Villanova looks to regain their early season tournament success when they fly out to Portland this Thanksgiving weekend. From 2013-19, Villanova won six straight early-season tournaments. The Wildcats’ streak came to an end at the hands of Baylor in the 2019 Myrtle Beach Invitational finale.
They won the 2020 2K Classic in the bubble, but lost in last season’s Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic.
When they land in Portland they’ll participating in their biggest early season tournament yet. Villanova will be in the Phil Knight Invitational as a part of PK85. PK85 is a series of early season tournaments celebrating Phil Knight’s 85th birthday. Knight is the founder of Nike and Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame inductee. ESPN is hosting the Phil Knight Invitational at the Rose Quarter and University of Portland.
Villanova is one of eight teams in its tournament and the others include some of the biggest names in college basketball. North Carolina, Villanova, Iowa State, and Portland comprise one half of the bracket. Michigan State, UConn, Oregon, and Alabama make up the other side of the bracket.
We will dive into Villanova’s half of the bracket in this preview and touch on the other side of the bracket some. Villanova will only play one team from the other side of the bracket, there will be a specific full game preview for that game when it happens. The tournament is set to run from Nov. 24-27.
North Carolina Tar Heels
Head Coach: Hubert Davis (2nd season as head coach, spent the previous nine seasons as an assistant under Roy Williams)
Last Season’s Record: 29-10, 15-5 in the ACC — NCAA Tournament runner-up
Key Returners: Armando Bacot (6-11, Sr., C), Caleb Love (6-4, Jr., G), RJ Davis (6-0, Jr., G), Leaky Black (6-9, Gr., F)
Key Departures: Brady Manek (6-9, F, 15.1 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 40.3 3P% on 6.2 3PA)
Key Transfers/Newcomers: Pete Nance (Transfer from Northwestern 6-11, Gr., F), Seth Trimble (6-3, Fr., G), Jalen Washington (6-9, Fr., C)
Most recent matchup: April 4, 2016: Villanova, 77-74
Outlook: If or when these two teams meet, it’ll be their first time facing each other in an official game since “The Shot.” (They did play in a secret scrimmage against one another since then.)
This is the preseason No. 1 team in both polls and for good reason. They return four of five starters from a team that won 17 of their last 21 games including a run all the way to the National Championship. They actually led Kansas by 15 at halftime in the title game. Armando Bacot leads the way and was named to the preseason AP All-America team. He was third in the country last season with 13.1 rebounds per game. His production in the NCAA Tournament was absolutely off the charts as he averaged 15.3 points and 16.5 rebounds per game. He had two games with 20-plus rebounds including a 20-20 game in the Elite Eight.
If Villanova and UNC meet in the second round the key may very well be who controls the paint. Villanova’s season ended last year in large part to Kansas dominating the paint. David McCormack and Jalen Wilson combined for 36 points and 21 rebounds. If this game happens, it will be interesting to see how Eric Dixon plays against Bacot. Caleb Love’s play will likely decide if UNC finds themselves in yet another Final Four. The explosive guard led UNC in shots attempted and can play on or off ball, but can be very up and down. He can have very high level games like his 30-point, six 3-pointer game against UCLA in the Sweet 16. He can also have games like the National Championship where he shot 5-of-24. R.J. Davis is a solid point guard and does a nice job of setting pace. Leaky Black excels in defensive versatility and is active moving off ball. We will want to keep an eye on their spacing. They lost their stretch four, Brady Manek to the pros but added Pete Nance who can play a similar role. Manek’s shooting was vital for giving Bacot and Love space. While Nance is a good shooter he hasn’t shot the ball as well as Manek yet. They’ll need to replicate some of this shooting to make another run in March.
Iowa State Cyclones
Head Coach: T.J. Otzelberger (2nd season as head coach)
Last Season’s Record: 22-13, 7-11 in the Big 12 — Reached the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16
Key Returners: Gabe Kalscheur (6-4, Sr., G), Caleb Grill (6-3, Sr., G), Aljaž Kunc (6-8, Sr., F), Robert Jones (6-10, Sr., F)
Key Departures: Izaiah Brockington (6-4, G, 16.9 PPG, 6.8 RPG), Tyrese Hunter (6-0, G, 11 PPG, 4.9 APG, 2 SPG)
Key Transfers/Newcomers: Osun Osunniyi (Transfer from St. Bonaventure 6-10, Sr., C), Jaren Holmes (Transfer from St. Bonaventure 6-4, Sr., G), Tre King (Transfer from Georgetown 6-7, Sr., F), Demarion Watson (6-6, Fr., F), Eli King (6-3, Fr., G)
Most recent matchup: Dec. 11, 1961: Villanova, 74-53
Outlook: T.J. Otzelberger is the star of this program. He led the Cyclones to the Sweet 16 last season but it wasn’t just any Sweet 16. It was the furthest any team had ever gone after a two win season. Yes, 2-22 (0-18 Big 12) was Iowa State’s record in 2020-21. It’s safe to say last season was one of the greatest turnarounds in the history of college basketball. The two players most responsible for the improved play for the Cyclones are gone though. Izaiah Brockington was Big 12 Newcomer of the Year and led the team in points and rebounds. They also lost Tyrese Hunter who was Big 12 Freshman of the Year and led the team in assists and steals. How the Cyclones replace one of the best guard combinations in the country will decide how competitive they are in another great Big 12.
