Takeaways from Phil Knight: Purdue upsets Gonzaga for spoiling Duke vs. Zags game; UConn continues warm start

PORTLAND, Oregon. PK85 tournaments will not have chalk in Sunday’s finals. In the Phil Knight Invitational, Iowa State will play No. 20 UConn. And in the Phil Knight Legacy, No. 8 Duke will face No. 24 Purdue.

All four teams went 2-0 by different means and paths.

Purdue’s guard game gave the No. 24-ranked Boilermakers an emphatic 84-66 victory over No. 6 Gonzaga. It was impressive. It was a statement. With an unproven backcourt, Purdue had doubters.

After Friday night, it’s hard to shake the feeling that Purdue will be in contention for a Big Ten title. Yes, Zach Edey is a huge factor (pun intended). The 7-foot-4 giant is figuring it all out, and we watch it happen in every game. Edey made Gonzaga All-American Drew Timme look 6-5 and went through with Gonzaga’s defense. He finished with 23 points, seven rebounds and three blocks.

But it was the Boilermakers’ backcourt play that put them through to the final, spoiling the Blue Devils-Zags game many wanted to see.

“At the start of the season, very few teams are playing with a collective goal,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said.

But his team has. Every game.

It’s the guards. Freshman Braden Smith has something about him that gives the offense confidence. Smith finished with 14 points, seven assists and five rebounds. Fellow freshman Fletcher Loyer added 14 more points. Painter said Smith was the type of guard “who can really manipulate the defense with his eyes.”

As far as we can make this out of Gonzaga, Purdue’s dominance looks like the bigger story. Gonzaga will have his chance for a smaller buyout on Sunday against a Xavier team that lost opportunities to upset Duke. Gonzaga also has some other big games lined up in the coming weeks as well.

Duke heads into Sunday’s Legacy title match

A little history lesson: the last time Xavier played against Duke, and I don’t mean Friday afternoon, Sean Miller was actually coaching the Musketeers. He was in his final season of his first stint at X. A young man named Jon Scheyer played for Duke. It was a top 10 match that aired on CBS. Duke blew the gates off Xavier, holding a 31-point halftime lead before thankfully allowing an 82-64 finish. Scheyer had a record 23 at the time, on December 20, 2008.

I was pitchside and right next to Xavier’s bench for Friday’s first big game at the Moda Center. No explosion, but another Duke victory over X with the same final point total for the Musketeers as 14 years ago: 71-64. Miller’s team isn’t as good as Miller’s team was back then, but they did better. If not for an exceptionally bad shooting night for center Jack Nunge (1 of 13 for 5 points). Xavier got a tough draw in this tournament; he’ll look to go 2-1 when he faces either Gonzaga or Purdue in Sunday’s third-place game.

Scheyer has Duke at 6-1, its only five-point Champions Classic loss to Kansas. We’re still waiting to see Derek Lively, Dariq Whitehead and Tyrese Proctor emerge, but Jeremy Roach and Kyle Filipowski’s 1-2 is enough so far to get the job done. Roach was a game changer against the Musketeers. He scored 21 on 9-for-15 shooting, had five assists, four boards and just one turnover. Duke hasn’t needed to play like a loaded team yet. Between Roach and Filipowski (good start, but finished with 12 points), one of the two was the guys for Duke in each of its seven games. The third player to show up was rookie Mark Mitchell (16 points) in 31 minutes. Xavier held one of the best offensive rebounding teams in nine-board college hoops, but credits Duke’s defense for keeping X off balance for most of the game.

After the loss, Miller told me he was trying to work out some defensive designs with his team that kept failing. These concepts will be dropped for the rest of the season and the staff will implement simpler concepts for hopefully better results.

Conversely, Scheyer’s players are connected in defense and have won with a slow approach, size and length. Not pretty, but they find their way.

UConn gets its best start under Dan Hurley

And Hurley is off to the best start of his career. He never started 7-0 while coaching in college hoops. He’s also enjoying his longest winning streak since becoming Huskies coach in 2018. The 20th-ranked Huskies ran away from Alabama 82-67. It was the Crimson Tide’s first loss of the season. It’s hard to deny that UConn looked like the better team for two days here in Portland. (Purdue and Iowa State are right there, though.) In the larger college hoops landscape, UConn also has a top 10 case.

“The whole spirit of this team this year,” Hurley said. “We’ve been fighting for two years, but we’re trying to go from contenders to champions.”

It starts with preseason Big East Player of the Year Adama Sanogo, who is currently at the All-American level. Sanogo had a game-high 25 points. After going for a 3-pointer in his first two seasons, he’s 7-for-13 this season, including 1-for-4 on Friday. But that one was the bucket to clinch the game and put UConn out of Alabama’s reach on the stretch.

“He’s a gym rat, blue collar, he lives in the gym to make his life easier,” Hurley said of Sanogo. “Like, it’s school and basketball. What characterizes him is self-confidence and conviction. He built his first 3 there. … A lot of players who don’t not many 3s wouldn’t have taken the fourth one, but it was the killing blow.”

Jordan Hawkins had 16 points, Alex Karaban added 12 more. UConn has never felt so smooth and reliable under Hurley as it does today.

“We have great confidence in the state of our program,” Hurley said. “Mars didn’t go the way we would have liked.”

Look around the country and there’s no shortage of ranked teams that don’t live up to their potential. Does not apply to Huskies, who click both sides and are nine deep.

“The good thing about losing to UConn is you can play the No. 1 team in the nation in two days,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said sarcastically after taking the loss. .

UNC No. 1 overthrown by Iowa State

The loudest result of the day has its own story. To see my expanded takes, along with quotes from the Tar Heels’ 70-65 loss to Iowa State, head here.

Iowa State will play Sunday in the PKI title game against No. 20 UConn. UNC will face No. 18 Alabama for third place in the PKI bracket.

Villanova off to their worst start since 1997

On Thursday, I had an encouraging conclusion to Villanova’s rally from a loss to Iowa State. Under-.500 over five games, yes, but competitive in its losses. A shorthanded team trying to figure it out after losing their Hall of Fame coach. Understandable bumps.

But there is no 2-4 start with two losses against average teams. The Wildcats lost 83-71 to Portland on Friday and allowed the Pilots to score at 1.20 points per possession clip. For Villanova freshman coach Kyle Neptune, not yet having Cam Whitmore and Justin Moore at his disposal is a real hurdle. At this point, even with so much to go in the regular season, starting 2-4 has cast doubt on Villanova’s NCAA tournament prospects. It is almost certain that Villanova will have to be among the top three teams in the Big East rankings in March in order to ensure that they return to the Big Dance. The Wildcats’ wins so far have come against La Salle and Delaware State.

Maybe a good thing, maybe a bad thing: If Michigan State loses to Oregon later in the day, Villanova will get a rematch nine days after dropping two at MSU.

Kudos to Portland coach Shantay Legans, by the way. He put the drivers on track to be in the top half of the WCC this season. That program was 7-61 in four seasons under Terry Porter. He is now on his way to a top 100 on KenPom.com. It’s a major accomplishment for a program that made the NCAA’s last tournament in 1996 and it’s no coincidence how this team has played the past two days after Portland gave the NCAA a real scare. ‘UNC at Thanksgiving.

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