On an Amazing Weekend of Basketball in Portland…

Posted by RJ Abeytia on November 27th, 2017

Nike’s goal was to get the best in college basketball together for Phil Knight’s 80th birthday, and a sport that has badly needed an on-court distraction from its off-court shambles absolutely put its best foot forward in Portland over the holiday weekend. The quality of the performances by many of the 16 teams in the double-bracket event has led me to a number of conclusions about the state of the game and this season. First of all, nobody who watched or attended Duke vs. Texas or Gonzaga vs. Florida OR Duke vs. Florida should have any time for arguments against the quality of the college basketball product being undermined in comparison with college football’s regular season. Both the electric atmosphere of the games in the Moda Center and the Veterans Memorial Coliseum and the quality thereof easily passed for elite March-caliber. Everything was great, and it’s still over three months before the first rounds ofthe NCAA Tournament.

Duke Used Consecutive Comebacks to Take Its Bracket of the PK80 (USA Today Images)

This of course begs a question about one-and-dones. Duke‘s Marvin Bagley III — who averaged 27.3 PPG and 10.0 RPG over the weekend — was every bit as good as advertised. After the championship game on Sunday night, Mike Kryzyzewski called the versatile freshman the “most unique player I’ve ever coached at Duke.” I don’t want this piece to digress into a debate on the merits of one-and-dones in college basketball, but suffice it to say that having talents like Bagley, Michael Porter, Jr. (injury notwithstanding) and DeAndre Ayton (Arizona’s Bahaman Nightmare notwithstanding) is great for college basketball. The Duke head coach went on to say in his postgame presser to support the larger point here: There are amazing things happening on the court these days, and the PK80 event played a far more vital role in spotlighting what’s good about the game than anyone could have anticipated. In the other bracket, sophomore “old man” Miles Bridges led Michigan State into a classic lockdown of defending national champion North Carolina, a team with which Coach K has some familiarity.

It’s not crazy to think that the entire 2018 Final Four field was in Portland over the weekend. This game plays regardless of the month. What fresh fury the FBI is going to unleash cannot be ignored, forgotten or otherwise minimized, but events like these make it clear that this game remains worthy of the manic devotion that remains an indelible aspect of its identity.

MSU (USA Today Images)

Now, some quick hits on basketball:

  • Bagley is beyond special. That much was clear after opening night, but tracking his poise down the stretch of three games in which Duke trailed at the half and won, as well as the steady guard play of fellow freshmen Gary Trent, Jr. and Trevon Duval leads me to believe that this Duke team is far better constructed than equally loaded but more imbalanced teams of recent vintage. Regardless, if there is a God, Bagley and Arizona’s Ayton will find their way on to the same court sometime next March.
  • Offense is WAY ahead of defense. In 10 of the 24 games played over these three days, a team reached 90 or more points. Yes, Gonzaga-Florida was only 78-78 at the end of regulation, but their Offensive Ratings in that game were 122.0 for the winning Gators and 114.0 for the losing Zags. Points are being scored, the ball is being pushed up the floor, and it’s all glorious.
  • The Pac-12 may wish to return the focus back to its scandals. Stanford and Oregon, both projected as top-half conference teams, went a combined 1-5 over the weekend. Combine that performance with Arizona’s vanishing into the Bahaman Triangle and… oof.
  • Identity matters in this game as much as it does football. Count Duke, Florida, Gonzaga, Arkansas, Texas, North Carolina, Michigan State and even hard-pressing Portland State as teams that know exactly how they’re going to win this year. Possessing that knowledge this early in the season matters. As we march toward conference play, mark the teams that already make it abundantly clear that they know who they are. Those are the teams worth following all the way up until March, which we learned in Portland is not at all the only month capable of generating college hoops thrills and drama — that’s something for which we all should give thanks this holiday season.
Richard Abeytia (41 Posts)

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