We’re now six days into the 2019-20 college basketball season, and all but four teams (Houston, Manhattan, Quinnipiac and Saint Peter’s) have played at least one game. It’s far, far too early to draw any serious conclusions from this limited action—especially considering the majority of teams are either on the good or bad side of blowouts right now—but we can still look back on the results and see who or what is already trending in a positive or negative direction. Presenting our first stock watch of the season:
The league that had an abysmal non-conference showing last season has had a pretty great opening week in 2019-20. Collectively, the Pac-12 is off to an 18–1 start, with the one loss coming to a fellow Pac-12 team (Colorado beat Arizona State in China in a game that was categorized as non-conference). Against non-Pac-12 teams, the conference is 17–0, with Power 5 wins of Washington over Baylor, Arizona over Illinois (by 21) and Oregon State over Iowa State. Those are the kinds of non-conference wins the league struggled to get in 2018-19, and it ultimately was a big reason why the Pac-12 only sent three teams to the NCAA tournament. While we have plenty of games to go, the conference couldn’t have asked for a better start this time.
The ACC Heavyweights
Duke, Louisville, North Carolina and Virginia were—in varying orders—considered by most to be the class of the ACC heading into the season. All four won their opener: the Blue Devils toppled Kansas at MSG, the Cardinals beat Miami in Coral Gables, the Tar Heels pulled away from Notre Dame at home and the Cavaliers shut down Syracuse at the Carrier Dome. Duke was the only one of the four not favored by Vegas heading in, so it’s not like this development was particularly surprising, but in a week where potential league contenders Florida State (at Pitt) and NC State (vs. Georgia Tech, but without Markell Johnson and DJ Funderburk) both lost conference matchups, the four heavyweights did nothing to dispel their hype.
Five-Star Freshmen Guards
Four current college guards were ranked in the top 10 in the 2019 recruiting class: Georgia’s Anthony Edwards, UNC’s Cole Anthony, Arizona’s Nico Mannion and Kentucky’s Tyrese Maxey. All four had strong starts to their college career, starting back on opening night when Maxey came off the bench to drop 26 points on Michigan State in the spotlight of the Champions Classic. While he had a quieter night in the Wildcats’ second game, there’s no doubting he’s Kentucky’s new star. That same night, Anthony Edwards did a little bit of everything against Western Carolina for Georgia, scoring 24 and adding nine rebounds, four steals and three assists. On Wednesday, Cole Anthony dazzled with a 34-point performance against Notre Dame, breaking the ACC record for scoring in a freshman debut. And over in Tucson, Nico Mannion rebounded from a quiet first game to record 23 points and nine assists and lead a 21-point rout of Illinois on Sunday.
The Orange’s performance vs. Virginia last week was perhaps the biggest argument against holding a conference game as a season opener. Yes, the Cavaliers are known for their Pack-Line defense under Tony Bennett, and even after major departures there’s plenty of talent left, but 34 points?! Syracuse shot 8 for 26 (30.8%) inside the arc and 5 for 29 (17.2%) beyond it. Only three players—Marek Dolezaj, Elijah Hughes and Buddy Boeheim—made more than one shot from the floor. As a team, the Orange attempted just seven free throws. Their 0.58 points per possession was the lowest mark by a Jim Boeheim team in the kenpom.com era, which began in 2001-02. Ouch.
Florida’s Preseason Top-10 Status
The Gators became this year’s first preseason top-10 team to lose to an unranked team when they fell, 63–51, to Florida State at home over the weekend. While the Seminoles are certainly no slouch, the most concerning thing for Florida has to be the offensive struggles, which bit Mike White’s team too many times last season. With Kerry Blackshear Jr. and five-stars Scottie Lewis and Tre Mann on board, Florida is still in the process of integrating new (talented) pieces, but it was fair to expect more than 0.80 points per possession in its first real test of 2019-20. Blackshear didn’t make a single shot from the floor, going 0 for 5, but added 10 points from the free throw line. Mann and Lewis combined for nine points, and sophomore point guard Andrew Nembhard had six points and four turnovers. Sophomore Keyontae Johnson was a bright spot, scoring 19 on 8-for-12 shooting. It’s far too early to worry about the Gators long-term, but they obviously have some work to do to justify their preseason billing.
The Big Ten Basement
In Fred Hoiberg’s debut, Nebraska lost to UC Riverside, a team that won just 10 games last season and was missing top player Dikymbe Martin, by 19 at home. They failed to break 50 points and shot 29.1% from the field and 47.4% from the free-throw line. In Game 2, the Huskers fell to Southern Utah in double overtime at home, shooting 37% from the field and getting outrebounded by 14. Nebraska has what’s essentially an entirely new roster this year, and serious growing pains were always expected, but even this was a brutal and surprising way to open the Hoiberg era in Lincoln.
Meanwhile, over in Evanston, Northwestern hosted Merrimack, which just joined Division I this season over in the Northeast Conference. Merrimack opened its season with a 20-point road loss to Maine and entered the game ranked 312th on kenpom.com. Naturally, the Warriors then came in and beat Northwestern by 10. It could be another long year in Evanston.