Griffith's Got Stats: What was up on Nov. 6?
Griffith’s Got Stats: What was up on Nov. 6?
The first five days of college basketball season came and went, and now everyone’s talking about that one team from Durham, North Carolina.
Nov. 6 was an interesting day. The start of the college basketball season across the United States, highlighted by two marquee matchups with 10th-ranked Michigan State University playing against the top-ranked University of Kansas and fourth-ranked Duke University playing against the second-ranked University of Kentucky, coincided with Election Day this year. For me, basketball always provided an escape throughout college. I listened to Syracuse University hold its own in its Final Four matchup it had no business being in on the drive home from a performance in Boston in 2016. I watched Trae Young and the University of Oklahoma, on my phone, light up the court as I was in an operating room waiting to have my appendix taken out in 2017. This year, I was watching Duke’s freshmen make Kentucky’s team look like Western Kentucky as I refreshed my local news website to see my dad’s election results. He successfully ran for my county’s Family Court Judge position for the third time and I have this sport to thank for lowering stress during that time. If you don’t have an escape, take a look at basketball to take your mind off things.
Back to the Duke game. This season, Duke has a trio of highly-touted freshmen that forms the best recruiting class for any D1 school: RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish and the 6-foot-7, 285-pound recruit you’ve probably heard about from his dunking videos on Instagram, Zion Williamson. When the initial AP Poll rankings came out, Duke was ranked fourth in the country, behind Gonzaga University, Kentucky (the team Duke would play to open its season against) and Kansas. Focusing on Kentucky, most people thought there was a good reason Duke was ranked behind them. Kentucky had a very strong mix of talented freshmen and returning players, including sophomore PJ Washington, who held his own as a freshman starter last year, and Stanford senior transfer Reid Travis. Kentucky had depth, while Duke’s freshmen, although talented, were unproven. Injuries kept the public from seeing all three play together during preseason matchups, but that soon changed.
Duke beat Kentucky 118-84. Duke led by 17 points going into halftime and that lead became as large as 37 points before the game was over. Not only that, but if you only consider the freshmen on the team — Barrett, Reddish, Williamson and Tre Jones — those four still would have beaten Kentucky 89-84. The Blue Devils shot 46.2 percent from three, which dispels any notion anyone in the media might have about Duke being a streaky shooting team. Duke’s freshmen mesh so well together that Kentucky’s defensive strategy eventually turned into a pick-and-choose over which star player to guard. All three players ostensibly played positions all over the court, with Reddish and Barrett shifting between forward and guard and Williamson, the largest of the three, shifting between a more traditional center role and forward. Will Duke keep this streak up? Probably not. Six Duke players had at least three fouls, which may represent some issues for a team without much upperclassman leadership. Still, I expect the Blue Devils to jump up a few spots in the polls and I wouldn’t be surprised if the team ended up ranked first.
We also had our first few upsets of the season! Baylor University, predicted to finish in the middle of the pack in the Big 12 Conference, fell to Texas Southern University, a historically black college, in a come-from-behind game 72-69. Texas Southern was a 16-seed in last year’s NCAA Tournament after winning the Southwestern Athletic Conference last season, but Baylor is a quality team. The game ended on a 34-14 run for the Tigers, ending Baylor’s streak of winning its previous 46 consecutive regular season non-conference home openers against unranked opponents. An even crazier upset happened earlier this week when the University of Texas-San Antonio lost to St. Edwards University, a private, Catholic, Division II school in Austin, Texas, 76-77. UTSA was up by one point with 14 seconds left after a three-pointer from senior Nick Allen when freshman Luke Pluymen drew a foul and made both of his free throws to solidify the upset for the D-II school.
Even Dartmouth Basketball has things to look forward to. Predicted to finish last in the Ivy League by the Ivy League Men’s Basketball Preseason Media Poll in part because the team lost its two leading scorers in Miles Wright ’18 and Taylor Johnson ’18, Dartmouth opened its season with a 75-point victory against D-III Newbury College. Dartmouth then played a competitive game against Davidson University on the road, a team that made the NCAA Tournament last year as a 12-seed. Dartmouth led the Wildcats for 19:06 in the second half before some clutch three-pointers and free throws would seal the game for Davidson, 79-76. Dartmouth played well in the loss, with Adrease Jackson ’21 leading the Big Green with 16 points and eight rebounds. Before its Sunday afternoon matchup with Loyola University Maryland, Dartmouth was among the top-30 D-I schools in the country in three-point field goal percentage, shooting 45.5 percent as a team through two games, good for 28th in the country. If Dartmouth can keep this shooting up, the team might make some noise in Ivy League play. Dartmouth’s two toughest tests coming up on its schedule are road games against the University of Buffalo (ranked 53rd in Adjusted Efficiency Margin per KenPom.com) and another road trip to the University of San Francisco (ranked 95th).
Good luck with finals everyone; here are some last-word predictions on who’ll make the College Football Playoff. As boring as it is, I’m predicting chalk for the rest of the season, as the current top four look too good to be upset. So to jinx everything, I’m predicting the University of Alabama, Clemson University, Notre Dame University and the University of Michigan to make the Playoff.