Jeremy Lamb scored 30 points in his season debut. (Icon SMI)
By Ryan Feldman
Monday, November 14, 2011
Although the college basketball season technically began last Monday, the unofficial opening night was Friday. Over the weekend, most D-I teams got their seasons underway and first impressions were made. Here are the first impressions we've seen so far this season:
VANDY IS THE SAME OLD VANDY
Not having center Festus Ezeli didn't quite justify a disappointing performance by Kevin Stallings' crew in a 71-58 home loss to Cleveland State. The Commodores had trouble moving the ball around and getting into an offensive rhythm throughout the game. They shot just 35 percent from the field and allowed Cleveland State to shoot 50 percent. Lack of perimeter defense and lack of a real point guard will be issues for Vandy. Brad Tinsley looked like a promising player a few years ago but he still hasn't panned out. Vandy will be solid and one of the top teams in the SEC, but their lofty top-10 expectations are perhaps a stretch.
YOUTH? LACK OF DEPTH? NO PROBLEM, SAYS ST. JOHN'S
St. John's may only have seven scholarship players, six of which are newcomers, but that hasn't stopped the Red Storm from storming out to a 3-0 start to the season. The strength of God'sgift Achiuwa, the versatility of Nurideen Lindsey and Moe Harkless, and the hot shooting of D'Angelo Harrison have led St. John's to wins over William & Mary, Lehigh and UMBC. Lindsey was one assist shy of a triple-double in the win over UMBC on Sunday. The Red Storm have a clash with fellow young but talented Arizona on Thursday.
UNC NOT DOMINANT YET
North Carolina may not have looked dominant in either of their two wins over Michigan State and NC Asheville, but they got two wins - two wins they'll be happy they got later in the season. To start the season with such high expectations and start the season in a unique environment against a team like Michigan State is a tough way to start. Then, to play a true road game at an on-campus arena against a team like Asheville that has nothing to lose, that's a tougher test than most imagine. Their true tests begin on November 30 when they host Wisconsin, followed by a road game at Kentucky three days later.
It's tough to imagine UConn even better without Kemba Walker, but the Huskies have another national star in sophomore Jeremy Lamb, who opened the season with a 30-point performance. He was electric, scoring from all over the court. His jumper is pure and he showed off his athleticism with a phenomenal baseline dunk. If Lamb continues to improve and the freshmen fill out, this Huskies team will be exciting to watch.
DUKE WILL BE FINE
When Duke barely squeaked by Belmont in its opener, fans were quick to already label Duke overrated. But let's keep a couple things in mind: 1) this Duke team is young and inexperienced, so give them some time to figure things out; and 2) this is a Belmont team that won more than 30 games last season, returns basically its entire roster, and may end up being a Top 25 team at some point this season. It will take some time, but Austin Rivers will become a superstar. He'll not only prove to be one of the best freshmen in college basketball, but one of the better players overall. When that happens, this will be the same Duke team as usual that earns a top-3 seed in the NCAA tournament and makes a run in March. Anyway, Duke quickly erased some of that panic with a blowout win over Presbyterian the next day.
BAD START FOR UCLA
UCLA started last season poorly but finished the season strong. The expectations are higher this season but it looks like the same poor start for the Bruins once again. They lost their opener at home to Loyola Marymount, 69-58. Of course, their home games are at LA Sports Arena this season while Pauley Pavilion is being renovated. Like he was early last season, Josh Smith was once again disappointing. And the Bruins got no type of guard play. That could be a problem for UCLA all season long.
KENTUCKY'S FRESHMEN DON'T LOOK LIKE FRESHMEN
Hours after Terrence Jones was punished for staying out late and getting in a car accident by coming off the bench, Kentucky's dynamic freshmen foursome stepped up in their first college basketball game to give the Wildcats an impressive 108-58 win over Marist. They shot 61 percent from the field, out-rebounded Marist by 23 and only had nine turnovers. The Wildcats didn't look like a young team. Anthony Davis looked like a strong contender for No. 1 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. The long, athletic forward had 23 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks in his debut. Marquis Teague, Kyle Wiltjer and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist also impressed, combining for 45 points, 15 rebounds, six assists and five steals. With the quick development of those four freshmen combined with Jones, Darius Miller and Doron Lamb, the Wildcats are as talented as any team in the country.