The College basketball season tipped off on Tuesday night, and there was no shortage of stories across the country. Let’s dive right into some of the happenings from the first few days.
James Madison’s overtime heroics shock #4 Michigan State.
College basketball immediately returned to form with multiple shocking wins by mid-major programs, but none was bigger than the Dukes’ victory over Sparty.
I wouldn’t fret if I’m a Spartan fan; this team is plenty talented. You lost a game by three points in overtime after shooting one for 20 from 3. This is the same starting lineup that was third in the country in 3-point shooting at 39% a year ago. This is not to take away anything from the Dukes’ blistering style on both ends. Head Coach Mark Byington has built the James Madison program into a major contender in the Sun Belt. Terrence Edwards is a legit go-to star, and Boston College transfer T.J. Bickerstaff gives JMU stability in the paint. MSU and Head Coach Tom Izzo just need to shake this one off and move on.
Other surprising scores: Fairleigh Dickinson 107-63 over Penn State, Presbyterian 68-62 over Vanderbilt
Creighton looks like an even better version of last year’s near-Final Four squad.
A foul away from a Final Four in 2022, Creighton was set to return all five starters until the transfer portal saw point guard Ryan Nembhard (Gonzaga) and forward Arthur Kaluma (Kansas State) opt for new scenery.
To restock, Head Coach Greg McDermott went out and acquired Utah State point guard Steven Ashworth to go along with his “Big Three” of Baylor Scheierman, Trey Alexander, and Ryan Kalkbrenner.
Kentucky’s freshmen shine in debut.
Sure, the Wildcats handled a New Mexico State squad dealing with injuries and players unavailable due to waivers. Still, an 86-46 victory is just what the doctor ordered.
Five-star freshmen D.J. Wagner (13 points), Justin Edwards (12 points), and Rob Dillingham (17 points) all looked the part in their first collegiate game. This team is going to look very different once one of the seven-foot centers is cleared for action. Another five-star freshman, Aaron Bradshaw, and sophomore Ugonna Onyenso are dealing with injury while international stud Zvonimir Ivisic awaits clearance from the NCAA. Nonetheless, Coach John Calipari has plenty of talent to rack up wins over the next month.
Head Coaching debuts
Rick Pitino is back on the big stage as his St. John’s Red Storm opened up the year with a 90-74 victory over Stony Brook.
Returning senior center Joel Soriano led the way with 22 points and 11 rebounds. The biggest takeaway was the play of two former mid-major stars that transferred into the program. Pitino’s former point guard, Daniss Jenkins, finished with 17 points, seven rebounds, and eight assists, while former Harvard star Chris Ledlum, posted a big 16-point, 14-rebound double-double. St. John’s will face a tough test next week against Michigan (11/13) and North Texas (11/16).
Ed Cooley made waves this offseason when he decided to take the Georgetown job after much success at Providence.
Cooley’s Hoyas got off to a 1-0 start after knocking off new Division 1 program, Le Moyne, 94-67. Former Fairfield stud forward, Supreme Cook was a monster inside and finished with 19 points to go with 13 rebounds. North Carolina transfer wing Dontrez Styles also turned some heads with his performance as he finished 15 points and 10 rebounds. Outside of a road game against Rutgers (11/15), the rest of November’s schedule is plenty friendly as Cooley looks to settle in his new home.
New player debuts
The most impressive freshman through the first few days is Baylor wing Ja’Kobe Walter.
The former five-star poured in 28 points in a nice victory over a very athletic Auburn team. Walter’s draft stock will explode if he keeps up this pace, and the Bears will yet again be serious contenders in a tough Big 12.
It’s tough to pick one transfer that stood out after 1,800 Division 1 players hit the portal, but there may not be a more important transfer than West Virginia center Jesse Edwards.
Edwards comes from Syracuse into a turbulent Mountaineer program that lost Hall of Fame Head Coach Bob Huggins and much of its highly-ranked transfer class before the season started. That didn’t stop Edwards from helping WVU to a big win over Missouri Valley contender Missouri State, 67-59. He poured in 13 points, 13 rebounds, and three blocks. If the Mountaineers and Head Coach Josh Eilert have any shot at being competitive, they need a big year from Edwards.