Josh Smith (USA Today Sports Images)
Snap judgments from season openers often turn out to be wrong a few months later, but it's all we have to go on right now. Here are some first impressions from college basketball's busy opening weekend:
1. Hide your eyes, UCLA fans. If Josh Smith's Georgetown debut Friday against Oregon was any indication, the former Bruin is going to tap into his potential for the Hoyas the way he seldom did in Westwood. Still massive but in noticeably better shape than he was when he left UCLA, Smith displayed improved stamina, scoring 25 on 10 of 13 shooting in 27 minutes. He only played more minutes than that once since his freshman year at UCLA as poor conditioning often led to fatigue or foul trouble. Georgetown was supposed to be a guard-oriented team this season with Otto Porter in the NBA and Greg Whittington hurt, but the Hoyas played through Smith in the post Friday night. Smith made smart decisions too, scoring at will against a shorthanded Oregon frontcourt and showing good vision when the Ducks sent double teams. Smith's fine performance wasn't enough to propel Georgetown to a victory Friday night, but it bodes well for the Hoyas chances of contending in the new Big East this winter.
2. With starter Seth Allen lost for two months as a result of a broken foot, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon opted to convert wing Dez Wells into a point guard rather than starting highly touted Roddy Peters as a true freshman. Perhaps that may yet work out for the Terps, but it looked like a poor choice Friday night. Wells had trouble taking care of the ball or staying aggressive in the first half of Maryland's 78-77 loss to UConn, committing four turnovers and not attempting a shot for more than nine minutes. He was more assertive in the second half, but his decision-making was still problematic. Twice in the final 20 seconds Wells forced ill-advised attempts at the go-ahead shot, the first an errant runner through a triple team when he had Nick Faust wide open for a kickout and the second a contested fall-away jump shot. It doesn't look as though Wells will move back to the wing anytime soon. Turgeon told the Washington Post after Friday's game, "Dez will be our point. Roddy will be backup."
3. A step backward for Kansas State was inevitable this season with the graduation of Rodney McGruder and the transfer of Angel Rodriguez, but the Wildcats could not have foreseen what happened to them in Friday's season opener. Northern Colorado stunned last year's co-Big 12 champs 60-58, handing Kansas State its first loss in a home opener since 1993. The absence of Thomas Gipson to an undisclosed injury hurt Kansas State both offensively and on the glass. The Wildcats missed shots at an incredible rate, going 20 of 59 from the field, 2 of 19 from behind the arc and 16 of 33 at the foul line. They also allowed 6-foot-3 Derrick Barden to grab 17 rebounds to go along with his 16 points. If Kansas State wants to avoid digging an early hole for itself, it needs to solve these problems in a hurry. Home games against quality mid-majors Oral Roberts and Long Beach State precede a trip to Puerto Rico for the loaded Puerto Rico Tip-Off.
5. Those expecting Saint Mary's to tumble off the national radar post-Matthew Dellavedova are ignoring the Gaels' history of seamless transitions after a star leaves. Saint Mary's offered an early statement it will again be in the NCAA tournament picture this winter, rolling to an 83-70 home victory Friday night over a Louisiana Tech program that returns four starters from a 27-win team. Jordan Page's transition from shooting guard to point guard got off to a good start as the athletic senior withstood the Bulldogs' pressure defense and delivered 18 points, eight rebounds and six assists while committing just three turnovers. Brad Waldow also highlighted an excellent night from a deep, talented Saint Mary's frontcourt by delivering the best game of his career, a 28-point, eight-rebound effort on 11 of 13 shooting.
6. No major-conference team was more fortunate than Purdue to avoid a season-opening upset loss. Playing without top big man A.J. Hammons, Boilermakers only managed to hold off Northern Kentucky 77-76 when guard Tyler White missed a contested go-ahead layup with a few seconds left and center Jake Giesler botched a point-blank put-back attempt. Purdue had already rallied from a four-point final-minute deficit thanks to an Errick Peck 3-pointer and a pair of free throws from Ronnie Johnson. A year ago, Bucknell's season-opening 70-65 victory at Mackey Arena set the tone for a 7-6 nonconference schedule and an eventual 16-18 season for Purdue. It remains to be seen if the Boilermakers will be better this season, but players are interpreting the close call as a show of greater perseverance rather than vulnerability. "At the end of the game, we didn’t have guys hollering at each other, cussing each [other] out," Purdue guard Terone Johnson told reporters in West Lafayette. “We had a lot of that last year at the end of games, or once adversity hit we were pointing the finger a lot of times."
7. With Wake Forest fans creating t-shirts, websites and billboards calling for his firing, embattled fourth-year Demon Deacons coach Jeff Bzdelik needs a strong start to the season season to get folks off his back. Needless to say, Friday's season opener wasn't what he had in mind. Facing a Colgate team that finished outside the top 300 last season, Wake Forest trailed by two at halftime and by eight early in the second half. Only in the final minutes did the Demon Deacons finally pull away for an 89-78 victory. A combined 44 points from forward Devin Thomas and guard Codi Miller-McIntyre at least offers some encouragement for Wake Forest, but this wasn't the type of opponent good teams should struggle with at home. If the Demon Deacons don't improve defensively, they'll have a tough time beating the better opponents on their schedule.
8. Fox Sports 1's pairing of excitable play-by-play man Gus Johnson and quick-witted analyst Bill Raftery is going to be a treat for college hoops fans all season. I feared Raftery might be better with a reserved partner who allowed him to shine, but the duo had terrific chemistry in their debut game together Friday night, Providence's overtime victory over Boston College. About the only thing that would have made the broadcast better would have been a buzzer beater worthy of either Johnson's or Raftery's trademark catch phrases. Alas, no such luck. Bryce Cotton's potential game-winning shot in the final seconds of regulation did not even strike iron, and viewers were forced to wait for what will surely be a fun TV moment later this season.
9. Unable to earn enough consistent playing time last season to get in good shooting rhythm, Syracuse guard Trevor Cooney struggled from behind the arc, sinking just 26.9 percent of his threes. Consistent minutes should be more readily available for Cooney this season with Brandon Triche and James Southerland gone, and the sophomore showed he'll be ready to take advantage. Cooney scored a career-high 27 points and drilled 7 of 8 threes he attempted to help Syracuse stave off Cornell's upset bid. The Big Red actually led 36-24 late in the first half before Cooney caught fire and led the Orange back. Cooney's outside shooting will be crucial for a Syracuse team that needs someone to stretch the defense the way Southerland and Triche did last season. If Friday night is any indication, perhaps Cooney is more capable of filling that role than fans who wrote him off after last season might think.
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