A group that includes many of the top basketball names in the country is getting ready to travel to Portland, Oregon.
The Phil Knight Invitational is arguably the most prominent Thanksgiving Week tournament in all of college basketball.
The 16 teams playing this week have a combined 23 national championship titles and 87 Final Four appearances. Three of last season’s Final Four teams are playing in the tournament, including North Carolina and Gonzaga, who competed in the 2017 NCAA Basketball Championship game.
Other high-profile teams making up the field include No. 1 Duke, No. 4 Michigan State, UConn and Ohio State.
This year, the Florida Gators will have a chance to compete with those teams on a national stage.
“Incredibly competitive,” head coach Mike White said of the tournament. “I mean, some of the best teams in the country out here. It’s going to be a really neat event, really exciting. It’d be neat to attend it as a fan and not be prepping for the next game and just go out there and watch a bunch of really good basketball. We’re excited to be a part of it.”
To this point, the Gators have only played games against Gardner-Webb, North Florida and New Hampshire, so there is no real way to know what to expect.
“We’ve played lower-level competition,” White said. “We’ve played low-to-mid-major leagues. Good programs in their own right, but we play in a higher-level league. And so, let’s see where we stack up against these other high-level conferences.”
There is no more in between. It’s time for big-boy basketball.
Florida gets things started with a Thanksgiving Day showdown against Stanford. Then, the outcome of every game determines the next opponent.
Ohio State or 11th ranked Gonzaga will be Friday’s opponent and Sunday could be any of four teams, including Duke, the top-ranked team in the country. The caliber of teams playing in this tournament to go along with the tightly packed schedule of several games in a matter of days nearly perfectly simulate an NCAA Tournament weekend.
Of course, that atmosphere could never be recreated, but it will be as close as it gets in the regular season. There is a lot the Gators can take back to Gainesville after a tournament like this one.
“Just experience for down the road later in the season,” said senior point guard Chris Chiozza. “When you’re playing good teams like this, you don’t really expect blowouts. You expect close games and practicing for situations at the end of the game that can help you down the line, just things like that. Especially for our younger guys, it’ll be a great experience for them to see how they handle all the hype around this tournament, all the teams that are in it and all the players.”
Through this experience, White not only wants his players to take away some things that could be valuable later on, but to continue to come together and have more energy, intensity and physical toughness.
The road that teams will face in this tournament is not for the weak.
“It’s going to be difficult, win or lose, for all of these teams come that third game in four days,” White said. “We’re gonna have to muster up some stuff. I think a lot of us will find out a lot about ourselves more so than we have in the first month of this season.”
There is a lot at stake for Florida in the coming days. The Gators currently sit as the No. 7 team in the country, but haven’t necessarily done anything to prove they deserve to be there yet.
It is still early in the season, but a few big wins in the PK80, and this team could make a name for itself and return as a serious threat for title contention in 2017-18.