Opening night impressions: Allen shines, Kentucky has growing pains
College basketball finally returned on Friday night. And while none of them played each other, 20 of the AP’s preseason Top 25 teams—and nine of its top 10—were in action. It’s too soon to draw monumental conclusions, but here are early impressions from each top 10 team’s first game.
As expected, Carolina’s frontcourt led the team: Kennedy Meeks scored 25 points and added 11 rebounds and Brice Johnson had 16 and 10. More importantly, perhaps, reserve guard Joel Berry was solid in his first collegiate start. He and backcourt mate Theo Pinson combined for nine assists, and the Tar Heels made seven three-pointers as a team. Importantly, Nate Britt will be eligible to play Carolina’s next game (vs. Fairfield on Sunday). Britt was ejected after leaving the bench during an altercation between Johnson and a Temple’s Levan Alston. UNC defeated Temple 91–67.
2. Kentucky’s youth showed more than usual.
John Calipari was openly frustrated after the game at the amount of turnovers his team amassed (20). Last year, the Wildcats were the 23rd best team in the country at avoiding turnovers, coughing up the ball just 10.5 times a night. More disappointing for Cal was the fact that Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray, his guards, were responsible for half of those. Aside from some carelessness with the basketball, though, Murray looked like an elite college player in his debut. He led all scorers with 19 points on 6-of-10 shooting. Kentucky defeated Albany, 78–65.
And that’s a good thing for Terps fans. Layman is so talented but has had a tendency to disappear in games. He didn’t in this one, as he led Maryland with 16 points on 5-of-6 shooting. His offensive rating for the night was a blistering 164. He also showed off his athleticism with the steal-and-slam you can see below. Maryland defeated Mount Saint Mary’s 80–56.
There’s no doubt that the Jayhawks would be a more serious Final Four contender with Diallo on the floor, but they’re still a really good team without him. Five Jayhawks scored double figures on the night, including a surprising breakout game from junior Brannen Greene who added 18 points off the bench on 5-for-5 shooting from the three-point line. Kansas got great contributions from the rest of its guards as well starters Wayne Selden Jr., Devonte’ Graham and Frank Mason II, who combined for 39 points and 21 assists. Kansas defeated Northern Colorado 109–72.
To no one’s surprise, SI’s projection system predicted that Allen would be the country’s top breakout scorer. In his first game of 2015–16, he lived up to the billing, scoring 26 points on 8-of-13 shooting (he also went 8-of-8 from the free-throw line). In case you doubted Allen’s athleticism, take a look at where he launches from in the dunk clip below. Duke defeated Siena 92–71.
6. Virginia’s defense is going to annoy even more opponents this season.
The 30-second shot clock will be Virginia’s friend. Although almost every team the Cavs play will be better than Morgan State, the Bears will not be the last team Virginia holds to under 50 points. The Cavs didn’t allow a single player from Morgan State to have an offensive rating above 92.5 (100 is the baseline for good offensive play). We’ll learn more about Virginia on Monday when it takes on George Washington. The Cavaliers defeated Morgan State 86–48.
7. Iowa State is better faster.
The Cyclones struggled a little earlier, particularly when they were playing in heavily structured offensive sets. As they settled into their game and began pushing tempo and moving more freely on offense, they started to pull away from Colorado. This game might have taught us more about the Buffaloes, though, which flashed some outside shooting (7-for-11 from beyond the arc) to pair with Josh Scott’s prowess in the post. Iowa State defeated Colorado 68–62.
8. Oklahoma did not play.
9. Gonzaga-Pitt was wasted due to poor planning.
From the beginning of the game in Okinawa, Japan, it was clear that the conditions were brutal. The arena appeared to be sweltering—multiple shots showed players cooling off in front of a huge fan on the sidelines—and the court was clearly slippery. After some scary first-half falls, the officials made the wise decision to cancel the second half of play. It was a really unfortunate turn of events for the more than 150 troops for whom the game was being played and for the teams that traveled halfway around the world to play it. Even though this game was the Armed Forces Classic, it wasn’t on an aircraft carrier. It’s hard to imagine how a marquee matchup like this could have been so poorly executed. Pittsburgh led Gonzaga 37–35 at the end of the first half.
VanVleet came into the game with a strained left hamstring. After starting and playing just three minutes in the first half, he went back to the locker room. In the second half, he returned to the bench but not to the court. He originally hurt the hamstring in October. The Shockers could use him back on Tuesday, as they have their first chance for an NCAA tournament resume-building win against Tulsa, a team we projected to be top-50 nationally. Wichita State defeated Charleston Southern 80–58.
Other notable news:
- Three compelling upsets: Western Illinois beat No. 17 Wisconsin in Madison, William & Mary beat NC State in Raleigh and Chattanooga beat Georgia in Athens. The Wolfpack and the Bulldogs were NCAA tournament teams last season, while the Badgers are coming off back-to-back Final Fours.
- E.C. Matthews of Rhode Island, one of the best guards in the country, left the Rams’ game against American with a knee injury. Coach Dan Hurley said they wouldn’t know the extent of the injury until Saturday, but it appeared significant.
- Ben Simmons of LSU, the No. 1 freshman in the country (and, some would argue, the No. 1 player in the country), finished his first collegiate game with 11 points, 13 rebounds and 5 assists.