Scouting the PKI field: A look at Michigan State’s potential opponents in Portland

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EAST LANSING – It’s only November, but it’s time to get your bracket out.

Michigan State will spend its Thanksgiving weekend playing in the Phil Knight Invitational, an eight-team college basketball tournament to be held Thursday through Sunday in Portland.

Each team in the tournament will play three games, on Thursday, Friday and Sunday. And while the bracket doesn’t quite look like the NCAA Tournament, who the Spartans play will depend

Michigan State will open against Alabama on Thursday (10:30 p.m., ESPN). On Friday, the Spartans will play either Connecticut or Oregon, with the two winners and two losers on Thursday playing one another on Friday.

On Sunday, Michigan State will play either North Carolina, Iowa State, Villanova or Portland. Whoever finishes first on the four-team Spartans’ side of the bracket plays whoever finishes first on the North Carolina side and so on to make the four Sunday games.

Here’s a closer look at one team Michigan State is guaranteed to play in Portland and the six other teams it could potentially play.

Record: 4-0

Kenpom ranking: 13

Michigan State drew a tough opener against a team that’s top 20 in the AP rankings and top 15 in Kenpom – although its four opponents to date are all ranked No. 99 or higher.

The Tide are young; three of their top four players in terms of minutes are freshmen. Forward Brandon Miller leads the team in scoring at 20.3 points per game and is a projected top 10 pick in the NBA draft. Senior point guard Jahvon Quinerly returned earlier than expected from a torn ACL late last season and has played two games this year.

Stylistically, the team is unique: it took a whopping 46 3-pointers in its win over Jacksonville State and is No. 1 in the country in offensive rebound percentage. Michigan State will need to get out on shooters and hit the glass hard.

Record: 5-0

Kenpom ranking: 20

Michigan State won a dramatic game against the Huskies last year in Atlantis and now could have another Thanksgiving week matchup with them.

Dan Hurley has gotten Connecticut back on track with back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances. The Huskies return only two starters from last year’s team, but one of them is Adama Sanogo (6-foot-9,245 pounds) the preseason Big East Player of the Year who averaged 14.8 points and 8.8 rebounds last season.

Connecticut is entirely untested this year: its five wins have all come by 20 points or more against teams rated 200 or worse on Kenpom.

Record: 2-2

Kenpom ranking: 38

The Ducks have one of the most confounding results in college basketball this season on their record: a 69-56 home loss to UC Irvine in which they trailed by 20-plus. A 10-point home loss to Houston is more understandable, but it’s all made for a tough start to the season.

Senior center N’Faly Dante is averaging nearly a double-double, at 14.8 points and 9.0 rebounds per game. But the Ducks have been one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in college basketball, at 26.3 percent, and have struggled to hold on to the ball.

Record: 4-0

Kenpom ranking: 17

If all goes well for Michigan State it could have a Sunday championship game date with the Tar Heels, the defending NCAA runners-up and No. 1 team in the AP poll.

North Carolina returned most key pieces from that surprise NCAA Tournament run in March, including center Armando Bacot, guard RJ Davis and Caleb Love and forward Leaky Black. They also added a familiar face in Northwestern transfer forward Pete Nance.

The first time this tournament was played, in 2017, Michigan State and North Carolina met in the title game, with the Spartans winning, 63-45. Things figure to be a little tougher if the matchup happens again this year.

Record: 3-0

Kenpom ranking: 53

The Cyclones are coming off a Sweet 16 appearance but lost its two best players from that team in Izaiah Brockington and Tyrese Hunter. They were picked to finish eighth in the Big 12 this year.

You won’t find much insight from three games against teams ranked No. 297 or worse in Division 1. Romulus native Jaren Holmes, a St. Bonaventure transfer, leads the team in scoring at 18.3 points per game, and the Cyclones have been one of the best teams in the country defensively early.

Record: 2-2

Kenpom ranking: 32

Yes, Michigan State and Villanova could potentially play twice in 10 days if both have the same results in their Thursday and Friday games.

In case you’ve forgotten: the Spartans nearly blew a 16-point at home to the Wildcats on Friday but held on to win by two. Wildcats forward Eric Dixon proved a load for Michigan State – he recorded 24 points and nine rebounds – but Michigan State successfully slowed down Villanova’s shooters as Tyson Walker went off for 22.

Record: 4-2

Kenpom ranking: 130

Something will have likely gone seriously wrong for Michigan State if it’s matched up with the hometown Pilots on Sunday. The West Coast Conference School is 4-2 but 0-2 against top-150 teams with both losses coming by double-digits.

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