There was definitely some shuffling at the top of the rankings this week.
Kentucky jumped up to No. 1 after they, as the No. 2 team in the country, knocked off then-No. 1 Michigan State. The Spartans fell to No. 4, behind No. 2 Louisville – who looked awesome in two wins, including a road win against Miami – and No. 3 Duke – who knocked off No. 5 Kansas.
To be perfectly frank, I don’t really see all that much difference between the teams in the top five, and if you were going to tell me that any one of them actually was the best team in college basketball, I might believe it.
Hell, I think that Villanova and Gonzaga probably belong somewhere in that conversation, too. Maybe even a team like Arizona or Washington as well.
It’s early in the year so these things are going to constantly change, but this is where I currently stand.
He didn’t have to. He wasn’t expected to. After staying with the Winston family until 4 a.m. on Sunday morning, Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo let Cassius know that it was up to him. If he wanted to play, his teammates had his back. If he decided that taking the court just 24 hours after his younger brother died was too much, then his team had his back then, too.
Zachary Winston, who was a sophomore on the Albion College (Division III) basketball team, died when he was struck by a train around 8:30 p.m. on Saturday night. Police said that they believe he stepped in front of the train intentionally.
Cassius ultimately made the decision to take the court, which led to some heart-wrenching but beautiful moments.
Like this one, between Cassius and Khy, the younger Winston brother who was a teammate of Zach’s at Albion:
Winston would on to score 17 points and hand out 11 assists in a blowout win, but the outcome game didn’t really matter. The Spartans were playing Binghamton. They weren’t losing this game, regardless of who was on the floor.
No, this was about the game itself.
This was about making sure Cassius was surrounded by teammates and family and people he knows love him. As one person in the Michigan State program told me, “I’ve never seen three brothers closer than Cash was with his.” And since they were local, that meant that everyone in the Michigan State program knew Zach as well.
Cassius was hurting the most, but everyone on that team and in that program was and is hurting, too.
The cliche is to say that getting on the court can make you forget, if even for just an hour or two, what you’re dealing, but that’s not really true. Cassius Winston is not stepping on that floor and forgetting about the pain that he’s in and the loss he suffered.
I know more about what Cassius Winston is going through now that I want to, and all I’ll say is this: There’s a comfort that comes with normalcy. There’s a comfort that comes with being around your friends, your teammates, your peers. It’s not about distracting yourself, or finding ways to let you ignore your grief, it’s about being around the people who will put their arm around your shoulder when you need to cry and will lift you back up when you’re done.
What stuck out to me was the final moments.
The game had been over since it started. Winston had been taken out with about five minutes left. He was sitting on the bench as the walk-ons got put into the game. His teammates were standing and celebrating the way teammates do when their walk-ons have a chance to score, and after one possession where the Spartans grabbed four straight offensive rebounds before drawing a foul, Winston was up there with them.
A smile on his face.
Brother of Michigan State star Cassius Winston dies after being struck by train
Zachary Winston, the younger brother of Michigan State point guard Cassius Winston, died on Saturday night when he was struck by a train in Albion, Michigan.
Albion Public Safety chief Scott Kipp told reporters that Zachary intentionally stepped in front of a train as it approached a pedestrian crosswalk just past the Erie Street crossing.
Zachary was a sophomore member of Albion University’s basketball team, along with the youngest Winston brother, Khy. Albion and Michigan State played in an exhibition game in October.
“As a community, our hearts are broken today as we share the news of the passing of one of our students, Zachary Winston,” Albion College president Mauri A. Ditzler wrote in a statement released on Sunday. “Zach was a finance major, a student in the Gerstacker Institute for Business and Management, and member of the Albion College men’s basketball team. Beyond that, he was an extremely charismatic young man with an infectious smile. Zach was a recognized leader who was well known across every facet of our campus. He was a fantastic student with a world of potential before him. He was deeply loved and will be deeply missed.
“Our hearts go out to his brothers, Khy, who is a freshman at Albion, and Cassius, who is a senior at Michigan State University, his parents and his extended family. We echo the family’s request in asking everyone to respect their privacy at this time.”
“Our hearts are filled with sorrow for the Winston family,” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said. “Their pain over the sudden loss of Zachary is unimaginable. It’s impossible to find the right words in this moment, other than to say that we will support the family in whatever way they need.”
Best Bets: Previewing Auburn-Davidson, Baylor-Washington, Texas-Purdue
As of this publication, the lines for the Friday games were the only ones posted. Games on Saturday and Sunday will be discussed using projections from KenPom.
