Shabazz Napier, Marcus Smart shine in first two weeks; ACC has reason for worry
Star power will not be lacking in college basketball this season. The star-studded freshman class and the return of Marcus Smart, Doug McDermott, Russ Smith and so on made that clear in the preseason.
The first two-plus weeks of the season only confirmed it.
Heck, even Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminksy scored 43 points Tuesday night. It was against North Dakota in a rare 100-point outburst for the Badgers, but Kaminsky is about the fifth-most well-known player on Wisconsin’s roster.
As we move into the 2013-14 basketball season, we’ll take a look all the good and bad in the weekly honor roll and dishonor roll. Here goes the first look around the season so far.
1. Michigan State
6. Oklahoma State
7. Ohio State
15. Iowa State
17. Wichita State
18. New Mexico
25. Arizona State
Shabazz Napier. The Connecticut guard is off to a torrid start, including a triple-double against Yale on Nov. 11. With six assists and seven rebound in every game this season, Napier might not have had his last triple-double of the season. The Huskies are 4-0 and continue an intriguing non-conference schedule with Boston College (Thursday), Florida (Dec. 2), Stanford (Dec. 18), at Washington (Dec. 22) and Harvard (Jan. 8). Napier’s 9.5 rebounds per game are great, but no other Huskies player has more than four per game. That could be a problem.
Jabari Parker. The Duke freshman proved he was as good as anticipated in the Champions Classic more than a week ago, but he’s finding new ways to impress. Parker has topped 21 points in all four games this season, including double-doubles in the last two. Against overmatched UNC Asheville, Parker finished 8 of 13 with 21 points, 10 rebounds and four assists — in only 19 minutes. He threw in six blocks Tuesday night against East Carolina.
The “other” freshmen. The Champions Classic was a chance for Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle to shine, unfortunately at the expense of other freshmen off to hot starts. Noah Vonleh has become the first freshman since Kansas State’s Michael Beasley to record double-doubles in four consecutive games. Aaron Gordon is doing just fine at Arizona, too, with 13.3 points and 9.5 rebounds.
The state of Iowa. Iowa State’s 77-70 win over Michigan was one of the basketball highlights of the week, indicating the Cyclones might be a factor in the Big 12 race rather than a bubble team. Melvin Ejim returned to score 22 points with nine rebounds, and transfer DeAndre Kane is doing the same things he did at Marshall by averaging 13.7 points, 7.7 rebounds and 5.7 assists. Meanwhile, rival Iowa has played an easy schedule, but the Hawkeyes are demolishing opponents. The Hawkeyes have topped 100 points in back-to-back games and have shown impressive depth so far this season. Fran McCaffery’s team will be a fun one to watch in the Battle 4 Atlantis.
Indiana State. Like Iowa State, Indiana State picked up a major upset over the weekend over an established team when the Sycamores upset Notre Dame 83-70. The only loss for Indiana State was 96-95 to Belmont, a loss that doesn’t look quite so bad after the Bruins defeated North Carolina on the road Sunday (In a schedule quirk, Indiana State will face Belmont again on Dec. 29 in Terre Haute). Let’s step back, though, and look what Greg Lansing has built at Indiana State. In the post-Creighton Missouri Valley, Indiana State may be the most logical challenger for Wichita State. The Sycamores have played in the postseason every season with Jake Odum on the roster, including an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2011.
The ACC. The hits keep coming for the ACC, which was supposed to be the best conference in the country this season. The league is still going to be better than the SEC and a few other powers, but the depth hasn’t been there so far this season. Maryland’s one-point loss to Connecticut wasn’t embarrassing, but at home to Oregon State, a team that lost to Coppin State, is. Also over the weekend, Belmont defeated a suspension-depleted North Carolina team, adding to the Tar Heels' early struggles. Virginia, a fringe top 25 team, continued to have trouble in the non-conference, albeit against VCU. And Boston College, an NCAA Tournament dark horse, has a three-point win over FAU as the high point this season. Even Syracuse limped to a 56-50 win over St. Francis (N.Y.). The conference will be in recovery mode when the ACC-Big Ten Challenge rolls around.
Marquette. It’s really tough to overstate how bad Marquette was at home against Ohio State. Marquette was 10 of 53 from the field (18.9 percent), 1 of 18 from 3-point range), 20 turnovers, four assists. Ohio State had 10 steals and eight blocks. Marquette managed to lose a game in which its opponent was 3 of 18 from the free throw line and 5 of 15 from 3-point range. Buzz Williams is just on the cusp of elite coaches, and Marquette was the preseason favorite in the Big East. Davante Gardner was a non-factor in the paint, and new point guard Derrick Wilson looked lost. After Saturday’s struggles, Marquette looked nothing like a team ready to contend for a league title in any conference.
Michigan. We may need to promise not to overreact to the Wolverines’ 77-70 loss at Iowa State. After all, this was a road game against a probable NCAA Tournament team. Mitch McGary was limited in his first game back from a sore back, coming off the bench to contribute nine points and six rebounds in 22 minutes. But Caris LeVert fell back to Earth and point guard Derrick Walton had his freshman moments with three turnovers and two assists.
Memphis. Few teams would have been able to handle Marcus Smart on Tuesday night, and Gallagher-Iba Arena is one of the toughest venues to play when the place is rocking. The Tigers, though, flopped against Oklahoma State. Memphis entered the game a top 15 team and looked more the part of a Conference USA also-ran than a contender in the American Athletic Conference. The starting backcourt went 5 of 26 from the field and 0 for 7 from 3-point range. The lack of big wins for Josh Pastner is starting to add up. The Memphis coach is winless against ranked teams with too many of those games finishing with lopsided scores like the game against Oklahoma State.