June 15, 2024

In the weeks leading up to the 2023-24 men’s college basketball season — and then especially once the ball was finally tipped last Monday — there was a steady stream of complaints about the early-season schedule, with people demanding more marquee matchups. While there is perhaps some merit to those arguments (who doesn’t want to see more great games?), here’s a look at what we saw in the first few days of this new campaign:

  • A top-five team (Michigan State) loses at home to the Sun Belt favorite (James Madison) in overtime

  • A matchup between two top-12 teams (Duke and Arizona), a game that went down to the final seconds

  • A battle between a top-25 team (Baylor) and a borderline top-25 team (Auburn) that went down to the final minute

  • The best NBA prospect in college basketball (USC‘s Isaiah Collier) taking on an Elite Eight team (Kansas State) from last season in Las Vegas

  • Fifteen power conference teams suffering losses to teams from outside the power conferences

Were there top-10 games every single night? No. But that doesn’t happen in college football either — and, call us biased, but the first week of college hoops is certainly better than “Week 0” on the gridiron! Regardless, there was plenty of action worth discussing in the first week of the college basketball season.

As for those marquee matchups? Two big ones are coming your way Tuesday.

On to this week’s awards and rankings …



KJ Lewis puts exclamation point on Arizona’s win with last-second slam

Arizona steals the Duke inbound pass and ends the game with a massive jam by KJ Lewis.

Tommy Lloyd has had a tremendous start to his head coaching career, winning 61 games and earning a 1-seed and then a 2-seed in the NCAA tournament in his first two seasons. But the Wildcats haven’t had the postseason success to back up those wins, getting bounced in the Sweet 16 as a 1-seed in 2022 and losing to 15-seed Princeton in the first round in March. So Lloyd took a different approach to his roster for this season, going for more versatility, dynamism and toughness in the portal.

It certainly looked that way on Friday at Cameron Indoor Stadium against No. 2 Duke. The Wildcats simply looked like the older, tougher, more experienced team in the 78-73 win. They dominated Duke on the glass and two of their transfer additions — Caleb Love and Keshad Johnson — looked fully bought-in to Lloyd’s system. Love, a North Carolina transfer, didn’t shoot it well in his return to his former rival, but did defend and hit clutch free throws when it mattered. Johnson was terrific at both ends, finishing with clutch baskets inside.

Arizona looks different this season, but the Wildcats should once again be in the Final Four conversation.

As the weekend came to a close late Sunday night, Weber State made headlines out west. The Wildcats erased a 16-point halftime deficit to beat No. 23 Saint Mary’s 61-57. It was only the third loss in the past 39 home games for the Gaels.

At the heart of it was Jones, Weber State’s star forward who is on NBA radars. Jones finished with 29 points and 10 rebounds, playing every second of the game. He kept the Wildcats alive in the first half, then scored seven straight points late in the second to give his team a lead it wouldn’t relinquish. (This, after going for 26 points and 14 boards in Weber State’s season-opening win over Benedictine Mesa.)

A couple other top performances worth noting: Dalton Knecht finishing with 24 points in Tennessee‘s win over Wisconsin; Baylor freshman Ja’Kobe Walter going for 28 points in his debut against Auburn; and a special mention for George Washington freshman Garrett Johnson, who scored 21 points in his college debut, six months after finishing his ninth round of chemotherapy to treat a rare benign tumor in his hip.

James Madison was picked as the favorite in the Sun Belt this season after going 12-6 in its first season in the conference a year ago. Michigan State was ranked No. 4 overall in the preseason, was bringing back one of the most experienced starting lineups in the country and was playing in East Lansing.

Nonetheless, JMU jumped out to a 13-point first-half lead and then took every punch Michigan State had in the second half. The Spartans took a six-point lead with 8:35 left and looked like they might pull away, but JMU continued to hang in the game. The Dukes eventually sent it to overtime on a T.J. Bickerstaff basket with 30 seconds left. After Tyson Walker scored the first two points of OT, Terrence Edwards — who finished with 24 points — scored five straight, and James Madison never trailed again. A Raekwon Horton 3-pointer with 10 seconds left put the Dukes up four and sealed the win.

