From the Big Ten’s 13-0 start to San Diego State’s second-half explosion, here are the top takeaways from the first day of the college Basketball Season.
After an offseason full of speculation and projection, we finally have college basketball games to discuss, in fact, more 200 of them! While some of the blowouts are difficult to analyze, there were Day 1 matchups that provided some insight into what we can expect from various team moving forward.
Let’s discuss these top takeaways from opening day in college hoops.
1. The Top 25 teams proved they belong
Sure, TCU almost lost to one of the lowest-projected teams in the country. However, the Horned Frogs also outscored the Golden Lions of Arkansas-Pine Bluff by 21 points over the final 30 minutes. This margin of victory would have been tied for 17th among Top 25 teams had it not been for the initial punch in the mouth. Elsewhere, teams like Creighton and Arkansas started off slow, but their talent shined down the stretch for relatively routine double-digit victories.
2. Adam Flagler is a legitimate Big 12 Player of the Year candidate
All offseason, I have been beating the drum for Adam Flagler as the Big 12 Player of the Year, and his first game against Mississippi Valley State provided some vindication. While the Delta Devils are likely to finish near the bottom of the national rankings again this season, that does not take away from Flagler’s role or shooting efficiency. The senior guard scored 21 points on nine shots, including 4-of-6 from deep and 5-of-5 from the stripe. Add in eight assists and a pair of steals, and he looks like he could compete with Mike Miles for the best point guard in the conference.
3. Minnesota holds off Western Michigan’s late push to give the Big Ten a perfect opening day
The Big Ten responded to questions about the league’s strength by joining the Big East as the only high-major conferences without a loss, and did so in routine fashion. Minnesota was the only single-digit win of the day, and only two of the remaining 12 wins were by a margin of fewer than 20 points. On a day when teams like Oklahoma and Florida State slipped up, the Big Ten holding steady was all it could have asked.
4. Free Baba Miller
Should Florida State have won its opening game against Stetson without Miller? Yes. Is it important that the NCAA ensures its rules are upheld to the best of its ability? Also, yes. But it’s overkill to suspend an international player for half a season because he inadvertently broke a rule and immediately took steps to remedy the situation. A 16-game suspension for a relatively minor situation is too harsh given the NCAA’s response to program-level rule violations, such as what occurred at Kansas and Arizona.
5. North Carolina showed glimpses of national championship talent, but depth is a work in progress
When teams enter the season ranked at the top of the polls, fans expect immediate dominance against teams of the caliber of UNC Wilmington. Despite a tight game for the first 16 minutes, UNC went on a 20-6 run that spanned across halftime and essentially put the game away early in the second half. Hubert Davis’ starters played a total of 162 out of the 200 total minutes.
This relatively short rotation — Seth Trimble and D’Marco Dunn were the only bench players to play more than seven minutes — isn’t unheard of in tight NCAA Tournament games. However, the lack of confidence to play the deeper bench pieces in the final 10 minutes of the game doesn’t bode well for the team’s overall depth to start the year. Puff Johnson was only rotational Tar Heel who was unavailable, yet there was still very little bench contribution.
6. It was the same old San Diego State offense, until it wasn’t
At halftime, San Diego State was up 32-25 on Cal State Fullerton — a score we have come to expect from the Aztecs in recent years. SDSU traditionally places a primary emphasis on elite defense, often at the expense of the team’s offense. In the second half, however, the Aztecs put doubts to rest by opening up a 31-point scoring flurry in the first 10 minutes. With newcomers Darrion Trammell and Micah Parrish combining to shoot 5-of-6 from three, and the Aztecs scoring 80 points despite Matt Bradley’s tough night, it’s safe to say that a top-10 finish isn’t outside the realm of possibilities for this squad.
7. Andy Enfield loses to his former program, and Boogie Ellis makes a grab at being the alpha
The Pac-12 — beyond Arizona, Oregon and UCLA — looks rough to start the season. Cal lost its first game to UC Davis in over 30 meetings, Oregon State required a big comeback to overcome Tulsa, and Stanford and Arizona State barely squeaked by their opponents.
But no result was as eyebrow-raising as USC’s 74-61 loss to Florida Gulf Coast. The Trojans just couldn’t get anything going in this game, shooting 15 percent from deep and giving up 16 offensive rebounds to the Eagles. The most concerning aspect was the complete lack of scoring output from Drew Peterson, whose impact was saved by his nine rebounds and six assists. Boogie Ellis stepped in as a volume scorer, but without a reliable secondary option, there never was much of a chance.
8. Manny Bates returned from injury better than advertised for Butler
Manny Bates’ return to the court came just two days shy of a year after his season-ending injury vs. Bucknell. The NC State transfer received plenty of hype heading into the season for Butler, and he certainly delivered in a big way.
His 26 points, 11 rebounds, and three blocks led the way for Butler and was Bates’ third career double-double. If the Bulldogs can get this kind of output from him consistently, they have NCAA Tournament potential in Thad Matta’s first season back at the helm.
9. Antonio Reeves is the shooting specialist Kentucky needs
The biggest question facing the Kentucky Wildcats entering the season was whether or not their 3-point shooting could return to the level needed to compete for a championship. Adding CJ Frederick and Antonio Reeves was promising, but not a guarantee.
Well, Antonio Reeves seems to have put that concern to rest, at least for now. In a dominant win for the Wildcats without both Oscar Tshiebwe and Sahvir Wheeler, Reeves poured it on, shooting 6-of-12 from deep for a team-leading 22 points. Despite only adding one rebound and two assists, Reeves had an undeniable impact on the team’s offensive spacing.
10. College basketball is back!
While the Top 25 held serve, the rest of the day gave us everything we could want out of a college basketball slate. Multiple high-majors lost buy games in brutal fashion. Breakout stars emerged across the country. And we even had multiple buzzer-beaters, including Loyola Chicago’s prayer to force overtime against Fairleigh Dickinson. After seven months away, it’s great to have this wonderful sport back in our lives.