The first week of the college basketball season is officially in the books. With that being said, let’s take a look at all the action from last week and see what’s in store for this week:
What Happened Last Week?
Opening night on Tuesday in Indianapolis gave college basketball fans the show most came to expect. In the first game of the night, Kansas rode a dominant first half on the path to their first win of the season beating Michigan State 92-87. Udoka Azubuike was fantastic defensively in the paint against Michigan State early on, setting the tone and forcing the Spartans to play from the perimeter. Michigan State couldn’t find a rhythm in the first half and buried themselves in too big of a hole against the top ranked team in the country. Dedric Lawson didn’t disappoint netting a double-double in his first game as a Jayhawk after transferring from Memphis with 20 points and 14 rebounds. Freshman Quentin Grimes hit six threes, showing Bill Self that he has a multitude of weapons to use at his disposal.
The real action came in the second game of the night at The Champions Classic. Duke’s ballyhooed freshman class of R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson, Cam Reddish, and Tre Jones lived up to the hype on the way to absolutely dismantling #2 Kentucky 118-84. Williamson received much of the public spotlight after displaying his freakish athleticism combined with an NFL defensive lineman’s frame in wowing the crowd in Indy. It’s scary to think what a guy his size that is surprisingly very agile and smooth is capable of when he gets a little more experience. He plays like a controlled bull-in-a-china-shop and that’s damn near impossible to guard for wings on the collegiate level. He dropped 28 on the Wildcats who had no answer for the offensive firepower the Blue Devils brought, doing it from behind the arc, above the rim, and in the mid range game. As great as Williamson looked, Barrett was even more impressive. A silky smooth left-handed shooting wing, Barrett flashed the ability to get into the paint and also showed he can score from deep as well. The Canadian native Barrett scored 33 points showing one reason why he was the top ranked player in the freshman class. The NBA comps for Barrett and Williamson have been thrown out all over the place, but one things for certain: this team and both these players will have a lot to say with what happens in March.
In an upset I suggested last week could happen, the Buffalo Bulls went into Morgantown, West Virginia and beat the Mountaineers on Friday night 99-94 in overtime. Senior guard C.J. Massinburg took over midway through the second half and dominated in overtime on his way to 43 points hitting nine threes along the way. He chipped in 14 rebounds proving the Bulls are not a team to sleep on this season. The other star for the Bulls, Jeremy Harris struggled from the field a bit but when he gets going the Bulls will be hard to beat in the MAC. Down 13 with 7:30 to play, Buffalo hit big shot after big shot and got the late three they desperately needed from Massinburg to force overtime. From there, Massinburg added nine points in the overtime frame to seal the win and upset over #13 West Virginia.
#7 Nevada led by guard Caleb Martin and forward Jordan Caroline rolled to a 2-0 start this week beating BYU and Pacific as expected. Martin, scored 21 and 22 points respectively in the first two games and has oddly scored all 43 of his points so far this season in the second half of games. Caroline chipped in a double-double (25 pts, 16 reb) against BYU in the opener. Nevada will need some time to gel with combining the number of key transfers they brought in mixed with a solid core of returnees. But they are the clear favorite to win the Mountain West Conference and are primed for a deep March run. Look for them to be playing their best ball in January and February.
Player of the Week
It pains me to do this, but with the way Duke eviscerated Kentucky, I have to pick the player of the week from that game and I’m going with R.J. Barrett. This kid is going to be a star and the 2018-19 NCAA season is merely a speed bump for him on his path to a lengthy NBA career. Long and lean with an eerily similar frame to Tracy McGrady, Barrett can score a from anywhere on the floor. His ability to get to the rim off the dribble though is what impressed me the most. It seemed nearly impossible for anyone Kentucky threw at him to stay in front of Barrett and he did whatever he wanted while on the floor. He is deceptively strong with the ball and he can go over the top of smaller players with ease while also having no problem taking a bigger defender off the dribble to the rim. A solid ball handler with an ability to create and score for himself, Barrett is going to be a force to be reckoned with all season and deserved his high ranking as a recruit.
