The 10 Biggest Takeaways from College Basketball's Opening Week

Thad Novak@@ThadNovakCorrespondent INovember 16, 2012

The 10 Biggest Takeaways from College Basketball's Opening Week

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    After just seven days of college basketball action in 2012-13, five of the preseason’s Top 25 teams have already suffered their first losses. From shocking upsets (South Alabama over No. 25 Florida State) to predictable routs (No. 1 Indiana 97, Bryant 54), there have been plenty of games with lessons to teach us about the season to come.

    One of the defining matchups of the first week saw the No. 9 Duke Blue Devils secure a hard-earned victory over No. 3 Kentucky. Duke’s Seth Curry and his game-high 23 points went a long way towards proving that the Blue Devils don’t need a traditional point guard to put up big-time offensive numbers.

    Read on for more on Curry’s showcase and the rest of the 10 most salient lessons from the early action of the college hoops season.

10. Northeastern Is Either the Most Clutch Team Around or the Luckiest

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    That Northeastern won its first two games (against Boston U and at Princeton) is not especially remarkable in itself, but the way the Huskies earned their 2-0 record certainly is.

    Both victories were decided by last-second shots (by two different Husky sophomores) that gave Northeastern the win by a single point.

    First, a late three-pointer by Demetrius Pollard saved the home opener against the Terriers. Four days later, Reggie Spencer (averaging 17 points and six rebounds a night through two games) followed up with a layup to cap an 8-0 closing run against the Tigers.

    It’s not exactly a trend coach Bill Coen wants to count on, but it’s hard to argue with anything that builds momentum for a team coming off a 14-17 season in the always-tough CAA.

9. UCLA Has Plenty of Weapons, Even Without Shabazz Muhammad

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    A week into UCLA’s season, the Bruins still don’t have an answer on exactly when (or if) superstar freshman Shabazz Muhammad will be allowed to suit up.

    Fortunately for coach Ben Howland, his team has shown some impressive potential, even with Muhammad on the sidelines.

    Muhammad’s recruiting classmates, Jordan Adams and a now-injured Kyle Anderson, have combined for 31.3 points per game early on, while North Carolina transfer Larry Drew II has handled the point guard duties with aplomb (8.3 assists a night).

    That new blood has also been good news for the returning Bruins, especially the Wear twins (23.7 points and 13.7 boards per contest between them).

8. Lehigh Isn’t as Good as It Looked Last March

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    Lehigh put itself on the map as a program with last season’s historic NCAA tournament upset of second-seeded Duke.

    With star guard C.J. McCollum returning, hopes were high for this year’s Mountain Hawks, but it’s time to temper the expectations piled on the 2012 Cinderellas.

    With starters John Adams and Jordan Hamilton lost to graduation, the 2012-13 version of Lehigh has gotten slaughtered on the road by a pair of power-conference foes: a 22-point loss to Baylor and a 25-point defeat at Pitt.

    Lehigh is still going to be a very tough group by midmajor standards, especially with McCollum averaging 24 points per game early on, but giant-killing on a regular basis is beyond their reach.

    Even the Patriot League title is no longer a foregone conclusion, as veteran Bucknell is off to a hot start highlighted by a season-opening road win over Purdue.

7. An Aircraft Carrier Really Isn’t a Very Good Place for a Basketball Game

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    The success of the inaugural Carrier Classic a year ago did a good job of obscuring the inherent foolishness of the idea.

    That’s not meant to impugn the success of the aircraft-carrier venue as a publicity stunt, or to object to the well-meaning attempt to celebrate America’s armed forces, but rather to point out that basketball is an indoor sport for a reason.

    Two would-be marquee matchups (Ohio State vs. Marquette, Florida vs. Georgetown) were cancelled this week because excessive condensation on the hardwood courts made playing conditions too dangerous.

    That’s a fairly obvious reason not to schedule basketball games outdoors on the ocean in the first place, though the NCAA is forging right ahead for next season.

    Even the game that was played—Syracuse’s 62-49 romp over San Diego State—exposed another major defect in the outdoor setting when stiff ocean winds played havoc with jump shooters on both teams.

