College basketball is finally back! That starts my weekly look at what I liked and disliked about the games so far. There was a lot more drama than expected in week one. I’d love to have 10 hits every week, but more often than not there will be some noteworthy L’s to discuss.
The NCAA’s Selective Enforcement of James Wiseman
After a story broke that James Wiseman’s family received financial assistance from then-high school coach Penny Hardaway to move to Memphis a few years ago, the NCAA ruled Wiseman ineligible to play. A judge ordered a temporary stay to allow Wiseman to play on Friday, but this fight between Memphis and the NCAA is just getting started.
Let me start off by saying, this is 100% an NCAA violation. There is no doubt about it. With that being said, I’ve reached a breaking point with the NCAA constantly derailing the development of these kids over decisions that are made by adults. To the NCAA, accepting any financial assistance from “boosters” is considered a bribe to entice athletes to attend a university. But Penny made the NCAA aware of this assistance last winter. LAST WINTER. Not only did the NCAA send a certification of his amateur status in late May this year, but they waited until last week to basically say, “Remember that payment we said was acceptable? We meant to say it was illegal. Our bad.”
So now we have the best big man in the country and a top-3 NBA pick going to bed every night wondering if he’s already played his last college game. After dropping a lawsuit against the NCAA, he is officially ineligible. And Wiseman is a genuinely humble, respectable kid that just wants to play with his teammates. All because an organization is more concerned with profiting off the backs of these athletes than they are with making sure the athletes can make money to put clothes on their backs.
I am glad to see the movement in states like California to allow college athletes to profit off of their own image. Why not, right? Zion made Duke and the NCAA millions of dollars but would have been suspended if he so much as auctioned off an autographed pair of shoes.
As for Wiseman, all I ask of the NCAA is to give the 18-year-old for the same lenience that you have given to coaches like Will Wade (on-tape negotiating payments to recruits) and even Bill Self. Wade got a brief slap on the wrist then got right back to coaching for LSU. Self and Kansas have been accused of the most serious recruiting violations, but get to go through this whole season while the matter is investigated. Why not give Wiseman that same year-long investigation to let the kid play? This week was a big L for the NCAA.
Sharpshooting Prentiss Hubb
Notre Dame brought back the same cast that struggled in the ACC last year. They were learning in the ACC with a lineup that featured a number of freshmen, including Hubb. After shooting 26.2% from deep last year, often having to force up late shot-clock step backs, the DC native has been lights-out from three.
The staff trusted the point guard to run the team and make plays as a teenager. That trust is paying dividends as Hubb has connected on 9 threes over the first two games at a 50% clip. The game is clearly slowing down for a player that I would vote as the early favorite for ACC Most Improved Player. It’s a welcome sight for Irish fans after the team was uncharacteristically inconsistent from the outside a year ago. The backcourt of Hubb and T.J. Gibbs (7 threes on 43.8% shooting) is looking to do a complete 180 from the perimeter.
Syracuse’s Problematic Opening Night Offense
Syracuse scored 34 points against reigning national champion Virginia. In the entire game. They shot a baffling 30.8% from the field, 17.2% from three, and 42.9% from the line. In the Cuse defense, opening against a team like Virginia is a tough ask. But 34 points? I can’t imagine this will be a regular occurrence for Jim Boeheim’s team. They held UVA to 48 points with that 2-3 zone, so all isn’t lost.
With a bunch of new faces and old faces playing new roles, the launch of the ACC Network could not have come on a worst year. Elijah Hughes (14 points) is the clear lead dog. I like Joe Girard and Brycen Goodine a lot, especially on a team in dire need of scoring punch. It could be a long season of defensive battles for Syracuse.
Cole Anthony’s NPOY Case
Anthony came in with high expectations and has not disappointed. Two games in, the superstar freshman has averaged 27.0 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 4.0 assists at the lead guard spot. He has every tool needed to win National Player of the Year, including a very solid supporting cast in Chapel Hill highlighted by Justin Pierce and Garrison Brooks.
I would be shocked if Anthony doesn’t end up being a consensus All-American from what I’ve seen thus far. And that’s not hype based on a small sample size. Anthony is dynamic creating space off the dribble and has natural leadership qualities for a teenager. The ACC has already been put on notice. Anthony is the real deal.
