North Carolina and Duke will spend Thanksgiving week at one of the most exciting holiday basketball tournaments in recent memory.
The two ACC powers are among 16 teams converging on Portland, Ore., in a celebration of Nike’s influence on the sport. The event, titled the PK80, is a basketball celebration to honor Nike founder Phil Knight for his 80th birthday.
“What a thrill for North Carolina basketball to be playing in such a special event to honor a truly special man,” UNC coach Roy Williams said at the time the event was announced. “Mr. Knight has a wonderful ability to touch people’s lives and do great things, both in and out of the sports world. I’ll always cherish my friendship with him.”
Knight and Nike are among the few things that can bring UNC and Duke together in agreement. Both schools switched to Nike in the early ’90s — UNC from Converse and Duke from Adidas — and both have won multiple national titles while wearing the Swoosh.
“Phil and I are great friends,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “I love Adidas. I think they’re great. But I wanted to make a change. I felt our product wasn’t out anywhere. So that was one of the reasons we went with Nike. One, we thought they would be better, but we also felt our product and their creativity with our program and what we were trying to do, that they would be a great partner. I was wrong. They were even better.”
Carolina and Duke won’t play each other. Each in is a separate eight-team bracket which will crown two separate winners. The field includes teams that have won 10 of the last 14 NCAA title winners, three of the teams in last season’s Final Four, and four teams currently ranked in the Top 10.
North Carolina seems to have a slightly easier road in the eight-team Victory Bracket. The Heels will need to get past Portland, then play the winner of Arkansas-Oklahoma, both of whom received votes in the AP poll. Assuming they advance to the championship game, the Heels will likely get No. 4 Michigan State, who has been ranked as high as No. 2 in the country this season.
Over in the Motion Bracket, Duke will open with Portland State, then get the winner of Butler-Texas, two teams that have received votes this week in at least one of the two polls. The other half of the bracket features two ranked teams, No. 7 Florida and No. 17 Gonzaga.
The two local teams are taking different approaches to the week. North Carolina flew to the West Coast early and played a game at Stanford late Monday night to get accustomed to the time difference. Duke played at home on Monday night and planned to leave after practice on Tuesday.
“It’s very innovative, with 16 teams, two eight-team tournaments and some of the best teams in the country,” Krzyzewski said. “It will be an honor to be out there, and hopefully we’ll play well.”