Indiana’s James Blackmon missed most of last season with a torn ACL, and when the Hoosiers won the Big Ten title, there were some people saying the team was better off without Blackmon (defense was the main reason for this line of thinking). It couldn’t be a more ridiculous thought after Blackmon carried the Hoosiers to victory over Kansas Friday night with 26 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 assists. It was an effort worthy of an All-American.
The Hoosiers’ preseason All-American, center Thomas Bryant, had 19 points and 10 rebounds. Guard Robert Johnson and swingman OG Anunoby played well, too. This is a team that could win a national championship.
Kansas could too, especially considering the elevated play of point guard Frank Mason. He also has been criticized in the past, but he was practically unstoppable Friday night, scoring 30 points with 9 assists. He was just as good as Blackmon.
A look at the first weekend in college basketball:
ELEVATOR GOING UP
Marquette: I mistakenly wrote that Marquette was playing a home game against Vanderbilt Friday night. It was a neutral-site game at Navy, part of the Veterans Classic. Despite that, it was still an important step for Coach Wojo. Good win.
Northeastern: Alex Murphy, the graduate transfer from Florida (via Duke), might make a big difference for the Huskies. He had 20 points and 8 assists in a win over BU.
Purdue: This is basically because of sophomore center Caleb Swanigan, who had 23 points, 20 rebounds, and 6 assists in a victory over McNeese State. Swanigan was a big-time recruit; he had a decent freshman season but didn’t have that one-and-done look that was anticipated. Looks like things might be different. His stat line has been equaled only by Ben Simmons and Blake Griffin in the last 10 years.
Tennessee State: The Tigers went 3-0 in the Cable Car Classic (celebrating its 50th anniversary) by beating host Santa Clara, Northern Arizona, and UC Davis. It’s the best start for the program since 1994-95.
UCLA: What a stat line for highly touted freshman guard Lonzo Ball, who had 19 points, 12 assists, and 8 rebounds as the Bruins obliterated Pacific, 119-80. (Heck, that’s like a score from when the Bruins had Walton or Kareem.) He backed that up with 13 points, 6 assists, and 8 rebounds in his second game.
Yale: This was supposed to be a rebuilding year in New Haven, then point guard Makai Mason hurt his foot and is out for the season. Despite that, the Bulldogs flew out to Seattle and upset Washington, 98-90.
ESCALATOR GOING DOWN
UConn: The Huskies had an inexplicable home loss to Wagner. I will say this: The Seahawks look like an NCAA team out of the Northeast Conference.
Penn State: Not sure how the Nits can compete in the Big Ten starting three freshmen who may be talented but couldn’t beat Albany in their opener. They bounced back to beat Duquesne Sunday but not without a struggle.
Saint Louis: Former UMass coach Travis Ford is in his first year with the Billikens and has made some recruiting scores already. Those efforts won’t be reflected on the court this season, which is looking like it could be dismal based on the 85-64 home-court loss to Ball State.
Nevada Las Vegas: Poor Vegas. They thought they hired a new coach, Chris Beard, but he turned around and left for Texas Tech when that job opened. TEXAS TECH INSTEAD OF VEGAS? Doesn’t seem possible, but maybe there was a hint of why he did that in the Rebels’ opener, a loss to South Alabama at the Thomas and Mack Center. Good luck to Beard’s replacement, Marvin Menzies.
Tulsa: It might be a long season for a team that received an undeserved NCAA bid last season. The Hurricane were upset by Jacksonville State (that’s a school in Alabama, not Florida).
THIS WEEK’S FINAL FOUR: Duke, Indiana, Kansas, Saint Mary’s
THIS WEEK’S NATIONAL CHAMPION: DukeJoe Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com.