The Return of College Hoops

The+Return+of+College+Hoops

Brian Spurlock / Maui Invitational

Hunter Firment, Assistant Sports Editor

College basketball is back, folks. On Wednesday, Nov. 25, this year’s season of college hoops returned with a blockbuster schedule. The opening day saw several blueblood powerhouses like North Carolina (UNC), Michigan State and Kentucky in action, while a total of sixteen ranked programs played on the opening night. However, opening night was, for the most part, just top dogs playing some mid-major squads, and it did not exactly yield much in the way of competitive basketball. That all changed the next day when top-ranked Gonzaga faced seventh-ranked Kansas in a heavyweight battle, with Arizona State versus a ranked Villanova squad serving as the undercard. Gonzaga and Villanova won their respective matchups with general ease, but those games left college basketball fans everywhere asking for more mouth-watering battles. And fans were not disappointed. Teams have taken the umbrage of scheduling tough games for their squads across the board, leaving fans with multiple ranked matchups almost on a nightly basis. December madness? I think so. On the season’s first true ‘Big Tuesday’ of the year, we saw Michigan State go into Cameron Indoor Stadium to beat Duke, as well as perennial title contenders Kansas eeking out a 65-62 win over Kentucky on a neutral floor. 

There have also been upsets galore in the first few weeks of the season. For starters, Virginia (UVA) was beaten by San Francisco in the first week of the season in a March Madness-like shocker. All of us probably remember when University of Maryland Baltimore College went into the tournament and became giant slayers when they trounced UVA by 20 points in the 2018 tournament. This game had a similar feel to it, despite the lack of fans. Then the next night, Virginia Tech knocked off the number three-ranked Villanova in a great Saturday night game. That was followed up by a Sunday matinee upset by Richmond over Kentucky rather soundly, by a score of 76-64. The Spiders shot lights out and look to be a legitimate squad out of the Atlantic 10 conference. College basketball has just started, but pandemonium is already upon us.

The heavy hitters so far this season in my eyes are Gonzaga, Iowa and Baylor. The best of the bunch seems to be the Zags. They have star power with the likes of guard Jalen Suggs, forward Drew Timme and forward Corey Kispert. They have beaten everyone they have faced thus far, most games with decisive scores. They had a tough battle with West Virginia, but even with a banged-up Suggs, they pulled out a gutsy victory. For Iowa, they have the best player in college basketball in 6’11” center Luka Garza. He opened the season with a 40-piece against Southern University in a game where he looked dominant from the tip-off to the final buzzer. Pair him with shooters all over the floor, and Iowa will be tough to beat. And finally, Baylor. These guys can really defend. Watching their matchup with Illinois, it was obvious that they have talent all over the roster and a lot of long, active defenders. They get into passing lanes and score in the open court. They also have a player-of-the-year candidate in guard Jared Butler. He can score at every level, and will be a solid player at the NBA level when his time in Waco is up. 

Some honorable mentions would be Michigan State, who knocked off a young and shooter-less Duke squad, and Texas. The Texas squad is definitely one to watch out for. By the end of the year, Shaka Smart may have them in the conversation for being one of the best teams in college basketball. They bring it each and every night, and guard Matt Coleman is a bonafide stud. He can put the ball on the floor and score at the cup or hit threes off the dribble. He nailed a stepback jumper with fractions of a second left on the clock to stun UNC on Dec. 2, and Texas hopes he has more of that magic left in the tank. 

Stay tuned for more college hoops, as we embark on a special year on the hardwood. Come March, brackets will be busted at an all-time rate, and once our Colgate Raiders tip-off, they will be the prime suspects.