By Kevin Sweeney
We are officially through opening weekend, and what a weekend it was. While it didn’t see the big upsets or huge matchups we have hoped for, there is plenty to digest as we go into the Champions Classic tonight. So, I decided to break down all that has gone down in the season’s first four days and use it to look ahead for the rest of the season. And, no, this post would not be being written right now if it weren’t for ESPN taking away my beloved 8:30am Manhattan vs Hartford matchup.
The A10 Might Be In Trouble
Many thought going into the season that the Atlantic 10 was looking at a bit of a down year, and it certainly didn’t do anything to dispel those notions during opening weekend. Title contenders Rhode Island, St. Bonaventure, and St. Joe’s all dropped games, with the Bonnies and the Hawks taking what appear to be bad losses to Niagara and Toledo, respectively. Richmond got dismantled by Delaware and Jacksonville State. This league has to grab some quality wins in the non-conference or it risks being a 1-bid league come March.
Pitt and Cal Are As Bad As We Thought
On paper, these were two of the worst high-major rosters in college basketball, and it showed throughout each team’s first two games. Pitt dropped their first 2 contests to a pair of solid mid-majors in Navy and Montana, while Cal fell to UC-Riverside (picked 8th in the Big West) and knocked off Cal Poly (picked 9th in the Big West) by just 3. The worst part was that both teams looked to be at about the same level as the teams that they were playing. Simply put, the talent just isn’t there on these rosters, and it could be a very long year for those two clubs.
It’s Time to Buy Stock in Geno Crandall
After two years as the Robin to Quinton Hooker’s Batman, it’s Crandall’s turn to be the star. Let’s just say he hasn’t disappointed. After a ridiculous 41 point outburst on opening night that included 37 in the second half, Crandall followed up with a pair of 20+ point performances on each of the past 2 nights. However, what’s really impressed me has been his patience and his willingness to get his teammates involved. Crandall has done an excellent job of not forcing things but rather taking what the defense gives him, and that has allowed him to score efficiently.
The Sky is The Limit for Texas A&M
Perhaps the most impressive opener came from Texas A&M, who dominated #11 West Virginia despite being without future lottery pick Robert Williams and highly-touted point guard JJ Caldwell due to suspensions. The Aggies did a terrific job moving the ball against WVU’s patented press, registering 22 assists on their 31 made field goals while shooting nearly 50% from the field. Once Caldwell and Williams return, this team will look like a legit SEC title contender.
Davidson Is Going to Be Ridiculously Fun to Watch
It may only have been one game against an inferior opponent, but Davidson’s offense was beyond insane on Friday in their season-opening route of Charleston Southern. Embracing “pace and space”, the Wildcats hit 26 of their 53 3-point attempts and registered a ridiculous 29 assists to just 1 turnover in the ballgame. Obviously, that type of production is unsustainable, but regardless, Bob McKillop’s team will be one of the more exciting offenses to watch in college basketball.
Arkansas Impressive Against Talented Mid-Majors
The fact that the Razorbacks beat Samford and Bucknell shouldn’t be too newsworthy. An SEC team with NCAA Tournament aspirations needs to win those games at home. It was HOW Arkansas did it that was so impressive. They started the season with a 39-point beatdown of a Samford squad pegged by most in the top tier of the SoCon before cruising past Patriot League favorites Bucknell. Their offense has been incredibly efficient thus far, and if they can continue that trend, they should exceed expectations in the SEC.
Belmont Train Still Running Smoothly
Rick Byrd has turned this Belmont program into a machine, and another strong start to the season indicates that even without Evan Bradds, this program will remain at the top of the OVC. After a tight defeat at the hands of Washington on opening night, the Bruins led most of the way against a good Vanderbilt team and claimed a 69-60 victory over the Commodores last night. Dylan Windler seems to adjusting well to his increased role in the offense, posting lines of 18 points & 11 rebounds against UW and 24 points and 11 rebounds last night while shooting over 64% from the field in those 2 contests.