The biggest regular-season college basketball tournament ever — ever — is almost here.
The Phil Knight Invitational, billed as "PK80," is a two-venue, three-day, 16-team, 24-game extravaganza that should knock the socks right off the college hoops junkie.
Many of the nation's most storied programs — we're talking Duke, defending national champion North Carolina, Connecticut and Michigan State — will be on hand for the hardwood spectacle Nov. 23-26 at Moda Center and Memorial Coliseum.
Also competing with be three Final Four teams from a year ago, including Gonzaga and Oregon, plus local quintets Portland and Portland State.
"If you're a college basketball fan or an alum of a university who wants to watch some hoops over a holiday weekend, there's no greater show than what we've got going on," says Chris Oxley, senior vice president/venue operations for the Trail Blazers.
PK80" is an ode to Nike co-founder Phil Knight, who turns 80 years old next February.
The event is the brainchild of Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollins, who arranged for the Spartans to be in the first "Carrier Classic" on an aircraft carrier in 2011.
"Mark has done a lot of innovative things," Oxley says. "He thought it would be a great opportunity to honor Mr. Knight and all he has meant for college basketball.
"When Mark came to him with the idea. Mr. Knight told him, 'If you can pull it off, go for it. But it's going to be a huge challenge.'"
That was in 2013. Four years later, after a synergy created through negotiations with ADs from 16 schools, ESPN, the Blazers and the Rose Quarter, a happening has been created.
"We were able to pull it together because the coaches and ADs know what Phil has done for college basketball," Oxley says. "They want to be part of this celebration. Is it something they'll do on an annual basis? Absolutely not."
That's because the nation's premier programs don't want to give up three home games. Years ago, there were several four- and eight-team holiday tournaments, including Portland's Far West Classic. Nearly all of them went by the wayside because teams want to play their nonconference games in the friendly confines of their home arena, to build a record and resume for the postseason.
This may be the first 16-team event ever, with each school — all owning Nike endorsement contracts, of course — scheduled to play three games.
Ten of the past 14 NCAA champions will be represented. The nation's No. 1- and 2-ranked teams, Duke and Michigan State, are here along with three others ranked in the top 20 (Florida, Gonzaga and defending national champion North Carolina).
Oregon, Gonzaga and North Carolina all participated in the Final Four last season.
"It's one of the best collections of teams you'll ever see in college basketball," Oxley says. "Frankly, you'll never see it again. This is a momentous occasion. For a college basketball fan, there will be no better place to be."
The 16 teams will be placed in two eight-team brackets, "Victory" and "Motion." On Thursday, those in the "Victory" bracket will play at Moda Center and those in the "Motion" bracket will square off at the coliseum. On Friday, the brackets will be flipped and teams will play at the opposite venue. On Sunday, the championship session will be staged at Moda and the consolation session will take place at the coliseum.
"It's challenging competition," Oxley says. "There are some good teams that might go 0-3."
The recent $5 million renovation of the aging coliseum came at an opportune time.
"The improvements were something we've been talking with the city about for quite some time," Oxley says. "We'll be showcasing that building on a national stage."
Oxley expects the economic impact of PK80 on the metropolitan area to be in eight figures.
"The hotels got behind it quickly," he says. "Travel Portland has been a great partner. It will be a boon to restaurants and shopping. A lot of these teams — such as Gonzaga, Duke and Ohio State — travel really well."
Oxley says ticket sales are brisk, especially for games at Moda Center. There are all sorts of ticket packaging models, including an all-sessions availability for both venues. He says to expect crowds in excess of 15,000 at Moda and at least 8,000 at the coliseum.
"But we still have tickets available, including a lot of general admission seats," he says. "We wanted to make sure this event is accessible to all."