The first point scored in the 2009-10 college basketball season was a free throw, by a senior (Deon Thompson) on a blueblood team (North Carolina). And what did that tell us? That we're in for a season dominated by the fundamental prowess of veterans with uncertain NBA futures, presently playing for the usual powerhouses.Or ... it just meant that Florida International, which was woefully over-matched by the Tar Heels' front line in an 88-72 loss on Monday night, had to resort to fouling from very early on in the game.
I'll leave it up to you to settle on which is the more reasonable conclusion. In the meantime, here are 10 things I feel more certain I learned from watching opening night in hoopland:
1. Evan Turner, All-American: The Associated Press' preseason All-America first-team picks weren't bad, with Kansas' Sherron Collins and Duke's Kyle Singler on the perimeter,and KU's Cole Aldrich, Notre Dame's Luke Harangody and Kentucky's Patrick Patterson up front. All nice players. And yet I think by season's end, room will have to be made for Ohio State's 6-foot-7 junior point guard, because he's going to be a Terrence Williams-style floor general (with better numbers than T-Will had last season) for the Buckeyes.
In Monday's 100-60 win over Alcorn State, Turner had just the second triple-double in OSU history (Dennis Hopson has the other), with 14 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists. Turner was just two assists short of the triple-double at halftime -- and even while acknowledging the fact that Alcorn State is not a good team, Turner still looks like he might be the most complete player in the country.
He can do everything on a stat sheet other than make threes, and his ability to clean the defensive glass and start fastbreaks without an outlet should generate a ton of points for the Buckeyes. Their third basket on Monday came after he grabbed a board, took one dribble upcourt and hit teammate David Lighty with a deep pass for a layup. (And their first bucket was a Turner breakaway dunk off a steal, which happened about a minute after Thompson sunk his free throw in Chapel Hill. That was unfortunate -- the dunk would have been a more satisfying opener.)
2. With Lighty's glue-guy abilities (and his rebounding skills) back in the lineup, the Buckeyes are a legit Big Ten contender. And as long as Dallas Lauderdale (who's recovering from a broken finger) is at full-strength by next week, OSU is my pick to upset North Carolina and Cal and win the Coaches vs. Cancer tourney in New York.
3. While Larry Drew II didn't put up a triple-double in his debut as North Carolina's point guard, he acquitted himself quite well with seven points and six assists against just two turnovers. I don't think many Carolina fans knew what to expect -- they just knew their sophomore starter wasn't going be as good as Ty Lawson (an impossibility), and they hoped Drew wouldn't be the second coming of Quentin Thomas. Drew showed the Lawson-eque ability to push the ball at a high speed while staying under control on the primary and secondary break, and appeared quicker than I remember him being in brief stints as a reserve last season. He seems to understand that his primary duty is to feed Thompson and Ed Davis, and not force shots; as long as Drew keeps doing that, he'll be a serviceable point.
4. I'm a little worried about Carolina's perimeter shooting. Their backcourt -- Drew, Will Graves, Marcus Ginyard and Dexter Strickland -- is going to get plenty of open, long-range looks this season as defenses sag into the paint. But do the Heels have anyone who can consistently make them?
In small samples last year, Drew was a 23.1 percent three-point shooter, and Graves shot 27.8 percent (although he did shoot 44.2 percent the year before that). It looked on Monday as if redshirt senior Ginyard, who hit 2-of-4 rainmakers with a slow release, might become their No. 1 threat by default. Making threes wasn't a huge part of Carolina's national-championship offense last season -- it ranked 300th in the country in ratio of long-range attempts to two-point attempts -- but the fact that it possessed great shooters mattered: Defenses had to stay honest on Tyler Hansbrough because the Heels were, percentage-wise, the 24th-best team in the country at making treys.
5. In all of our salivating over the possibility of a Thompson-Davis-John Henson front line at Carolina, we forgot about Graves, who ended up starting on the wing, and scoring six points and grabbing six rebounds in 17 minutes. He could be the kind of veteran coach Roy Williams feels he needs in his lineup to compete in the ACC ... or Graves is merely a stopgap until Williams feels like Henson -- a 6-foot-10 freshman stringbean with incredible upside -- is ready to play major minutes. I say if you have the option to go 6-10 (Henson), 6-10 (Davis), 6-8 (Thompson) along your front line, you might as well do it.
6. Maybe if you get to 900 wins, ESPNU will learn to spell your name right, Jim Boeheim. In a graphic teasing the Syracuse coach's potential 800th-win game during Carolina-FIU, the network spelled current active wins leader Mike Krzyzewski's name correctly ... but Boeheim was listed as "BOEIHUM." How is that pronounced? Boy-hum?7. Wesley Johnson might be the best athlete in the Big East. There are few players in college hoops who leap like Boeheim's prize transfer from Iowa State; his posterization of one of Albany's anonymous oafs was my favorite highlight of the evening. He also had a team-high six steals for an Orange defense that forced 32 turnovers and held the Danes to 27.3 percent shooting.
But is Johnson the game-changing scorer that 'Cuse needs him to be to contend in the Big East? I'm still not sure. After dropping 34 points on Le Moyne in that infamous exhibition loss, he didn't seem all that assertive offensively in the opener. Perhaps it was because he didn't need to be -- forwards/linemen Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson were a combined 10-of-11 from the field -- but given all the preseason hype suggesting a monster breakout, I came in expecting Johnson to score more than 12 points. (Incidentally, his freshman-year average at Iowa State was ... 12.4 points.)
8. I don't doubt that Isiah Thomas is dedicated to what he's doing at FIU -- he's recruited well so far, and he took time away from his ailing mother to coach Monday's opener. It's difficult to fully believe his talk about "building" a program, though, when in most hoops circles it's thought that Thomas would jump at the DePaul job were it offered to him next spring, making his FIU run effectively one-and-done.
9. Exposure-wise, there's no better early-season tournament to be in than Coaches vs. Cancer (officially known as the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic). In a week when key recruits are making decisions, the CvC teams get national ESPNU games while everyone else is either playing exhibitions or lightly televised affairs. And then next week, these same four headliners -- UNC, Cal, Ohio State and Syracuse -- get to take center stage on ESPN2 at Madison Square Garden. They inevitably become the most talked-about teams of November.10. Strange numbers for Cal in its scare against Murray State, which, if you didn't stay up for the end, got dicey -- like, down to a two-possession-game in the final minutes. Point guard Jerome Randle, a 46.3 percent three-point shooter last season, attempted just one trey (and didn't make it). The Bears, the nation's best long-range shooting team last year, took 6:50 to even make their first three, and the guy who did it (backup point Jorge Gutierrez) only made eight all of last season. The most worrisome stat was that the Racers outrebounded Cal, 30-28. Murray State, the preseason Ohio Valley Conference co-favorite, was by far the best opponent any of the power-conference teams faced on Monday -- but still, the Bears had one of the country's more seasoned teams returning, and I expected them to make things look a bit easier.