by Eli Boettger – November 13, 2017
The good news is that basketball is back.
The bad news is that Friday’s games were not very interesting at all.
In fact, in terms of competitiveness, Friday was one of the most lopsided opening nights in recent memory. Just 40.7% of the games were decided by 15 points or less, which is the lowest percentage of the last eight years.
Here’s how Friday’s margin of victory average compares to the previous seven years.
The average margin of victory has steadily increased each of the last three seasons. In 2015, the average margin of victory was 20.4 points. That increased to 21.3 in 2016 and was 22.6 on Friday. A whopping 30.9% of games were decided by 31 points or more this year, which was also significantly higher than all of the past seven years. From 2010 to 2016, there was never an opening day that had more than 27.5% of games with margin of victories greater than or equal to 31 points. Appalachian State’s historic 135-34 dismantling of Toccoa Falls definitely didn’t help the cause.
Overall, the lack of quality games was expected, but even the marquee matchups didn’t deliver.
West Virginia (#11) and Texas A&M (#25) highlighted the opening day slate, as the former Big 12 rivals were set to battle in a ranked matchup at the Ramstein Air Force Base in Ramstein, Germany.
Prior to tip-off, interest in the game waned considerably. Texas A&M announced that potential future lottery pick Robert Williams and starting point guard J.J. Caldwell were both suspended for the game and West Virginia guard Esa Ahmad would miss the entire first half of the season due to a lengthy suspension.
Though A&M took a hit from the absences, it was West Virginia that looked short-handed. The Aggies destroyed West Virginia 88-65 in what was a sometimes sloppy and mostly uncompetitive ranked matchup.
UCLA-Georgia Tech was supposed to be A&M-WVa’s worthy encore, but even that one didn’t pan out as expected.
Three Bruins were unable to play after being arrested for reportedly stealing from a Luis Vuitton store near the UCLA hotel rooms in China. LiAngelo Ball, Jalen Hill and Cody Riley were the ones identitified in the incident. Georgia Tech, also dealing with issues of its own after Ron Bell came forward and explained that head coach Josh Pastner’s had allowed his use of impermissible benefits over the years, suspended starters Tadric Jackson and Josh Okogie. The game that tipped off after 11:30pm ET was close but lacked most of the intrigue it had coming in.
As a way to gauge how many “quality” games have been played on opening day, I created a list of games in which a ranked team either lost or won by no more than ten points.
Though four games made the list, the only ranked matchup from Friday that carried much buzz was Kentucky’s home win over Utah Valley. The Wildcats came into the game ranked #5 in the country, but a slow start from John Calipari’s group allowed UVU to bolster a 34-25 lead at the intermission.
But, as was the theme on Friday, all good would eventually come to an end. Kentucky used an 18-0 second half run as Utah Valley’s once-comfortable lead had dissipated. After Kentucky guard Wenyen Gabriel connected on a three-pointer to take the 39-37 lead with 16:51 remaining in the second half, the Wildcats didn’t look back, possessing a double-digit advantage for most of the final nine minutes.
Although Friday wasn’t great (and was expected to be, either), there are countless games that will produce far more hype and, hopefully, results over the next week or so. On Tuesday, #1 Duke plays #2 Michigan State and #5 Kentucky takes on #4 Kansas in the Champions Classic doubleheader. Purdue (#20) goes on the road to face Marquette as well. Look out for Xavier (#17) at Wisconsin on Thursday, as well as the handful of early season tournaments that get started next week.
Patience, my friends. The best is yet to come.