A pair of St. Bonaventure transfers were recruited to help with this in Osun Osunniyi and Jaren Holmes. Osunniyi is St. Bonaventure’s all-time leader in blocks and Holmes has averaged at least 13 points the last two seasons. Point guard play is big question for this team. Jeremiah Williams, transfer from Temple, was supposed to be the man here but is now out for the season with a torn Achilles tendon. It might be unrealistic to expect the same level of play at point guard this season with Hunter gone, but the Cyclones will need to find some kind of solution that at least lessens the blow of that loss.
Head Coach: Shantay Legans (2nd season as head coach)
Last Season’s Record: 19-15, 7-7 in the WCC
Key Returners: Tyler Robertson (6-6, Jr., G/F), Moses Wood (6-8, Rs-Jr., F), Mike Meadows (6-2, Rs-Jr., G), Chris Austin (6-4, Rs-Jr., G)
Key Departures: None
Key Transfers/Newcomers: Joey St. Pierre (Transfer from Milwaukee 6-10, Rs-Sr., C), Alden Applewhite (Transfer from Mississippi St. 6-7, So., F), Bol Dengdit (6-11, Fr., F)
Most recent matchup: Mar. 15, 1996: Villanova, 92-58
Outlook: Continuity describes this Portland team perfectly. They return their top seven scorers from last season. This is a rarity in today’s college basketball. No matter how good a team was, bringing back that kind of depth helps. It helps that Portland had a solid year, too. The Pilots had their most wins since the 2010-11 season. They finished sixth in a solid West Coast Conference in Shantay Legans’ first season. Their best win was on the road against a San Francisco team that made the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team.
Can Portland win against the top of the WCC? That’s the biggest question for this team. They were 1-6 against the top five in the WCC last season. They know what they have on the floor with all their returning players. They know where and how those players have developed. The question is now, how good can they be? Someone who can help raise the ceiling of this team could be Bol Dengdit. Dengdit is a product of The NBA Global Academy. That Academy’s impact was felt last season as another alum, Bennedict Mathurin, won Pac 12 Player of the Year and was second-team All-American.
As mentioned, UConn, Oregon, Alabama and Michigan State are the teams on the other side of the bracket and Villanova will only play one of them on the final day. Here’s a quick dive on each of them.
UConn: One of the Villanova’s all-time rivals. This is Big East basketball, need we say more? The Big East and college basketball is better when the team in Storrs is good. Adama Sanogo is the heavy favorite to win Big East Player of the Year, but their season likely hinges on getting big contributions after Sanogo from Andre Jackson and Jordan Hawkins.
Michigan State: This is one of the brand names in college basketball. Tom Izzo enters his 28th season at the helm after a bit of a disappointing season. The Spartans are projected to finish outside of the top five in the Big Ten but still expected to dance. Tyson Walker will be under pressure to produce after the departures of Max Christie and Gabe Brown. Freshman big, Jaxon Kohler, will have a chance to get minutes right away. It’ll be pretty wild if the ‘Cats and Spartans meet again shortly after their Nov. 18 game.
Alabama: Will we see Jelly? We likely won’t. Villanova transfer Jahvon Quinerly had an ACL injury in the NCAA Tournament and is still rehabbing. Head Coach Nate Oats has ruled him out of their exhibition game and their season opener. Whether Villanova plays Alabama or not, Quinerly probably won’t get to have a revenge game. Alabama brings in a top 5 recruiting class headlined by Brandon Miller and Jaden Bradley.
Oregon: This is one of the “home” teams in this event and where Nike founder Phil Knight graduated from. Dana Altman has built the Ducks into a perennial top 25 team over the last decade. This run includes a Final Four appearance in 2017. Oregon will be led by star freshman and likely 2023 NBA lottery pick, Kel’el Ware. Ware is a 7-foot big that excels around the rim on both sides of the floor. Something to monitor is his expanding game to the perimeter. His jumper looked better at the end of his high school career.