1. Duke is scary good.
From top to bottom, this Blue Devil squad is equipped to repeat as National Champs. Some believe this Duke team is better than the one of last year. I happen to agree. Especially when your freshman point guard accounts for a third of your teams points, outplays the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year, and helps defeat the #6 team in the country. Coach K must be salivating at the 31-point performance Kyrie Irving dropped on Michigan State in front of the entire country. Through seven games, Irving has double-digit points in every game.
Have I mentioned Kyle Singler or Nolan Smith yet? These two seniors are the veteran leaders on which Duke will rely once the ACC schedule begins and the calendar starts to inch closer to March and April. Throw in the Plumlee twins, Seth Curry and Andrew Dawkins off the bench, and Coach K has himself a legitimate threat to win his fifth NCAA National Championship trophy.
2. Illinois will challenge Michigan State and Ohio State for supremacy in the Big Ten.
Bruce Weber has put together his best Illinois team since the miraculous squad of '04-'05. With a rotation that boasts nine players all logging over ten minutes each, the depth of talent in Champaign cannot be overlooked. With seniors Mike Tisdale, Mike Davis, Demetri McCamey, and Bill Cole leading the way and underclassmen D.J. Richardson, Brandon Paul, Tyler Griffey, Jereme Richmond, and Meyers Leonard all helping out, Bruce Weber has an opportunity to have another really special season.
Coming off of an impressive victory over the tumbling Tar Heels, the Illini have to be content with the way they have played so far. Sophomore D.J. Richardson has been shooting lights out as of late connecting on over 50% of his three-point attempts.
This Illini team follows the lead of senior captain Demetri McCamey. The motor that runs this Illini offense is second in the nation with 7.8 assists per game and should gain serious consideration for Big Ten Player of the Year and National Player of the Year as the season moves forward.
With victories against Gonzaga in Washington on Saturday and a show down with the Missouri Tigers in the Busch Braggin' Rights game a few weeks from now, Bruce Weber and company will prove to the whole country that this team is on a mission to one up that '04-'05 squad with a National Championship title.
3. Minnesota didn't back up their hype.
After shocking North Carolina in the semi-finals and then sliding past West Virgina in the finals to win the Honda Puerto Rico Tip-Off, the Golden Gophers jumped from unranked to #17 in the country. That ranking won't last long as Minnesota allowed the 3-3 Virgina Cavaliers to run into the Williams Arena in Minneapolis and easily walk away with a victory, 87-79.
This is the only blemish to a 6-1 record, but a win at home in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge would have kept the Gophers undefeated. And with a cake walk of a schedule coming up, Minnesota could have entered Big Ten play with a load of confidence, a 13-0 record and a much higher National ranking.
4. The ACC and Big Ten are loaded with freshman sensations.
With thirty one players in the ESPNU Top 100 and Harrison Barnes (North Carolina), Jared Sullinger (Ohio State), and Kyrie Irving (Duke) owning the top three spots, some of these ACC and Big Ten schools are spoiled with some of the best freshman talent around. Barnes, Sullinger and Irving have the potential to be the top three picks in the upcoming 2011 NBA Draft, as well.
Barnes became the first freshman ever to be selected for the Pre-season All American team. Sullinger is averaging a respective 14.5 points per game and 9.3 rebounds per game, tops in the Big Ten. His play has anchored the #2 team in the country, Ohio State Buckeyes to a 6-0 record. I spoke earlier about what Irving's addition has done for the Duke Blue Devils. Some of those other ESPNU Top 100 players who are seeing significant playing time, contributing to their teams right away, and making a name for themselves are:
Travis McKie – Wake Forest: 30 MPG , 13.4 PPG , 7.6 RPG
J.T. Terrell – Wake Forest: 30 MPG , 15.4 PPG , 42.5% 3PT
Jereme Richmond – Illinois: 22 MPG , 4.4 RPG
Deshaun Thomas – Ohio State: 17 MPG , 13 PPG , 5.3 RPG
Tim Hardaway Jr. - Michigan: 26 MPG , 12 PPG
Evan Smotrycz – Michigan: 21 MPG , 8.5 PPG , 4.0 RPG