JMU ended up with one of the best weeks in all of college basketball, following up this performance with a double-overtime win at Kent State and then a blowout home victory over Howard.

Coach of the Week: Mitch Henderson, Princeton Tigers

How was Princeton going to follow up its stunning Sweet 16 run as a 15-seed in the 2023 NCAA tournament? Especially without first-team All-Ivy selection Tosan Evbuomwan, starting guard Ryan Langborg, who transferred to Northwestern, and fellow starter Keeshawn Kellman?

Henderson moved three of last season’s rotation pieces — Xaivian Lee, Blake Peters and Zach Martini — into the starting lineup and, so far, has put more of a focus on the team’s perimeter play.

The Tigers opened the season with a 68-61 win over Rutgers in Trenton, New Jersey, giving them an early edge for title of the best team in New Jersey. They backed that up by going to Long Island and grabbing a road win over Hofstra, last season’s CAA regular-season co-champion. In the two games, 44.4% of the team’s points came off 3s, including 12 made 3s against Hofstra. Henderson doesn’t have an Evbuomwan on this year’s team, but he has retooled the squad for another NCAA tournament run.

Three teams with questions

Maryland Terrapins: After Purdue and Michigan State, there was room for a team to establish itself as the third best in the Big Ten entering the season. With three returning stalwarts and a pair of incoming impact freshmen, the Terps were in the mix. And then they went to Asheville and lost to Davidson and UAB, shooting 11-for-46 from 3-point range across the two games.

DePaul Blue Demons: A home loss to Purdue Fort Wayne to open the season might have been enough to get DePaul a spot in this category on its own, but then the Blue Demons dropped a game at home to Long Beach State — after trailing by as many as 22 points in the first half.

Vanderbilt Commodores: There was stiff competition for this spot (Georgetown lost to Holy Cross, West Virginia lost to Monmouth, Louisville lost to Chattanooga, Oklahoma State lost to Abilene Christian, LSU lost to Nicholls, etc.) — but Vanderbilt’s home loss to Presbyterian might have been the worst of the bunch. The Blue Hose won three Division I games last season and went 1-17 in Big South play. Not a good start for Jerry Stackhouse.

Power Rankings



Dickinson, McCullar combine for big 1st half for Kansas

Hunter Dickinson and Kevin McCullar Jr. channel their inner Splash Brothers, as they drop a combined 32 points in the first half for the Jayhawks.

1. Kansas Jayhawks (2-0)
Preseason ranking:
This week: vs. Kentucky in Chicago (Tuesday)

Doesn’t seem like Hunter Dickinson is having much difficulty adapting to life in Lawrence. He scored 15 points in the first seven-plus minutes of the season against North Carolina Central and averaged 19.5 points and 8.0 rebounds in the Jayhawks’ two easy wins to open the season. One thing worth watching: Dajuan Harris Jr., who scored in double figures in nine of his final 13 games in 2022-23, attempted just four shots and scored two points last week.

2. Purdue Boilermakers (2-0)
Preseason ranking:
This week: vs. Xavier (Monday)

Matt Painter made two big changes to his starting lineup after last season, inserting Trey Kaufman-Renn into the frontcourt next to Zach Edey and adding transfer guard Lance Jones for some extra pop on the perimeter. Jones dished out three assists in each of the Boilermakers’ first two games while averaging 10.5 points, while Kaufman-Renn had 14 points in a combined 34 minutes.



Kylan Boswell’s acrobatic bucket adds to Arizona’s lead

Kylan Boswell’s unorthodox hook shot somehow goes in for Arizona

3. Arizona Wildcats (2-0)
Preseason ranking:
This week: vs. Southern (Monday), vs. Belmont (Friday)

Kylan Boswell was arguably the best guard on the floor in the Wildcats’ win over Duke on Friday. He played with toughness and confidence and displayed consistent playmaking ability off the bounce. The sophomore guard finished with 12 points, eight boards and five assists, after going for 18 points in the opener against Morgan State. Boswell is a vastly different point guard than Kerr Kriisa, but it doesn’t seem like there will be a dropoff in Tucson after Kriisa’s departure.

