- Matt Cox
Let’s thank Chance the Rapper for gifting us with such a beautiful ballad, which I’ve officially rebranded as the ‘Good Ass College Basketball Intro Anthem’. Don’t worry CBS, we’re not stepping on any toes here - your beautiful composition of horns will always and forever be the GOAT…
The Weave would now like to formally kick-off our [content-laden] season with a recurring segment we hope to bring to you on a near daily basis - for those of you just entering the working world, that is a terrible example of “over promise, under deliver” - called the ‘Morning Mashup’ (or ‘Midday Mashup’, depending on the timing of the release). The intent of this segment is simple: rehash the happenings from the previous night in college basketball in a semi-succinct fashion.
Duke v. Kentucky
While most reasonable and intelligent Americans were preoccupied tracking the election results, here’s a live action shot of me and my fellow college hoop degenerates last night:
Yes, that is us paying respect to ‘Zion da Gawd’ , a ritual that will take place every time Duke steps on the basketball floor this season…
There’s not much else to say then what’s already been spewed out all over ever national outlet and social media platform, but if you were under a rock last night, just know that the Duke hype train is full steam ahead.
Plays like this make me wonder if I’ve ever seen a more lethal team in transition.
The Barrett / Zion / Reddish show somehow exceeded expectations, but a few sneaky stats from the box score indicate just how bullet-proof this Duke squad might be this season:
Duke turned the ball over 4 times last night against a defense that should shape up to be one of the stingiest units in the country this year. Tre Jones looked like a carbon copy of older brother Tyus with his steady floor play (7 assists, 0 turnovers), while Zion, Barrett and Reddish coughed up the rock just three times combined. Most accept that Barrett and Jones are steady ball handlers, but Zion and Reddish are both exceptional dribblers who have elite vision in the open floor - with how secure this ‘fearsome freshman foursome’ is with the ball, the Devils will rarely waste possessions this season. This is a frightening proposition for a team that already has a substantial edge in the talent department.
The older Duke forwards will likely blend in this season, but Jack White’s 30 minutes of brilliance last night was a revelation for Coach K. Bolden and DeLaurier will still gobble up a healthy portion of the 4 and 5 minutes this year, but White may be the best option of the three from a pure fit perspective. All Duke needs is a floor spacing big that won’t be a ball stopper, and is willing to bang inside on the glass - White fits that description to a T.
The only real area of weakness for this Duke team is free throw shooting as Zion, Barrett and Reddish all entered college with career free throw percentages somewhere in the 60s (from their pre-collegiate playing days). Barrett is the one to watch here, given he’ll live at the charity stripe this season - he made just 4 of his 8 attempts last night, but Reddish and Zion converted 12 of their 14 attempts, an encouraging sign for their season long projections.
From Kentucky’s standpoint, the Wildcats will be just fine. My colleague Jim brought this up while we were watching - it reminded us of a pick-up game at the rec where a few guys forget they’re ‘average Joes’ and start raining in 3s like the Golden State Warriors. Once a few shots fall and the the floor begins to tilt, there’s just that feeling of doom that overcomes you - I got the feeling a similar sensation overtook Kentucky late in the 1st half, and the floodgates just opened up from there.
Kansas v. Michigan State
In the ‘matinee’, Kansas succeeded at pissing off millions of gamblers all over the world with a 2nd half nap, which allowed a pesky Sparty team to charge back late. Azubuike’s foul trouble certainly helped, as the human bowling bowl was an unstoppable force when he was on the floor. ‘Doke’ tallied 17 points in just 20 minutes, repeatedly going right at Nick Ward and his tank-ish frame on the low block. A few other observations from the Sparty / Jawhawk duel:
Kenny Goins looks like a completely different player now armed with a smooth, confident shooting stroke. Goins entered the season having attempted 15 threes in his entire career, before cashing in on 3 of his 8 triples last night. After all the hoopla surrounding Xavier Tillman’s offseason workout regiment, as well as the praise showered over some of the freshman bigs, Goins appears to be the clear cut best forward counterpart to Ward up front. His effectiveness as a pick-n-pop weapon gives Winston another viable option read out of the screen-and-roll, and will carve out real estate for Ward in the lane.
Speaking of Winston, I would urge you all not to be fooled by the eye-popping stat line of 13 points and 11 assists. The junior point guard also turned it over 5 times and finished just 1 of 6 from inside the arc. There were multiple sequences when a late shot clock setting arose and Winston needed to break his man down 1-v-1 to create a decent look before the timer expired. A few times he was able to make something out of nothing, but more often than not, he struggled to create separation.
Here’s my take on Winston, which I’ve regurgitated a bajillion times: He’s an elite shooter and an outstanding passer / floor general who understands what Izzo wants to do offensively. He is NOT an explosive playmaker and lacks the change of speed burst so often needed in slower-paced, half-court games where late shot clock situations emerge quite often.
On the Kansas side of the house, we got answers to…
1) How Self is planning to allocate time across a deep backcourt: the freshmen (Devon Dotson and Quentin Grimes) consumed most of the perimeter minutes, while Charlie Moore and Marcus Garrett were relegated to reserves - based on last night’s tiny sample size, I think the froshies are more than ready to take the reigns, especially if they can knock down shots consistently
2) How dangerous Lawson can be as a swiss-army knife in Self’s offense: Lawson’s box score was stuffed to brim (as it will be all year long), but there was one particular play that embodied just how special Lawson could be this season. Self ran action with Lawson as the dribbler and Doke as the screener in a high post pick-n-roll set - the former Memphis transfer came off the screen, took one dribble and precisely hoisted it near the rim for a salivating Doke to throw it down. Giving Self a guy like Lawson who can initiate offense from multiple areas in the half-court is just unfair.
Best of the Rest
A few other news and notes from around the college basketball landscape (in no logical order whatsoever):
After Grambling State knocked off Georgia Tech at home last season, the SWAC struck again last night when Texas Southern marched into Waco and stunned Baylor - this time, the captain of the Power-6 invasion is none other than Johnny Jones, who could not be a more perfect replacement to Mike Davis at Texas Southern. This is a nightmare start for Scott Drew and Baylor, who will likely be riding the bubble this season in the always grueling Big-12.
Chris Clemons went bananas in his season debut, torching UNC Wilmington for 44 points, to go along with 8 boards and 4 dimes - the kid can hoop folks and you haven’t tuned in to watch him, your time is running out…
Arizona State - a team I’m personally extremely high on this season - farted around for 45 minutes at home against a solid CS Fullerton squad. Bobby Hurley needed multiple overtimes to survive, and his undisputed offensive engine - Remy Martin - was gimpy all game long. Hurley admitted later than Martin is only at 60% right now, a major concern for what will likely be their primary source of offense this year.
Buffalo is the real deal folks - against a competent St. Francis team (the clear-cut favorite to win the NEC), the Bulls led comfortably the whole way through, despite going Arctic-cold from downtown (7/34 for 21%). This is a complete basketball team that has long, disruptive defenders littered across the perimeter with a versatile wing in Jeremy Harris and a imposing post presence in Nick Perkins. They remain one of the few mid-majors with a legitimate shot at snatching an at-large berth, so I’ll be keeping tabs closely on their non-conference performance.
Florida State, Nevada and Washington all stepped on the gas in the 2nd half of their respective home openers to run away with double-digit victories. Florida, Western Kentucky and BYU were the victims, but I remain relatively high on all three, even in the face of what transpired last night. The Hilltoppers and BYU are both hovering between 50-60 overall in my personal power rankings, while the Gators have the makeup of a top-15 / fringe top-10 team in the nation.