Phil Knight Invitational Bracket Set, Gators To Play Xavier

The Phil Knight Invitational in Portland, Oregon is set to be the premier event of the non-conference season and on Monday the brackets were released, allowing the Gators to see who they’ll be taking on. Here are the matchups:

 

Florida vs. Xavier

Duke vs. Oregon State

 

Purdue vs. West Virginia

Gonzaga vs. Portland State

 

Given the finishes of each team in the 2021-22 season and how they project entering 2022-23, this bracket is about what you’d expect and it will give the Gators an opportunity at three high-quality games that will help them test their skills and build an NCAA Tournament resume.

 

Xavier will be in the first year of the Sean Miller era, but don’t expect a rebuilding Musketeers team. Coming off an NIT championship Xavier returns impact players Colby Jones, Jack Nunge, Zach Freemantle, and Adam Kunkel among others, and they made one of the biggest splashes in the transfer portal landing UTEP guard Souley Boum who averaged 20 points and 3 assists per game last season. 

 

It’s not exactly a homecoming given that it’s a different program in a different city, but Boum started his career at San Francisco while several members of Florida’s current staff were there, so it will be a reunion of sorts. 

 

Florida’s returning players might have some unfinished business with Xavier as it was the Musketeers who ended Florida’s season in 2021-22 after dismantling the Gators 72-56. That was a game where the Gators simply looked uninterested and fatigued at the end of what was a frustrating season, and the returning players would love to get that taste out of their mouth after what happened in the NIT. 

 

Additionally, it wasn’t just the returning Gators that would like to get some revenge on Xavier. On their way to the NIT Championship the Musketeers also ended Saint Bonaventure’s season with an 84-77 win in the semifinals so Kyle Lofton would also like to get the final word after seeing them a second time. 

 

It’s also worth noting that Lofton had one of his best games of the season against Xavier in the NIT with 15 points and 11 assists while only turning the ball over once. 

 

Sean Miller’s off the court issues saw him without a head coaching job last year but when it comes to X’s and O’s he is one of the best schematic minds the modern game has seen, especially on the offensive side of the ball where he uses complex actions and meticulously spacing to create driving lanes and catch and shoot opportunities. At Arizona his teams were extremely athletic and it will be a different look at Xavier where the team is a bit older but less explosive, but they will certainly play an intelligent brand of basketball.

 

In the PK80 back in 2017 the Gators saw both Duke and Gonzaga in what were both extremely memorable games, but for different reasons. The double overtime thriller against Gonzaga that saw the Gators come away with a 111-105 win was one of the greatest games in Florida basketball history from an excitement standpoint. The Duke game, an 87-84 loss, saw the Gators blow a 74-57 lead in the second half, starting a narrative that has hung around the team ever since. 

 

There is a chance that the Gators could see both of these teams once again. Oregon State is in a tailspin coming off a 3-28 season, so you have to think Duke can take care of that one. On the other side of the bracket Gonzaga sees Portland State of the Big Sky conference making them the top seed on that side of the bracket which presumably makes them a favorite to make the finals. 

 

From a resume standpoint it will be very important for the Gators to beat the Musketeers. Losing to Xavier wouldn’t be a bad loss by any stretch, but if they lose that game they’ll almost certainly see Oregon State in the loser’s side of the bracket, a game that would offer nothing from a resume standpoint while only giving an opportunity to potentially take a bad loss. If the Gators are able to beat Xavier it will almost certainly be quadrant-1 games the rest of the way and three quad-1 games would be just what the doctor ordered for trying to put together a stellar non-conference schedule.

 

Beating Xavier will be no easy task, however, given their talent level and all the returning experience they’ll have. This should be a closely contested game and given the drama we saw back in 2017 when the Gators took part in the PK80, perhaps we can expect some fireworks in the PK85. 

 

Eric Fawcett
Eric hails from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. His blend of sports and comedy has landed his words on ESPN, Bleacher Report, CBS Sports, Lindy's and others. He loves zone defenses, the extra pass, and a 30 second shot clock. Growing up in Canada, an American channel showing SEC basketball games was his first exposure to Gator hoops, and he has been hooked ever since. You can follow him on Twitter at @Efawcett7.