The 2013-14 college basketball season may be in its earliest stages, but there were a number of marquee games that may foreshadow what is yet to come.
Obviously the sample size is very small, but there are some takeaways to be had through a week of action. Read on to find out what they are as we begin our march to the NCAA tournament.
This summer was basically the offseason of Andrew Wiggins between the coverage and hype his recruitment and then imminent debut received.
While the extended coverage of Wiggins is well deserved based on his once-in-a-generation talent alone, he is far from the only superstar freshman this year. Jabari Parker has stuffed the stat sheet at Duke, Julius Randle completely dominated in a losing effort against Michigan State, and Aaron Gordon has caught the rest of the Pac-12’s attention at Arizona.
That’s not even getting into discussions about Noah Vonleh at Indiana, James Young at Kentucky or countless other first-year stars in the making. There is more freshman talent across the nation in college basketball this year than in any in recent memory.
Don’t expect many of these stars to be around next season, though.
Jabari Parker may have outshone Andrew Wiggins for much of their Champions Classic showdown, but Wiggins showed the nation why there was so much hype surrounding him in crunch time.
Wiggins made the game’s two most important baskets and ultimately helped the Jayhawks pull away for good. He scored 16 of his 22 points in the second half and looked very comfortable alongside Perry Ellis, who scored 24 points of his own.
Wiggins is averaging 19 points and 5.5 rebounds a night thus far, but his most impressive number is his 58.3 percent mark from the field. Even with all the defensive attention being thrown his way, Wiggins has managed to score at an effective clip.
Too much hype or not, Wiggins is clearly a budding superstar.
It was an easy and somewhat lazy narrative to call the Michigan State and Kentucky showdown a clash between talent and experience. After all, there was (and still is) plenty of talent on the Michigan State sidelines as well.
Gary Harris and Keith Appling made the critical plays and outshone the Harrison brothers down the stretch. Appling ended up completely dominating and totaled 22 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and four steals. Harris scored 20 while stealing the ball three times.
The Spartans' other “experienced” guy Adreian Payne scored 15 points, while Branden Dawson tallied nine rebounds and four steals. Payne and Dawsen are both formidable on the glass, and Payne creates some of the biggest mismatches in the country with his size and ability to hit from the outside.
Yes, Tom Izzo’s squad is experienced, but it is also one of the most talented teams in the country.
The fact that only bottom-dwellers Penn State and Northwestern have lost thus far in the Big Ten is not the reason the Big Ten has to be considered the nation’s best conference so far. It is actually the number of marquee wins the league has already piled up in the season’s early going.
Michigan State knocked off No. 1 Kentucky in the much-hyped Champions Classic showdown, Ohio State ended the nation’s longest home-winning streak at Marquette, and Wisconsin already has three notable wins against St. John’s, Florida and at Green Bay.
The Big Ten was widely considered the best conference in the country last year but will need an impressive performance in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge to claim that crown this season. But so far it is off to an impressive start once again.
The SEC may get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to football, but basketball is a different story.
The conference was historically bad for much of the season last year, but the 2013-14 campaign was (and still is) expected to be better. However, it hasn’t been a great start for the conference thus far.
Kentucky lost its marquee showdown with Michigan State, Florida was beaten by Wisconsin, Alabama was stunned by Oklahoma, Auburn got crushed by Northwestern State, Georgia lost to in-state rivals Georgia Tech, LSU lost to Massachusetts, South Carolina lost to Baylor, and Tennessee lost to Xavier.
That’s a lot of missed opportunities for the SEC to make a statement against formidable competition. Don’t expect the league to get the benefit of the doubt come Selection Sunday if it continues to falter in important games against other conferences.
The Louisville Cardinals cut down the nets as national champions in last season’s NCAA tournament, but the defining image that fans across the country will remember is Kevin Ware writhing in pain after snapping his leg in the Elite Eight against Duke.
