Biggest Takeaways from Opening Night of 2013-14 College Basketball Season
After seven months of waiting, the 2013-14 college basketball season finally tipped off on Friday night.
Save for Northern Colorado pulling a fast one on unranked Kansas State, there weren't any particularly shocking outcomes. Still, there was plenty to take away from opening night.
Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and Aaron Gordon were all in action on Friday, and each heralded freshman played well.
A few highly-ranked teams looked even better than many of us expected. Others were decidedly worse than anticipated.
Kentucky Can Run the Opposition to Death
Unless I'm mistaken, Kentucky did not have a single offensive possession in which the shot clock went below 13. More often that not, the Wildcats were getting a shot off within 10 seconds of possessing the ball.
It almost looked like they were running the "seven seconds or less" offense that Mike D'Antoni made famous with the Phoenix Suns. The second they grabbed a defensive rebound, everyone was sprinting back up the court.
For a blowout victory, they didn't shoot it particularly well from the floor (47.5 percent), but that fast-paced approach led to 32 fouls against UNC-Asheville and 48 free throws for Kentucky.
Julius Randle was a monster in the paint, scoring 23 points and grabbing 15 rebounds, despite spending much of the game contending with D.J. Cunningham—who was tied for ninth in the nation in blocked shots per game in 2012-13.
Better teams than UNC-Asheville might be able to slow them down a bit, but it's going to be a lot of fun to watch them turn games into track meets all season.
Florida Did Not Look Like a Ranked Team
Yes, the Gators were without a few players. And yes, a couple of the ones who did play weren't at full health.
That's no excuse for struggling to win a home game against North Florida.
Senior forward Casey Prather was outstanding, doubling his previous career high in points scored with 28. But where in the world were Will Yeguete and Patric Young? Florida's two big men combined to average 15.6 points and 12.1 rebounds per game last season, but scored just four points with seven rebounds while going 0-of-6 from the floor in 42 minutes of action on Friday.
After the game, Donovan vented to reporters (via the Associated Press), "Their basketball IQ and understanding of where to be, when to be, what's going on, how to rotate, it's just at a totally different level to what we're doing. That's the frustrating part to me. I can't seem to get through to some of these guys."
Not exactly something you expect to hear about what is supposed to be one of the 10 best teams in the country.
Florida will improve as its players get healthy and return from suspensions, but will likely lose by 30 points if it plays the same way on Tuesday at Wisconsin.
Watch out for St. John's
Despite poor three-point shooting and limited minutes from Phil Greene IV and Chris "Block Machine" Obekpa, St. John's had Wisconsin on the ropes late in the game before falling by a score of 86-75.
D'Angelo Harrison scored 27 points while Jakarr Sampson added 21 of his own.
If either Greene, Sir'Dominic Pointer or Jamal Branch emerges as a consistent third scoring threat in the Red Storm offense, this team could seriously contend for the Big East title.
On the other side of the court, how about Wisconsin scoring 86 points in a game? The Badgers were just one more three-pointer away from their highest offensive output in a game since a 99-55 win over Prairie View A&M on opening night of the 2010-11 season.
The Tar Heels Are Back
Earlier this week, we highlighted Oakland as one of the teams to watch out for as a possible Cinderella team in this year's NCAA tournament. The Golden Grizzlies have a ton of veteran leadership, and Travis Bader might be the best three-point assassin we've been blessed with in the college game since Jimmer Fredette departed for the NBA.
Despite playing without P.J. Hairston or Leslie McDonald, North Carolina destroyed Oakland. The final margin of victory was "only" 23 points, but the Tar Heels had a 37-point lead at halftime.
James Michael McAdoo led the way with 21 points and nine rebounds. Freshman Kennedy Meeks added 10 points, five rebounds and two assists off the bench.
We still have no idea how long Hairston will be suspended, but thus far it looks like the team is doing just fine without him.
Kansas Is Still Extremely Raw
Five Jayhawks missed multiple free throws, including Wayne Selden Jr. going 1 of 6 from the charity stripe. Five different players had at least two turnovers, resulting in a total of 15 for the team.
Joel Embiid looked unpolished on the low blocks, oftentimes seeming to change his mind halfway through a post move. Andrew Wiggins passed up a handful of open looks that a leading scorer should be taking every time.
Long story short, they spent most of their opening night against Louisiana-Monroe looking exactly like what they are: a team relying on a lot of freshmen.
They should improve by leaps and bounds over the course of the season. If these two teams played each other again in four months, Kansas would probably win by 60.
Based on how each team played on Friday night, though, it would be somewhat of a surprise if Kansas beats Duke on Tuesday.
