Arizona’s Win at Duke was Needed and Gave us Hope Why This Year Could Be Different
Tommy Lloyd’s first two seasons in Tucson have been nothing but impressive, winning a combined 61 games in his first two seasons. Despite earning a #1 and #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament in these two seasons, Arizona suffered a major setback, falling to #15 seeded Princeton in the opening round of the big dance last season. This loss was particularly frustrating not only because it was against a #15 seed, but also it was very clear that Arizona just did not take their opponent seriously.
Arizona held a lead for the majority of that game, but it was clear Princeton was never going to give up and continue to fight. However, that didn’t concern Arizona one bit and it cost them. There were many times over the course of last season that Arizona just didn’t come out with enough energy and it cost them in the biggest moment. That was the total opposite of what happened Friday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium, when Arizona came to play from the beginning. The Wildcats went into the halftime locker room up by eight points following a Caleb Love three at the buzzer.
Sophomore Point Guard Kyland Boswell showed just how reliable he really is with the ball in his hands, leading the way for Arizona with 12 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists. It is super impressive just how composed Boswell is especially in the biggest moments, considering came to Arizona a year early last season and should be a true Freshman right now at 18 years old. In addition, San Diego State Transfer Keshad Johnson just how much of an impact his size and length can have on the defensive side of the floor. The 6’11” Forward was a major piece of an elite Aztec defense that made it all the way to the National Title game a season ago.
Even though Duke came out firing in the second half to make it a very close, competitive ballgame, Arizona found a way to leave Durham with a victory. This isn’t something I’m confident that the Wildcats would have done a season ago, which should bode really well for their National Championship aspirations.
Michigan State’s Poor Start and Poor Shooting is a Headscratcher
On what looked like was going to be a lackluster opening night of the College Basketball season, #4 Michigan State dropped a stunner to James Madison at home in Overtime. To their credit James Madison is a very good team that was picked as the Preseason favorite in the Sun Belt Conference and climbed their way into the AP Top 25 this week. The thing that was really surprising about this game though, was just how poorly Michigan State shot the basketball. The Spartans shot 1/20 (5%) from three in the loss. It’s one game, though right? That number has to get better for a team that shot the ball great last season. Nope.
Michigan State followed that performance up by shooting 1/11 (9%) from three in their victory over Southern Indiana on Friday. To make matters worse, Michigan State shot 2/13 (15%) from three in the first half against Duke on Tuesday night. When you add the numbers up, Sparty started the season shooting 4/44 (9%).
Although things did get a little better in the second half when Michigan State shot 4/6 from three, no one could have expected for the shooting to be this bad. Michigan State led the Big Ten in three-point shooting percentage last season at 39%, and brought back basically their entire team minus Joey Hauser. Although Hauser was an elite shooter, Michigan State should not be this poor of a shooting team.
I entered this season thinking that this could be Tom Izzo’s best chance at winning a second National Title before ultimately calling it a career and I still think Michigan State can get there. However, they will need their Freshman of Jeremy Fears, Coen Carr and most importantly Xavier Booker to make an impact and raise this team’s ceiling.
The Spartans have a clear problem at the five spots right now, without one guy to rely on consistently. Although Mady Sissoko is a former top 40 recruit and has had some solid moments throughout his college career, he is just not consistent enough for Izzo to fully trust him at the moment. They will need the youngster in Booker, who has only scored a combined 6 points in three games on the season to keep improving and ultimately earn Izzo’s trust. Until then, it will be Sophomore Carson Cooper, who should be taking on the majority of those minutes.
Despite Tuesday night’s loss to Duke, Michigan State will still have plenty of nonconference opportunities against the likes of Arizona and Baylor, to show us they’re the team we thought they were entering the season.
Kentucky Fans Should Be Feeling Good After Tuesday’s Loss to Kansas
If there is one place in College Basketball where moral victories don’t exist it is Lexington, Kentucky. Especially when John Calipari hasn’t made it to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament since 2019 and the Final 4 since 2015. However, there are plenty of positives for the Wildcats to come out of Tuesday’s loss to Kansas, and this could be the year for Kentucky to break through. Primarily, Kentucky did not enter this game healthy in the frontcourt. Both of the seven footers that John Calipari expected to rely on this season were not healthy going into this game in Aaron Bradshaw and Ugonna Onyenso. Freshman Zvonimir Ivisic has also still not been cleared by the NCAA.
These injuries going into the game weren’t even the only thing that went wrong for Kentucky. Freshman DJ Wagner and Justin Edwards, who are both consensus Top 10 recruits in the High School class of 2023 combined to score 5 points on 1/18 from the field and 0/6 from three. In addition, Kentucky’s top returning scorer from last season Antonio Reeves shot 7/25 from the field and 3/17 from three-point range. With three of Kentucky’s players not being able to buy a shot, the Wildcats still went toe to toe with the #1 ranked team in the country.
