Lessons from early season college basketball tournaments

By: Sean Golonka

We’re almost three weeks into the college basketball season, and over the past two weeks, a number of different college hoops tournaments have occurred. There was the Maui Invitational, NIT Tip-Off, AdvoCare Invitational, a number of tournaments out in Vegas, and a whole bunch of others.

So before the sure-to-be exciting Big Ten/ACC challenge starts, let’s take a look at the lessons we learned from all those tournaments.

Duke can be beaten.

Pretty crazy, huh? Yeah, I know. A week ago, people were debating whether the Duke or the Cleveland Cavaliers would win in a fantasy world basketball match up. And even though R.J. Barrett still looks like a number one pick and Zion Williamson still looks like a superhuman, the Blue Devils’ Maui run only went through SDSU and Auburn before ending in a match-up against Gonzaga. In that game, Barrett played a little too much hero ball, and Rui Hachimura, who’s averaging over 22 points a game, managed to actually give Z-Will some problems.

Auburn is definitely legit.

Sticking out on that island in the middle of the Pacific, we saw Auburn take down solid Xavier and Arizona teams, with a single loss coming in Duke’s closest game not against Zaga. During their three game stretch way out west, the Tigers knocked down 31 threes, thanks to Bryce Brown and Jared Harper, and if they keep things up, they’ll certainly pose some problems for Kentucky and Tennessee in the race to the top of the SEC.

Illinois is hurting the conference.

The Big Ten has looked fantastic so far this year. In the new NET rankings, which replaced RPI, the conference has 10 of its 14 teams in the top of 43, including Ohio State at number 1 (a bit confusing I know, but they looked great on the road at Cincinnati and at Creighton). But, unfortunately, one last bit of news from the Maui Invitational puts a wrinkle in the Big Ten’s success. Illinois lost all three of their games out there to become the only team in the Big Ten with more than two losses. Ouch.

I will donate Darius Garland my meniscus.

Okay, this one is definitely cheating. This wasn’t from a tournament. And this isn’t a lesson learned. But, I don’t care. Last Friday, Darius Garland went down with a meniscus injury after just two minutes of action, and Vanderbilt ended up losing their first game of the season by two to Kent State. Before that, Garland had looked like one of the best freshmen in the country, averaging 20 a game with near 50% shooting from beyond the arc. So, in order to not have to wait a couple months to watch Garland play again, I will donate my meniscus to him.

Kansas might really be number one.

My Darius Garland feeling almost made me forget that there were other tournaments that happened, but a pretty fun one went down in Brooklyn over the holiday weekend. Tennessee beat Louisville, and Kansas beat Marquette, before Kansas took down Tennessee in the final. And even though Zaga is getting a lot of deserved attention for taking down Duke, Kansas still might be the number one team in the country. They had already beat Michigan State, and they walked away from this tournament with a solid win over a talented Marquette team and a huge win over an elite Tennessee team. Dedric Lawson is fierce, and Lagerald Vick is shooting out of his mind. Watch out.

Tennessee is the best team in the SEC.

Kentucky is loaded with talent. And Auburn has looked tremendous all year, even in their loss to Duke. But this Tennessee team looks like the best in the conference. The Vols dispatched Louisville with minimal effort. And their loss to Kansas came in overtime, after Grant Williams had already fouled out. So as long as Grant Williams, who is putting up 22-8-4 this year, is on the floor, Tennessee will be extremely tough to beat.

Villanova will be okay.

The whole AdvoCare Invitational was awesome. If you didn’t catch any of it, you should really go back and watch at least some of it. Memphis, Oklahoma State, and Charleston are all fun to watch. Florida State and LSU, two teams that I am very high on and that should stay ranked or right outside the top 25 all year long, played in an overtime game that ended with a buzzer-beating, game-winning three. And Nova looked great on their way to winning the whole thing.

Now that right there is the biggest takeaway. Going into the tournament, Nova lost back-to-back games against Michigan and Furman, but they went into the tournament, dominated Canisius and OK State, and then won a tough game over FSU, as their starters combined for 62 points. So, just remember, the Wildcats are still the best team in the Big East.

Texas has the talent to compete with the best of them.

We already knew Kerwin Roach II had big bucket potential with even bigger hops. But after a nice showing in Vegas, the Longhorns look like one of the more formidable teams in the Big 12. UT won a close one against UNC, as Roach posted an uber-efficient 32, and surprise freshman stud Jaxson Hayes contributed 15 and 9 with a few blocks off the bench. This team then showed even more flashes of greatness in the next game, as they built a double-digit lead in the first half against Michigan State, before shooting struggles lost them the game.

Coby White is the key for the Tar Heels.

Prior to this tournament, there were a lot of questions about who would really step up for this UNC team. Cameron Johnson? Luke Maye? Nassir Little? But those questions were answered by Coby White in Las Vegas, as he went off for 33 points in a close loss to Texas, before taking control of the offense against UCLA and posting 19 and 8 in a 94-point performance for UNC. With White taking over, this team looks ready and poised to compete at the top of the ACC.

UNR is going undefeated.

So maybe this isn’t really a lesson, and maybe this wasn’t something that was newly introduced because of Nevada’s performance in a Vegas tournament. But, I feel compelled to remind everyone of how good this team is at every chance I get. Over the past week, UNR improved to 6-0, with easy double-digit wins over Tulsa and UMass in Vegas. Caleb Martin and Jordan Caroline are now putting up a combined 39 points a game, and the team is 8th in the nation in points-per-game with 92. Try to convince me that any team on this team’s schedule will beat them. (Hint: You can’t.)

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