BY MATT DE SARLE
Here are my major takeaways from the four major battles to begin the season.
Arizona defeats Michigan State
This game looked like a JV scrimmage. Michigan State is suddenly small, with Gavin Schilling injured, Deyonta Davis departed and 6-6 Kenny Goins going into the starting lineup at center.
In watching the game, it would seem that coach Tom Izzo was trying to send some type of message to Eron Harris, as the senior sat for stretches mid-way through the game. Clearly, continuity was missing for both teams. Michigan State started the game dominant, then faded, Arizona showed their athleticism, and then it was the Spartans turn to perform again. It just looked like a preseason game.
The main takeaway had to be the coming-out party for Miles Bridges. The freshman from Flint, Michigan was putting on a personal slam dunk contest. With its smaller profile, Michigan State looked to push the ball throughout this game. That included after made baskets. Bridges capitalized on one of those outlet passes by jump-faking a three and taking it strong with a wrap-around jam from under the hoop. By the time he had attacked the basket, the dunk itself was uncontested.
Arizona, on the other hand, is ever more of a mystery. K
Kadeem Allen carried the Wildcats to victory. Yet, Arizona had only 8 dressed scholarship athletes. Allonzo Trier remains the top mystery, not even flying to Hawaii with the team. The sophomore guard was one of the most hyped young prospects from the West Coast in the modern era. Check YouTube.
Arizona is a far cry from the 2013-15 NBA scout teams that they put out there in recent years.
Indiana defeats Kansas
Let’s pump the breaks on OG Anunoby. That’s first of all.
ESPN analysts want to promote him to the next Victor Olidipo already. To coach Tom Creen’s credit, Olidipo became an NBA lottery pick by improving greatly over his collegiate career, equally because of his defense. The athleticism of Anunoby, and size, could both be superior to Olidopo’s by the time OG leaves IU. But the sophomore’s track record still only shows an average of five points from last season. And that’s with opportunities at the small forward position, especially given the love-hate relationship coach had with Troy Williams.
In the broadcast of this KU – IU ball game, there were mentions that OG could even improve to a national player of the year candidate. Yet, he finished with just 13 points despite the game going into overtime and playing a total of 36 minutes.
What did stand out was the variety of ways Indiana went after KU. Phase 1 included a barrage of three pointers to begin the game. The Hoosiers made their first four field goals, all for three. Then there’s the bully down low, Thomas Bryant, who also ran the floor like a defensive end intent on a sack. Finally, Phase 3 was James Blackmon Jr’s silky smooth jumper. It’s back. Blackmon missed majority of last season with a major knee injury. He finished with 29 points in this game, including a clutch three pointer in overtime that showed the ice in his veins.
If OG becomes the next coming of Tracie McGrady that some predict, this team will be Final 4 material. I just don’t see that materializing in this young season.
Separate note, point guard Josh Newkirk, a junior transfer from Pittsburgh, is a serviceable replacement for Yogi Ferrell. Yogi is a once-in-a-decade, dare I say once-in-a-generation, point guard talent. You could do a lot worse than Newkirk filling those shoes. The former Panther put the ball in a variety of Hoosiers hands in the right spots. Indiana looked like it enjoyed playing together.
KU, on the other hand, could have another early tournament exit in its future. Sorry to cut to the chase so early, it’s only November, but it’s the same formula for the Jayhawks as it’s been in the past five years. All the hype surrounds a freshman (or two). This year it’s Josh Jackson. Three years ago Andrew Wiggins came into Kansas with a similar expectation and similar position with the team. Wiggins, you could easily argue, was surrounded by a lot more talent. While Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham may be the best backcourt in the Big 12, there isn’t a ton down low that really scares opposing teams. Kansas was out-rebounded 50-39 against Indiana in this one.