Arizona’s Freshman Trio
Recruiting was down for a couple seasons as Arizona sorted through some FBI investigations. Thankfully for coach Sean Miller, the Wildcats didn’t scare away three terrific recruits. Nico Mannion (16.0 ppg, 6.5 apg) was the headliner, bringing an explosive floor general that is a master at reading defenses. He looked as good as advertised in a tough matchup against Illinois where potential lottery pick Ayo Dosumno tried his hand at containing the Arizona native.
Mannion’s former AAU teammate Josh Green (15.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg) has shot it a lot better than I expected in the early going. If that continues, he will be nearly unstoppable with his powerful slashing ability. The big surprise to those outside of the Wildcat program has been Zeke Nnaji. Known as a high-energy big, his offensive game looks levels above a typical freshman post. He is leading the team with 19.5 points per game on 75 percent shooting while dunking anything in his reach. After a down year, Arizona will be a tough matchup for any team for at least this season. Because it looks like there could be three NBA prospects leaving in the spring.
The Strength of Cassius Winston
Over the weekend, Winston lost his younger brother in a train accident. If he took a leave from the Spartans, there’s not a rational person that would blame him. He decided to play and dominated the game with 17 points and 11 assists. The way that Tom Izzo and the Michigan State community backed their star guard and his family during such a difficult time exemplified the impact that surpasses sports. We can continue to pray for the Winston family while truly appreciating the brilliance of Cassius’s point guard play.
Kentucky, What Are You Doing?
After being named the #1 team in the country after a big opening win against Duke, former UK star Walter McCarty led his Evansville Aces to a historic upset at Rupp. Coach Cal always has a young team that is susceptible to dropping games early on, but this was an oddly uncharacteristic loss.
Outside of it being a down shooting night, Kentucky was outrebounded and had only six assists. That’s a number I’d expect Ashton Hagans to reach by himself for the Wildcats. The one-on-one offense wasn’t working and Kansas transfer Sam Cunliffe was dicing them up all game. It might be the type of loss that wakes up a young team that was expected by ESPN to stay atop the rankings for the foreseeable future. Credit to the Aces, though.
Ohio State Basketball Is Scary Again
The Buckeyes are now 3-0 after knocking off 10th ranked Villanova. They are nine deep and have toughness and shooting across the board. Their guards scrap and their bigs are versatile, led by a slimmed down Kaleb Wesson (10.3 ppg, 11.7 rpg, 3.3 apg). I’m a big fan of the freshman class as well. E.J. Liddell is a bucket, Alonzo Gaffney has serious long-term NBA potential, and five-star D.J. Carton may be the most talented freshman in the Big-Ten. Michigan State should be taking notice of this year’s OSU team.
Florida Growing Pains
Mike White is a good coach. This Florida team is incredibly talented. So why did the in-state Seminoles from Florida State control their matchup from end-to-end? They were frustrated by the quickness and physicality that they faced, looking completely neutralized at times. Then I had to remind myself: Florida is still one of the younger teams in the top 25. All of their top perimeter players are freshmen or sophomores. Kerry Blackshear (0-5 against FSU) is the only experienced player in the regular rotation.
I bought into the hype preseason. One loss isn’t going to change how I feel about this team’s prospects. Andrew Nembhard isn’t in stride yet, sharpshooting Noah Locke isn’t looking so sharp, and Scottie Lewis and Tre Mann are going to need some time to adjust to college basketball. By SEC play, this team will be a force. They have youth but composure. A rare but exciting combination.
Jaden McDaniels At the Top of Washington’s 2-3 Zone
Syracuse has had some long zones over the years. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a 6-foot-9 athlete like Jaden McDaniels who can cover ground in a hurry and anticipate to get deflections. Washington’s 2-3 can put McDaniels up top and anchor around super-freshman Isaiah Stewart in the middle. The Huskies have an East Coast toughness that Mike Hopkins hoped for when he took the job. With two top-10 picks, the time is now for this team to turn their defense into plenty of highlight-reel finishes.