No. 24 AUBURN vs. DAVIDSON, Fri. 6:00 p.m. (CBSSN)
SPREAD: Auburn (-2.5)
IMPLIED SCORE: Auburn 73.5, Davidson 71
KENPOM: Auburn 75, Davidson 72
This has all of the makings of a bet that I love to make in November. Davidson is one of the most well-coached and experienced teams in college basketball, bringing back their top six from last season. That includes Kellan Grady, who is now healthy, and Jon Axel-Gudmundsson. Grady was the Preseason Atlantic 10 Player of the Year last year as a sophomore. Jon-Axel Gudmundsson won the award. This is a top 25 basketball team.
And they’re taking on an Auburn team that lost their three best players on a neutral floor. I’m not sold on J’Von McCormick being the answer to their problems, and I’m not sure that Samir Doughty is going to be able to replace what they lost in Jared Harper or Bryce Brown. I do like Isaac Okoro and I think he’ll give the Wildcats some issues with his athleticism and versatility, but to me this is a pick-em. If you’re telling me I can get points – or a ML that is around +110 – on Davidson, I’m in.
PICK: Davidson (+2.5)
WASHINGTON vs. No. 16 BAYLOR, Fri. 9:30 p.m. (ESPN)
SPREAD: Baylor (-5)
IMPLIED SCORE: Baylor 71.25, Washington 66.25
KENPOM: Baylor 71, Washington 66
Washington lost their top four scorers from a season ago and will replace them with a point guard that transferred in from Kentucky (Quade Green) as well as a pair of five-star freshmen. Isaiah Stewart is a monster, but I’m not sold on Jaden McDaniels stepping in and dominating as a freshman. Those two will be going up against a Baylor team with one of the biggest and toughest frontlines in America.
(You’re going to notice trend here.)
But I’m going to be on Baylor. They bring almost everyone back from last year’s 20-win team that went 10-8 in the Big 12, but in their season-opener on Tuesday afternoon, they started three guys – Tristan Clark, MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell – that did not play during Big 12 play last season. Clark was injured and the other two sat out due to transfer rules.
Oh, and should I mention that the Bears were second in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage last season while Washington plays a zone? With two freshmen on their frontline?
PICK: Baylor (-5)
ARIZONA STATE vs. COLORADO, Fri. 10:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
SPREAD: Colorado (-5.5)
IMPLIED SCORE: Colorado 76, Arizona State 70.5
KENPOM: Colorado 78, Arizona State 72
I really do not have any feel for this game, but considering that it is being played in China and that it is the first game of the season for both teams, I think I lean towards the under here. But that’s it. I’m mostly just interested in figuring out what to make of both of these teams. Colorado brings everyone back from a 23-win team, while Arizona State has a roster with some talent that has done nothing but underperform against Pac-12 competition the last two years.
PICK: Under 146.5
TEXAS at No. 23 PURDUE, Sat. 7:00 p.m. (FS1)
KENPOM: Purdue 72, Texas 63
I don’t think that this line is going to open up at Purdue (-9), but if it does, then Texas seems like the easy play. We know they are going to be one of the nation’s best defensive teams, and getting nine points is a lot of points in a game that I think will be played in the high-50s or low-60s. Throw in the fact that Purdue lost their top two scorers from last season and this feels like the line should be closer to 4.5.
PICK: Texas (+9)
FLORIDA STATE at No. 6 FLORIDA, Sun. 1:00 p.m. (ESPN)
KENPOM: Florida 69, Florida State 65
The Seminoles are coming off of a loss at Pitt in their season-opener and will take on a Florida team that most people expect to be an SEC title contender that has a chance of winning a national title. I liked Florida State on the road (-4.5) against Pitt, but I do not like the Seminoles on the road in a rivalry game.
PICK: Florida (-4)
ILLINOIS at No. 21 ARIZONA, Sun. 9:00 p.m. (PAC-12)
KENPOM: Arizona 76, Illinois 70
This is going to be a nightmare road trip for the Illini, who are playing at Grand Canyon on Friday night and have to follow that up with a visit to Tucson on Sunday night. The Wildcats looked good their first time out, getting 20 points from Zeke Nnaji in a blowout win over Northern Arizona. Illinois got taken to overtime by Nicholls State at home.
PICK: Arizona (-6)
THE REST OF THE TOP 25
BINGHAMTON at No. 1 MICHIGAN STATE (-35); 141, Sun. 7:00 p.m.
