College Basketball is Back and the Freshmen Shine

10 Nov

Just like that the first weekend of the college basketball season is gone.  In three days we saw the upsets and fantastic finishes that make the sport so great, the impact (at least in one game) of the new defensive rules but most of all we saw the nation’s most talked about freshmen shine in their collegiate debuts.

The off season can be a long one with not much to talk about that sees the same subjects hashed out over and over and over, but on opening night we are reminded why we love this game.  Miami was quickly reminded that this is not 2012-13 anymore as they were knocked off in overtime at home by St. Francis (NY) 66-62 and in Manhattan, Kansas, Kansas State was stunned by Northern Colorado 60-58 thanks to guard Derrick Barden’s 16 points and 17 rebounds.

In Brooklyn the UConn Huskies nearly let a 17-point lead with 11:43 to play slip away as they hung on to beat Maryland 78-77.  The opening-night insomniacs got a treat when Allen Huddleston’s half-court heave at the buzzer in overtime sent the visiting Fresno State Bulldogs into euphoria giving them a 98-97 win over UC-Irvine.  Then yesterday in Dayton with six seconds left down by 2, Khari Price made a steal at half court and while on his stomach rolled the ball to Kyle Davis who then found an open Jordan Sibert whose buzzer-beating 3 gave the Flyers a dramatic 81-80 win over Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne.

During the summer the two biggest topics of conversation were the star-studded incoming freshmen and the rule changes effecting how teams can play defense.  The objective with the new rules is to theoretically allow for more flow on the offensive end and open up the game.  The fear for some was that, at least to start the amount of fouls called would actually be a hindrance to the game.

In some of the exhibition games and secret scrimmages those fears were certainly realized, but we all got to see it last night in the game between Seton Hall and Niagara that saw 73 fouls called and 102 free throws attempted (only 65 made).  Hard to believe that is what the NCAA envisioned when these rules were implanted.

By far the number one topic this summer was the level of talent that the incoming freshmen were bringing in (albeit for perhaps just one season).  From Andrew Wiggins at Kansas to Jabari Parker at Duke and the four of Rivals.com’s top 10 recruits that were joining Big Blue Nation at Kentucky; Julius Randle, Dakari Johnson and the Harrison twins Aaron and Andrew.  Add in the likes of Aaron Gordon at Arizona and Noah Vonleh at Indiana and you have the makings of what could be a special class even before they played a game.

None of the youngsters disappointed as all won their games handily.  Vonleh led the Hoosiers with 11 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks in a 100-72 win over Chicago State on Friday. Not to be outdone,  Gordon grabbed 10 rebounds, added 13 points and sent away four shots as Arizona put away a pesky Cal Poly team 73-62.

The young quartet at Kentucky had the chance to get their feet wet twice this weekend and after two relatively easy wins over UNC-Asheville and Northern Kentucky the top-ranked Cats’ top kittens averaged 52 points, 21 rebounds and 6.5 assists.    The #2 recruit in the country, Parker helped Duke cruise to a 111-77 win over a decent Davidson team with 22 points, six rebounds and two assists.  The seemingly long-awaited debut of Andrew Wiggins came Friday night.  Coach Bill Self cautioned people that despite all the attention don’t expect Wiggins to light up the scoreboard averaging 20+ points, it didn’t happen for Ben McLemore last year and coach was right it didn’t happen for Wiggins in his debut.  He did however impress, helping out in different ways he finished with 16 points, three rebounds, two assists and three steals as the Jayhawks beat Louisiana-Monroe 80-63.

It was just a game or two and we shouldn’t overreact to such a small sample size but we were all reminded why college basketball is such a great game.  You never know what you will see on any given night and the much talked about freshmen certainly look like they will enjoy their time, however short it may be, in the NCAA spotlight.

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