There were a couple of things coming out of this game that Kentucky fans should be really excited about. Freshman Guard Robert Dillingham had a number of questions about him entering the season, including if he was going to be ready and strong enough to make a major impact as a true Freshman. He was Kentucky’s best player last night with 18 points on 4/5 shooting from downtown. Another Freshman Guard Reed Sheppard also showed that he wasn’t afraid of the big stage at all, finishing with 13 points on 3/4 from three.
We know that these are usually the type of teams that John Calipari thrives with, when he was relying on his Freshman. These young players tend to get better as the season goes on, and with a nice veteran presence featuring Reeves, Adou Thiero and Tre Mitchell. We saw a lot more fight out of Kentucky last night, then we’ve seen in the last handful of seasons, which is a great sign going forward.
The Wildcats still have a handful of marquee games upcoming against the likes of Miami and North Carolina before starting SEC play and we will continue to learn more about them. However even in a loss, there are plenty of things for Big Blue Nation to come out of that game feeling excited about, and I have a feeling this season will be significantly better then how it’s been since 2019.
Michigan Has Been The Biggest Surprise of the Season (So Far)
The overall vibes around the Michigan program weren’t particularly great this offseason. The Wolverines were fresh off missing their first NCAA Tournament since 2015, when they had two NBA first round picks and arguably the best player who entered the transfer portal on their roster last season. In addition, at one point in the offseason it looked like Michigan had landed North Carolina Transfer Caleb Love, however he never would actually make it to campus.
One of the few returnees from last season, Dug McDaniel looks like he could be one of the best Point Guards in the country this season. The Sophomore who was unexpectedly thrown into a major role last season due to injuries, led the way for Michigan on Monday night scoring 26 points, with 7 assists and 6 rebounds in 38 minutes of action.
Despite losing each of their top three scorers from a season ago, Michigan made some under the radar moves this offseason that definitely made their team better. Primarily, the addition of Alabama Transfer and former five-star recruit Nimari Burnett paid off in a big way on Monday night at Madison Square Garden. Burnett scored a career high 21 points, on 4/7 shooting from three. After spending time at Texas Tech and Alabama earlier in his career, this is Burnett’s best opportunity to showcase that he is still capable of being the guy he was in high school. In addition, Tennessee Transfer Oliver Nkamhoua looks like he could be another really good under the radar transfer portal addition, as he now has a clear-cut role of being an alpha scorer on this team.
Michigan is also doing this without their Head Coach Juwan Howard, who should be back sooner rather than later, after undergoing heart surgery earlier this offseason. It helps to have a guy that has decades of Head Coaching experience under his belt in Phil Martelli as your top assistant. There aren’t many better ones in the country and he has done a phenomenal job so far. This Michigan program always seems to be at their best when their backs are against the wall, and we’ve seen nothing so far to expect this season will be any different after Michigan was picked 11th in the Big Ten Preseason Media Poll.
The Big East Has Three Legitimate Top 10 Teams & Final 4 Contenders
There isn’t a conference in College Basketball right now with a top three better than Marquette, Creighton and UConn. Each of these teams can not only find themselves in Phoenix when it’s all set and done, but also could end up cutting down the nets.
There haven’t been many wins so far more impressive than what #4 Marquette did at #23 Illinois on Tuesday Night. The Golden Eagles have played really well in the toughest road atmospheres under Shaka Smart, and that continued behind 24 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists from Tyler Kolek. There isn’t a Point Guard in College Basketball better right now than the 2023 Big East Player of the Year. Marquette returned just about everyone from last season’s team that won the Big East Regular Season and Conference Tournament Title. Despite Olivier Maxence- Prosper who was this team’s best on ball defender being the one guy, this team lost, Marquette’s offense is so good that they will be right there when it’s all set and done.
In addition, Creighton’s offense has lived up to the hype so far, averaging 95.3 Points Per Game in their three games so far. Having three dynamic guards, who can all shoot the basketball, alongside an elite rim protector is a scary proposition. Although there were some concerns about the losses of Ryan Nembhard and Arthur Kaluma this offseason, they don’t seem to be missing them at all so far. Greg McDermott has won a combined 93 games over the course of the last four seasons, and there aren’t many coaches in the sport more underrated right now.
Then there are the reigning National Champions, who have not necessarily played a marquee opponent just yet. However, they look like the team we all expected. The returning core of Donavan Clingan, Alex Karaban and Tristan Newton, look very capable of leading this team on another long NCAA Tournament run. In addition, Sampson Johnson, who missed the majority of last season due to injuries, has already made a major impact among returning. I expect Madison Square Garden to be rocking this weekend, when the Huskies are in action against Indiana, and possibly Texas in the following round.
The Big East Conference has never been better since realignment in 2013, and that momentum will continue for years to come.
Zac Krull has covered College Basketball for the last 2 years while working with Aaron Torres of Aaron Torres Media and recording his own Zac Krull Sports Podcast. Currently, Zac is writing as a contributor for Aaron Torres online with weekly articles and working as a producer for the BETQL Network. Zac graduated from SUNY Cortland in 2021 with a degree in Sports Studies.