How much can we learn in one night of a college basketball season? Funny you should ask . . .
A November ritual: Wondering which of the freshmen John Calipari has at Kentucky will make the needle move. Now we know.
Tyrese Maxey’s 26 points were the most ever by a Kentucky freshman in a debut, and that’s saying a mouthful. His dagger against Michigan State from the next zip code was the highlight of the night in Madison Square Garden. The world met Zion Williamson in last year’s Champions Classic, and quickly went gaga. It just said hello to a fearless and charismatic Wildcat guard whose bio proclaims he has seen every Marvel movie since 2008. Maxey stole the show in New York City the night after his 19th birthday. If he can make it there, he’ll make it anywhere.
It didn’t take long to need a new No. 1.
Out with Michigan State, in presumably with Kentucky. Time to start keeping count of changes at the top. Last season there were seven, including the time Kentucky took down top-ranked Tennessee. It’s hard to do anything for the first time in Lexington, but the Wildcats have never before beaten No. 1s in consecutive seasons.
Duke is different.
This time last November, the Blue Devils were coming off a freshman pyrotechnics display in the Champions Classic. Remember them plastering Kentucky with 33 points from RJ Barrett, 28 from Zion Williamson and 22 from Cam Reddish? It heralded a winter of attention-gobbling individual performances, especially by Williamson. Tuesday night’s leading Duke scorer was Tre Jones with 15. Duke beat Kansas with balance and a defense that forced 28 — count ‘em — 28 Jayhawks turnovers, the most by a Blue Devils opponent in 11 years and the second most ever by a ranked Duke foe. There’s more than one way to keep the Coach K empire going. “We have a lot of young guys and a lot of new guys,” Mike Krzyzewski said, “but we’ve really tried to play good defense in our first 30 practices, and it paid off tonight.”
One nagging Duke issue. The Blue Devils were 328th in the nation last season in 3-point shooting, and could certainly stand to do better. They went 8-for-24 Tuesday night. Not so much better.
This ain’t March, by a long (most of them missed) shot.
It makes great intrigue and fine TV promos to put the four top ranked teams in the same building on opening night, but not necessarily flowing basketball. The Champions Classic produced two close games, but also 39.5 percent combined shooting and 99 free throws. “There were four good teams today,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “None of them were ready for February or March. It is a very difficult thing to play that kind of competition this early.”
The performance of the night that had enough feel-good emotion to defrost a glacier? Easy call.
Texas’ Andrew Jones was back on the court after a two-year battle with leukemia. And not just on the court, but scoring 20 points in the Longhorns’ 69-45 win over Northern Colorado. Storybook stuff. “Honestly, I didn’t have any jitters. I wasn’t nervous. I did have a great fear where I didn’t know what to expect,” he said.
“I’m happy for him, happy for his family,” coach Shaka Smart said. “Sometimes in life when you’re really dealt a tough hand, it’s really all about how you respond. That’s a word we use a lot in our program.
“For the past almost two years, that’s what Andrew has had to do. He hasn’t been able to play basketball, the game he loves, for Texas, the school he loves. And tonight, he did.”
Yeah, James Wiseman is that good.
The 7-1 Memphis phenom had missed all the preseason games with injury, but it didn’t take long to show what the fuss has been about. The Tigers’ first two possessions of the game against South Carolina State were Wiseman dunks, and he finished with 28 points and 11 rebounds in barely 22 minutes of a 97-64 rout. Penny Hardaway is plotting a new age in Memphis, and he started five freshmen to prove it. Wiseman’s ability to turn most any lob into an assist-by-dunk reminded Hardaway of a certain Orlando Magic teammate. “I had that in the NBA when I was with Shaq. I know how that feels to put (the basketball) anywhere near the rim and him go get it and you get an assist from it.”
The Fab Five echo can be easily heard in Ann Arbor.
Juwan Howard was on the bench in his first game as Michigan coach. Jalen Rose and Jimmy King were in the stands to support him. Chris Webber and Ray Jackson had texted best wishes. A good time was had by all in the 79-71 victory over Appalachian State, except maybe when the Wolverines watched a 30-point lead get sliced to five in the last 15 minutes. But hey, they ended up winning, which is more than you can say when the football team opened with Appalachian State one year. “The brotherhood we have for one another, it will never ever go anywhere,” Howard said afterward. “That’s what’s so special about college.”
But about the turnovers. John Beilein’s Wolverine teams tried to avoid them like a skunk. They were second in the nation in making the fewest last season. Tuesday, they had 17. Something Howard will no doubt address, amid the bustle of the first game of his life as head coach. Hopefully I get some sleep. I hope I do not play every play, every possession in my head as I’m trying to go to sleep, but I know I will. I will have sleep disturbance.”
