Here are six things we’ve learned thus far.
Duke’s freshmen are even better than we thought
This…. is something. Duke is going to be the story of college basketball this season. Every game is must-see TV.
Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish eviscerated Kentucky and were even better against Army on Sunday. The trio combined for 73 points, 29 rebounds and six blocks.
These legitimately might be the three best players in college basketball. That may sound like hyperbole; it’s not. At worst, Duke has three of the five best players in the land.
There are still questions with Duke’s supporting cast. The rest of the Blue Devils outside of Williamson, Reddish and Barrett combined for 21 points against Army.
But those questions may not even matter. And Tre Jones will get overshadowed, but he’s done exactly what he needs to do thus far: get those guys the ball, and make open shots. This team is fun.
Kansas could be even better than we thought, too, because of its guards
Kansas was the No. 1 team in the preseason AP Poll, and that was mostly based on its frontcourt and coach. Udoka Azubuike and Dedric Lawson figured to form the best 4-5 duo in college basketball, and the Jayhawks had proven wings in LaGerald Vick and K.J. Lawson.
All of that is still true, but Kansas’ backcourt looks like it could be a lot better than expected. This isn’t too shocking, as the Jayhawks had a lot of talented options coming into the year. They were just unproven. But Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson looked the part against Michigan State.
The freshman backcourt combined to score 37 points and make eight 3-pointers. The scoring total is nice, but the shooting numbers are extremely promising. Spacing doesn’t look like it will be a concern, and Grimes and Dotson both look capable of driving, distributing, shooting and scoring. They complement each other extremely well.
This duo could have growing pains. But both are clearly talented, and Kansas has the infrastructure to make life easier for them.
Villanova lost a ton, but is still going to be awesome
Yeah, it seems like Villanova is going to be just fine. The Wildcats’ first true test comes on Michigan on Wednesday, but what we’ve seen in the first two games has been vintage Villanova.
Phil Booth needed to step up for the Wildcats this year, and he has in a big way. He’s averaging 20 points on 48.3 percent shooting through two games. Another guy to keep an eye on: Collin Gillespie, who scored 16 points in 22 minutes in his last outing. Villanova has beat its two opponents by an average of 28 points.
It’s interesting that Jahvon Quinerly isn’t starting for the Wildcats, but it’s tough to question Jay Wright, especially given how Gillespie has performed. Don’t forget about these guys.
Kentucky is behind other national powers, but that’s OK
It’s been a rough start for Kentucky, and not just because it got blown out by Duke. The Wildcats prevailed against Southern Illinois, but it wasn’t necessarily an encouraging performance.
If there was a reason to be concerned about Kentucky going into the season, it was role allocation. And that’s kind of played out. Keldon Johnson and Reid Travis are the team’s two best players. But there’s not a huge difference between guys three through 10.
While it’s nice to have that kind of depth, it’s caused issues thus far. We don’t know who Kentucky’s best point guard is right now. Neither does Kentucky. P.J. Washington and Quade Green have gotten off to slow starts. One promising development: Nick Richards had 19 rebounds against Southern Illinois. He’s looking like the player the Wildcats expected when they recruited him.
Kentucky will figure this out. It’s a matter of time. An offensive hierarchy will emerge, but for now, the Wildcats have a lot of gelling to do.
Michigan’s defense-first mentality has continued
Michigan has been good throughout John Beilein’s tenure in Ann Arbor, but the defense has lagged behind the offense for most of it. Those days appear to be over.
The Wolverines shocked everyone and finished third in defense last year after failing to crack the top 60 in 2016-17. We’ve seen more of the same this season. Michigan is ranked fifth in defensive rating as of this writing, holding its two opponents to an average of 40.5 points per game.
That’s the good news. The bad? The Michigan offense has been poor. It only scored 56 points against Holy Cross. The Mo Wagner loss hurts, and the Wolverines aren’t as talented from top to bottom as they were last year. But they should be able to score 70 against teams like Holy Cross and Norfolk State.
A rematch against Villanova looms on Wednesday:
Last year’s defensive surge isn’t looking like a flash in the pan. If the offense can catch up, Michigan will have another quality season.
The top of this freshman class is crazy good
The rookies came to play this year. Williamson and Barrett are ridiculous. Some years, Reddish could be the best freshman in the country. This year, he’s the third-best freshman on his team.
But there are more. Oregon’s Bol Bol is a freak in the best possible way. He’s averaging 17.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 3.5 blocks; Bol is the rare rim-protecting center with feathery outside touch. Stud Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland scored 24 points in his first game and has serious range. We’ve already touched on Kansas’ Grimes and Dotson and Kentucky’s Johnson.
North Carolina’s Nassir Little has a player efficiency rating of 39.5. Yes, that number will drop, but he’s been as good as advertised. Romeo Langford is off to a solid start at Indiana.
Usually, you’ll have some freshman disappointments. It comes with the territory. It’s early, and these guys will face better competition as the season progresses. But the biggest names have showed out thus far.