College basketball season has begun “in earnest” as they say. In this context that means good teams are playing other good teams, and some truths are starting to reveal themselves as the holidays approach.
The biggest, many of you will be angry to know, is that Duke is really dang good, and is No. 1, and probably will be for quite some time unless Indiana of all teams can do something about it.
The country holds its collective breath.
But there is other stuff to watch in college basketball. Creighton looks really good, Baylor has a matchup nightmare, and UCLA could really, really use those freshman who got arrested in China.
5) You’re going to want to watch Creighton’s Mitchell Ballock
Please just trust me on this, because the elevator pitch on Ballock — oddly mature white freshman from a small town in Kansas who plays for Creighton — is generally not the sort of thing that sets the sports world ablaze.
But here’s the thing: Ballock is a big, strong and fearless swingman who goes hard to the rack and can finish once he gets there. He’s also a big-shot taker who carries himself as if he believes he’s the best player on the floor at all times. Ballock shares a backcourt with another great scorer in Marcus Foster, and with their help Creighton (which will be ranked next week) dropped 100 on UCLA Tuesday night.
Ballock will score a tremendous number of points in his career at Creighton, and you will be so, so tired of hearing about him by about this time in 2019.
4) Baylor’s Jo Lual-Acuil is the stuff of nightmares
Look, I don’t know how you’re supposed to guard this guy. He’s 7-feet, he can run, and he’s making 3s now. He only averaged 9.1 points per game last year, but that was in a supporting role. So far this year, he’s at 13.8 points, 10.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game, and after seeing him put up 19-10 and make two 3s against a big and good Wisconsin team on Tuesday, I’d be surprised if his scoring numbers don’t keep going up.
The interesting thing is, there are a lot of quality players 6-10 and taller this year in college basketball, so there are more teams with the personnel to handle his (and Baylor’s) size. It’s just the ever-expanding floor game that I’m not sure anybody can deal with.
3) UCLA needs those three freshmen badly
The Bruins have a nice team without suspended freshmen LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill, but in giving up 100 points to Creighton on Tuesday, it was clear UCLA could really use some depth for defensive purposes.
With Thomas Welsh and GG Goloman in foul trouble, there was little coach Bruins Steve Alford could do. Creighton scored 57 points in the second half and outscored UCLA in the paint.
You never know what to expect from freshmen in terms of production, but what UCLA needs at the moment isn’t new scoring options, it’s fresh bodies.
2) Texas A&M is deep and good
The Aggies blew out West Virginia (88-65) to begin the year, and have wins over Oklahoma State (72-55), UCSB (84-65) and Penn State (77-69) to go with a No. 16 ranking.
This is largely to the credit of 6-foot-9 junior D.J. Hogg, who has averaged 20-7-4 over A&M’s first three games. But the Aggies have three other players (Admon Gilder, Tyler Davis and Robert Williams) averaging double figures, and four others averaging at least 6.7 points per game. But Hogg, who averaged 12 ppg last season, is shooting far better from the 3-point line (65 percent) and free-throw line (83 percent) than he ever has before.
1) Indiana has the best chance to take down Duke for a while
Indiana is not quite “back” per se, but even so, a game at Assembly Hall is nothing for even Duke to turn up its nose at. As a matter of fact, it’s the sort of game Duke has been reluctant to schedule in the past, presumably because it has L written all over it.
I wouldn’t put money on Indiana winning that game — especially not after an 84-68 loss to Seton Hall on Sunday — but it should be the toughest game Duke has in the non-conference season, now that it has beaten Michigan State. Duke should still be undefeated when it faces No. 11 Miami in Miami on Jan. 15, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Blue Devils make it all the way to Feb. 8, when they play at No. 9 North Carolina.
Duke doesn’t look like an “undefeated regular season” sort of team to me, but it does look like a team with a pretty high floor. Grayson Allen will always be a threat to shoot the Blue Devils out of a bad game.