College basketball’s first big day of the season was really almost all we could’ve asked for.
From early morning to into the night, the day offered a number of outstanding games that might already get some people thinking March. Exciting finishes, back-and-forth games, offense, defense, big schools, little schools, fantastic inbound plays-you name it, you could find it on Tuesday.
A couple takeaways from the day:
- The level of play in several of these games was surprisingly high, not indicative at all of teams playing their second or third games of the season. Duke-Michigan State, VCU-Toledo, UMass-Manhattan and UNI-Stephen F. Austin were all very competitive and very well executed by both teams. Add in a terrific atmosphere at some of them, and one would’ve thought we were a whole lot later in the season than just mid-November. It’s a decidedly mixed bag-there were some stinkers played, too-but just the fact that even some games are that well played this early in the season is a good thing.
- There even have been some games where the offense has been decidedly ahead of the defense. Thumb through box scores, and you’ll find a fair amount of teams shooting 50% or more for games, and not all of them are top 10 teams playing guarantee games. In other words, we have some variety. This also is a good thing.
- On the other hand, when teams play bad, they seem to be playing worse than ever. Two teams shot below 20% yesterday. Look, we know defenses are maybe as good as they’ve ever been (and are also allowed to get away with a whole lot more than they were 10-15 years ago) but that’s still terrible.
- Again, a big pat on the back for ESPN for these matchups. The marathon event included a lot of games that we otherwise wouldn’t get to see on TV. In fact, the Champions Classic-of course, grade A matchups of blueblood programs-actually is about the least imaginative part of the scheduling, as the four participating teams can and do schedule pretty much anyone they want and don’t need a ‘Classic’ to play each other. But the whole day included a good mix of games, which has been a strength of this event from the start.
- Kentucky is really good. But perhaps Kansas isn’t right now? Just a thought.
- At least right now, Duke is not far off from Kentucky in level of play, if not necessarily depth.
- Wichita State is still a national contender, though making some adjustments. It was ugly for awhile, but WSU asserted itself in the second half and looked like the far tougher team. They’re not the same team as last year, but the Shockers will continue to get better. Gregg Marshall’s team always do, because he makes it a priority to develop depth.
- Kentucky rocked Kansas 72-40. The Wildcats were brutally efficient-including just six turnovers-while the Jayhawks were awful. Kansas shot 19.6%, an embarrassingly low number.
- Duke defeated Michigan State 81-71 in a game that for the most part was in the Blue Devils’ control. Freshmen (Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow) scored 49 points for Duke, but it was senior Quinn Cook leading the way with 19.
- The very best game of the day was played in the morning, as Northern Iowa edged Stephen F. Austin 79-77 in overtime. A wonderful basketball game by two very well-coached and experienced teams, this game was like a book you can’t put down, almost didn’t want it to end, and it had the feel of one in March. Very, very well-played game, and a big win for UNI snapping the Lumberjacks’ 33-game win streak at home. Also enjoyed listening to Jeff Van Gundy steeping over from NBA duties to call this one.
- VCU outlasted Toledo 87-78. Another high-level contest, the final score doesn’t indicate how close this was. This was literally a one-possession game a good portion of the night, and Toledo held the upper hand for a good share of it. It’s often a cliché in games where one team pulls away late to say they wore the other team down, but it looked applicable here, with the Rockets just running out of gas and making some mistakes late. VCU looks improved-the Rams have some outside shooting this year-and Toledo looked completely comfortable in this game. Let’s see how the season plays out-especially their trip coming up at Oregon, a very winnable game-but if the Rockets play similar to that all year, they sure looked like an NCAA Tournament team.
- Massachusetts needed overtime but got by Manhattan 77-68. Cady Lalanne was the difference with 23 points and 16 rebounds. The Jaspers will kick themselves for missing a chance after leading a good share of this one. And yes, that inbounds play at the end of regulation was a gem, if you haven’t seen it, you need to, beautiful execution. Free throws were a killer for another team: Manhattan was just 8-for-16 from the line.