4. UConn Huskies (2-0)
Preseason ranking:
This week: vs. Mississippi Valley State (Tuesday), vs. Indiana in New York City (Sunday)

A Donovan Clingan breakout this season is inevitable, but keep an eye on Samson Johnson. The 6-foot-10 junior consistently generated positive buzz in the preseason but playing behind Clingan and Alex Karaban, it was unclear how quickly he would produce. It hasn’t taken long. He had 11 points, five rebounds and three blocks in the Huskies’ opener and followed it up with eight points against Stonehill.



Dalton Knecht scores late to seal win for Tennessee

Dalton Knecht scores late to seal win for Tennessee

5. Tennessee Volunteers (2-0)
Preseason ranking:
This week: vs. Wofford (Tuesday)

An elite defense for each of the last three seasons, Rick Barnes knew his team had to get better offensively to have more March success. Eighty points in each of the Volunteers’ first two games? He’ll take it. More importantly, when things got tight at Wisconsin late in the game, Barnes had players who could go and get a basket or make a shot. Dalton Knecht was the headliner, but Jordan Gainey‘s shooting ability also gives Tennessee another dimension.



Emanuel Sharp shows off the swagger with deep 3-pointer

Emanuel Sharp shows off the swagger with deep 3-pointer

6. Houston Cougars (2-0)
Preseason ranking:
This week: vs. Stetson (Monday), Charleston Classic (Thursday)

Could Emanuel Sharp be the breakout wing for Kelvin Sampson’s team? The expectation was that Terrance Arceneaux would be that guy, but Sharp looks the part early on. He’s started both games for the Cougars, scoring 20 points in the opener and then 11 against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. Sharp already proved himself as a prolific shooter last season, and he’s off to a 6-for-13 start from behind the arc in 2023-24.

7. Marquette Golden Eagles (2-0)
Preseason ranking:
This week: at Illinois (Tuesday)

Kam Jones‘ breakout season came a year ago, when his numbers jumped from 7.4 PPG to 15.1 PPG, but NBA scouts thought another step up could be coming this season. And they might be right. Through two games, Jones is averaging 21.5 points — with 20-plus in both games — while also dishing out four assists in both games and shooting 8-for-16 from behind the arc. He and Tyler Kolek form an elite backcourt. As for Kolek, keep an eye on his ankle. He left Marquette’s win over Rider with an ankle injury and his status for this week is up in the air.

8. Creighton Bluejays (2-0)
Preseason ranking:
This week: vs. Iowa (Tuesday), vs. Texas Southern (Saturday)

One of the biggest questions for Creighton entering the season was whether Trey Alexander could go from being a regular piece for the Bluejays to someone who can take over a game. He showed flashes last season, especially down the stretch, and has continued into the new campaign thus far. Alexander had 20 points and five assists in the opener and 21 points and four assists against North Dakota State.

9. Duke Blue Devils (1-1)
Preseason ranking:
This week: vs. Michigan State in Chicago (Tuesday), vs. Bucknell (Friday)

Friday’s loss to Arizona was a good test of whether Duke’s young team had matured and developed over the summer. And outside of Kyle Filipowski, most of the group is still a work in progress. The Blue Devils need Tyrese Proctor — a projected lottery pick — to take that next step. He struggled against Arizona’s guards, shooting just 3-for-9 from the field and rarely getting to the rim. If he can become a go-to guy with the ball in his hands, Duke can live up to its preseason hype.



Tom Izzo not afraid to change starting lineup after falling to James Madison

Tom Izzo talks about what changes need to be made after Michigan State was upset at home by James Madison.

10. Michigan State Spartans (1-1)
Preseason ranking:
This week: vs. Duke in Chicago (Tuesday), vs. Butler (Friday)

A preseason Final Four pick by many, Michigan State suffered the most stunning loss of the opening week — as mentioned above. The Spartans’ biggest issue in the opening week? Perimeter shooting. They made just one of their 20 3-point attempts in the loss to James Madison, and followed that up with a 1-for-11 performance in the win over Southern Indiana. This is a team that ranked third nationally in 3-point percentage last season.

