College basketball’s 2019-20 season tipped on Tuesday night with the Champions Classic, opening-day ACC conference games and 18 of the top 25 teams playing.
For a sport known mostly for postseason and the build to March Madness, the Nov. 5 slate of games is a great way to start the season. Here’s a look at three early things to take stock of that we learned on Tuesday night.
No. 4 Duke shows toughness and defense in win over No. 3 Kansas
It certainly wasn’t pretty. The first half was a downright disaster at times to watch. Kansas committed 27 turnovers and Duke had turnovers on 20 percent of its offensive possessions.
What matters, however, is Duke coming away with a hard-fought 68-66 win over the Jayhawks. A year removed from stunning the world with the superhero force of freshmen like Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett, this Duke team was about getting stops and figuring out a way to win behind the will of Tre Jones.
The sophomore point guard is clearly still figuring out the most effective way to score. Those hoping for an improved perimeter jumper might need to dampen expectations. It’s also abundantly clear that Jones is going to be the key to Duke’s season. On both ends of the floor.
CBT’s Rob Dauster was in the building at Madison Square Garden for this game as he gets some interesting comparison quotes from Duke associate head coach Jon Scheyer. While the Blue Devils freshmen group of Vernon Carey Jr., Matthew Hurt and Cassius Stanley all had bright spots in the win, they aren’t the stud top-five picks and dominant players we’ve seen from Duke in the past.
But that doesn’t mean Duke isn’t very dangerous. And a team knowing and understanding its identity this early in the season is a good sign for the Blue Devils.
Tyrese Maxey headlines big night for freshmen in No. 2 Kentucky’s win over No. 1 Michigan State
The freshman class debuted with some solid performances on Tuesday night. None greater than guard Tyrese Maxey’s 26-point effort in a Kentucky win over Michigan State in the second game of the Champions Classic.
A cold-blooded three-pointer with under a minute left and Kentucky clinging to a two-point lead proved to be a major dagger as Maxey showed an attack-mode mentality and the savvy to score in a number of ways. Needing only 13 field goal attempts for the night, Maxey was 9-for-10 from the free-throw line.
Elsewhere, Memphis’ hyped freshman class was led by center James Wiseman as he had 28 points and 11 rebounds in a Tigers home win over South Carolina State. After not playing in the preseason, Wiseman coming out and dominating is a great sign for a potential monster season.
Also noteworthy was freshman forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl scoring 24 points and chipping in 13 rebounds in a Villanova win over Army. Jay Wright isn’t usually one to start freshmen, but Robinson-Earl’s physicality and skill level demands that he play immediately for the Wildcats.
Not much was expected of this freshman group compared to previous years. There isn’t a Zion-like standout to be found. But maybe some of these freshmen will be team leaders at times for some of the program’s biggest programs as three top-15 teams were paced by newcomers.
No. 20 Saint Mary’s earns critical overtime win over Wisconsin
Opening day of college hoops featured one of the better Champions Classics we’ll ever see along with the new addition of early ACC conference games.
But no team in the sport helped themselves more on Tuesday than Saint Mary’s did by outlasting Wisconsin for an overtime win. Jordan Ford started his year strong with 26 points to pace the Saint Mary’s. Why is a win over a middle-of-the-road Big Ten team so important for the Gaels? Because Saint Mary’s won this on a neutral floor and will get the added benefit of that status come Selection Sunday.
This opening-night win should enhance the Saint Mary’s profile in a big way. The Gaels don’t get a lot of opportunities to play power-conference opponents during non-conference play — particularly on neutral sites. The best non-con opponents that Saint Mary’s plays the rest of the way includes a home game against Utah State, a road game at Cal and hosting Nevada.
Not exactly a murderer’s row of opponents and opportunities for Saint Mary’s to make their stock look better. In other words, Saint Mary’s needed to make the best of this limited opportunity and they took care of business by leaving South Dakota with a win.
So as Saint Mary’s learns its postseason fate four months from now, a game played on Nov. 5 will have had a significant impact on their overall status. Who said the early part of college basketball was useless?