The opening week of the college basketball season is in the rear-view mirror. Lukas Harkins presents eight under-the-radar takeaways from around the country.
The opening week of the 2022-23 college basketball season didn’t feature many nationally ranked battles. Nonetheless, it was great to have basketball back, and there were several key moments from the first few days. The upsets alone were plentiful. Northwestern State beat TCU! Southeastern Louisiana beat Wyoming! Maine beat Boston College! Florida State is 0-3?! It was a wild week in college basketball that displayed the unpredictability of the sport that we all love so much.
With the week now in the rear-view mirror, what were some under-the-radar things we learned? While there were several to choose from, I took a look into eight things that caught my eye in the early going, including Saint Mary’s dominating quality mid-major competition and Penn State shooting the lights out from three. Additionally, some mid-major stars are burgeoning and a new team in the Division I ranks made an early stamp with an upset victory.
Saint Mary’s already making a case for a multi-bid WCC
Saint Mary’s has quietly been among the nation’s most consistent programs in recent years. The Gaels have finished in the KenPom top 40 in six of the last seven campaigns, and now look poised to do so again. Head coach Randy Bennett deployed an elite defense during the opening week of the season, holding three KenPom top-100 offenses to just 0.825 points per possession. The Gaels are controlling the paint at an elite level, limiting teams to only 34.1 percent shooting on 2-point attempts through three games. All of their victories have come against mid-majors poised to contend for their respective league titles, and they have made the wins look easy.
In addition to their dominant defense, Saint Mary’s is shooting extremely well. True freshman Aidan Mahaney (9-for-18) and top returner Alex Ducas (7-for-16) are leading the way for a team hitting 42.2 percent of its 3-pointers. Luke Barrett, who missed all seven of his career 3-pointers before this season, is 6-for-7 from deep in an expanded role. Saint Mary’s has made its presence felt early, and a multi-bid WCC already appears likely. The Gaels’ defense is legit with Mitchell Saxen taking a jump and Mahaney already experiencing a high-impact Year 1.
Penn State is dropping dimes and splashing 3s
Micah Shrewsberry initiated a 3-point-heavy offense in his first season in Happy Valley last year, but to mixed results. The Nittany Lions ranked 131st in adjusted offensive efficiency. After a strong showing in the transfer portal, Penn State looks ready to thrive this year. Andrew Funk was a critical addition via Bucknell to supply more shooting next to returners Myles Dread, Seth Lundy and Jalen Pickett. A lack of size in the frontcourt lingers as a concern, but Penn State looks the part as one of the nation’s top shooting teams.
Penn State is 3-0 and has hit at least 10 3-pointers in each of its games, shooting 47.8 percent from deep. The Nittany Lions currently rank 13th in 3-point attempt rate, 12th in 3-point percentage and 18th in assists per made field goal. Their offense is operating at a high level, ranking third in effective field goal percentage. Using Bart Torvik’s rankings without baked-in preseason expectations, Penn State’s offense ranks 13th in adjusted efficiency. PSU’s 14.7 made 3-pointers per game leads the nation.
Javian McCollum is taking the jump for Siena
Siena has posted at least 11 conference wins — and an overall winning record — in four straight seasons, including all three with Carmen Maciariello at the helm. The Saints lost some key pieces over the offseason, but sophomore Javian McCollum is looking like the guy through two games. The shifty 6-1 guard showed flashes as a freshman, notching 6.7 points on efficient shooting splits. Now in a full-time starting role, he is shining.
McCollum dropped 20 points and five assists in a season-opening road win over Holy Cross, then recorded 20 points and six assists against Albany. Siena holds a 2-0 record after the first week, and McCollum is a big reason why. He is pairing with former North Carolina guard Andrew Platek to form one of the better backcourts in the MAAC. The Saints could be right up there with Iona and Rider near the top of the league.
McCollum has juice to his game, and is a potential walking highlight with the ball in his hands. He creates for himself at a high level, and has the confidence to be a star. This is downright nasty.
Providence and Luck: “You Belong With Me”
Providence won the Big East regular-season title last season and reached the Sweet 16. It was a banner campaign for the program, yet one somewhat marred by the external criticism of their “luck.” Well, it hasn’t taken long for some of the same whispers to begin with this year’s Friars. Providence nearly dropped their season-opener, winning by one after Rider stumbled into a turnover on the game’s final possession. The Friars then struggled with Northeastern for about 22 minutes before a 20-3 run put away all doubt.