It was one of those moments that made even those who aren’t particularly skittish queasy, and the highlight video requires something of a explicit-content warning beforehand. It was hard not to feel terrible for Ware as his teammates finished an impressive national championship run.
Incredibly enough, Ware made his season debut Friday against Cornell in front of the home fans. If that wasn’t enough, he scored on his very first touch and helped lead the Cardinals to a decisive victory.
Ware finished with five points and two rebounds, although the numbers frankly didn’t matter. College basketball fans everywhere are just happy he is back and playing.
College basketball instituted new rules this offseason meant to promote more scoring through increased freedom of motion (no more hand checks), but all the rules have done thus far is create a parade at the free-throw line.
If you comb through box scores across the country, the number of shots attempted at the charity stripe is almost sobering. Here are just a few that jump out through the season’s first week.
Seton Hall and Niagara competed in a contest that saw 102 free throws and 73 fouls. Kansas and Louisiana Monroe committed 58 fouls and attempted 72 free throws. Ohio State shot 51 free throws as opposed to 44 shots from the field in a contest against Ohio. Kentucky came storming back against Michigan State in the season’s headline event at the Champions Classic in part because Julius Randle made a living at the free-throw line.
This isn’t making a statement on the quality of the officiating either. With the new rules, the refs are blowing the whistle when it is a foul, which is exactly what they are supposed to do.
Free-throw shooting is always important, but it will be even more critical this season.
The incredible amount of first-year talent was already touched on in the freshmen discussions, but the skill across the country is not just limited to the young players. The Player of the Year race is always tightly contested between a few players, but it will be particularly crowded in 2013-14.
Doug McDermott, Andrew Wiggins, Russ Smith, Julius Randle, Jabari Parker, Marcus Smart, Gary Harris, C.J. Fair, Aaron Gordon and Adreian Payne all have legitimate chances at becoming the best player in the country this year. And those are just some of the marquee names.
There are plenty of other players that could throw their names into the ring, such as Rodney Hood, Shabazz Napier and Mitch McGary. This is far from a comprehensive list, but just glancing over some of the leading candidates shows how crowded this race can get.
There are only so many spots on the All-American teams as well.
One of the most important developments in the season’s first week won’t actually have any impact on how this year plays out. However, its repercussions will certainly be felt next year.
Duke landed the coveted recruiting package of Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones on Friday. Okafor is the No. 1 recruit in the country for the class of 2014 according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, while Jones is No. 5 in those same ratings.
Even if we assume Jabari Parker is NBA-bound after this year, the Blue Devils will have a ridiculous amount of talent on their roster next season. Rodney Hood, Rasheed Sulaimon, Quinn Cook, Amile Jefferson, Okafor, Jones and fellow 2014 recruit Grayson Allen, who is a 4-star wing in his own right according to 247Sports, make a heck of a core.
Imagine if Parker surprised and decided to come back for one more year. Good luck beating Duke next season.
Plenty of conference races received attention in season previews. The Big Ten has the trio of Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan on top, the ACC has a similar situation with Duke, North Carolina and Syracuse, and the SEC has Florida trying to beat Kentucky’s superstar freshmen.
However, the race in the Big 12 may end up being the best of all.
Kansas has won nine consecutive conference titles and has as much of a stranglehold on the league as any program has had in recent memory. With Andrew Wiggins, Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden in tow this year, many expect that streak to stretch to 10.
But don’t sleep on Oklahoma State. While the Jayhawks knocked off Duke in a thriller, the Cowboys have been completely destroying lesser competition. It’s not just the fact that Oklahoma State has beaten bad teams (a lot of programs have done that), it’s the way the scoring has been distributed.
Marcus Smart, one of the favorites for National Player of the Year, is averaging 13.7 points a night. Le’Bryan Nash is also averaging 13.7 a game, while Markel Brown is averaging 15.3, and Phil Forte is leading the way with 21 a night.
If the Cowboys get that type of production around their superstar, they could end up challenging Wiggins and company for the conference crown.
Follow and interact with college basketball writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.