose those two games by four points combined. Losses are burning, and Nova has won these types of games many times over the past decade… but the signs are encouraging. The team has determination. Villanova doesn’t have Jay Wright, may not have his top two players, but these challenges may prove to be a helpful hurdle three months from now. To be clear, I strongly advise against losing to Portland. If the VU loses on Friday, alerts will be triggered.

As for Iowa State, a team that made the Sweet 16 in March, TJ Otzelberger started the Cyclones with a 4-0 start with a well-known defense-first approach. With four games, the ISU’s 32.4% turnover rate is the best in the sport. St. Bonaventure transfer Osun Ossuniyi (17 points, five rebounds, three assists, two blocks, one steal) was the key player for ISU in the win. He needs to make it big again on Friday against Armando Bacot and UNC. An event like this is perfect for the state of Iowa to make noise and improve its reputation.

Xavier has the pieces to develop into a Big East challenger

Sean Miller’s team pulled away late and Xavier defeated Florida 90-83, but for the first roughly 34 minutes of play, this was the best watch of Portland’s top four picks. The Musketeers starters each scored in double digits, led by Colby Jones and Souley Boum, who each lost 22. Boom is a cracker. UTEP transfer is a transitional issue and difficult to stay on the radar. Florida ultimately had no answers for him, nor did UF coach Todd Golden expect Miller’s three-point range boys to be as effective and versatile as they were. Jones, Zach Freemantle and Desmond Claude combined to shoot 6-7 from beyond the arc, which Golden said was the difference in the end.

“These guys together hadn’t made a 3 up to this point,” Golden said. “[Xavier] beating the Scout a bit I’d say because we didn’t really see them as deadly 3-point shooters. But tonight they were.”

Florida is 3-2 and will put Oregon State in the losing bracket of Friday’s Legacy tournament. That’s a tough spot for a Gators team that has potential but has a lot to discover about themselves. Xavier gets Duke. Given the Musketeers’ size, shooting, and offensive dynamics, it will be interesting to see if Duke can match X. For Xavier, who will protect Filipowski? The game could easily hit the 80s. After Thursday’s performance, the Muskies have fourth-placed 3-point offense in Division I (45.7%).

Invitation clip by Phil Knight

Phil Knight legacy bracket

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