The opening week of college basketball featured some incredible individual performances, several tremendous team wins and also a number of off-the-court issues.
Unlike last November, when a select group looked like it was destined to separate from the rest of the sport, this season could be more balanced from now until Selection Sunday, when teams are picked for the N.C.A.A. tournament.
What We Learned Last Week
Cole Anthony is appointment television. Through two games, Anthony, a 6-foot-3 guard, has already broken records at North Carolina. Anthony scored 34 points in his first game at North Carolina, more than any other freshman in his debut for the program. Anthony is also the only Tar Heels freshman to post 20 points and 10 rebounds in consecutive games. He is an early favorite for the national player of the year awards.
Shaka Smart is getting back to his roots. Smart, the Texas coach, made his name at Virginia Commonwealth by playing smaller lineups that featured four perimeter players. It looks like he’s now finally set on doing the same thing at Texas. After years of having two traditional frontcourt players on the floor at the same time, Smart appears to be committed to using the versatile 6-8 sophomore Gerald Liddell at power forward in an effort to maximize both skill and spacing. “When your second-biggest guy on the floor thinks like a guard and passes like a guard, it changes things,” Smart said. “We haven’t had the personnel to play that way the past few years.” That alignment was critical in a 70-66 win at Purdue on Saturday, especially down the stretch when Texas trailed by 5 with 3 minutes 14 seconds to play. Liddell finished with 14 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists.
Arizona is good at basketball again. The program has had a trying two years embroiled in the sport’s corruption scandal, but the team in Tucson is back on track on the court, at least. Arizona’s 90-69 rout of Illinois on Sunday night highlighted the Wildcats’ upside, led by the talents of the freshmen Nico Mannion, Josh Green, and Zeke Nnaji. Mannion, a 6-3 point guard, has a legitimate chance to be the best freshman floor general for Arizona since Mike Bibby helped lead the Wildcats to the 1997 national title.
What We’re Looking Forward to This Week
Amid so much more, Memphis gets a litmus test against Oregon. The Tigers are playing with fire. Memphis’s decision to play the prized freshman James Wiseman on Friday, against the University of Illinois-Chicago, just hours after he was ruled ineligible by the N.C.A.A. was a step into uncertainty. Wiseman played after a judge issued a restraining order, but the school still could face penalties. The university said in a statement that the family of Wiseman accepted $11,500 in moving expenses in 2017 from Penny Hardaway, who was a high school coach then and now coaches Memphis. A court hearing is set for Nov. 18. As that plays out, the Tigers have a game on Tuesday against an Oregon team that was picked to win the Pac-12. The neutral site game should be a good test for Memphis, which lacks experience. The Tigers start five freshmen, while the Ducks’ starting perimeter has a combined 12 years of college experience.
Villanova takes its first trip to Ohio State. Villanova Coach Jay Wright and Ohio State Coach Chris Holtmann coached against each other in the Big East when Holtmann was at Butler. With an N.C.A.A. tournament feel, the game presents the first national stage for the Villanova freshman Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, who had 24 points and 13 rebounds in his college debut against Army.
Michigan State-Seton Hall will be without at least one all-American. Both Michigan State and Seton Hall had a tough opening week. The Spartans didn’t play their best in a loss to Kentucky in the Champions Classic, and their home opener Sunday night came after the death of one of Cassius Winston’s brothers. Winston, an all-American last season, played. Seton Hall lost the all-American candidate Myles Powell to a sprained ankle on Saturday; he’s not expected to play against the Spartans. Both of these programs could make deep runs in March. Part of that is developing a supporting cast. Keep an eye on Jared Rhoden, a 6-6 sophomore for Seton Hall who has tallied double figures in each of his first two games.
More to Consider
If Auburn gets to the N.C.A.A. tournament for the third consecutive year, it’s going to be because of its defense. The Tigers smothered Davidson’s backcourt of Jon Axel Gudmundsson and Kellan Grady last week. “I think you need to start talking about J’Von McCormick, Samir Doughty and Isaac Okoro as one of the top defensive perimeters in the country,” Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl said. “They made a statement.” Axel Gudmundsson and Grady averaged a combined 34.2 points last season.
St. Mary’s missed the N.C.A.A. tournament in 2016 and 2018 because of a lackluster nonconference schedule. That’s why the Gaels’ win over Wisconsin last week in South Dakota was so critical. “For us, you can’t get a better win to open a season than that,” said Coach Randy Bennett, who said his team changed its scheduling in response to how the N.C.A.A. adjusted its selections for the tournament.
Games to Watch This Week
All times are Eastern.
Tuesday Oregon vs. Memphis (ESPN, 9 p.m.), Oklahoma vs. Oregon State (11 p.m., ESPN2)
Wednesday Louisiana State at V.C.U. (6 p.m., ESPN2), Villanova at Ohio State (7 p.m., FS1)
Thursday Michigan State at Seton Hall (8:30 p.m., FS1).