The opening weekend of college basketball is in the books and I, for one, couldn't be happier. Basketball is back. And even though the NBA has been in full swing for a little over three weeks now, college basketball is just different. Aside from the obvious that the players aren't professionals, there's just a different level of excitement when watching your college team play as opposed to your NBA team. Every game matters more as a loss early in the season can affect whether a team gets into the NCAA Tournament come season's end. And during an opening weekend that saw very few "marquee" matchups, making sure you didn't slip up to what most consider to be "weaker" competition is what so many teams were looking for this weekend. The ACC ended Sunday with an 18-1 record over the season's first three days with the lone loss coming from Boston College, a team we had ranked as last in the league coming into the season. And while there were no surprises in the Win/Loss column this weekend, there were some surprises on the court, albeit with an extremely small sample size as only four teams played more than one game this weekend (Duke, NC State, Wake Forest and North Carolina).
Player of the Week(end)
Frank Jackson - Duke
Duke was playing short handed this weekend with freshman Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles and Marques Bolden all missing time due to injuries. Coach K implemented an extremely short bench in both contests with Jackson getting the bulk of the minutes before it was time to empty the bench due to the score. And he made the most of every minute he had on the court. He scored 18 points against Marist on Friday to lead all scorers and then followed that up with an extremely impressive 21 point performance on Saturday that included a 4-6 mark from downtown. It looks as though Coach K is going to have Grayson Allen running the point more this season so having Jackson off the bench is going to be key for a Duke team that lacks proven guard depth. Jackson showed his ability to do a number of things offensively over the weekend getting to the rim when he wanted to and then taking some big time shots from behind the arc and draining them as well. He still has a ways to go defensively as he needs to learn to guard on the perimeter without fouling. He racked up four fouls in just 25 minutes in both contests with a couple of those being what I would call "bad fouls". But those are normal growing pains for freshman so no one should be overly concerned. The biggest takeaway is going to be the spark that he's going to be able to provide when Allen is on the bench. With the other three injured frosh set to make their debuts in the coming weeks, Coach K will likely go away from that three guard rotation he rolled out in the first two contests which should allow Jackson to actually have a full "second unit" to lead.
Marcquise Reed - Clemson
The Georgia vs. Clemson game was arguably the most exciting matchup of the weekend in the ACC. Outside of UNC vs. Tulane, it was the only game that featured two power conference teams against one another. And since Tulane hasn't been relevante in basketball for the better part of two decades, the Clemson/UGA game wins the "Matchup of the Weekend" in the ACC. Of the three transfers on the Tiger roster this season, Reed was the only one to get into the game against the Bulldogs and he was every bit of the scorer I thought he would be off this team's bench. Jaron Blossomgame is this team's star and go-to player and nothing that Reed does is likely going to change that. But, having another scoring threat to lessen the blow of losing Roper from last year's squad will go a long way to making sure this team gets back to where they want to be come NCAA Tournament time. Reed was the best player on the floor for either team on Friday night and didn't really see a shot he didn't like. He was a huge part of a key stretch during the second half which allowed Clemson to put away a pesky Georgia squad. He energized the crowd with a three ball when he should have reset the offense and run some more clock. Brad Brownell might not have liked the play selection there from Reed, but he couldn't complain about the outcome. The last time we saw Reed on the court was in an NCAA Tournament loss to Duke two seasons ago. He dropped 22 points on the Blue Devils in a second round matchup after scoring 19 in a win against North Florida during the Tournament's "First Four" in Dayton. Look for Reed to continue to lead this team in scoring for the rest of the season as he helps take some of the load off of Blossomgame.
Dennis Smith - NC State
Depending on who you talk to, some experts say that it is harder for big men to come into the college game and dominate. Others will say it is harder for guards early on in their careers. I'm with the latter of those two schools of thought and Smith's performance this weekend only helps solidify my stance. Go on any Wolfpack forum and Smith has been labeled as the best recruit to come to Raleigh in decades. The former NC Gatorade Player of the Year in high school grew up knowing all about the Tobacco Road rivalries. And when he committed to the Wolfpack, he knew what he was getting himself into. NC State won both of their games this weekend but Smith was far from his usual self. He was a combined 6-22 from the field and 0-7 from distance in the two games in which he scored 11 and 12 points respectively. His shot just wasn't dropping and there were moments where he looked as if he was pressing. He knows what the expectations are for this season with him in the fold and he played like he knew it at times over the weekend. Before everyone starts panicing, these were the first two games of his college career and the first time he's played meaningful basketball since his junior year in high school so there was going to be some rust. He was outshined both nights by two other NC State guards in Torin Dorn and Terry Henderson. But that won't be the case on most nights as he gets more and more comfortable with this team and with his role on it.
Top 5 Early Season Tournaments to Watch
1. Maui Invitational (November 21st)
A North Carolina vs. Oregon/Wisconsin potential matchup is what everyone is hoping for in Hawaii. As I've said before, I'm not completely sold with this Tar Heel team after what they lost from last season. Taking down Oregon or Wisconsin after getting tested against UConn, a likely second round matchup would go a long way in my belief of this team as well as their own. Oregon is no joke and is a team that should win the Pac-12 this season.
2. Preseason NIT (November 24th)
I like Florida State more than most this season. If everything plays out the way it should in the bracket, they will get a shot at a signature win early this season with West Virginia. Even if everything doesn't play out for them, wins against Temple and Illinois will look nice on a resume come March. The 'Noles will need both Rathan-Mayes and Dwayne Bacon to play like they did against Charleston Southern on Saturday.
3. Puerto Rico Tip Off (November 24th)
These early season tournaments are to try and test your teams early. Clemson, already with a win against Georgia, will head to San Juan this week in hopes of getting another couple of marquee wins under their belt. Davidson, Xavier/Missouri, Arizona State and Oklahoma are potential matchups at some point. The big one here is obviously Xavier. A win against the Musketeers and they might have a few more people on their bandwagon with me.
4. Paradise Jam (November 18th)
NC State could and should win this tournament. They are without a doubt the most talented team in the field. Creighton is the only potential matchup that should worry Mark Gottfried's squad. As noted above, Dennis Smith didn't play well in his first two games, but the team got NCAA clearance for Ted Kapita on Friday night who responded with 17 points and 8 boards on Sunday, his first collegiate game. His presence will pay off in a big way as the team heads to the Virgin Islands this week.
5. HOF Tipoff Classic (November 19th)
Penn State and the winner of Cincinnati/Rhode Island await Duke in Connecticut this week. None of those teams are a formidable foe for Duke at this point in the season, but these games will be big for Blue Devil fans to watch as you might get one to two of the injured trio of freshman back in the fold. Although, Coach K has never pushed for players to come back too soon from injuries as we've seen in recent years with Kyrie Irving and then last year with Amile Jefferson.
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