- Wichita State’s game with Memphis was not as well-played as many others today, though still better than the next one on this list. The Shockers took over in the second half, and the 71-56 win is even generous to the Tigers.
- San Diego State defeated Utah 53-49. Still not sure what to make of this one. It was good defense, and there’s nothing wrong with some teams playing a halfcourt game. But the offense was also awful at times. At the same time, the iintensity of the game made us long for the old days when these two were in the same conference together.
- Northeastern scored a very nice road win, going to Tallahassee and defeating Florida State 76-73. The Huskies gained a measure of revenge after letting one slip away against FSU in Puerto Rico last year.
- Ohio State topped Marquette 74-63. The Buckeyes had just one offensive rebound, but you don’t need many more when you shoot 65.3% (32 of 49).
- Minnesota had a bit easier time than we might’ve thought with Western Kentucky. Hilltopper starters scored just 21 points total in a 76-54 loss to the Gophers, who rode balance to the win (four in double figures, no player with more than 14 points).
- Xavier rolled Long Beach State 97-74. The Musketeers look good early-five scored in double figures, led by freshman Trevon Bluiett with 20.
- Old Dominion continues its resurgence under Jeff Jones. The Monarchs were one step ahead almost the entire way and defeated Richmond 63-57.
- La Salle and Florida International both scored late wins, the Explorers getting two free throws from Jordan Price with 3 seconds left for a 60-58 win at Quinnipiac, while Dennis Mavin hit a layup with five seconds left to cap FIU’s comeback from seven down late for a 53-52 victory over Stetson.
- Boise State survived Montana, winning 72-67 in double overtime to get the better of their former Big Sky rival. Anthony Drmic saved the Broncos with 29 points. Boise rallied from a 15-point first half deficit.
- Finally, Murray State won easily on the road at Middle Tennessee State 68-49. Jarvis Williams was a brute inside-28 points, 12 rebounds-while MTSU had shooting problems. Big shooting problems. The Blue Raiders shot 18.2% for the game-just 12-for-66, including 1-for-22 from three-point range. Yuck. In the irony of ironies, Middle did shoot 24-for-25 on free throws.
- Oklahoma at Creighton (8 p.m. EST, Fox Sports 1). It was only Central Arkansas and Chicago State, but through two games offense is still not a problem for the Bluejays, even without Doug McDermott, Ethan Wragge and others gone. Very intriguing matchup to see where the Jays are.
- UC Irvine at Arizona Golden opportunity for the Anteaters, who have received a decent amount of publicity going into this season. Keeping it competitive, within 10 or so, is a reasonable goal for this experienced team.
- Oral Roberts at Missouri ORU is coming off a nice win over Tulsa, while the Tigers sputtered some again before overtaking Valparaiso. Expect Mizzou to keep improving.
- Wisconsin-Green Bay at Wisconsin (9 p.m. EST, Big 10 Network) The Badgers looked unbeatable in taking apart UT-Chattanooga. These teams aren’t a whole lot different from what they were last year, when the Phoenix nearly beat the Badgers, but one huge difference: no Alec Brown anymore for UWGB, who was a very similar player to Frank Kaminsky.
- Morehead State at Cincinnati The Eagles missed a big chance at UNLV, losing by a point. This looks like a fairly similar game, as the Bearcats won an ugly opener over St. Francis (Pa.)
- Wake Forest at Arkansas Wake is 2-0 after playing UNC-Asheville at home and Tulane away, and actually had its tougher game against UNCA. Arkansas outlasted a good Alabama State team in its opener.
- Santa Clara at Utah State Not a ton was expected of either team this year, but both are 2-0 on the young season. The Aggies have a pair of escapes so far, coming from behind twice, including a remarkable rally from an 18-point deficit at the half against Weber State to win by double figures. Games like this may not have a ton of national appeal, but they’re the type that help form conference power ratings.
Have a great Wednesday