Takeaways from Early Season College Basketball Play
by Rick Bouch Scores & Statson
Duke’s freshmen are very, very good. They are also human. Virginia continues to pound opponents into submission with its style of play. Villanova is not going back to the national championship game, but Michigan just might. Early season college basketball has given us plenty of insight to the rest of the 2018-19 season. Here’s what we have learned thus far.
Villa-No-Way! The defending national champion Villanova Wildcats opened the new season with two easy non-conference wins and then were blown out by Michigan in a rematch of last year’s title game. Then, head coach Jay Wright and his young team lost to Furman. Yes, Furman. They have rebounded to win three straight, including a 66-60 victory over a No. 14 Florida State last week. Still, Phil Booth (16.6 ppg) and Eric Paschall (14.1 ppg) are not carrying this team deep into the NCAA tournament.
Yes Sir Duke! The Blue Devils freshmen are fabulous. R.J. Barrett leads the team in scoring averaging 22.7 points a game. Human highlight reel Zion Williamson is a sight to behold. He is averaging 21.3 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks per game. Cam Reddish (15.3 ppg) and Tre Jones (10.3) give coach Mike Krzyzewski the best freshmen lineup in college basketball. But, remember they are freshmen.
The experience of Gonzaga helped the Bulldogs, now the nation’s No. 1 team, beat Duke 89-87 in the Maui Invitational championship game. The Blue Devils fell behind by 16 points in the second half but battled back to within two. The youngsters couldn’t finish, but the experience will help them later this season when they navigate a tough ACC schedule.
Michi-Can! A year after playing for a national championship, head coach John Beilein's Michigan Wolverines are 6-0 and ranked No. 7 in the nation. They beat Villanova 73-46 in a title game rematch and recently dismantled No. 11 North Carolina 84-67 in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
After losing Mo Wagner to the NBA, Bielien found his replacement in 6-foot-7 freshman Ignas Brazdeikis. The first-year player is averaging 16.9 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. He had 24 on 9-of-13 shooting (69 percent) from the floor against North Carolina. Brazdeikis is akin to a LeBron James, Steph Curry, or Kevin Durant. When Brazdeikis is on the floor, the Wolverines are just better. Michigan makes 53.4 percent of its two-point shots and 40 percent of its 3s when he is on the floor. When not, Michigan shoots 20 percent from 3-point range and turns the ball over two times more often. Brazdeikis could be the key to the Wolverines winning a Big Ten title this season.
Nevada Is for Real Sure, they play in the Mountain West Conference where basketball can often be an afterthought. But, head coach Eric Musselman has built a winner at Nevada, which made it to last year’s Sweet 16. They are primed for another run in 2018-19. The Wolf Pack is 7-0 thus far and ranked No. 5 in the country. Nevada recently beat last year’s Cinderella Loyola 79-65 in a rematch of an NCAA tournament game last season.
Musselman has a star-studded lineup led by the Martin twins, Caleb and Cody. Caleb leads the team in scoring averaging 21.0 points per game. Cody is one of four Wolf Pack players in double figures scoring 10.1 points and averaging 6.1 assists a game. With Jordan Caroline (17.7 ppg, 9.9 rpg) and Jazz Johnson (12.7 ppg) added to the mix, Musselman’s Wolf Pack should win the Mountain West again and have a great shot at going even deeper in this year’s NCAA tournament.
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