If Howard had sleep disturbance, fellow Big Ten rookie Fred Hoiberg must have been up all night watching horror movies. Or even worse, the film from Nebraska’s 66-47 loss to UC Riverside. That was just one of several bumpy rides by new coaches in demanding places.
The Cornhuskers lost a season opener at home for the first time in 39 years, against an opponent that went 10-23 last year. Nebraska was crushed 49-29 in rebounding, and shot only 29 percent. True, Hoiberg is in total rebuild mode with 14 newcomers — all 47 points were scored by first-time Cornhuskers — but still. “You can use the excuse of ‘Well, we have so many new faces and new players.’ We’re not going to do that,” he said. “Adversity hit us in a huge way tonight, and you can talk to your guys about it until you get blue in the face. It’s going to hit you every time you step out on the floor. It will be how you handle it, and we didn’t handle it well tonight.”
Steve Alford didn’t have that much fun, either. It took Nevada 15 games to lose last season. The Wolf Pack did it in two hours Tuesday, beaten at home by Utah 79-74 in Alford’s debut as coach. Yeah, all those seniors from last year’s 29-5 joy ride are gone. One item Alford no doubt will be trying to figure out — how a home team can take 26 fewer free throws.
Then there was Nate Oats at Alabama. Penn had never beaten an SEC team on its own court, but now the Quakers have, stunning Oats’ Tide 81-80 on the 24 points and game-winning basketball by freshman Jordan Dingle. Alabama’s Kira Lewis Jr. scored 30 points but missed two free throws with 2.4 seconds left. Not a good start to the week in Tuscaloosa, with the faithful already anxious about the football visit by LSU Saturday.
The ACC was hoping to kick start some hoops passion on the night the first football playoff rankings came out, scheduling league games. It did.
Georgia Tech never led in regulation but beat North Carolina State 82-81 in overtime on two James Banks II free throws with 2.1 seconds left. Virginia Tech won 67-60 at Clemson behind 30 points from freshman Landers Nolley II. So began the Mike Young era at Virginia Tech, after he had gone 0-7 against Clemson at Wofford. How long did it take him to understand as the new Hokies coach what he had with Nolley? “About 20 seconds after I got to campus.”
And while Louisville’s 87-74 win at Miami might not have been big on drama, it did seem to confirm the Cardinals will be a national force. Not many ACC teams led a league game by 32 on the road. Jordan Nwora looked exactly the All-American ringleader Louisville wants him to be, with 23 points and 12 rebounds.
All three ACC home teams lost league openers Tuesday. That’s one way to quickly introduce unpredictability to the season
Saint Mary’s is dangerous, now that the Gales have discovered the joy of winning close games.
They somehow managed to be an NCAA Tournament team last season while going 0-7 in games decided by five or fewer points — including a 61-57 loss in the first round to Villanova. What happens in the WCC if they start winning them, such as they did Tuesday in a 65-63 overtime victory over Wisconsin, led by Jordan Ford’s 26 points? Consider yourself warned, Gonzaga. It was the Gaels’ first win over a Big Ten team since 1974, and that was Wisconsin, too.
Markus Howard will be making the Marquette scoreboard smoke. Again.
He went into the Loyola Maryland game Tuesday needing 30 points to tie the all-time school career record. He had that by halftime, scoring 19 of the first 21 Golden Eagles points. He finished with 38. More to come. Much more.
The most important graduate transfer in the nation plays for Florida.
Looked that way in the 74-59 win over North Florida, anyway. The Gators missed their first eight shots and ended 3-for-15 from the 3-point line, but carried on with the 20 points and 10 rebounds from Kerry Blackshear Jr., the graduate arrival from Virginia Tech. “He’s going to allow (Florida) to be in that upper echelon,” North Florida coach Matthew Driscoll said.
It was a big night for freshmen, and not just at Kentucky or Memphis.
Villanova’s Jeremiah Robinson-Earl went for 24 points and 13 rebounds in the Wildcats 97-54 rout of Army. Yeah, Jay Wright’s reloading. Anthony Edwards had 24 in Georgia’s victory over Western Carolina, the most for a Bulldog rookie in his debut in 40 years. The guy who had 26 back in 1979 was named Dominique Wilkins.
Nothing heralds a new season like new players, new coaches, new questions, new answers.
“What a way to start the season,” Krzyzewski said. In Madison Square Garden, and lots of places.