Michigan State Spartans head coach Tom Izzo yells at players from the sidelines Tuesday, November 15, 2022 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The Michigan State Spartans defeated the Kentucky Wildcats in double overtime, 86-77.
Greetings from the Pacific Northwest, where the basketball world will converge in the coming days for the Phil Knight Invitational in Portland.
I will be on the field covering the Iowa State men’s and women’s runs during the tournament in the next few days. I have some thoughts on what we will see during the two brackets.
Here are my picks for the weekend:
no. 1 North Carolina vs. Portland (Thursday, 12:00)
Thanks to the pilots for coming out.
The choice: North Carolina 80, Portland 65
Iowa State vs. Villanova (Thursday, 2.30pm)
I love this meeting for Iowa State right now. Villanova could very well have a Final Four contender once injured guard Justin Moore returns, but there’s no clear timeline for when that will happen. The Wildcats also didn’t have five-star freshman guard Cam Whitmore to start this season.
Villanova will be playing at one of the slowest paces in the country, so it will be up to Iowa State to speed them up and find a way to create turnovers. I think it will happen.
Pick: Iowa State 65, Villanova 60
no. 20 UConn vs. Oregon (Thursday, 7:00pm)
Oregon was less than impressive to start the season with double-digit losses to UC-Irvine and Houston already on the record. The best team UConn has played with is Buffalo, ranked No. 199 on KenPom. I’m not sure we really know how good either of these teams are. I’ll reach out to the one that hasn’t been spanked by a Big West team.
The choice: UConn 75, Oregon 68
no. 18Alabama vs. no. 12 Michigan State (Thursday, 9:30pm)
I really like this Michigan State team. I also placed a small bet on the Spartans to win this tournament at odds of +450 before leaving Iowa. If you don’t know the name Mady Sissoko yet, you will. The Spartans’ big man has already gone up against Gonzaga’s Drew Timme and Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe. He is an elite athlete with an exceptional engine and could be one of the Big Ten’s rising stars.
Nate Oats has another good team, but Michigan State is already a proven group and the season is two weeks old. The Spartans’ last three games have been against Gonzaga, Kentucky and Villanova. They’ve basically already played the equivalent of this event in the previous two weeks. I’m running deep with Tom Izzo’s team here.
Pick: Michigan State 76, Alabama 72
Semifinal One: Iowa State vs. North Carolina (Friday, 2:30pm)
This week we’re going to find out just how damn fast Iowa State is. Outperform one of the best programs in the country and be rewarded with No. 1 varsity basketball team. The Tar Heels haven’t been super impressive to start the season, but they’re still loaded with Caleb Love, Armando Bacot, and most of the other bits returning from their national team back-ups.
This would be a game between two of the most experienced teams in college basketball. Iowa State is ranked No. 9 in KenPom’s Division I Experience Rankings. North Carolina is No. 14.
The difference? North Carolina is at no. 12 minutes of continuity compared to last season. Iowa State is No. 196.
The pick: North Carolina 77, Iowa State 70
Second Semifinal: UConn vs. Michigan State (Friday, 8:30pm)
I mentioned Sissoko earlier, but Michigan State also has experience around the perimeter with seniors Tyson Walker, Joey Hauser and Malik Hall along with junior AJ Hoggard. I’m confident in saying that this team was underrated going into the year.
Pick: Michigan State 79, UConn 72
Final: North Carolina vs. Michigan State (Sunday, 9:00am)
I bet Michigan State will win the tournament, but I think North Carolina is the favorite for a reason. The Tar Heels haven’t shot the ball well so far this season and this could become the wildcard of their entire weekend.
Pick: Michigan State 75, North Carolina 70
Third Place Game: Iowa State vs. UConn (Sunday, 2.30pm)
UConn has a proclivity for running the ball, and that’s never a good trait to have against TJ Otzelberger’s team. I wish the Cyclones were in this position, and finishing third in this event would be an undisputed success for this team.
North Carolina vs. Oregon (Thursday, 4:00pm)
The Tar Heels are a top 10 team, but the Ducks are a top 15 team with what I imagine will be a significantly pro-Ducks crowd.
The choice: Oregon 70, North Carolina 65
Iowa State vs. Michigan State (Thursdays, 6:30pm)
Bill Fennelly’s program has wins in its last two games against Michigan State, but I don’t think this one will be as close as NCAA Tournament victories in 2009 and 2021.
Pick: Iowa State 80, Michigan State 67
Finals: Iowa State vs. Oregon (Sunday, 6:30pm)
Get your popcorn. Cyclones and Ducks in an NBA venue? Sign me up.
Pick: Iowa State 82, Oregon 75