Michigan State will be looking to bounce back after a loss in the Champions Classic. I don’t think that foul trouble will be much of an issue in this one.
It sounds like there’s a chance that Isaiah Moss plays in this one, and I fully expect the Jayhawks to bounce back from an ugly loss in a big way. I know UNCG is good, but Kansas I think Kansas is the best bet for a heavy favorite this weekend.
COLORADO STATE at No. 4 DUKE (-24); 146, Fri. 7:00 p.m.
Niko Medved is a good coach, Duke is built on their defense and the Baby Blue Devils will be playing their first game in Cameron. Let’s see if Coach K can work through some of these offensive issues against someone that isn’t a title contender.
YOUNGSTOWN STATE at No. 5 LOUISVILLE (-26); 150, Sun. 2:00 p.m.
Jordan Nwora was terrific in the opener. Now that the Cards aren’t playing ACC teams, let’s see if they can find a way to get their point guard play up to snuff.
RHODE ISLAND at No. 7 MARYLAND (-12); 146, Sat. 9:00 p.m.
Rhode Island is probably a top five team in the Atlantic 10 this season, and that actually carries some weight this year. The Terps struggled early with Holy Cross. I think the Rams make this a game.
Gonzaga is banged up and thin in their backcourt. They should still roll.
No. 9 NORTH CAROLINA (-22.5) at UNC WILMINGTON; 161.5, Fri. 7:00 p.m.
Cole Anthony will take centerstage once again, this time playing his first true road game as a collegian. Credit to Roy Williams, who is not afraid to play in-state mid-major competition in their building.
JAMES MADISON at No. 11 VIRGINIA (-24); 126, Sun. 6:00 p.m.
Virginia just gave up 34 points to Syracuse. KenPom has JMU’s team total at 51. I think if I’m going to bet this game, I’ll bet that under.
STONY BROOK at No. 12 SETON HALL (-21); 143, Sat. 2:30 p.m.
The Myles Powell Show heads into game No. 2. Seton Hall rolled in the opener despite not having Kevin Willard on the sideline.
Texas Tech looked better than I expected in the opener for a team that is as young as they are. I’ll be very curious to see what Jahmi’us Ramsey’s progression looks like this season.
UIC at No. 14 MEMPHIS (-20); 156.5, Fri. 7:00 p.m.
James Wiseman will be back in action after popping off for 28 points in his debut.
BOISE STATE at No. 15 OREGON (-11); 139, Sat. 11:00 p.m.
Payton Pritchard popped off for a monster game in Oregon’s opener against Fresno State. They continue their tour of the Mountain West with a date against Boise State.
UMASS-LOWELL at No. 18 OHIO STATE (-24); 144, Sun. 4:00 p.m.
The Buckeyes went eight minutes without scoring to open up their season at home against Cincinnati. I don’t think they’ll have that issue against UMass-Lowell.
SIENA at No. 19 XAVIER (-20); 143, Fri. 7:00 p.m.
I really like Siena in this game. I have a lot of respect for Carmen Maciariello and his ability to coach, and the truth is that Siena might have the best player on the floor in Jalen Pickett. They’re not getting 20-pieced.
BOWLING GREEN at No. 22 LSU (-13); 156, Fri. 8:00 p.m.
I’m high on this LSU team, and I think that they are undervalued heading into this season. I’ll lay the 13 points.
NORTH TEXAS at No. 25 VCU (-16.5); 134, Fri. 7:00 p.m.
North Texas is bringing back four starters. VCU still can’t shoot and wins with their defense. I think Grant McCasland and the Mean Green can hang in there and keep this respectable.
Champions Classic Takeaways: What we learned on college basketball’s opening night
NEW YORK — There is no question in my mind that creating the Champions Classic was one of the best ideas in the history of college basketball.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that.
I may be on no sleep after a late night in Madison Square Garden, but I’m thinking clearly here. My three favorites events to cover are, in order, the Final Four, the second weekend of the NCAA tournament and the Champions Classic. It’s the perfect way to generate hype for the college basketball season at a time when there is an overload of sports available to the casual American sports fan. The NBA started. College football is in arguably their most important month. The NFL is in full-swing, and with more than a month left in the fantasy football regular season, there are plenty of people that are still heavily invested in what happens on Sundays across the country.
And yet, last night, college basketball was the biggest story. Playing in the World’s Most Famous Arena, we had No. 3 Kansas taking on No. 4 Duke as the opening act for a battle between No. 1 Michigan State and No. 2 Kentucky.
