College basketball is back and has kicked off in a big way! Monday night starting at 11 p.m. ESPN launched its annual 24 hours of college basketball, where games are played throughout the late/early hours of the morning and throughout the day. The big matchups at the end of the marathon of games were headlined by four top five teams. Both games took place in the United Center located in Chicago, Illinois.
In the first of the two primetime games, the No.2 Michigan State Spartans defeated the No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats 78-74. This was the first matchup pitting the top two teams in the country since February of 2008. The early season matchup did not disappoint and certainly gave us a preview of what to expect from these two teams this season.
Keith Appling led the Spartans with 22 points, eight assists, and four steals. The Wildcats were led by freshman Julius Randle, who has the potential to be one of the top three picks in next year’s NBA draft. Randle finished with 27 points, 13 rebounds, and eight turnovers.
There were multiple things that caught my eye from both teams. Let’s start with Michigan State. The core of this team is extremely good and knows each other so well. Led by Appling, Adreian Payne, and Gary Harris, this team is bound to be in the national championship talks in March. The transition game of Michigan State is going to be something that causes nightmares for opposing teams. This team is best when it gets out and runs and that’s what it did against Kentucky. Harris will be the aggressive one of the bunch and if he can sustain that aggressiveness for the duration of the game, this team will be even scarier to deal with.
Kentucky had the best recruiting class for this season, which was headlined by six McDonald’s All-Americans. These young kids have a lot of hype and expectations, especially with the number one ranking to start the season. The freshman will continue to learn and the team will grow as a whole. One of those freshmen is Randle who was sensational for Kentucky, especially in the second half where he scored 23 of his 27. He nearly brought Kentucky back late in the game, but the comeback fell short. This kid will be going to the free throw line early and often this season, so he needs to hit more of them. The team as a whole needs to practice free throws more at practice as the team went 20-36 from the charity stripe. Also, the Harrison twins will be really good alongside Randle this season.
Michigan State won despite being outrebounded 44-32. The Spartans made up for it be having 17 assists to just seven turnovers, while Kentucky had 17 turnovers to just eight assists, something they will need to clean up. This was a good early season win for Michigan State and a good learning experience for Kentucky. Both of these teams will be in national title contention at the end of the season.
The other game featured the two highest rated recruits coming into this season. Number One rated player Andrew Wiggins of Kansas and Number Two rated player Jabari Parker of Duke were showcased in this game and it was excellent. Kansas defeated Due 94-83, but that score isn’t a notion of how that game was played. Wiggins finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds on 9-15 shooting. Parker tallied 27 points and nine rebounds and shot 9-8 from the field, including 4-7 from beyond the arc.
As with the last game, I learned a few things about both team. I’ll start with the Blue Devils. This team, despite the loss, will be a serious contender for the title this season due in large part to Parker. This kid is sensational and lived up to the hype of the big matchup. He will provide many matchup problems all season long for coaches in the ACC. Like Michigan State, the core of this team is so good. You have Parker, Quinn Cook, Rodney Hood, Amile Jefferson, and Rasheed Suliamon; sounds like a title contender to me.
Like Parker, Wiggins will live up to the hype this season. He was a little hesitant to start the game, then got in foul trouble, but showed why he is a special player down the stretch making some pretty big plays. He scored 16 of his 22 in the second half. Kansas will be a top rebounding team in the country this season. They out rebounded Duke 39-24 and will do this a lot during the course of this season. Wayne Selden, Jr. will be a huge factor for the Jayhawks this season.
Both of these teams will be just like Michigan State and Kentucky; right in the thick of the title talk come March. Both of the two freshmen will live up to the hype and head off to the NBA after this season.
There were a few other things I noticed during the first major matchups in the early goings of this season. The new rules will slow down the pace and tempo of games. A lot of ticky-tack fouls will be called more, causing more fouls and more times. Dick Vitale mentioned during the Kansas/Duke game that if these rules are here to stay, then the players should be disqualified after six fouls instead of five. I agree with Dickie V. I think adding another foul would help keep these young players that people are paying to see actually play in the game opposed to sitting on the bench in foul trouble. With the amount of fouls likely to go up, that also means that free throw shooting will be done more. Free throws will be one of the most crucial aspects of this season, more so than any other season I can remember.
One other thing I noticed while watching college basketball the past couple of days is all the talent we get to watch this season. There are so many players that we are watching that may be the future of basketball. Sure, we might only get to see them for one year at the collegiate level, but let’s enjoy it while we can. This is a rare occurrence where we get so much talent to watch at a given time. I’m excited to see how this college basketball season plays out.