With the Champions Classic a week later than usual this year, the 2022-23 men’s college basketball season began Monday without the headline matchups of past campaigns. According to ESPN Stats & Information, however, it was the first time every single AP top 25 team was in action on the same day. As a result, there was the unique opportunity to get an early feel for nearly every single relevant team in the sport on day one of the season.
Which newcomers are going to make a bigger impact than expected? Which returnees are ready to take a big jump? Which top-25 team looks like it could go through some growing pains?
ESPN’s Jeff Borzello, Myron Medcalf and John Gasaway received early indications on each of those questions — and more.
Who didn’t play earns the biggest headlines
We’ll have to wait for the college debuts of at least five potential NBA draft lottery picks: freshmen Arkansas‘ Nick Smith Jr., Duke‘s Dereck Lively II and Dariq Whitehead, Villanova‘s Cam Whitmore and UCLA‘s Adem Bona. Four of the five missed Monday’s games due to injury, while Bona was held out due to an NCAA issue. (What’s more, three of the above teams are in the midst of a transition, with Duke and Arkansas bringing in a ton of newcomers and the Blue Devils and Villanova both replacing legendary coaches.)
That quintet of players was joined on the injury list by reigning consensus national player of the year Oscar Tshiebwe (right leg) and his Kentucky teammate, All-SEC point guard Sahvir Wheeler (right leg). The Wildcats still cruised past Howard, of course. But it might be a few weeks before we see some of the sport’s biggest programs at full strength. — Borzello
Baylor has no issues in its season opener, scoring over 100 in a huge win over Mississippi Valley State.
Baylor sets the pace for offense
Sure, it was against Mississippi Valley State, but it’s still time to overreact. In a 117-53 victory, Baylor recorded what is likely to be its most efficient game of offense in 2022-23. This was actually a 16-10 contest (in favor of the Bears) 10 minutes into the game. Then Scott Drew’s group woke up and went into halftime up 61-21. Adam Flagler paced the Bears with 21 points and four 3s in 25 minutes. (Good thing I picked him for Big 12 POY. He has this in the bag!) When the final horn sounded, Baylor had rung up 1.48 points per possession. That qualifies officially as an Extreme Scoring Event (1.45-plus.) Well done, Bears! — Gasaway
Following a 95-63 season-opening win vs. the Bison, John Calipari praises the Wildcats for playing hard defense and relentlessly grabbing rebounds.
Kentucky can actually shoot this season
This could change everything for a program coming off back-to-back shocking results, with a 9-16 2020-21 campaign followed by a loss to Saint Peter’s Peacocks in the first round of last season’s NCAA tournament as a 2-seed.
Kentucky has shot below 35% from 3 for three consecutive seasons. But in Monday’s lopsided 95-63 win against Howard, Illinois State transfer Antonio Reeves (6-for-12) and CJ Fredrick (2-for-5), who sat out last season due to injury, helped the Wildcats finish with a 46% clip from the 3-point line. Jacob Toppin continues to improve, while five-star recruits Chris Livingston and Cason Wallace look ready to contribute early. If Kentucky gets healthy (it was without Tshiebwe, Wheeler and Daimion Collins on Monday) and stays hot from beyond the arc, the Wildcats could evolve into America’s most challenging matchup.
“It’s hard to play us zone,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said after Monday’s win. “When you have an Oscar, he’s going to go and grab these balls we’re not getting.” — Medcalf
Success on The Farm. 🌲
Michael Jones’ career-high 31 points propel @StanfordMBB to a win in their season opener.#GoStanford | #Pac12MBB pic.twitter.com/qx99vigpzD
— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) November 7, 2022
Stanford should consider having transfers more often than once every 11 years
In his first game in a Stanford uniform, Davidson transfer Michael Jones went off for 31 points in the Cardinal’s 88-78 victory against Pacific. Jones represents a true rarity in Palo Alto, California. He is the first transfer to take the floor for the Stanford men’s basketball team since one-time Santa Clara player Andrew Zimmermann did so back in 2011-12. If his debut is any indication, Jones could give Jerod Haase’s program a boost as it seeks its first NCAA tournament bid since 2014. The 6-foot-5 senior was the picture of versatility against the Tigers, notching 12 points inside the arc, nine outside of it and 10 at the line. — Gasaway
Jett Howard scores 22 points, draining five 3-pointers as Michigan rolls in opener 75-56.
When Howard scored 30 points in the Wolverines’ exhibition win over Ferris State last week, I took it with a grain of salt. This was an exhibition game, after all. But he showed that performance was no fluke on Monday. The son of Michigan coach Juwan Howard recorded 21 points, five 3s and five assists, and he was one of only two Wolverines in double figures. If Michigan is going to be a factor in the Big Ten title race, it needs to find perimeter production (read: shooting) to create space for Hunter Dickinson to operate inside. This is a team that ranked 11th in the Big Ten in 3-point shooting last season. But Howard looked like one of the nation’s best freshmen on Monday. If he can perform consistently, the Wolverines will be a lot more dangerous offensively than I expected. — Borzello