But I think that it’s time to call it like it is: The Champions Classic is great for the sport of college basketball, but it is absolutely horrendous for the actual basketball itself.
What I mean by that is simple: Last night featured a pair of close games with memorable plays during the second half, but the game-play itself was just terrible. Kansas committed 28 turnovers against Duke, who committed 16 turnovers and shot 35.9 percent from the floor and still managed to win. I don’t have the exact numbers in front of me for the second game, but I’m estimating that there were roughly 642 fouls called in the first half of the Michigan State-Kentucky game.
Playing the Champions Classic is a way great to get people talking about college basketball.
When the games are this ugly, it’s not always the best way to keep people talking about college basketball.
The good news is that Tyrese Maxey bailed us out. By scoring 26 points in the final 29 minutes in his collegiate unveiling, Maxey changed the narrative somewhat. Seeing him go nuts against the consensus Preseason National Player of the Year was fun, but we shouldn’t ignore the larger point here.
There is unquestionably a talent drain in college basketball. We’ve written about that before. That means that the best teams in the country are going to be younger, and those young players are going to be less talented. We may get lucky and end up with teams that look like Zion and R.J.’s Duke squad on the season’s opening night, but more often than not, the basketball is going to look like what it looked like on Tuesday.
“There are other games on November 5th,” John Calipari said. “Can’t we move this back a week and let us all get two games in before we have to walk into this arena in this venue and ask these kids to perform?”
THERE IS NO CLEAR-CUT BEST TEAM IN COLLEGE HOOPS
We knew this heading into Tuesday night’s doubleheader, but what unfolded only further enforced that idea.
Michigan State was more or less the consensus No. 1 team in the country despite the fact that they had so many young players being asked to perform in new, larger roles. They lost to a Kentucky team that lacks star power, is as small inside as any Coach Cal team that we’ve ever seen and needed a 26-point explosion from Tyrese Maxey to avoid blowing a 13-point second half lead. Kansas was the other team that some believed to be the best team in the country and they got their butts handed to them by a Duke team that doesn’t have anywhere near the talent of Duke team’s in the recent past.
Get ready for a season where we hear all about the parity and competitive balance and how any team can lose to anyone in league play on any given night. It’s going to be that kind of a year.
THERE ARE NOT ALL THAT MANY CLEAR-CUT NBA STARS IN COLLEGE HOOPS, EITHER
Part of the reason that there is no clear-cut team in college basketball is that this year’s class of freshmen aren’t as good as last year’s group, and the best freshmen didn’t cluster at one program the way we’ve seen in the past.
Memphis has the No. 1 recruit in the country in James Wiseman and he anchors the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation, but the only other five-star that Penny Hardaway landed was Precious Achiuwa, who is a top 15 prospect. Duke doesn’t have a Zion, or an R.J. Barrett, or a Marvin Bagley III, or a Jayson Tatum. As associate head coach Jon Scheyer put it, “our freshmen [look like] freshmen” this year.
Kentucky might have a lottery pick Tyrese Maxey, but that’s based off of one explosive performance after six weeks of failing to impress in practice. Calipari said in the presser that this was the first time all season he “saw the guy I recruited.” Kansas might not have a first round pick on their roster. Michigan State might not have an NBA player on their roster. As one NBA executive told NBC Sports, there wasn’t a guy that he would want to take in the top ten in the building on Tuesday.
DUKE BELONGS IN THE CONVERSATION FOR THE BEST IN THE COUNTRY
I might be in the minority here, but my biggest takeaway from Duke’s win over Kansas is that the Blue Devils are for real this season. I came into the year wondering whether or not they were ever going to find a way to be good on the offensive end of the floor and the defensive end of the floor. Turns out, the Blue Devils might just be one of those teams that score just enough to win games with an elite defense.
I think Duke’s starting lineup says all that you need to know about this team and what Coach K wants to do this season. Tre Jones started alongside Jordan Goldwire and Cassius Stanley in the backcourt. Goldwire only ended up playing 13 minutes, but it was a statement, one that I think sets the tone for what the expectation is: If you are not going to guard, you are not going to play. Goldwire is fine. He’s a liability on the offensive end of the floor, but he is just as much of a menace defensively as Jones. Pairing them with Stanley – who was terrific in the second half on Tuesday night – is the best defensive trio that Duke can field. Kansas didn’t play all that well and turning the all over 28 times should be humiliating for a team with national title aspirations, but Duke’s defense played a major part in that.
