Opening weekend: recapping Friday's action
Two days of the 2013-14 college hoops season are in the books. The number of noteworthy outcomes was small, but I singled out three from Friday that should pique your interest, along with a few impressive individual performances. Games will get more interesting as teams enter the meat of their non-conference schedules. Until then, we should be thankful that college basketball is back, rather than pine for more intriguing matchups.
(25) Baylor 72, Colorado 60
One of the biggest questions surrounding Baylor early this season is how it will replace second-team All-Big 12 point guard Pierre Jackson, a second-round pick in the 2013 NBA draft. In Friday night’s win over Colorado, Kenny Chery -- a junior college transfer, like Jackson before him -- offered evidence to suggest that finding a replacement for Jackson won’t be as difficult as many thought. No, Chery can’t claim to be one of the best point guards in the country yet, but his 14-point, four-assist, four-rebound performance in 35 minutes against Colorado’s formidable backcourt was an encouraging development for the Bears, who already have one of the best frontcourts in the country. Case in point: Senior forward Cory Jefferson, who shined during last season’s NIT Championship run and over the summer with Team USA’s World University Games team, scored 13 points with 11 rebounds.
Colorado’s touted backcourt duo, Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie, converted only 7 of their 28 field goal attempts, and the Buffaloes shot just 33.3 percent from the field and 10.5 percent from long range. Still, the Buffaloes should rebound in short order. Tad Boyle’s team has the talent and depth to challenge for a top-three finish in the Pac-12 this season, which is what makes this such a potentially good win for Baylor – one that could pay huge dividends in March.
(18) UConn 78, Maryland 77
Midway through the second half, UConn held a comfortable 17-point lead over Maryland at the Barclays Center, minutes away from notching another impressive victory in a season-opener (the Huskies beat then-No. 14 Michigan State at Ramstein Air Base in last year’s Armed Forces Classic to open the season). After a TV timeout near the 12-minute mark, Maryland began to narrow the deficit, getting timely scoring from forward Jake Layman and guard Dez Wells. A Wells jumper with under a minute to go brought the Terrapins within one of UConn, but Maryland couldn’t complete the comeback, as Wells missed a would-be game winner in the final seconds. Huskies guard Shabazz Napier scored 18 points, dished out seven assists and grabbed seven rebounds, while backcourt mate Omar Calhoun finished with 10 points.
More important for UConn was the performance of big man Niels Giffey, who went 3-for-3 from beyond the arc and finished with 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting in 17 minutes. Freshman center Amida Brimah was another bright spot for the Huskies. He wasn’t expected to be a major contributor this season, and perhaps he won’t be, but his presence Friday – particularly on the defensive end, where he blocked three shots – was impossible to ignore. The Huskies will need consistent frontcourt play to compete with Louisville for the AAC crown this season, and Friday night’s efforts from Brimah and Giffey -- with the obvious disclaimer that, yes, it’s just one game -- showed UConn’s frontcourt rotation may be better most observers believed entering the season. Wells is an electric talent, and he should be Maryland’s best player in its final year in the ACC, but the Terrapins might be better served playing him off the ball, where he can attack the basket, rather than at point guard.
(19) Oregon 82, Georgetown 75
Earlier this week, Oregon announced that two sophomores, point guard Dominic Artis and forward Ben Carter, had been suspended nine games for selling “exclusive” shoes in violation of NCAA bylaws regarding impermissible benefits. It was a tough blow for the Ducks, mere days before they were scheduled to face Big East contender Georgetown at Camp Humphreys, a U.S. Army base in South Korea. Oregon adjusted, overcoming the absence of two important rotation players, to down the Hoyas and bank an important nonconference win on the first day of the season. Few coaches have had more success with transfers in recent seasons than the Ducks’ Dana Altman, and Friday’s game proved just how impactful this year’s collection can be for Oregon: Houston transfer Joseph Young scored 24 points and went 12-for-12 from the free throw line, UNLV transfer Mike Moser had 15 points and seven rebounds and Detroit transfer Jason Calliste finished with 16 points (including 11-for-11 on free throws).
The Ducks struggled last season when Artis was forced to sit out nine games with a foot injury, but senior Johnathan Loyd performed well in his absence this time around. Loyd scored nine points and had seven assists. Georgetown is probably the toughest opponent on Oregon’s non-conference schedule, so getting this win – and doing so without Artis and Carter – was important for the Ducks. They still have to face Ole Miss and Illinois in December without Artis and Carter, but Oregon’s ability to adjust without them Friday night suggested they should be able to win those games. More on an encouraging performance from a Georgetown player below.
Other notable outcomes
Providence 82, Boston College 78 – Bryce Cotton scored 28 points, including seven in overtime, to lead the Friars past Boston College, which got 44 points combined from inside-out duo Ryan Anderson and Olivier Hanlan. SI’s Pete Thamel has more from the scene.
(20) Wisconsin 86, St. John’s 75 – If you don’t associate high-scoring basketball with Wisconsin, that inclination is spot-on: the Badgers rarely light up the scoreboard (not once did the Badgers eclipse 85 points against high-major competition last season). In Friday night’s win, Wisconsin scored 86 points in roughly 65 possessions.
Northern Colorado 60, Kansas State 58 – Few expected Kansas State to compete for a Big 12 title this season, but losing to Northern Colorado -- which finished last season ranked 240th in Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency ratings -- on opening night at home is not a good look for Bruce Weber’s team.
Individual performances worth mentioning
Andrew Wiggins, (5) Kansas; Julius Randle, (1) Kentucky; Jabari Parker, (4) Duke – The nation’s No. 1, No. 2 and No. 4-ranked recruits, according to Rivals, all impressed in their regular season debuts. Wiggins scored 16 points, Randle had 23 to go along with 15 rebounds and Parker finished with 22.
Trevor Cooney, (8) Syracuse – Syracuse erased a 14-point first-half deficit to beat Cornell thanks in part to Cooney, who averaged just 3.4 points per game last season, pouring in 27 points on seven threes.
Kadeem Jack, Rutgers – The Eddie Jordan era at Rutgers began Friday with a 92-84 Scarlet Knights win over Florida A&M. Junior forward Jack scored a career-high 30 points and had 12 rebounds. Josh Smith, Georgetown – If the 6-10, 350-pound Smith can give Georgetown at least 20 productive minutes every night, the Hoyas could have the frontcourt trump card they need to edge Creighton and Marquette in the Big East. He scored 25 points on 10-of-13 shooting in 27 minutes in the loss to Oregon.