Well that was fun. After what seemed like an eternity long offseason, we were rewarded for our patience with an excellent opening night on Friday. The Armed Forces Classic led up to the hype-and then some. Arizona stormed back after Michigan State jumped out to a huge lead and Kadeem Allen went coast to coast for the game winning basket with 1.9 seconds to play for the Wildcats. As if that wasn’t, Kansas and Indiana provided us with a tremendous overtime game, in which the Hoosiers came out victorious. Hopefully the Kings of college basketball see how succesful having two marquee games on opening night was and make sure it happens every year.
While we’re just 3 days into the season, we can start to make some judgements. Nothing’s a sure thing obviously-injuries happen, teams improve or regress, opponents get better scouting reports, etc. But we still learned a lot from this weekend, so here are five takeaways from opening weekend.
For the last four years, Yogi Ferrell was the face of the Indiana basketball program. Not only did he score 1986 points, but he was an extraordinary leader and made everyone on the team better. So it made sense that, even though we all knew the Hoosiers would have ultra-athletic lineup, that they could have some growing pains without Yogi. Friday night showed they’ll be just fine (and maybe better). Freshman Curtis Jones scored 15 points off the bench for Indiana and finally healthy James Blackmon Jr. dropped 26. Thomas Bryant is an absolute beast inside (19 points, 10 rebounds) and OG Anunoby is a freak athlete. Are there going to be games where they miss Yogi’s skills at the point? Absolutely. But their athletism and ability to score should make up for that. Indiana is a top ten, maybe even top five team.
This Year’s Freshman Class is Legit
The hype for this year’s freshman class was through the roof and it looks like it was well-warranted. We could list all the stellar performance from the newcomers, but that would take way too long. Here’s a tweet we had from Saturday morning that highlighted some of the top freshman performances.
There were more too on Friday night, but the biggest collage we knew how to make was 9 squares. Also, Markelle Fultz just recorded 30 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists for Washington in a loss to Yale, while Bam Adebayo, De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk combined for 51 tonight. The talent is through the roof for this freshman class and it’s spread out as well. That should make for a lot of really good teams this season.
There was tons of talk about the injuries of Duke’s three stud freshman Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden that we forgot about the fourth one: Frank Jackson. None of the former three played in either of Duke’s wins and that opened the door for Jackson to show what he can do. And he didn’t disappoint. On Friday, Jackson came off the bench to score 18 points and dish out 4 assists against Marist. Then on Saturday, Jackson shined again, scoring 21 points. On a team with guys like Grayson Allen, Luke Kennard, Amile Jefferson, Giles, Tatum and Bolden, it’s easy to see why Jackson could get lost in the shuffle. But he shouldn’t. Frank Jackson can flat out ball and he deserves everyone to recognize that.
The Missouri Valley Is Still Wichita State’s To Lose
When Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker walked off the court as Shockers for the last time, there was a feeling that Wichita State would most likely take a step back this season. 2016-2017 might see someone other than the Shockers take the regular season league title. Wrong. Greg Marshall just reloads that program every year and this year is no different. On Friday night, the Shockers destroyed South Carolina State 39 points as they romped them by 46. Yes, it’s South Carolina State, but holding a D1 team under 40 points is impressive regardless of who it is. And they followed it up on Sunday, as they hammered our pre-season Big West favorite Long Beach State, 92-55. Role players from last season are emerging, making the Shockers one of the best mid-majors in the country once again. Are they a lock to win the Valley? No. UNI is really good again and Illinois State should be too. But the league is the Shockers to lose.
The Gaels returned everyone from last year’s team that won 29 games, so the hype for them in the pre-season was high. But there was still some skepticism. Would they be able to repeats year’s success, but turn it into a NCAA Tournament bid this season? Could the Gaels get out from under Gonzaga’s shadow? On Friday night, the Gaels quieted any of those doubts, at least for now. St. Mary’s annihilated a rising Nevada team, one that’s capable of making a run at an NCAA Tournament bid, 81-63. And as if returning all five starters wasn’t enough, big man Jock Landale broke out for 33 points and 9 rebounds. Landale actually started, giving the Gaels an excellent sixth man in Dame Pineau. If Landale can be force inside like he was Friday, there’s no stopping St. Mary’s. The Gaels could be in line for huge things this season.