The perfect storm. The stars aligning.
Ask any sports fan, events like Tuesday night’s slate of college basketball action aren’t common. Twitter was buzzing with celebrity praise as the nation’s top college basketball teams squared off in the Windy City, a night that should set the tone for an incredible college basketball season. At the epicenter of everything were four of the top five teams in the country – Kentucky, Michigan State, Duke and Kansas.
Sparty knuckled up against John Calipari’s latest blue chip cocktail, and, like I’m sure many of us hoped, experience won out over hype. Tom Izzo’s squad handed the Wildcats their first loss of the season, led by Keith Appling (22 points) and Gary Harris (20). Experience seemed to be the key player here, as the Spartans opened up a rather sizable gap in the first half, entering the locker rooms with a 12-point lead. They almost coughed the lead up – Kentucky was led by Julius Randle’s eventual man-sized 27-13 double-double – but it proved to be too much for the young ‘Cats to handle. Expect a new number one team in the nation next week.
If there’s any consolation prize for UK fans, tossing five freshmen into such a spotlight this early in the season was bound to end like this. Take your lumps now. Learn to lose. And know that Julius Randle is going to lead your team to some pretty great places.
Even with UK/MSU being a one-versus-two matchup, the centerpiece of the night’s events belonged to Kansas and Duke, two historic franchises boasting freshmen that will go down as program all-timers. Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker were everything we were hoping for. Athletic and skilled, they resembled legitimate superstars; the kind of once-in-a-generation wing talent we haven’t seen since Kevin Durant donned burnt orange.
Parker stole the show with 27 points and 9 rebounds (numbers don’t do his performance justice. He took what he wanted, when he wanted it from the Jayhawks in the first half). But it was Wiggins who put the game away for Kansas with step-back jumper a defining and-one dunk finishing with 22 points and eight rebounds.* The play came in the game’s waning minutes, and would removed all doubt about KU’s eventual victory, 94-83.
Needless to say, college basketball has gone a couple of years without a go-to face. Anthony Bennett was a first overall pick last year, and people (Bill Simmons, at least) will argue till they’re blue in the face that Victor Oladipo should have taken the honor. That this is even a debate says way more about the college basketball talent pool than anything else.
Lack of star power won’t be a problem this year. Between the two super-freshmen, UK’s “Fab Five” rendition and teams like Michigan State, Louisville and Oklahoma State, we’re in for a damn good of college hoops. Feel free to get excited in the comments.
* – It should not go unmentioned Wiggins was able to able excel later in the game because teammates like Perry Ellis (24 points, nine rebounds), Wayne Selden, Jr. (15 points, six rebounds and four assists) and Frank Mason (15 points) all played vital roles for the Jayhawks.