College basketball is officially back. Every year we are blessed with great early matchups between top-25 teams in these holiday tournaments, but this year is pretty special. The addition of Nike’s PK80 tournament in honor of Phil Knights 80th birthday, features two brackets stacked with top teams. The Jimmy V classic features a battle of some old big east foes along with some elite west coast talent. Last but not least, the NIT Season Tip off in Brooklyn, features a very intriguing matchup between one of the best mid majors in the nation and a consensus top 25 team. I’m here to give you a preview of the best possible matchup, and a sleeper team to watch out for.
Phil Knight Invitational (PK80): Victory
Best possible matchup: Michigan State vs. North Carolina
If all goes as planned, these two national powerhouses will meet in the championship game for the Victory bracket. This game would be a big test for North Carolina, as they lost the majority of their core from last years team. Michigan State has proven to be one of the top teams in the country and in order for the Tar Heels to come away with a win, they will need to contain Miles Bridges, and have big games from wings Luke Maye and Theo Pinson.
If the Sooners can get past Arkansas in the first round, star freshman Trae Young will get a chance to go up against the best of the best and prove himself with the whole county watching. Young is one of the most exciting freshmen in the nation, and has drawn some Steph Curry comparisons with his limitless range and ability to shoot off the dribble. He also makes his teammates better, Young is averaging 11.5 assists through two games and has had a double double in both of Oklahoma’s games. Oklahoma isn’t nearly as talented as North Carolina, but with Norman native, Trae Young, at the helm expect the sharp shooting Sooners to hang around.
Phil Knight Invitational (PK80): Motion
Best possible matchup: Duke vs. Florida
Much like North Carolina, the Florida Gators are also a big mystery to us. They return almost everyone from their elite eight team a year ago, but they didn’t really beat any big teams on that run. What we do know, is that Duke is the most talented team in the country, and probably also the best team in the country. I’m not expecting the Gators to take down the Blue Devils, but it will be a good early season test, along with the fact that we will able to tell if Florida is legit or all hype.
This years Texas team is filled with talent. Shaka Smart brought in a very impressive recruiting class with four star point guard Matt Coleman and the number three overall player in the class of 2018 Mo Bamba. Those two recruits go along with returning guards Andrew Jones and Kerwin Roach, who can both score with the best of them. The Longhorns are extremely talented, and with Shaka Smart in charge, it would be stupid to count them out.
NIT Season Tip Off
Best matchup: Seton Hall vs. Rhode Island
This game is a matchup between two of my favorite teams in the nation, if you know me, you know I love when teams return a lot of talent and chemistry. Both of these teams have that. Seton Hall returns their top four scorers including one of the most dominant big men in the country, in Angel Delgado. Rhode Island brings back their big three of seniors Jared Terrell, EC Matthews and Stanford Robinson. All three are averaging double digits, and Matthews is starting to return to his pre-injury form, as he suffered a torn ACL two years ago.
The big issue with Virginia has always been their inability to score the ball, but this is year is a little different. Sophomore guards Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome are high level scorers and are finally getting their opportunity. In the Cavaliers first test at VCU, the two guards combined for 42 points, including eight threes. Virginia also hasn’t forgotten their defensive identity, as they have held three out of their four opponents to under 53 points.
Jimmy V Classic
Best Matchup: Villanova vs. Gonzaga
Both of these teams are going to need to have that “next man up” mentality, after losing their best players and leaders. Sophomore Donte Divencenzo has done a great job filling the void while helping Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson with the scoring load. Gonzaga guards Josh Perkins and Silas Melson have done a great job making shots and stretching the defense. If Perkins and Melton can make the hot shooting consistent then we would be foolish to write off Gonzaga down the stretch. This should be a great game between two programs who are very familiar with success.
The Orange have been extremely inconsistent over the past few years. They’ve had a couple final four runs (people will still argue they shouldn’t have even been in the 2016 field) sprinkled in with a loss to Dayton in the round of 32 and most recently a loss in the second round of the NIT to Ole Miss. This program has certainly had its ups and downs, but there seems to be some hope this year. Although they aren’t that deep, the backcourt of Tyus Battle and Franklin Howard has been very productive. The Orange are also getting a good boost from freshman forward Oshae Brissett, who is averaging 12 points and nine rebounds per game.
This should be a great couple of weeks for college basketball. Enjoy the holiday, I know we are all thankful for college basketball, among other things.