Harvard Could Have Some Company in the Ivy League
After a shocking upset over New Mexico in last year's tournament, just about everyone handed the Ivy's auto bid to Harvard on a crimson platter. ESPN's John Gasaway even went so far as to make Harvard one of his preseason predictions to make the Final Four.
Cornell might have other things to say.
The Big Red ended up getting blown out by the Orange in the second half when Trevor Cooney caught fire, but they held a six-point halftime lead at Syracuse.
You never want to make too much out of a single game—let alone a single half—but one could reasonably assume that is the largest halftime deficit Syracuse will face at home all season.
Cornell also has road games against Louisville and Notre Dame within the next month, so we'll have a few more opportunities to evaluate the Big Red before they disappear into the virtually un-televised Ivy League regular season schedule.
Officiating Is Going to Be a Real Adventure
In Michigan State's 42-point win over McNeese State, there were a grand total of 21 fouls called. The game had a very nice flow to it, rarely interrupted by free throws.
Most other games weren't nearly as free of whistles.
In one of the few nationally televised games, Georgetown and Oregon racked up 59 fouls and combined to shoot 74 free-throws. The final 10 minutes of the game took just less than an hour of actual time.
Kansas and Louisiana-Monroe was just as bad, with a combined 58 fouls and 72 free-throw attempts. Marquette attempted 53 free throws—compared to 36 field-goal attempts—in a narrow victory over Southern University.
The new rule changes—which are primarily just re-emphasizing rules that already existed—will permeate in-game discussions from announcers for the foreseeable future. Cutting down on hand checking and forcing defenders to actually defend with their feet is going to eventually open up the court and lead to a more free-flowing game with more points scored on average.
Until then, a lot of games are going to be sloppy messes that devolve into free-throw shooting contests over the final few minutes of each half.
Bear with it, though, as it's better for the game in the long run. Here's hoping the growing pains only last a few weeks or months rather than a few seasons.
Havoc Is Still Wreaking Havoc
VCU figured to be one of the teams that might suffer from the effort to reduce hand checking along the perimeter, but it certainly didn't faze the Rams on Friday night.
They had 14 steals and forced 22 turnovers against Illinois State en route to a commanding 96-58 victory. They probably could have scored 120, but they called off the dogs for much of the second half and allowed reserves to play more minutes than they normally would.
Tuesday's game at Virginia could be one of those rare intense defensive battles that is a lot of fun to watch.
Rick Barnes Is Still on the Hot Seat
A win is a win is a win, and Texas beat Mercer 79-76 on Friday night.
Mercer is projected to win the Atlantic Sun conference—over everyone's-favorite-team-since-last-March Florida Gulf Coast—but a three-point come-from-behind win at home against the Bears is hardly the recipe to quell the rumors that Rick Barnes is on the hot seat.
Texas went 16-18 last season while spending more than half the year waiting for Myck Kabongo to become eligible. It was the team's first losing season since Barnes took over after the 1997-98 season. Many thought Barnes might get the axe this past offseason, but he's still at the helm.
We aren't expecting a whole lot from Texas this season, but if Barnes is going to be around for the 2014-15 season, the Longhorns will need to do a better job of protecting home court against these non-conference opponents.
Start Paying Attention to Aaron Gordon
Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle dominated the freshman hype in the months leading up to the season, but Aaron Gordon is every bit as deserving of recognition as the rest of them.
In Arizona's opener against the Cal Poly Mustangs, Gordon had 13 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks. His offense pretty much disappeared after scoring seven points in the first six minutes, but his presence was felt on both ends of the court all night.
If you live on the East Coast and Gordon is doing most of his dunking past your bedtime, mark December 14 on your calendar for when Arizona visits Michigan for a noon tip-off. Gordon vs. Mitch McGary might be the most intriguing one-on-one matchup of the season.
Duke's Offense Is Incredible
Big name programs scoring a ton of points on opening night is hardly out of the ordinary. But most of those teams do that damage against obscure schools, like Oklahoma State dropping 63 first-half points on a Mississippi Valley State team projected to finish ninth in the SWAC.
Davidson is fully expected to win the Southern Conference and go back to the NCAA tournament for the third time in as many years.
You wouldn't know it from Friday night.
Duke shot better than 70 percent from the floor while making 13 three-pointers in a 111-77 pummeling of Davidson.
Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood were even better than advertised, each scoring 22 points and combining to go 17-of-20 from the floor while making each of their five three-point attempts. Quinn Cook added 21 points and eight assists, and Rasheed Sulaimon had 20 points and seven rebounds off the bench.
Duke's defense wasn't particularly stellar, and it'll be interesting to see what the game plan is against teams with someone taller than 6'7" in the starting lineup. But if there were any questions about whether Duke's offense was ready for Tuesday night's game against Kansas, it's safe to say they have been answered.