Michigan State Spartans head coach Tom Izzo yells to players from the sidelines Tuesday, Nov 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 over the next several days for the Phil Knight Invitational in Portland.
I’ll be on the ground to cover Iowa State’s men’s and women’s runs through the tournament over the next few days. I’ve got thoughts on what we’re going to see during the two brackets.
Here are my picks for the weekend:
No. 1 North Carolina vs. Portland (Thursday, 12 p.m.)
Thanks to the Pilots for coming out.
The pick: North Carolina 80, Portland 65
Iowa State vs. Villanova (Thursday, 2:30 p.m.)
I love this match-up for Iowa State right now. Villanova very well could have a Final Four contender once injured guard Justin Moore returns, but there isn’t a clear timetable for when that will happen. The Wildcats also haven’t had five-star freshman guard Cam Whitmore to start this season.
Villanova will play at one of the country’s slowest paces so it will be on Iowa State to speed them up and figure out a way to create turnovers. I think that will happen.
The pick: Iowa State 65, Villanova 60
No. 20 UConn vs. Oregon (Thursday, 7 p.m.)
Oregon has been less than impressive to start the season with double-digit losses to UC-Irvine and Houston already on the ledger. The best team UConn has played is Buffalo, ranked No. 199 on KenPom. I’m not sure we really know how good either of these teams is. I’ll lean toward the one that didn’t get spanked by a Big West team.
The pick: UConn 75, Oregon 68
No. 18 Alabama vs. No. 12 Michigan State (Thursday, 9:30 p.m.)
I really like this Michigan State team. I even sprinkled a small wager on the Spartans to win this tournament at +450 odds before leaving Iowa. If you don’t yet know the name Mady Sissoko, you will. The Spartans’ big man has already gone toe-to-toe with Gonzaga’s Drew Timme and Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe. He’s an elite athlete with a big-time motor and could be one of the Big Ten’s breakout stars.
Nate Oats has another good team, but Michigan State is already a battle-tested 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 over the previous two weeks. I’m rolling deep with Tom Izzo’s team here.
The pick: Michigan State 76, Alabama 72
Semifinal One: Iowa State vs. North Carolina (Friday, 2:30 p.m.)
We’re going to find out how good Iowa State is awfully damn quick this week. Get past one of the best programs in the country and the reward is the No. 1 team in college basketball. 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 pieces back from their national runner-up team.
This would be a game between two of college basketball’s most experienced teams. Iowa State is ranked No. 9 in KenPom’s Division I experience ranking. North Carolina is No. 14.
The difference? North Carolina is ranked No. 12 in minutes continuity from last season. Iowa State is No. 196.
The pick: North Carolina 77, Iowa State 70
Semifinal Two: UConn vs. Michigan State (Friday, 8:30 p.m.)
I mentioned Sissoko before, but Michigan State is experienced along the perimeter as well with seniors Tyson Walker, Joey Hauser and Malik Hall along with junior AJ Hoggard. I feel confident saying this team was undervalued coming into the year.
The pick: Michigan State 79, UConn 72
Final: North Carolina vs. Michigan State (Sunday, 9:00 p.m.)
I bet Michigan State to win the tournament, but I think North Carolina is the favorite for a reason. The Tar Heels haven’t shot the ball well at all so far this season and that could become the wild card of their entire weekend.
The pick: Michigan State 75, North Carolina 70
Third Place Game: Iowa State vs. UConn (Sunday, 2:30 p.m.)
UConn has the propensity to turn the ball over, and that’s never a good characteristic to have against T.J. Otzelberger’s team. I’d like the Cyclones in this spot, and finishing third in this event would be an unquestioned success for this team.
North Carolina vs. Oregon (Thursday, 4 p.m.)
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 pick: Oregon 70, North Carolina 65
Iowa State vs. Michigan State (Thursday, 6:30 p.m.)
Bill Fennelly’s program has squeaked out wins in its last two games against Michigan State, but I don’t think this one will be as close as the NCAA Tournament wins in 2009 and 2021.
The pick: Iowa State 80, Michigan State 67
Final: Iowa State vs. Oregon (Sunday, 6:30 p.m.)
Grab your popcorn. Cyclones and Ducks in an NBA venue? Sign me up.
The pick: Iowa State 82, Oregon 75