No. 18 Alabama heads to Portland for the Phil Knight Invitational

Mathey Gibson, Staff Reporter

In many parts of the country, Thanksgiving means family, food and football. To college basketball junkies, Feast Week means something more — an opportunity to see some of the nation’s best compete against each other in mid-season tournament events. 

For Alabama basketball fans, that sentiment holds true once again in 2022-23. 

On Thursday, the Crimson Tide will face the Michigan State University Spartans (3-1) for the first time since 1998-99 — a matchup brought forth by the Phil Knight Invitational in Portland, Oregon. 

After starting in 2017 and being played again annually in 2019, the event that honors Nike co-founder Phil Knight has 16 men’s teams participating in the event, divided between the invitational and legacy brackets. 

On the invitational side, the event will feature eight teams in two pods, with the University of North Carolina, the University of Portland, Villanova University, and Iowa State University rounding out the first pod, joined by Alabama, the University of Oregon, the University of Connecticut and Michigan State in the second pod. 

Let’s take a look at some of the immediate potential matchups that Nate Oats’ fourth year squad could come across during their long-distance trip to the City of Roses. 

Michigan State

Nothing speculative here — this top-20 heavyweight battle is set in stone, as Alabama and the Spartans found themselves ranked No. 18 and No. 12, respectively, on Monday’s Associated Press top-25 poll release.  

Michigan State comes into the game having won its most recent contest versus Villanova, 73-71, and having defeated then fourth-ranked Kentucky 86-77 three days prior. 

With a balanced roster, the Spartans currently rank 32nd nationally in offensive adjusted efficiency and 23rd in defensive adjusted efficiency, according to KenPom. 

Though not a 3-point centric offense, Michigan State isn’t afraid to run in transition and fire away from deep range, currently shooting 36.8% from downtown. 

“We’ve got our hands full, they’re talented,” Oats said on Tuesday. “[Joey] Hauser is one of the best big, shooting wings in the country. [Mady] Sissoko is coming along great, one of the better big men in the country. … They’re good. We’re going to have to play well to beat them.” 

Nearly two decades after working Michigan State basketball camps as a math teacher turned coaching prodigy in the early 2000s, Oats now gets his first crack at legendary Spartans head coach Tom Izzo — his longtime mentor. 

“It’s a little surreal,” Oats said. “The good thing is, I don’t have to play Coach Izzo. He’s got a lot more wins than I’ve got. I’ve got some pretty good player that I get to coach. My players get to play his players. We’ve both got pretty good players, so it should be a pretty good game. It will be a little different going down to shake his hand before the game.” 


The No. 20 Huskies are 5-0 under Dan Hurley’s guidance in 2022-23 heading into their first-round matchup with Dana Atlman’s Oregon Ducks. 

Answering the bell for UConn has been 6-foot-9 junior forward Adama Sanogo, who is averaging 21.4 points per game — good for 23rd nationally amongst all players. 

While the Huskies don’t have it all figured out in the backcourt, East Carolina University transfer Tristen Newton has been a mainstay — averaging 11.2 points per game to go along with a season total of 20 assists.  

Group Sanogo and Newton with freshman sensation Donovan Clingan, and UConn looks primed to do some damage in The Beaver State. 


Homecourt advantage? Maybe, if the Ducks can get their act together on the court, as they’re hoping to avoid falling below .500 as they enter the tournament 2-2. 

Last season, Oregon was picked to finish second in the Pac-12 after a Sweet 16 appearance in 2020-21. That never materialized, as the Ducks stumbled to a 20-15 record that ended with an embarrassing second round loss to Texas A&M in the National Invitation Tournament. 

It’s been N’Faly Dante leading the way so far Oregon — averaging 14.8 points per game to go along with nine rebounds. While senior Will Richardson returned to the point guard position after a promising junior season, he’s averaging merely 10 points per game and has a turnover-assist ratio of 18-to-16 — not the start the Ducks envisioned for their leader.  

Richardson and Dante will likely need to get it going if Oregon is to have any chance. 

Championship Game / Loser’s bracket 

Simply put: Alabama controls its own destiny. Win three games, be crowned champion. Lose three games, and subject yourself to the embarrassment of your program nationally. 

If the Crimson Tide was to defeat Izzo’s Spartans, it would move on to face the winner of Oregon vs. UConn on Friday, Nov. 25. With a victory there, it’d have a date with destiny versus the winner of pod one in the PKI championship game on Sunday, Nov. 27. With any loss, Oats’ team will be tasked with climbing the ladder — hoping for a third-place or fifth-place finish in the loser’s bracket at best depending on their exit point. 

Can Alabama finally overcome their historical multiple-team event woes? Only time will tell. 

Tipoff from Portland, Oregon, for No. 18 Alabama and No. 12 Michigan State at the Moda Center is set for Thursday, Nov. 24, at 9:30 p.m. CT on ESPN. 

Questions or comments? Email Austin Hannon (Sports Editor) at [email protected]