Phil Knight Invitational, Legacy tournaments bring bevy of elite men’s basketball teams to Portland

Five years ago, Portland hosted one of the biggest and most prestigious in-season college basketball tournaments ever, welcoming 16 teams to the Rose City to celebrate the 80th birthday of Nike founder and ex-CEO Phil Knight.

As Knight now approaches his 85th birthday, the tournament will return with seven teams currently ranked in the AP top 25 as well as all four of Oregon’s Division I programs. In addition to the 16 men’s teams, eight women’s programs will compete as well.

With games tipping off from morning to late evening for three days in three different venues, the event will feel much like a multi-stage music festival: you can’t see everything, so you’ll have to pick and choose who you want to see most. Think of it as Coachella for college hoops.

The men’s field is split into two eight-team brackets — the Phil Knight Legacy and the Phil Knight Invitational — with games taking place Thursday and Friday at the Moda Center and Veterans Memorial Coliseum. After the tournament takes Saturday off, Sunday features championship games at Moda, third-place games at the Coliseum, and fifth- and seventh-place games at the Chiles Center. All teams will be guaranteed to play three games. Tickets are sold in two-game sessions at each venue. Packages are also available that include all games at a single venue.

Teams from the same conference are not allowed to meet in the tournament, which is why there are two separate brackets to produce two different champions. This, for example, allows ACC foes Duke and North Carolina to both appear without any chance of facing off against each other.

Here’s a by-the-numbers look at what you should know as Portland becomes the center of the college hoops world over Thanksgiving weekend.

The number of combined national championships won by the seven past champions in the field. North Carolina leads the way with six national titles, followed by Duke (5), UConn (4), Villanova (3), Florida and Michigan State (2), and Oregon (1).

The number of miles that separate the campuses of Duke and North Carolina, which will headline the two brackets.

The rivals faced off in a classic Final Four battle in April, with the Tar Heels taking down the Blue Devils to advance to the national championship game.

While there won’t be a rematch in Portland, the two programs should be among the favorites to capture titles in each bracket. North Carolina, ranked No. 1 by the AP, kicks off the PK Invitational at 10 a.m. Thursday against Portland at the Moda Center. The Tar Heels feature four returning starters from last year’s runner-up group.

No. 8 Duke tips off the PK Legacy against Oregon State at noon at the Coliseum. The Blue Devils are in their first season with Jon Scheyer as head coach. The former Duke player took over from legend Mike Krzyzewski, who retired after 42 seasons and five national championships at the Durham, North Carolina, school.

The number of Oregon-based teams featured in the tournament.

In 2017, only three of Oregon’s four Division I programs were invited, but now Oregon State joins returnees Oregon, Portland and Portland State for the 2022 incarnation.

All four have difficult draws in the first round, but Oregon probably has the best chance at a Thursday win as the Ducks take on No. 20 UConn at 5 p.m. at the Moda Center in the Invitational bracket. Oregon started the season ranked in the top 25, but suffered a shocking home loss to UC Irvine on Nov. 11, then dropped a 66-56 decision to No. 3 Houston at Matthew Knight arena on Sunday.

The Pilots and Beavers have uphill battles against North Carolina and Duke, respectively, while Portland State meets No. 6 Gonzaga at 9:30 p.m. at the Coliseum in the Legacy bracket. The Vikings gave Duke a tough game in the 2017 event, and notched a win over Stanford. Portland State defeated Oregon State over the weekend, and it’s possible the two teams could meet again this weekend.

The number of teams (for now) in the Big Ten Conference, which is set to add UCLA and UCLA in 2024.

The league is sending two teams to Portland, with No. 12 Michigan State set for the invitational bracket and No. 24 Purdue in the Legacy.

Coach Tom Izzo’s Spartans were the last Big Ten team to win a national championship, back in 2000. Michigan State was unranked coming into the season but surged up the AP poll after beating Kentucky and losing by one point to Gonzaga. The Spartans will take on No. 18 Alabama at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Moda Center, with the winner advancing to take on Oregon or UConn.

Purdue, meanwhile, is looking to bounce back from a disappointing loss to Saint Peter’s in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament in March. Coach Matt Painter’s Boilermakers take on Bob Huggins’ West Virginia squad at 7 p.m. at the Coliseum.

The number of games Gonzaga coach Mark Few has won in 29 games played in Portland during his tenure as Bulldogs coach.

Gonzaga is no stranger to Portland, as it won a pair of games in March at the Moda Center as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Bulldogs also visit every season to take on the Portland Pilots in WCC play. One of Few’s two losses in the city came in the 2017 PK80, a 111-105 double-overtime loss to Florida. The Bulldogs won two games in that tournament, beating Ohio State and Texas.

Gonzaga returns four starters from last year’s Sweet 16 club, including reigning WCC player of the year Drew Timme. Transfer guard Malachi Smith averaged 20 points per game last season for Chattanooga.

Games in the tournament’s first round that feature a matchup of unranked teams.

Though the Villanova Wildcats have won two national championships since 2016, they enter this week outside the top 25 under first-year coach Kyle Neptune, who took over after the surprise retirement of longtime coach Jay Wright. If the Wildcats can get past Iowa State at 12:30 p.m. Thursday in the PK Invitational bracket, they’ll likely match up with North Carolina.

Iowa State experienced one of the biggest turnarounds in college basketball history last season, going from a 2-22 record in 2020-21 to 22-13 and a surprise appearance in the Sweet 16 in March. The Cyclones are getting their first true test this season against Villanova.

The other unranked matchup pits Xavier against Florida in the Legacy bracket, a rematch of a second-round NIT game from last season, which Xavier won en route to the NIT title.

The Gators had a down year by their standards last season, and new coach Todd Golden (formerly of San Francisco) is hoping to get them back on track. The Musketeers are led by a familiar face for Pac-12 fans in former Arizona coach Sean Miller, who returned to the Cincinnati university this season after previously coaching Xavier from 2004–09.

Florida and Xavier play at 2:30 p.m Thursday at the Coliseum, with the winner advancing to play Duke or Oregon State.

— Scott Sepich for The Oregonian/OregonLive

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