After a great first week of college basketball, here are some of the most intriguing storylines regarding bracketology down the road.
#1 Michigan State went down in their opener in New York City, looking rusty and trailing for most of the game. Kentucky, led by sensational freshman Tyrese Maxey, entered as the underdog with an extremely young core but showed poise down the stretch to earn a huge season-opening victory. While the Spartans will likely end up just fine and shook off the offseason rust in a home win over Binghampton, they must regroup quickly before traveling to Newark next Thursday to face off with Big East favorite Seton Hall.
Speaking of Seton Hall, the Pirates opened their non-conference slate with wins over Wagner and Stony Brook. The real storyline, however, was the ankle injury suffered by star guard Myles Powell during Saturday’s game. It’s unclear whether Powell will be ready in time for Michigan State, but it’s hard to imagine the Pirates pulling it out with the All-American sitting out. Thursday’s game also begins a gauntlet of a schedule for Seton Hall who was tabbed with the hardest projected non-conference schedule in the nation.
Duke and Kansas also faced off at Madison Square Garden with Tre Jones leading the Blue Devils to an early signature win. Freshman Cassius Stanley was impressive and also led Duke in scoring in their Friday win over Colorado State. Kansas bounced back from the loss with a win over an underrated UNCG squad in Allen Fieldhouse. Big man Udoka Azubuike, however, must get more involved for the Jayhawks to have major success this season.
Louisville traveled to Coral Gables and got a solid opening win over Miami (FL), helped by a 23 and 12 performance from RSN projected All-American Jordan Nwora. Virginia Tech, Virginia and North Carolina also opened their ACC tabs in good fashion with wins over Clemson, Syracuse, and Notre Dame, respectively.
The season of opportunity began in College Park as Maryland took down Holy Cross in convincing fashion, despite shooting just 5/27 from 3PT range, before tackling Rhode Island with a huge second half on Saturday night. Jalen Smith looks stronger and hungrier as the Terps’ top offensive option, bolstered by a seemingly more patient and efficient Anthony Cowan Jr. Continue to look out for one of RSN’s preseason players to watch in Aaron Wiggins – a future pro.
Memphis opened their season with two swift wins over South Carolina State and UIC but questions remain about the eligibility of freshman phenom James Wiseman. While as of today’s details Wiseman will likely end up suspended for a set number of games (rather than the entire season), this was still a scenario Penny Hardaway could not have envisioned.
In an underrated opening night game, Saint Mary’s took down Wisconsin in what should prove to be a very solid resume win for the Gaels down the road. It appears that Randy Bennett has finally taken the initiative to schedule a tougher non-conference slate in efforts to gather an at-large bid.
Auburn battled for a solid win over tournament hopeful Davidson in Friday’s first must-see game of the day, which was followed by a phenomenal nightcap that saw Washington take down Baylor in Anchorage. UW’s freshmen duo of Jaden McDaniels and Isaiah Stewart was spectacular down the stretch, powering the Huskies to an impressive early win.
The Fred Hoiberg Era in Lincoln got off to a particularly rocky start as Nebraska dropped buy games to UC-Riverside and Southern Utah. Ouch. Elsewhere in Upset City, Nicholls State took down Pittsburgh on Saturday after barely dropping Tuesday’s game to Illinois. Watch out for the Colonels in this year’s Southland battle. The win was even more surprising considering Pitt took down Florida State in an expected upset just days earlier.
Leonard Hamilton and Florida State rebounded from their gut-check loss at Pitt with a convincing victory over #6 Florida. Florida, led by star transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr., shot just 28% from the field.
McKale Center was rocking as a revitalized Arizona squad hosted Ayo Dosunmu and tournament hopeful Illinois. The Illini hung around for the first segment of the game before Nico Mannion led the Wildcats in a ferocious attack that saw UA take the victory by 21 points. Look out for a potential Arizona-Washington back-and-forth affair all season in the Pac-12.
Alabama‘s first game under Nate Oats was also less than ideal as the Tide lost their home opener to Penn. The Crimson Tide has three games to regroup before facing a labyrinth of a bracket in the Battle 4 Atlantis. Back in Buffalo, the Bulls are clearly still recovering from their loss of Oats after a brutal home loss to Dartmouth.
A fun welcome to Division I for Merrimack as the Warriors stunned Northwestern with a road victory just days after falling to Maine by 20 in their first-ever D1 game. In other positive news, Kent State‘s Kalin Bennett provided us all with a moment of inspiration as he became the first to ever play after being recruited as a freshman with autism, scoring 2 points and grabbing 2 rebounds in their win.
On the mid-major scale, Liberty and Radford provided each other with a solid early litmus test as the Flames came out on top in a close battle. San Diego State also traveled to BYU and emerged with a resume-building road win over Yoeli Childs and the Cougars. Look for the Aztecs to be the prime challengers of Utah State in the Mountain West this season. Staying out west, Lorenzo Romar’s Pepperdine resurgence continued Saturday with an underrated win over a good UC-Irvine team out of the Big West. Vermont once again looks to be on the rise with early-season road wins at Saint Bonaventure and Bucknell this past week. The Catamounts will, once again, be heavy favorites in the America East and a popular upset pick in March should it reach the NCAA Tournament. On a more negative note, Mississippi Valley State dropped its first three games by a combined 186 points – an average loss of 62 points per game. Meh.
Cheers to a great start to the year and to continued fun for the rest of this great basketball season!
MONDAY/TUESDAY GAMES TO WATCH: DePaul @ Iowa, Creighton @ Michigan, Missouri @ Xavier, Minnesota @ Butler, Miami (FL) @ UCF, Murray State @ Tennessee, Memphis @ Oregon, Oklahoma @ Oregon State
THE PICKS: Iowa, Creighton, Xavier, Butler, Miami (FL), Tennessee, Oregon, Oregon State