Breaking Down the PK80: Victory Bracket

In honor of Nike founder Phil Knight, ESPN will be airing the PK80 tournament over Thanksgiving weekend. Consisting of 16 teams and two brackets, this four day tournament will be must watch. NCAA Tournament teams, dazzling freshman and of course, fresh uniforms. Let’s take a look at both brackets. First, we’ll focus on the Victory Bracket. Here’s what you need to know.

First Round Match-Ups:

Portland vs UNC – Thursday, November 23rd 2:30 PM EST

Arkansas vs Oklahoma – Thursday, November 23rd 5 PM EST

UConn vs Oregon – Thursday, November 23rd 9 PM EST

DePaul vs Michigan State – Thursday, November 23rd 11:30 PM EST

What to Look For:

UConn’s First Real Test

Connecticut comes into this without a real test in the first week and a half into the season. The Huskies have won the games they were supposed to, but not in a convincing fashion. Their first test will be against an Oregon team that is not nearly the team they were last year, but still pose a challenge. For one, though it’s not officially a home game, it will be played in Portland. The match-up here will be UConn’s Jalen Brown versus Oregon’s Troy Brown. Jalen Brown was the leading scorer for the Huskies last season. He will need a big game for UConn to pull out a win.

Potential NCAA Tournament Rematch

Ask Roy Williams and North Carolina how tenacious Arkansas’ defense is. The Tar Heels got all they could handle from the Razorbacks last season in the second round of the NCAA tournament, and just barely survived. Luckily for UNC, they would have Joel Berry, who returned last week from a hand injury, to help handle some of this Arkansas pressure. You can’t overlook Oklahoma, but you can bet Arkansas is chomping at the bit for revenge.

Joel Berry’s Health

Going off the previous point, Joel Berry’s health will determine if UNC can advance, or win, the Victory Bracket. Berry is the nucleus for the Tar Heels. Whether UNC plays Arkansas or Oklahoma, Berry will need to at or at least near full health. We mentioned the problems Arkansas can cause, but the other option is a match up with Oklahoma’s star freshman, Trae Young. Averaging 18.5 points and 11.5 assists in two games, Young would be the type of match up a senior leader needs to take on.

Michigan State’s Bounce Back

The Spartans stock might have dropped some after the loss to Duke, but no one is writing them off as championship contenders yet. Nonetheless, Tom Izzo and company need a few strong non-conference wins to add to their resume and this is the time to do it. Michigan State has arguably the two best players in the entire Victory bracket in Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson. Three wins in the PK80 will go a long way to forgetting the loss to Duke.

Meet the Diaper Dandies

The Victory bracket has multiple one-and-done caliber players, as well as others who will have sustainable collegiate careers. Get to know the names Trae Young (Oklahoma), Jaren Jackson (Michigan State) and Troy Brown (Oregon). Young and Brown are the leading scorers for their teams on the young season, and Jackson solidified his status as a highly touted prospect by scoring 19 points in 24 minutes against Duke in the Champions Classic. Don’t be surprised to hear all three players’ names called in next Spring’s NBA Draft.

 

Best Championship Game: North Carolina vs Michigan State

The defending National Champs versus a popular pick to be this year’s National Champion. Michigan State is definitely the favorite in this bracket, but they showed weaknesses against Duke. They showed they can be turned over and their zone offense is suspect. Arkansas and their defense could cause the Spartans fits, but UNC is the best match up 1 through 5. Michigan State has the advantage inside and more depth than the Tar Heels, but UNC has the edge at point guard. Joel Berry is better than both Casius Winston and Tum Tum Nairn.

This game, along with the PK80 as a whole, will go a long way to telling us how good UNC can be this year. Will Joel Berry get any support? Is Luke Maye’s 23 PPG in two games legit or just stat padding against low level teams? This is a great early season test for Roy Williams and company.

2017 -18 Pac 12 Conference Preview

It was a wildly successful year for the Pac-12 conference as a whole last year. Lonzo and Lavar Ball and Oregon’s Final Four run were big enough talking points. Add in Arizona and USC playing into the second weekend in March, and the conference showed why it is one of the best. This year will be another fight at the top, but there are several teams that will show much improvement from last year. Whoever wins this conference, will definitely have earned it.