11. Gonzaga Bulldogs (1-0)
Preseason ranking:
This week: vs. Eastern Oregon (Tuesday)

The season-ending injury to Steele Venters will hurt Gonzaga due to his ability to make shots from the perimeter and give Mark Few a proven college scorer. Who will step up? Freshman Dusty Stromer will have to make a more immediate impact — and he’s a big-time shooter who should be up to the task — but redshirt frosh Braden Huff totaled 19 points and nine boards in just 20 minutes off the bench against Yale.

12. Florida Atlantic Owls (1-0)
Preseason ranking:
This week: vs. Eastern Michigan (Tuesday), vs. Bryant (Saturday)

Big man Vladislav Goldin had one of the most impressive stat lines of the opening week: 19 points, 10 rebounds, two assists, five blocks and four steals. Johnell Davis and Alijah Martin will generate most of the headlines in Boca Raton, but Goldin gives the Owls a chance against a much tougher nonconference schedule than last season. At 7-1 with an ability to impact the game at both ends, he ensures FAU won’t be outmatched in the paint.



Yves Missi with the massive stuff at the rim

Yves Missi with the massive stuff at the rim

13. Baylor Bears (3-0)
Preseason ranking:
This week: vs. Kansas City (Tuesday)

Ja’Kobe Walter had the best college debut of any freshman in the country this season, finishing with 28 points and six rebounds in a win over Auburn. But it was fellow frosh Yves Missi who raised eyebrows with his first week. The 7-footer was someone who generated positive buzz in preseason, with one source telling ESPN he had days where he looked like a one-and-done first-round pick. And he posted double figures in scoring in all three games while totaling 10 blocks.

14. Villanova Wildcats (2-0)
Preseason ranking:
This week: at Penn (Monday), vs. Maryland (Friday)

While the return of Justin Moore and Eric Dixon and the influx of transfers received most of the offseason attention on the Main Line, sophomore guard Mark Armstrong taking a step forward was perhaps the biggest key to Villanova’s season. He’s a true playmaker who can create for others, and so far he’s doing his job. In two wins over American and Le Moyne, he had five assists and zero turnovers.



Armando Bacot goes for 25 and 13 in UNC’s win vs. Radford

Armando Bacot puts up a huge double-double for North Carolina as the Tar Heels pull away from Radford in the second half.

15. North Carolina Tar Heels (2-0)
Preseason ranking:
This week: vs. UC Riverside (Friday)

It’s going to take incredibly gaudy numbers for someone to topple Zach Edey in the Wooden Award race this season, but Bacot is off to a strong start. He had 25 points and 13 rebounds in the season-opening win over Radford, then 22 and 20 against Lehigh. The Tar Heels’ schedule will eventually stiffen up, but Bacot should be one of the unstoppable forces in men’s college basketball this season.

16. Arkansas Razorbacks (2-0)
Preseason ranking:
This week: vs. Old Dominion (Monday), vs. UNC Greensboro (Friday)

Khalif Battle‘s scoring ability was never in doubt at Temple — but he was streaky at times. We might see that streakiness play itself out in Fayetteville, but Battle’s Arkansas career is off to a terrific start. Coming off the bench in both games this past week, Battle scored 21 points in each win, shooting 6-for-10 from 3 and 16-for-19 from the free throw line. Eric Musselman has always craved a microwave-type scorer off the bench and Battle looks to be that guy this season.

Dropped out: Kentucky Wildcats (Preseason No. 15)

In the waiting room

Kentucky Wildcats: The Wildcats drop out of the Power Rankings through no fault of their own (Baylor Bears simply had to move up). Early returns on the D.J. WagnerRob Dillingham backcourt are positive. They combined for 30 points, seven assists and one turnover in the opener and 23 points, seven assists and two turnovers against Texas A&M-Commerce.

Miami Hurricanes: It’s not often the breakout hype from the preseason immediately pays off, but that’s happening for Wooga Poplar. Jim Larrañaga said last month he was playing like a first-round NBA draft pick. And through two games, Poplar is averaging 22.0 points and shooting 10-for-14 from 3.

Texas A&M Aggies: The Aggies are going to have more experience and continuity than most opponents this season — and they leaned on that against Ohio State. Wade Taylor IV, Tyrece Radford and Henry Coleman III combined for 62 of the team’s 73 points.

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