After finishing first in KenPom’s luck rating last season, Providence already slides in at No. 8 this year. The saying goes, “it’s better to be lucky than good,” but what if you’re both? The Friars are quite talented and once again have NCAA Tournament aspirations. The teams who suffered opening-week upsets would have liked to have a little dose of the “Friar Fortune.”
It must be irritating for Providence fans to constantly see the “lucky” label thrown around. When it comes down to it, though, only one thing really matters from the team’s opening week: Two wins. No losses.
Wisconsin natives impressing at mid-majors
An underclassmen trio of Wisconsin natives have burst onto the scene this season to play big roles for new teams this year. Leading the back has been Brandin Podziemski, a flamethrower scorer who helped guide Santa Clara to two opening-week wins. Wisconsin’s 2021 Mr. Basketball began his career at Illinois, where he played 69 minutes before transferring this offseason. The high-scoring guard posted 64 points and 20 rebounds on 8-for-15 3-point shooting through two games. Santa Clara needed to find scoring after losing Jalen Williams to the NBA; Podziemski has answered the bell early.
Utah State held Podziemski to only 12 points on 3-for-11 shooting while handing Santa Clara its first loss of the season on Nov. 14. It has nonetheless been a solid start to the new campaign for the 6-5 guard.
Jackson Paveletzke and Andrew Rohde are two true freshmen Wisconsinites making impacts. The former has posted 49 points across three Wofford games, while the latter has helped St. Thomas to a 2-1 record. Rohde is known for his shooting but is only 3-for-16 from deep thus far; once the perimeter jumper catches up with how well he has finished inside the arc (18-for-25), he could make the Tommies a Summit League threat.
Paveletzke helped Kimberly reach Wisconsin’s Division 1 state title game in 2021, while Rohde did the same for Brookfield Central in 2022. They each hit 50-plus points in a single game during their senior seasons.
Maine’s Chris Markwood era is off to a strong start
Maine has been among the nation’s worst programs for several years. The Black Bears have not finished inside the KenPom top 300 since 2013 and have compiled just a .205 winning percentage over the last nine seasons. Winning in Orono is a tough ask, and Chris Markwood is the new head coach to attempt to do so. Markwood, 40, played and coached as an assistant at Maine during the 2000s before joining the staffs at Vermont, Northeastern and Boston College. Now, he is off to an encouraging start at his alma mater.
Maine hung with Nebraska on the road in its season-opener, only trailing by four midway through the second half in a 13-point loss. A non-D1 win over Maine Fort Kent followed before the Black Bears posted a signature performance. They went on the road to knock off Boston College on Nov. 14 and never trailed during the game. Kellen Tynes was particularly tremendous as Markwood added his first D1 victory as a head coach.
Building Maine into a winner might take time, but picking up a road win over an ACC opponent in just your third game is an excellent way to start.
Matt Knowling is becoming Yale’s go-to guy
With Azar Swain and Jalen Gabbidon leaving this past offseason, Yale lost over 40 percent of its scoring. The Bulldogs did not return a single player who averaged over eight points per game. Their defense was poised to remain solid, but head coach James Jones needed to find a new go-to offensive weapon. Through four games, Matt Knowling is looking the part. He notched 20-plus points in his first three games before netting 18 in an overtime road win over Hawaii. The talented forward is averaging 21.0 points per game — up from 7.2 last year — and is shooting 58.7 percent from the field.
The Bulldogs are also seeing growth from sophomore John Poulakidas, who is averaging 10.5 points after playing sparingly (1.9 ppg) in a reserve role behind Swain and Gabbidon last year. Knowling is the interior threat, while Poulakidas helps space the floor with 3-point shooting. Yale entered this season picked to finish third in the Ivy League. The two teams in front of them, Penn and Princeton, are a combined 1-5 to begin the campaign; Yale is 4-0. With Knowling and Poulakidas making strides, Yale could be in a position to contend for the league title.
Southern Indiana off to an impressive start to its D1 tenure
Southern Indiana has quickly burst onto the scene in its first season at the Division I level. Head coach Stan Gouard’s team challenged Missouri on the road in their season opener, falling by only six points. The Screaming Eagles followed with a dominating home performance against a KenPom top-100 opponent in Southern Illinois. USI romped to a 71-53 victory. The Screaming Eagles rank 21st nationally in 3-point percentage at 45.7 percent so far; they also hold opponents to just 21.1 percent from downtown.
A consistent postseason presence in Division II — including 16 NCAA Tournament appearances since 2000 and a Final Four berth in 2019 — Southern Indiana is off to a strong start as one of the new members of the Ohio Valley Conference. The Screaming Eagles’ nonconference schedule also features a few other opportunities to turn heads, including a road bout with Notre Dame this week.