6. Duke’s Lack of a Point Guard Isn’t the End of the World

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    For the program that produced Jay Williams, Chris Duhon and Bobby Hurley, it’s got to be a strange not having a bona fide point guard for the second straight season.

    Fortunately for the Blue Devils, it’s a deficiency that they appear to have found ways to work around.

    Senior Seth Curry did most of the ball-handling in Duke’s clutch win over Kentucky, and while he only recorded a single assist, his 23 points made up for plenty of other ills.

    Freshman Rasheed Sulaimon showed more playmaking ability (five assists to go with 10 points), although he too is a shooting guard at heart.

    Still, Duke will be just fine as long as Sulaimon and Curry can continue to strike the right balance of taking shots and creating them.

5. West Virginia Has a Long Way To Go

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    Opening on the road against a Top 25 team is rarely a good way to build confidence, but Bob Huggins could hardly have expected the disaster he got on Monday night.

    His Mountaineers were absolutely obliterated by No. 19 Gonzaga, with a sic-worthy final score of 84-50.

    The most glaring of many problems for West Virginia was atrocious point guard play, with touted Dayton transfer Juwan Staten posting a dismal line (zero points, one assist, two turnovers) and the team as a whole totaling just eight assists for the night.

    The only thing even resembling an encouraging sign was the effort of WVU’s other key transfer, ex-La Salle big man Aaric Murray (14 points, four rebounds and three blocks).  

    Until Murray gets some substantial help, though, this team is in serious trouble against NCAA tournament-level competition.

4. Baylor Is Going To Put Up a Lot of Points

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    The Baylor team that made the Elite Eight a season ago relied more on a punishing zone defense than on first-class offense. This year’s edition, though, has shown some serious scoring punch in the early going.

    A 3-0 start featuring wins over Lehigh and Boston College has seen prize freshman Isaiah Austin average 19 points an outing, with previously unheralded junior Cory Jefferson adding 14.3 more.

    That’s not even accounting for a veteran backcourt led by sniper Brady Heslip (.455 three-point shooting last year) and point guard Pierre Jackson, the real star of this show with 23.3 points and 8.7 assists a night.

3. Kansas Needs a Go-to Scorer

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    The second half of No. 7 Kansas’ Champions Classic showdown with No. 21 Michigan State belonged, unsurprisingly, to two defenses that had ranked in the top three in the country a year ago.

    That the Jayhawks came up short in that matchup says less about their own stalwart D than about their inability to find offense when they needed it.

    Senior Elijah Johnson led KU with 16 points, but he struggled to find openings to shoot in the final minutes, while redshirt freshman Ben McLemore couldn’t even get his hands on the ball for long stretches.

    Kansas is going to play plenty of close games this season, and it's going to have several more of them end in losses unless the Jayhawks find a scoring option they can count on in crunch time.

2. It’s Time To Give Florida’s Frontcourt Its Due

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    Through back-to-back Elite Eight trips, the storyline for the Florida Gators has been the dominance of their high-scoring backcourt.

    Even with Erving Walker and Bradley Beal gone this season, the spotlight has been firmly on the remaining perimeter star, senior guard Kenny Boynton.

    The biggest news for the 10th-ranked Gators after two games, though, has been the sensational performance of their big men, particularly Erik Murphy.

    Murphy's 19.5 points a night have outpaced even Boynton early on—though frontcourt mate Patric Young is topping the team’s rebounding charts—and he shot 10-for-10 from the field in the rout of No. 22 Wisconsin.

1. Kentucky Is Mortal (but the SEC Should Still Be Worried)

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    After freshman-heavy Kentucky set a record for wins on its way to the 2012 national title, it was easy to forget that even the biggest first-year stars can benefit from some seasoning.

    This year’s Wildcats got a hard lesson in the value of experience when Duke’s seniors handed them a 75-68 defeat on Tuesday night.

    For all the rough edges UK showed in that loss, though, the big names of this year’s John Calipari recruiting crop also left no doubt as to their immense potential.

    They won’t approach 38 wins this year, especially with serious question marks at point guard, but by the time conference play begins, Nerlens Noel and company will be used to playing together and ready to win the Wildcats’ third SEC title in four tries under Calipari.