MICHIGAN STATE LOST, BUT THEY ARE NOT AS FAR OFF AS YOU MIGHT BELIEVE
We probably should have seen this coming with the Spartans. Truth be told, they are not as experienced as we all thought they would be. Part of the reason for that is Josh Langford’s injury, and based on the conversations I had on Tuesday night, I am not optimistic that he will be back this season. Part of it is that Kyle Ahrens was banged up. Throw in the departure of Matt McQuaid, and suddenly there are a lot of minutes on the perimeter that need to be replaced.
And the guys doing the replacing? Sophomores like Aaron Henry and Gabe Brown, who are stepping into bigger roles, or freshmen like Rocket Watts and Malik Hall, who may not be ready for the job just yet. That’s to say nothing of the minutes that Marcus Bingham and Thomas Kithier were asked to play alongside Xavier Tillman. Michigan State has a lot of guys playing new and expanded roles, and we should have been prepared for a few hiccups along the way.
But here’s the thing, Michigan State erased a 13-point second half deficit and was within one possession when Tyrese Maxey hit this dagger to put the game away.
That was despite the fact that they shot 5-for-26 from three. That’s despite the fact that a number of those misses came from veterans (Cassius Winston, Ahrens) that had very good looks down the stretch. It’s despite the fact that Henry played about three minutes in the first half, and Tillman found himself in foul trouble for much of the night despite the fact that I’m not sure he actually committed a foul while getting whistled for three in the first 26 minutes of the game. Those are, quite literally, the four experienced guys that are going to be asked to carry the water for the Spartans this season, and for one reason or another, they all had bad games Tuesday.
Which is probably why Winston, in the locker room after the game, was relatively upbeat, all things considered. He told me that he knew there were things that this team had to fix and things they had to do better, but that there was enough there for him to be confident about where his team will be in March.
Because despite everything that went wrong, if Winston makes one of his late threes and Maxey misses his 28-foot bomb, we’re having an entirely different conversation.
BILL SELF HAS A DECISION TO MAKE WHEN IT COMES TO PLAYING TWO BIGS
Let me get this out of the way first: I don’t think that things went quite as badly as some may think. Of the 28 turnovers that Kansas committed on Tuesday night, 15 of them came from KU guards and wings. This was not entirely on Udoka Azubuike, David McCormick and Silvio De Sousa.
That said, what Duke did gave Kansas all kinds of problems. They doubled hard on Azubuike, or whoever got the ball in the post, on the catch, simply ignoring the second big as much as possible. Given the lack of shooting on the floor overall for the Jayhawks, this meant that the lane was completely clogged, and it rendered Azubuike useless offensively. When combined with the fact that Duke’s bigs were able to step out on the perimeter and make threes – Matthew Hurt, Vernon Carey and Jack White combined to hit five threes – that ended up being the matchup that cost the Jayhawks the most.
Now I tend to err on the side of skill. I’d rather see a lineup on the floor that is smaller and more talented than to have more size up front. That’s the opposite of the way that Bill Self views the game, and he has quite a couple more basketball games as a coach than I have. That said, I fully believe that for this Kansas team to reach their ceiling, they are going to have to play Marcus Garrett and Ochai Agbaji at the three and the four for extended minutes.
It worked with Josh Jackson and LaGerald Vick in 2017.
It worked with Vick and Svi Mykhailiuk in 2018.
Why wouldn’t it work with Garrett and Agbaji this year?
JOHN CALIPARI LOOKS READY TO EMBRACE THE SMALL-BALL REVOLUTION
I’m not sure how comfortable Cal is with it, but he does appear ready to accept that this roster has to play small to survive. For my money, the best lineups that Kentucky rolled out on Tuesday night featured the three leads guards on the floor together – Maxey, Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley.
How the rest of this rotation shakes out will be interesting to see, but it was quite clear to me that A) the frontcourt is never going to be a strength for this team, and B) that the freshmen wings – Johnny Juzang, Kahlil Whitney, Keion Brooks – have a ways to go before they are ready to contribute at a high level in a game like this.
The good news for Kentucky?
For the four weeks or so, they are going to be loading up on bye game cupcakes.
That should help cure what ails his younger guys. In the end, all they may need are some reps and some confidence.
Three Things to Know: Duke uses defense to win; Maxey leads solid night for freshmen, Saint Mary’s gets big win
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?