Mid-Major Team of the Week
A good way for a mid-major team to win this spot in a given week is to beat a Final Four team from last season on the road. And for that reason Furman is the mid-major team of the week. Beating Bob Jones University (yes it’s a real school) 102-48 on Tuesday is a feather in any teams cap for sure. But going into the Gentile Center in Chicago and beating Porter Moser’s Loyola Ramblers 60-58 in front of Sister Jean puts a team on the radar. Loyola was on the cusp of being a top 25 ranked team to start the season and Furman was an 8.5 point underdog against the Ramblers. Furman sealed the win on a nasty dunk set up by a great cut by Clay Mounce who was fed by Max Rafferty. Rafferty led the Paladins with 18 points in the upset win.
Game(s) of The Week
Looking ahead to this week there is another set of interesting matchups early on in the season. Monday night we’ll see Stanford head to Chapel Hill to take on #8 North Carolina. Stanford is coached by long time Roy Williams prodigy Jerod Haase. Haase played for Williams at Kansas and then followed the UNC head man to Chapel Hill as an assistant coach when Williams left Lawrence to run the Tar Heel program after the 2003 season. Stanford brings a 2-0 record on the young season and is led by 6’9″ sophomore forward KZ Okpala. Okpala has games of 23 and 29 points to start the season and has been to the free throw line a whopping 24 times in the first two Cardinal games, sinking 20 of them. The Heels have been paced by two seniors – wing Cam Johnson (19 PPG; 8-10 3PT) and forward Luke Maye (16 PPG; 8.5 RPG). Carolina is known to focus on pushing the ball up and down the floor at a lighting pace and this year is no different. Freshman point guard Coby White has looked good, bearing the load running Williams’ offense and fellow freshman Nas Little showed why he’s a top 5 freshman in the country with 21 points Friday night against Elon.
Wednesday night gives the rematch of last years National Championship game when defending champ #9 Villanova hosts #19 Michigan. Senior Eric Paschall led Villanova in their season opener with 26 points and 7 rebounds, while fellow senior guard Phil Booth chipped in with 17 points against Morgan State. Coach Jay Wright will lean heavily on Paschall and Booth this year as they both have been key contributors to their recent National Championship teams. Michigan lost Mo Wagner from their tournament runner up squad, but still brings back guards Jordan Poole and Charles Mathews who will look to lead John Beilein’s squad this season. Wagner will likely be replaced mainly by 7’1″ center Jon Teske who began the season against Norfolk State with 13 points and 8 rebounds in the Wolverines season opening win. The matchup here pits two of the games best coaches, whose teams are frequently better later on in the season. It wouldn’t be shocking at all to see these two teams playing into the second weekend of the tournament in March and possibly beyond as not many teams are better prepared for the Dance each year.
I mentioned it last week but if both Syracuse and Oregon win their opening matchups in the 2K Classic at Madison Square Garden next week we’ll see 7-3 freshman Bol Bol who plays and moves like a slashing small forward with three-point range and Syracuse stud Tyus Battle who is one of the best players in the country. This game would be worth watching strictly for these two players alone but both squads have plenty of talent around them as well. This will be a fantastic game to check out if the cards fall right.
Looking Ahead to Next Week
With a few more of the early season tournaments kicking into full swing next week, we have a couple good matchups currently set and some extremely intriguing possible battles if the tournaments unfold accordingly, especially in the Maui invitational.
The Maui alone can give the following matchups that will all be worth watching:
*Duke vs. winner of Xavier/Auburn
*Gonzaga vs. winner of Arizona/Iowa State
*Duke vs. Gonzaga – this would be nearly must watch
Thursday – November 22nd
#10 Michigan State vs #21 UCLA (Las Vegas)
Chicago/Illinois Local Game of the Week to Attend
This week’s pick of a game in the area for The Loop Sports readers is taking you to Champaign to see the Illinois Fighting Illini host YouTube sensation Mac McClung and the Georgetown Hoyas. Neither team projects to be in the hunt in March, but the local schedule this week is uninspiring and McClung is likely to do something to at least get you out of your seat.
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