The 2021-22 college basketball season officially turns one week, and those seven days have produced many big matchups and some magical moments. And while we know basing opinions on a game or two earlier in the year can be dangerous (remember when Quentin Grimes was about to be Kansas’ next star after the 2018 Champions Classic?), We certainly learned a lot from the first week of the season.
Here are five opening week overreactions in men’s college basketball.
UCLA’s March Magic Hasn’t Faded
The game script of UCLA’s thrilling overtime win over Villanova on Friday night felt very comparable to the team’s March Madness run of all ages last spring. Villanova appeared in full control midway through the second half, landing quality shots against the UCLA defense and leading by 10 with just over nine minutes to play. But then UCLA clicked on “march mode”: Their defense hardened, Johnny Juzang began hunting mid-range cubes, and Tyger Campbell made heady play after heady play. Villanova scored just four points in the final eight minutes of regulation time, allowing UCLA to complete the comeback, force overtime and ultimately win the game.
Much of the talk about this UCLA team going into the season was how it was different from the team that made waves last March, a team that would have more depth and would be more tight-fisted on defense. Actually, we saw pretty much the same recipe: a tight rotation, a defense that got stops when it mattered, and decisive play after decisive play by Juzang, Campbell and Jaime Jaquez Jr. Friday was an indication, it will be enough for another deep race in 2022.
ACC is Duke to lose
One of the most notable statistics in college basketball is that Duke has not won the ACC regular season title since he shared it in the 2009-10 season, when the Blue Devils won the national championship. After an impressive performance against Kentucky in the Champions Classic and disappointing games for much of the rest of the conference, the Blue Devils feel like clear favorites to end the ACC title drought.
Paolo Banchero clearly sported the role in Duke’s season-opening win over Kentucky. But it was the play of his first-year partner Trevor Keels that really exploded, taking over the game downhill on ball screens and providing Banchero with a more than capable Robin for Banchero’s Batman.
Meanwhile, early returns at ACC have been far from promising. Virginia’s offensive problems emerged early in a buy-out loss to the Navy and Florida State’s offense looked like a great work in progress against Florida on Sunday. Louisville lost a buying game to Furman, and while North Carolina won both of their buying games, the Tar Heels weren’t exactly impressive in either performance.
Andrew Nembhard is the best point guard in the nation
Drew Timme’s 37 points stole the show in Gonzaga’s win over Texas, but it was Nembhard’s performance in the win that caught my attention the most. The high-level point guard scored just nine points, but the way he handled the game was incredibly impressive. Nembhard is the metronome for this Gonzaga offense, never speeding up or slowing down for anything. He was assertive when he had to be, made sure Timme got his touches and took care of the ball. Mark Few didn’t need Nembhard to score in this game, but he’s a more than capable outside shooter and a good shot at the basket when he has to be.
Perhaps most importantly, Nembhard was playing with incredible confidence. That confidence sometimes wavered when he was in the main guard role in Florida, but he seems to have fully recovered it after serving as a key cog in last year’s rear rotation with the Zags. Now, there may not be an overall better floor in the sport.
Shaka Smart brings ‘Havoc’ back to Marquette
Smart made a name for himself in the coaching profession due to his “Havoc” defense at VCU. Smart’s VCU teams were the best in the country in team rotation in three of their six years at Richmond. But he gave up pressing D in Texas, and the results spoke for themselves: Smart never made it out of the first round of the NCAA tournament in Austin and his defenses posted a turnover rate in the top 100 only once in his six seasons. .
If Monday night’s game against Illinois is any indication, Smart is bringing “Havoc” back after taking over last spring at Marquette. The Golden Eagles pressed after virtually every basket made and completely disrupted the Illinois offense, forcing 26 turnovers, including a late-second steal that turned into a winning layup from Tyler Kolek. This Marquette team won’t overwhelm anyone with their talent, but that defensive pressure will make the Golden Eagles a pain to play against the Golden Eagles all season … especially on their home court.
Hopes for additional mid-major league offerings feel slim
It’s never too early to think about resume building, particularly for the big leagues that don’t have as many chances to make it big at conferences. It wasn’t a great week for three leagues hoping to send multiple teams to the NCAA tournament: the A-10, Mountain West and the Missouri Valley.
In the A-10, the VCU offense somehow looked worse than feared after the team’s backcourt was decimated by injuries this spring. The Rams suffered an ugly 58-44 loss to Wagner. Dayton’s young team had their own early struggles and had their worst home loss in 20 years to UMass-Lowell. Richmond’s loss on a neutral floor to Utah state was far less catastrophic, but far from ideal for a team that needs to move up the nonconference list.
Things were particularly bleak for the Missouri Valley. Drake and Loyola Chicago took care of business, but they need the rest of the Valley to have a strong nonconference to provide some decent chances to win in the conference game. The two teams most singled out as potential postseason teams, Missouri State and Northern Iowa, suffered bad losses during opening week, while early losses to Valparaiso and Bradley didn’t help matters either.
Meanwhile, a Nevada team that sat in the NCAA tournament bubble in Illustrated SportsThe preseason braces did themselves no favors with a home loss to San Diego. The wolf pack has a soft non-conference program that leaves little room for error, making an early loss like this even more painful.
More college basketball coverage:
• Duke Players Banchero, Savarino Arrested at DWI Stop
• Gonzaga, UCLA remains in AP’s top 25 men
• A conclusion for each Champions Classic team
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.