Welcome Back, College Hoops!
A recap of this weekend’s NCAA action.
by Jon Jaques / @JJaques25
The opening weekend of the college basketball season didn’t provide many marquee matchups (and it’s impossible to separate contenders from pretenders after one game), but there were a number of intriguing contests pitting mid-major conference favorites with NCAA tournament aspirations vs. BCS opponents. To be honest, after more than seven months without college basketball, pretty much any game during the first week or so will excite me. Some highlights from the first weekend of college hoops…
# 2 Michigan State 96 – Eastern Michigan 66: No contest. If there were any questions about Kalin Lucas’s Achilles, its health, or potential rust, they were all answered quickly when the point guard scored 15 of his 18 points in the first half. The Spartans’ incredible depth (six players in double figures) was on display all night.
# 3 Kansas State 75 – James Madison 61: Not a clean performance by the Big-12 favorites. Frank Martin is probably secretly happy his players have given him an excuse to hold an off the cuff boot camp practice this week. The Dukes scored the first six points of the game and were kept in the game throughout, thanks to 17-32 free throw shooting from the Wildcats. Jacob Pullen (20 points) can’t be expected to save his teammates like this during Big-12 play.
#9 North Carolina 80 – Lipscomb 66: Probably the most anticipated debut of the season belonged to Harrison Barnes. While the controversial pre-season All-America selection wasn’t spectacular, he certainly didn’t disappoint. Barnes notched 14 points and 4 boards while sophomore John Henson nearly recorded a triple double (10 points, 17 boards, 7 blocks). Barnes seems as close to a sure thing as freshman come…the real key to the Tarheels’ season is if vets like Henson, Tyler Zeller, Larry Drew can be relied upon for consistent production.
#13 Syracuse 68 – Northern Iowa 46: A matchup of two Sweet 16 teams from a year ago that was more lopsided than it first appeared because of all that Northern Iowa lost and how quickly Syracuse rebuilt. The Panthers kept it close in the first half, but the Orange’s athleticism dominated the second. Freshmen Fab Melo and Dion Waiters had solid debuts for Jim Boeheim, who is now in 5th place on the all time wins list.
#21 Georgetown 62 – Old Dominion 59: Huge win for the Hoyas that will have implications come March. Starting the year off with a victory over a quality team like Old Dominion on the road (where the Monarchs hadn’t lost in 23 games), especially when the team struggled offensively for much of the night, is an enormous confidence booster for a team that returns everyone except do-it-all center Greg Monroe. It is also, in all likelihood, a top 50 RPI win for John Thompson’s squad. As for the Monarchs, it is only the first game of the season, but after blowing two second-half eight point leads to a Big East opponent on their home floor, Old Dominion has to feel like they let a enormous opportunity get away. Blaine Taylor’s kids might not have a better resume-boosting opportunity the rest of the season.
#22 Temple 62- Seton Hall 56: Tough early season matchup for both teams, but Temple’s trademark defense proved to be too much for Seton Hall’s talented but quirky mix of transfers and misfits. The Owls led by as many as 16 points with a little more than four minutes to play before the Pirates went on a 12-0 run in the final ticks. Bobby Gonzalez’s teams weren’t necessarily the most inspired or cohesive bunch, so despite the loss, there were signs that first year coach Kevin Willard is already making progress with his squad (plus, if he can get Jeremy Hazell to pass the ball – Hazell actually recorded an assist vs. Temple, and two more vs. Cornell on Sunday– then what can’t he do?).
Boston College 79 – St. Francis NY 49: Alright…so I tossed this one in here as a personal game of note (Ed’s Note: Jon played for Coach Donahue at Cornell). But seeing Steve Donahue win (and win convincingly) in his debut with the Eagles is great to see. Even though it was against an inferior opponent, the result shows his team is picking up Coach D’s offensive concepts faster than a lot of people (and by a lot of people, I mean “I”) imagined. On a separate not, even though the box score lists the official attendance at 3,740, the AP’s recap of the game notes that the Eagles won despite a home crowd of “a few hundred scattered threw Conte Forum.” Really Boston College?…I promise this team will be more fun to watch than Al Skinner’s flex offense.
Minnesota 69 – Wofford 55: This was a game people had circled as a potential early season upset because of all the buzz Wofford was getting coming into the season. Despite their poor debut, I’m not ready to jump off the Terriers bandwagon yet simply because Minnesota might turn out to be that good. I honestly thought Minnesota would win the game (I know…easy to say that now), but beating a good team like Wofford fairly handily to start the season is impressive. The Gophers’ frontline is as dangerous as any in the Big-10, and Tubby’s bunch might just be a bigger Big-10 sleeper than everyone’s trendy preseason pick Illinois.
Vermont 80 – Siena 76: In a battle of recent mid-major powers, Catamounts ended the Saints’ 38 game home winning streak. Both teams could be in for down season after significant losses to graduation, but mid-major inter-conference battles like this one are fun regardless.
Duke 97- Princeton 60: Honestly figured this game would be closer. Non-conference opponents don’t win at Cameron Indoor (at least not since 2000), but having played Princeton eight times in the last four years, I learned that, at least in Ivy League play, the Tigers are an extremely hard to team to run away from. Their stereotypical, grind-it-out style is simply too methodical to beat a Princeton team by more than 15-20 points. So either the Ivy contenders have continued to evolve under coach Sydney Johnson and are pushing the pace more this season (possible), or Duke is a dominant force (likely). After hanging around for the better part of the first half, Princeton was eventually overmatched by the Blue Devils’ depth and athleticism. Not that I keep track of such meaningless things, but Kyrie Irving had the more impressive debut of the “Tobacco Road Rookies”, besting Harrison Barnes with an impressive 17 point 9 assist performance.