Projected Finishes

  1. Arizona – If Sean Miller is going to get the Final Four monkey off his back, this is the year to do it. Arizona has potential POY candidate Allonzo Trier for a full season, and pair him with probable Top 5 pick DeAndre Ayton. The Wildcats start the year without Rawle Alkins, but will get him back just as conference play picks up. Arizona is a legit title contender.
  2. USC – If not for USC, Arizona would heads above the rest of the Pac-12. USC is talented too though, and have a front court that can go toe-to-toe with U of A’s. The Trojans have two legit 6’10 forwards in Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu, both of whom are different types of players. Boatwright is more lethal on the wing, where Metu does most of his work down low. The Trojans had a very balanced scoring team last season, and I expect that to remain the same this year.
  3. UCLA – The Bruins will have new, exciting freshman on campus this year, as Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes will replace Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf. Aaron Holiday and Thomas Welsh are the leaders returning this season. Both players will be relied on heavily to lead UCLA through Pac-12 play and into March Madness.
  4. Oregon – The Ducks lost A LOT from their team last season. It is simply too much to replace in one year. Dana Altman does have freshman Troy Brown to help fill the scoring holes.While Ayton may be the most talented freshman, Brown could be the most exciting scorer.
  5. Stanford – Stanford returns All-Conference talent in Travis Reid,  who averaged 17 points and 9 rebounds last year. The Cardinals also bring back their second leading scorer Dorian Pickens, while adding top recruit Daejon Davis and redshirt freshman Kodye Pugh to the mix. Stanford could have the biggest turnaround record wise from season to season.
  6. Arizona State – Bobby Hurley’s rebuild is progressing slowly but surely. The Sun Devils return their top three leading scorers, including Shannon Evans, who just dropped 50 in an exhibition game. And to the mix some talented freshman such as Kimani Lawrence and Remy Martin and you can see ASU trending upward.
  7. Utah – The Utes don’t lose as much as Oregon number wise, but they it will seem that way as they feel the loss of Kyle Kuzma. While Kuzma continues his hot start to his NBA career, the Utes will lean on returners Justin Bibbins and David Colette.
  8. Oregon State – If Stanford is not the most improved team record wise this year, Oregon State will be. The Beavers will (hopefully) have a healthy Tres Tinkle and Stephen Thompson Jr., who missed last year with injury. Those injuries opened the door for Drew Eubanks and JaQori McLaughlin to have good seasons. If all four stay healthy and mesh together, Oregon State will have a lot more than one conference win.
  9. Colorado – Colorado is a very young team this year. Their roster consists of eight freshman, two of which were redshirts from last season. George King will have a nice year in his senior season, but this young group will have a rough welcoming to the Pac-12.
  10. Washington – Washington went out and got their head coach this off-season in Mike Hopkins. Now it is on him to turn this program around. Obviously Markelle Fultz is gone, but second leading scorer David Crisp returns. The Huskies also got great news when Noah Dickerson decided not to transfer out. These two are solid building blocks for Hopkins.
  11. California – It won’t be a great year for Cal, coming off an underwhelming year last season. They lose Jabari Bird, Ivan Rabb and Charlie Moore. Kentucky transfer Marcus Lee will man the middle and be the centerpiece, but there is just not much else surrounding him. It won’t help watching Cuonzo Martin coach his talented freshman over at Missouri.
  12. Washington State – If not for an injury riddled Oregon State team, Washington State would have finished last in the conference last season. The Cougars don’t have a lot coming in and see their leading scorer leave. That’s a bad equation for this year.

Andy Enfield has one of the deepest teams he’s ever be given at USC, it will be up to him to see how far they can go

Projected Awards

Player of the Year – Allonzo Trier (Arizona)

Trier was the Pac-12 Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player last year. He is the conductor for Sean Miller and Arizona team. He averaged 17 points per game in a shortened season for him last year. I don’t expect the addition of DeAndre Ayton to impact that much at all. When Arizona needs a bucket, Trier is going to be the guy.

Freshman of the Year – Troy Brown (Oregon) 

I think Ayton is the best player in the conference, and will show that on several occasions throughout the year. Brown however, has the best opportunity to put up monster numbers. This is not a Markelle Fultz/Washington situation; Oregon will be better than Washington was last season. If Brown leads in scoring and Oregon finishes in the top four, I think he should get FOY.

