It was a busy first week of the 2016-17 college basketball season. We had some heavyweight matchups, some incredible individual performances, and several teams making early season statements. Now that the first week has come and gone, we can take a look and see what we learned. Here are five observations.
Kentucky’s Freshmen Are The Real Deal
The Wildcats are off to a 4-0 start, and their talented freshmen have carried the load to live up to expectations. De’Aaron Fox has been a force, filling up the stat sheet with averages of 15.3 points, 6.8 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game. Fox is third on the team in scoring, second in rebounding behind fellow freshman Bam Adebayo, and is leading the team in assists. Not to be outdone, Malik Monk is second on the team in scoring with 15.8 points per game while shooting 39% from three. We knew that Monk could score from anywhere on the floor and that Adebayo would be a force on the glass, so no surprises there.
But a true revelation has been Fox’s ability to contribute in so many ways. He has limited turnovers and demonstrated great decision making. There has not been much of a learning curve for this group, and they should only get better as the season progresses. That is a scary prospect for the rest of college basketball.
Purdue’s Front Line Is One Of The Best In The Country
The Boilermakers entered the season with a highly-touted front line, and they spent the first week of the season demonstrating why. Caleb Swanigan has been an absolute beast, averaging a double-double with 20.7 points and 13 rebounds a game in the early going, including a monster 23 point, 20 rebound, 6 assist performance in a season-opening rout of McNeese State.
Swanigan has gotten plenty of help from his frontcourt mates, Isaac Haas and Vince Edwards. Haas is averaging 18.3 points in just over 21 minutes a game. Meanwhile, Edwards is doing a bit of everything, putting up 12 points, six boards, and 4.3 assists a game. This group carried Purdue to the wire against defending champion Villanova before ultimately succumbing 79-76. It’s hard to find a more talented and productive front line anywhere in college basketball.
Villanova Is A Very Real Threat To Repeat
Speaking of Villanova, the team’s gritty win at Purdue is just the most glaring example of why they shouldn’t be overlooked as a threat to repeat as national champs. The Wildcats are off to a 5-0 start, including a championship in the Gildan Charleston Classic. Nova’s three game run in Charleston is a good example of why they are so dangerous. They pushed through a sleepy effort to dispatch a pesky Western Michigan team before playing beautifully efficient basketball in a trouncing of Wake Forest in the semifinals. In the finals, they overcame a mediocre shooting night and UCF’s 7-6 center Tacko Fall to capture the title. Villanova’s ability to overcome weaknesses with toughness, energy, and complete team effort is truly remarkable.
While the intangibles are impressive, the Wildcats certainly aren’t lacking talent. Josh Hart (19.2 points, 4.8 rebounds) has looked every bit the Player of the Year candidate he was expected to be. Jalen Brunson has stepped seamlessly into Ryan Arcidiacono’s role and is building on his solid freshman campaign. Three-point specialist Kris Jenkins has picked up where he left off, while showing an improved ability to get his own shot. Fordham transfer Eric Paschall has shown why he was the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year last season while bringing tireless energy, and redshirt freshman Donte DiVincenzo has shown flashes of why Jay Wright brought him to Villanova.
Perhaps most exciting for Villanova fans has been the play of Mikal Bridges. The sophomore has been all over the court, averaging 11.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.2 steals a game. He has an improved and consistent jumper, as well as an ability to drive to the basket, two aspects that were lacking in his game as a freshman. Villanova is legit.
You Need To Pay Attention To Creighton
The Bluejays had a little bit of buzz around them when the season got underway as they look to bounce back from two disappointing seasons. They started the season ranked 22nd in the nation, and quickly caught everyone’s attention with an impressive 79-67 win over Wisconsin, a legitimate Final Four contender. Creighton currently sits at 5-0 and has jumped up to 12th in the AP Poll.
Creighton entered the season with one of the best backcourts in the country, and that group has not disappointed. Kansas State transfer Marcus Foster has appeared to put his issues behind him and is leading the way, scoring 18 points per game while shooting 51% from behind the arc. Senior Maurice Watson Jr. has done his as well, averaging double-figures in scoring and boasting an outstanding 56% mark from three while dishing out an impressive 9.2 assists per game. Sophomore Khyri Thomas has been a pleasant surprise as well, as he is second on the team in scoring at 14.2 points per game while shooting a blistering 63% from deep.
As impressive as the backcourt is, the big guys have been contributing as well. Senior Cole Huff and freshman Justin Patton are both scoring in double-figures, giving Creighton five players who are hitting that mark. The early performance from the frontcourt gives Creighton an impressive inside-outside balance.
That balance, combined with the talent in the backcourt and the scorching three-point shooting, make Creighton a team to watch as the season progresses. If the Bluejays can demonstrate an ability consistently play this way, they become a very scary team.
The Big 12 Grabs The Early Lead In The Battle For Best Conference
There are a lot of metrics one can use in deciding who the best conference is. Overall record, teams in the Top 25, RPI, and BPI all go into the mix. Ultimately it will be decided by number of NCAA Tournament bids and true national contenders. When considering those last two, I still think the ACC will come out on top. The Big Ten has an argument as well. But in the early going, the Big 12 is setting the pace.
The conference currently boasts a .914 winning percentage, by far the best in the country. It is home to seven undefeated teams, second only to the ACC’s eight. The Big 12 currently has five teams in the Top 25, again second on to the ACC, who has six.
That last paragraph sounds like I’m arguing against myself, but the Big 12 has the more impressive early season wins. Kansas holds a win over Duke, while Baylor got a surprising victory over Oregon. The ACC was predicted to be the best conference, and will likely hold that title by season’s end. But so far, the Big 12 has outperformed expectations and is the beneficiary of the biggest jump in status based on the early-season results.
It has been a fun first week in college hoops, and there will be plenty of drama as the season unfolds. Be sure to check back with The Sports Fan Journal throughout the season for all your college hoops info, and enjoy the season.
Josh Naso aka The Silver Fox has a love for all things sports that borders on disorder. Here, he aims to share his thoughts on and passion for those sports with you.