The first weekend of conference play is in the books, and the early going has been, well… wacky. There were so many results that by themselves would be noteworthy but instead form a picture that makes results like preseason favorite Oregon being 2-0 in the Pac-12 being more newsworthy than anything else, because it seems like that was more the exception than the norm.
Where do we start? There are so many places to look.
The ACC was crazy enough with all four North Carolina schools losing their ACC opener for the first time ever on Saturday. In fact, it’s hard to even find a day where all four schools lost at all, let alone for the conference opener. That means Duke lost at Virginia Tech and North Carolina lost at Georgia Tech, the latter of which marked the first time in 11 years that the Yellow Jackets won their ACC opener. Then on Sunday, Boston College handled Syracuse 96-81, winning their first ACC game in almost 22 months. Syracuse is not looking good right now, but give Boston College credit for taking advantage of it as the Eagles continue to progress.
How about the Big East? St. John’s is 2-0 in Big East play, which puts them ahead of Creighton, among others. Did you see that coming? I didn’t, but after beating DePaul 79-73 on Sunday, they are. It’s only 2-0, not 12-0, but winning can do wonders for a team’s confidence and this might help vault the Red Storm a bit higher than most thought possible. Marquette nearly joined them, but Khadeen Carrington and Seton Hall made every play after the Golden Eagles went up three in the final minute to pull out a 69-66 win in Newark.
The Big Ten? Minnesota, a program that was in rough shape last year and the off-season, had a great non-conference before losing a tough one in overtime to Michigan State. You could easily have figured the Golden Gophers were exposed in that loss and ready to start losing Big Ten games again, but they rebounded from it by winning at Purdue 91-82 in overtime in a great show of toughness. Nate Mason had 31 points to help the Golden Gophers offset another monster game by Caleb Swanigan, who had 28 points and 22 rebounds. There was also the shocker of the day: Nebraska scored the last 14 points of the game over more than six minutes to shock Maryland 67-65 in College Park and improve to 2-0 in conference play. Oh, and Iowa rallied to beat Michigan 86-83 in overtime.
Maybe we could try the Mountain West for a bit of normalcy. No, forget that. New Mexico went to San Diego State, where few visiting teams come away victorious, and beat the preseason favorites 68-62. The Lobos didn’t have the best non-conference run, but they are 2-0 in the early going and a win in San Diego is great to hang your hat on. The Lobos were thought to be one of the best challengers to the Aztecs, but Nevada emerged as a better one based on non-conference performance. The Wolfpack are 1-1, however, after being nipped at Fresno State on Saturday, so the Lobos are joined by Boise State as the only 2-0 teams right now.
The Pac-12 almost had some sanity, as Arizona handled Stanford (although the margin might have been a slight surprise, especially in Palo Alto) 91-52 and California bounced back from a rare home loss to beat Arizona State 81-65. Then in one of the last games of the day, Washington State made all the big plays late to beat Washington 79-74 in Seattle despite a near-triple-double from Markelle Fultz (26 points, nine rebounds, 11 assists). The Huskies are just 7-6, and while the Ben Simmons/LSU comparisons keep coming, it’s worth noting that many expected LSU to contend in the SEC and be an NCAA Tournament team last season, whereas few expected this Washington team to compete in the Pac-12 and/or be an NCAA Tournament team this season.
Through all of this, the Missouri Valley might be the most “normal” of all. Wichita State and Illinois State each improved to a 2-0 start in conference play with wins on Sunday, and they were expected to contend.
This is just the beginning. If it’s any indication, the next couple of months will be something to behold in college basketball, before we even get to conference tournaments and then the NCAA Tournament.
Saint Joseph’s suffered a tough blow as leading scorer Shavar Newkirk is done for the season with a torn ACL in his left knee. The junior guard, who had brought his scoring up to over 20 points per game from eight a year ago and scored in double digits in every game, suffered the injury on a non-contact play in Friday night’s 69-63 win over George Washington. It’s the second season-ending injury suffered by a Hawk, as they have already lost sophomore forward Pierfrancesco Oliva for the season with a knee injury.
A few afternoon games dot the slate in addition to the usual evening tips.
- A potential early Patriot League showdown has Lehigh visiting Boston University at 2 p.m.
- A good Southern Conference matchup has Chattanooga visiting UNCG at 7 p.m.
- The MAAC has a full slate that includes Iona at Fairfield (7 p.m.)
- A full slate of CAA action includes an in-state matchup of Elon at UNCW (7 p.m.)
- A sleeper Sun Belt matchup has UL Lafayette visiting UALR (9 p.m.)