Coach of the Year – Andy Enfield (USC)

These season awards could be a complete sweet in favor of Arizona if Sean Miller has them playing to their massive potential. But USC is the other team that has Final Four potential in this conference. Enfield has plenty of tools at his disposal and if he pushes the right buttons, USC could make a deep March run and challenge Arizona at the top of the conference.

Stanford may not be Arizona or USC, but they do have one of the best players in the Pac 12 in Travis Reid

Projected All Pac-12 Teams

First Team 

Allonzo Trier – Arizona

Travis Reid – Stanford

Troy Brown – Oregon

Chimezie Metu – USC

Aaron Holiday – UCLA

Second Team

Tres Tinkle – Oregon State

DeAndre Ayton – Arizona

Bennie Boatwright – USC

Shannon Evans – Arizona State

Jaylen Hands – UCLA

Five Games to Watch in this Year’s Pac-12

Pac-12 Basketball

With the recent release of the Pac-12 Conference’s schedule for the upcoming 2017-2018 season, let’s take a look at some of the more exciting matchups.

Oregon Arizona

1. Oregon @ Arizona (Week of Jan. 10)

Possibly the most anticipated game of the Pac-12 season, Oregon and Arizona ended last year as the conference’s co-champions. Needless to say, this game is a must win in the eyes of both teams; beyond the contest, each roster has something to prove. Arizona may be looking like the stronger team as the season approaches, but undoubtedly both squads return this year with depth, talent, and an itch to show who deserved the crown of the Pac-12 more last year.

USC UCLA

2. USC @ UCLA (Week of Jan. 31)

The classic Golden State matchup, USC v. UCLA never disappoints. USC may be looking forward to the matchup more so this year, now that Lonzo Ball’s dominance has moved just a short way down the road to the Los Angeles Lakers. However, with UCLA’s return of Aaron Holiday and Thomas Welsh, the Trojans will be no easy challenge to overcome. Bleacher Report preseason rankings finds USC at number ten, thanks to the return of Bennie Boatwright, Chimezie Metu, and Shaquan Aaron. If USC has plans of joining the conference’s elite this season, beating rival UCLA is a good place to start.

UCLA Arizona

3. UCLA @ Arizona, USC @ Arizona State (Week of Feb. 7)

The combination of four powerhouse Pac-12 teams, not just two, highlights this week as one of the most anticipated of the season. While we know the talent that USC, UCLA, and Arizona will be returning is bound to be strong this season, ASU’s squad cannot be overlooked, and will certainly pose a threat to the Trojans, as USC heads to ASU’s home court. With one of the highest scoring backcourts in the Pac-12, the Sun Devils will utilize the ability of their combination of guards to score from the outside, as well as pester the Trojans with under the rim talent.

ASU Arizona

4. Arizona @ Arizona State (Week of Feb. 14)

More commonly known in the southwest as the Duel in the Desert, this fierce rivalry mirrors that of USC and UCLA. No matter what the difference in talent is between these two teams, this game will always be interesting. This year, fans are lucky enough to have two teams that are not worlds apart for the most part. Both sides have talented players returning, and neophytes waiting to be tested. Realistically, Arizona does have the better team–all the reason that their matchup away at ASU is just a bit more anticipated.

Stanford Cal

5. California @ Stanford (Week of Dec. 27)

Ok, so maybe people have their doubts about California; granted, they did have quote an exodus of talent at the end of last season. However, they have a lot of potential to be a good team if they use it correctly. A new head coach means a new coaching style, which means confusion for opponents. Playing against a new coach in college basketball can often leave teams just as baffled as playing against new players. Returning players include defensive threat Kingsley Okoroh, as well as Kentucky transfer Marcus Lee, whose scoring ability will have to be put to good use if Cal wants to see a chance at beating Stanford.

Twitter: @andrew_mck11

Previewing the Pac-12

Arizona

The Pac 12 had the most successful Spring of any conference last basketball season. As a whole they got four teams into the tournament, three into the Sweet 16, two into the Elite 8 and one into the Final Four. And let’s not brush over USC’s upset over fan favorite SMU team. Following the Madness, the conference then saw two of its players go #1 and #2 in the 2017 NBA Draft. The trend of success should continue, as more highly touted prospects join the conference for the 2017-18 season. Let’s take a look at some early pre-season predictions. It should be noted that this does not include the potential transfer of Marvin Bagley, the top player in the Class of 2018 that several Pac 12 teams are in the running for.

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