Monday, November 12, 2012

What We Learned From The First Weekend Of College Basketball

Playing on an aircraft carrier is great, if the weather cooperates. It didn't for Florida/Georgetown and Ohio State/Marquette. (

Nearly every team now has a game under its belt after the opening weekend of college basketball, but the important thing to remember is we've got a long way to go before March. Now is not the time to make brash assumptions about a team after 40 minutes of play, like that Kentucky's freshman system is a failure since they nearly lost to Maryland and now they're not longer title contenders and might not make the tournament even and it's that's probably the reason for the Mayan Apocalypse. OK, that's a bit of an over exaggeration, but you get the point. Instead, we're going to be rational and patient - two approaches many in the sports industry refuse to try - while explaining this opening weekend.

Playing outdoors doesn't always go smoothly:
The near perfection that was the first Carrier Classic last year in San Diego between UNC and Michigan State sent the expectations through the roof. Then reality settled in and we realized there's a reason basketball is played in a gym. 
Syracuse and San Diego State were able to play outside Sunday, but that's only because the game, originally scheduled for Friday night, was postponed due to rain. In the two other games set on aircraft carriers Friday, One game wasn't able to finish (Florida lead Georgetown 27-23 at the half) and the other (Ohio State vs. Marquette) wasn't even allowed to start due to weather and condensation on the courts. The experience is remarkable if the conditions allow it to be, but Mother Nature doesn't always let that happen.

Freshmen are still freshmen
ESPN college basketball writer Jason King tweeted Monday morning that eight of the top-10-ranked freshmen according to ESPN played over the weekend and collectively averaged 7.6 points. Probably the freshman performance most surprising to people in a negative way was Kentucky's Nerlens Noel, who scored just four points in 26 minutes. The No. 1 player in the 2012 class did grab nine rebounds, but expectations are high for the freshman, who is assumed to be a star from his first minute on the court. But let's not forget, this was his first taste of college basketball, against a good opponent, where the play is quicker and more physical. It's going to take time. Some adjusted quickly, like Baylor's Isaiah Austin, who scored 22 points in 17 minutes against Lehigh, but there's still going to be a learning period for freshmen to get adjusted. It doesn't mean that Noel or others are suddenly a wash; they just needs time to adapt and get comfortable in a new system.

Most Impressive Win: Kevin Ollie and UCONN
Kevin Ollie didn't have the easiest first game to prepare for as a collegiate head coach. Replacing Jim Calhoun with only a seven-month contract and having basically a new team from last year, Ollie's first test was No. 14 Michigan State and a future hall-of-famer in Tom Izzo while traveling to Ramstein Air Base in Germany. Ollie had been Calhoun's pick for his replacement since his retirement, and Calhoun's judgement looks to be correct so far.
Ollie's Huskies left Germany with a 66-62 victory over the Spartans after shooting 46 percent from the field and from 3-point range. Guard Shabazz Napier is the biggest piece leftover from the Calhoun era, and he stepped up with a huge 25 points on 8-16 shooting.
UCONN was not expected to do much this season, being picked to finish ninth in the Big East, but this early win over a ranked opponent could be the kind of confidence this team needs to "overachieve" this season. Ollie just proved in his preparation that he deserves the faith his team needs to have in him, and that is a great way to spark a team starting a season.

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