It’s been an interesting first week of college basketball as it kicked off without its usual flair and big-time matchups this year. Usually, the Champions Classic or a big day of Veteran’s Day matches kick us off but neither was the case this year. The Champions Classic was pushed back a week and Veteran’s Day came on a Friday towards the end of the week’s slate with only one match of note.
There were some things to take away from the season’s first week that could be important down the line. Let’s dive into a few early-season college basketball observations from the first week of the season.
1) Lack of Early Notable Matchups
It’s the biggest talking point of the week. Night after night every ranked or borderline-ranked team in the country feasted on inferior competition. It took until Friday night before we got a matchup of big-time programs with Michigan State and Gonzaga playing on an aircraft carrier. The remaining top teams like bluebloods Kansas, Kentucky, and Duke all ran it up against teams that weren’t exactly great preparation for next Tuesday’s Champions Classic. In the past, we’ve always gotten big-time matchups as teams have found they aren’t likely to be penalized for losing, and winning only gives you that early season bump in credibility. Will be interesting to watch if it stays this way next year or returns to the norm.
2) Freshmen Injuries
We haven’t gotten the chance to meet some of the top freshmen in the country this year due to injuries from the preseason. Nick Smith from Arkansas was a guy who has gotten preseason buzz but hasn’t been healthy early for the Razorbacks. Along with him includes a pair of outstanding Duke freshmen who both missed their first game in Dariq Whitehead and Dereck Lively II. Lively II returned in their last game working in some light minutes and should be good to go moving forward. Whitehead’s timetable is more up in the air after undergoing surgery on his foot but is expected to be back this semester.
3) Gradey Dick
Arguably the most impressive freshman to date has been Gradey Dick for Kansas. His play has him coming in at number three on our early college basketball observations so far with his smooth transition to the college game. He’s given Kansas a second “guy” to pair with Jalen Wilson giving them a one-two punch similar to Ochai Agbaji and Christian Braun on last year’s title-winning team. It’s not just the catch-and-shoot ability that has been so tantalizing, it’s the off-ball movement, ability to make quick and effective decisions, and his competitiveness on the defensive end. He’s averaging 17.5 points a game while shooting 50 percent from three and is a major reason Kansas could go from a solid top-ten team to a team with a realistic chance to repeat as champions.
4) Is Indiana Back?
Much was expected of this team in coach Mike Woodson’s second season with some good returning talent and a mix of talented freshmen. And through two games this team looks legit with the contributions they’re getting from players young and old including Preseason All-American Trayce Jackson-Davis. Indiana came in as the favorites to win the Big Ten but they’ve had plenty of expectations before, especially with Jackson-Davis in town, and haven’t been able to put it together but this season seems different. This is a team, although early should be right there at the end in the conference race and could make themselves a Final Four threat come March.
The first season for Kenny Payne has been a mess, to say the least. They lost an exhibition to Division Two school Lenoir-Rhyne to kick off their season and followed that up by losing their first two regular season games. Both games were lost by a single point but the opponents being Bellarmine and Wright State doesn’t make the margin of defeat some moral victory. It was expected that Louisville wouldn’t be great this year as they didn’t do enough in the portal to help themselves but no one expected this. Payne will be given time but this is an issue that could turn ugly in his first season as the ACC isn’t exactly a place to gain momentum from. It’s likely to be a long season for the Cardinals and help is quite a ways away in terms of turning over this roster.