Early Season Surprises In College Basketball

Thus far this college basketball season has shown us a little bit of everything as it pertains to games being played, postponed, or canceled. There have been some great games like the Big 12 opener between fifth-ranked Kansas and No.14 Texas Tech. Or any game that the top-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs have played in, even though their game with the second-ranked Baylor Bears was canceled because of COVID-19 on December 5th.

What about the freshman that have shown up and shown out? Cade Cunningham (Oklahoma St) to Jalen Suggs (Gonzaga) to Evan Mobley (USC) to Greg Brown (Texas) and a handful of others.

The NCAA hoops season has also been full of surprises.

1. The struggle of Coach Cal and his very young Kentucky Wildcats

Kentucky’s struggles have been a real surprise. Their roster has completely changed in the last 9-10 months. They have nine new players, with six of them being true freshmen.

In these unprecedented times, a few snags in the road were expected but they sit at 1-4 with blowout losses to the Richmond Spiders and Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. The Wildcats flashed potential in close losses to Kansas and Notre Dame but just haven’t figured out how to make it mesh.

Projected 2021 lottery pick BJ Boston has struggled mightily shooting the ball and even started the season (0-11 from 3). He’s shooting a paltry (19.2%) from distance and this was supposed to be something he did well coming out of high school.

The crazy part is he isn’t the only one struggling in Lexington. Guys like transfer Davion Mintz and true “frosh” Devin Askew are above average shooters who can’t seem to hit the side of a barn right now. While their struggles are real right now, they’ll eventually hit their stride. Coach Cal’s 2013-14 team started off slowly as well and gelled late to make a run to the National Title game.

Coach Cal has moved freshman Terrence Clarke to the point recently and it looked like the right move as guys like Askew, Boston and Mintz are able to get more clean looks off the catch. That usually helps any shooter.

2. Gonzaga freshman point guard Jalen Suggs is even better than advertised

There was never a question about the talent of the dual-sport star from St. Paul MN by way of Minnehaha Academy. He played point guard and quarterback in high school so you know the leadership is there with the skill. He was rated the #11 recruit coming out of high school for his unique blend of size, scoring, athleticism and playmaking.

As he arrived in Spokane to play for the deep and Uber talented Zags, his role was still uncertain. That became even more cloudy when Florida transfer Andrew Nembhard was granted a waiver to play this season. Many wondered whether Suggs would be another piece of the puzzle or the lead star of the show. All he did was answer the question with an emphatic “it’s my team.” He’s averaging 13 points, 7 dimes and 5 boards per game, in barely 25 minutes of floor time.

3.    The rise of Jalen Wilson has been a welcome sight for Lawrence

When Bill Self began this season he thought the Kansas Jayhawks would be good but have some identity issues early on. His team was the unquestioned No.1 team in CBB when the 2019-20 season was canceled. That team was led by 2020 NBA Draft picks Udoka Azubuike (Jazz) and Devon Dotson (Bulls).

Now he’s returned multi-faceted, all-world defender Marcus Garrett (Naismith Defensive Player Of The Year) and even moved him to point guard this season after playing him on the wing his first three seasons in Lawrence. Outside of that, Kansas returned some guys that played key minutes last season but Self had no idea what they could give him in an expanded role.

Enter redshirt freshman Wilson who saw his rookie season cut short by a broken ankle after just two games in 2019-20. Wilson is healthy and offers a multiplicity of skills and on this team and his entire bag is needed. Wilson redshirted last season and in that time he worked on his game and it shows on both ends.

In back to back games against Kentucky and Creighton, he was the best player on the floor for either team, scoring 23 versus the Cats and hitting the game-winning triple against the eighth-ranked Blue Jays. He’s the weapon folks didn’t see coming for the 7-1 Jayhawks.

4. Justin Powell Is turning heads on The Plains”

Bruce Pearl and the Auburn Tigers may never see 2020 top recruit Sharife Cooper on the court as the NCAA is investigating improper benefits Cooper may have received (What else is new?)

But they do have 6’5 sweet-stroking guard Justin Powell, an extremely confident player who’s been knocking down his triples at a (50%) clip while hitting the glass at a high and aggressive level.

His playmaking for himself and others, plus the innate ability to get to the charity stripe is a welcome sight for Pearl after losing the electric Isaac Okoro (5th Pick/Cavs) to the NBA Draft after one season.

Powell only played seven games his high school year due to transfer rules which kept him out and he hasn’t missed a beat.


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