The 2018-19 NCAA college basketball season began this week. From now until April, we'll be following along, closely watching. But instead of just box scores and highlights, we're going to profile a player from each class, plus one additional story. With TSFJ and the help from Josh Naso, we present to you The Sports Fan Journal's Box And One. Let's get in the zone.
Freshman: Quentin Grimes, Kansas
One of the best parts about basketball at this level is just how talented the freshmen are, and how they're allowed to be the best players on established programs right away. Quentin Grimes may very well be that for the second-ranked Jayhawks, who return upperclassmen who were leaders of yet another Big 12 Conference champion. The 6'5" guard from Texas was a top ten recruit across all scouting sites, and his scoring and playmaking have already been on display in Kansas's first three games. It'll be interesting to see how he handles conference play, but he's surely talented enough to deal with it.
Sophomore: Rennia Davis, Tennessee
Tennessee is one of women's college basketball's most storied programs. Pioneered by the late, great Pat Summit, the Lady Vols have continued that tradition of excellence after Summit's retirement and passing. Rennia Davis was a very productive freshman last year, averaging 12 points and 7.6 rebounds per game on a team that had tremendous senior leadership in Jamie Nered and Mercedes Russell. With those ladies gone, Davis must step up into an even bigger role for the now-young Lady Vols. This may include having more moments as big as knocking down a winning three against Auburn in the SEC Tournament last season.
Junior: Myles Powell, Seton Hall
The season hasn't started the way the Pirates would have liked, as they have stumbled to a 1-2 start after getting throttled by Nebraska and falling in a close one to Saint Louis. But one thing has gone as planned in the early season, and that is the play of Myles Powell. For a team that lost a talented and accomplished group of players to graduation, the responsibility to carry the load has fallen on Powell, and he has not disappointed. He is averaging 23.3 points per game, the only Pirate in double figures. Powell will need help from his teammates for Seton Hall to get where it wants to go, but for now the team can take solace in knowing Powell is up for the challenge.
Senior: Ethan Happ, Wisconsin
Jay Bilas describes Ethan Happ as having, "the best footwork in college basketball." Happ was blessed to have been a starter since he stepped on Wisconsin's campus, and he's gotten better each year. He's started this year averaging 18 points and 12 rebounds as a true center, something becoming more and more rare. The Big Ten is still a tough conference to play in, and Happ has been one of its best players since he's been a part of it.
Before we get into conference play, we get the privilege of these early invitational tournaments that lead to matchups that can only be scheduled by coaches and schools; otherwise, we'd have to hope March Madness brings us those kinds of games. Coaches love these because it's a good way to get a measure of their teams while not having the grueling impact of conference play hanging over the season. Different teams and conferences have different offensive and defensive styles, thus preparing players and coaches alike for March and what they're likely to face. It also allows the teams to travel and bond, as chemistry is vital to success.
Thanksgiving is usually the time when these invitational tournaments start. Then, they continue is the weeks leading up to the end of year. Sometimes, a high-ranked team has a bad stretch during the holiday season, and we learn how flawed that team is. In other cases, an unranked team can propel themselves into Tournament dark horse conversation because of who they beat during this time. The colloquial term for these games is, "resume builders," as teams that may be on the bubble to get into the NCAA Tournament can point to those wins (or close losses) as reasons why it should be one of the 68 participants in March.
If the meat of the college basketball season is from January on, then the invitational tournaments going on for the next month prepare us for that feast. Let's enjoy some uncommon matchups, for they may lead to some really good games and some surprising results, like both #13 Oregon and #15 Syracuse losing to unranked Iowa and UConn, respectively.
Poemer. 8-time Hug Champion. Pick&Roll Enthusiast. Guardian of Logic and Tact. Apocalypse's good Brother. Collector of muted souls for Mt. Filtermanjaro.