If you ask why I love college basketball more than the NBA or any other sport, I will simply point you in the direction of WatchESPN and tell you to re-watch the games from last night in Chicago.
It was November 12th and I was sitting on my couch in awe. I thought, I’m watching four of the five best teams in the country play in back-to-back games featuring a plethora of future NBA All-Stars and 3-4 future NBA superstars…
Right from the tip of the first game, Michigan State v Kentucky, my eyes were glued to the TV. It was like I was in a dream that I never wanted to end. I mean, you do not get that kind of basketball until March these days and we were being spoiled with it in the second week of November. Not only did we get to see the top teams play, we got to see the top teams play each other and see what the best of the best REALLY can bring to the table. And we were not disappointed…
Like all of the other sports writers and bloggers today, I am drooling over the potential of the big three: Wiggins, Parker and Randle. Let’s dive into what I picked out from last night’s games…
5) Tom Izzo’s Spartans are talented, experienced, exciting and fun to watch
For those of you who know me, you know that I bled green and white up until my brother attended Ohio State and until I enrolled there as well. I’ve been a die-hard Spartan basketball fan for as long as I can remember and even more than that, I might be Tom Izzo’s #1 supporter. That guy could convince me of just about anything; he can do no wrong. With that being said, this is far and away the most exciting State team that I have seen play in many years. I’ve seen the best of the best go through that program and have been through some exciting times with Sparty: from Mo Pete to Jason Richardson to Shannon Brown to Kalin Lucas… and this team is better than most of them (You can’t beat the 2000 squad.. yet).
Keith Appling and Adrien Payne run that locker room as veteran, senior leaders who have been “there” before and know what it is like to take a team deep into the tournament. Branden Dawson is a freak of an athlete, and Gary Harris can flat out ball. Lets also not forget about the 3-4 bench players that Izzo develops every year into capable fill-in starters. I’m very excited to see this team play, and scared s*****ss of this team come B1G play.
Wild Stat: Every player that has graduated under Tom Izzo has played in a Final Four. Will it continue?
4) The Buckeyes: Pretender or Can They Contend?
Going off of my short rant there about Izzo and the Spartans, I have to squeeze in a word about my Bucks. While I want to have something to be excited about regarding this team, I just do not. Aaron Craft is my favorite college basketball player to watch and has been for the last 3 seasons. His incredible intensity that he brings to each game is why I enjoy watching every Bucks game; That and the guaranteed 2 Slam Thompson alley-oops. But other than that, do I think this team has a chance at making a run in the tournament?
It is far to early to tell that with it being only November 13th. What I do know, though, is that Ohio State lacks offense (that is an understatement beyond measure) and in order to beat the top teams in college basketball this year, that cannot be the case. Last season, Mr. Pop-a-shot, Deshaun Thomas was good for 18 a game, whether he took 30 shots or not. I knew that somehow, someway, the team would be able to put up enough points to let their defense be effective. This season, I want to believe LaQuinton will be that guy but I still think he is too passive to make the jump.
Time will tell what the Buckeyes can do against elite teams, but last night’s 10-point victory against Ohio surely does not excite me.
3) Then Kentucky Freshman Will Need to Come Together in Order to Go The Distance
A couple years ago when the Wildcats had Anthony Davis and Mike Kidd-Gilchrist, they were able to come together as a team, not just individual talents, which made them unstoppable. Now, I hate Calapari more than anything, but he seems to have a way with these young guys that puts them in place. I don’t think Kentucky fans have anything to worry about as long as Julius Randle stays healthy, but there is more to this team than just him. They have 6 top 20 recruits: talent beyond belief. But, many of these guys don’t know how to be the 2nd, 3rd or even the 4th best player on their teams yet.
I was watching this game with a buddy who does not know basketball that well, and he said “Kentucky doesn’t look like they are playing as a team, it doesn’t seem like they know what is going on”. That will be the biggest challenge for UK this season. If and when they figure it out, just about everybody should step aside.
2) Each Big Conference Will Have a Powerhouse Team In It
Last year the Big Ten was far and away the best conference in America. In the middle of the season, all I wanted to see was the Big Ten tournament rather than the Final Four. With MSU, OSU, scUM, Indiana and Wisconsin all being elite teams, there was no debate as to which conference lead the way. Just from watching the games last night, it is clear that no one conference will be stacked and each conference will have a team that is above the rest.
In the B1G, MSU is the clear-cut favorite. In the ACC, I don’t see many teams that can compete talent wise with Jabari Parker and Duke. The Big 12 has Wiggins and Kansas. Even the Pac 12 has Aaron Gordon and Arizona. It will be interesting to see who comes out on top come March. To get a real feel for things, wouldn’t it have been nice if those four teams stayed the night in Chicago and went against a different opponent tonight? Ahh, snap out of it Mack.
1) Jabari Parker v Andrew Wiggins v Julius Randle
Finally, we come to the main event: Whose the best freshman in America? Each of these guys put up at least 20 and 8 last night and each put on a show at some point during their games. So to answer the question, right now the best freshman and the best overall player in America is Jabari Parker. Jabari will continue to be the best player in America for the next 2 years, until Andrew Wiggins develops into a more well-rounded player. Here is why…
Jabari has been in that “LeBron” spotlight ever since middle school. Being from the Chicagoland area, I have been watching and reading about him since I was in 7th grade. He was the first freshman to ever be on the varsity team at Simeon, won four consecutive state championships (In a strong Illinois basketball state) and has an unquestioned work ethic that will immediately put him atop everybody else. If you couldn’t tell from last night, Jabari’s game is smooth. He’s 6′ 8″ 235 lbs and can play positions 1-5. He can work you down low, take you off the dribble, or pull up from NBA range in your face and it is pretty. He simply has all of the fundamentals that you need to be a superstar at the next level.
The biggest feature that attracts any fan to Jabari is his IQ for the game of basketball. Undoubtedly, he has been around the game for years with his dad, Sonny, being a former NBA player. This is an advantage he has over both Randle and Wiggins.
I believe that Wiggins has a higher ceiling than Parker, but in terms of being ready right now, it has to be Jabari. Wiggins is a freak athlete who, when developed, could be the next big thing but I think we have to wait 2-3 years to see what he’s got. In terms of Randle, this guy is a haws. He is a monster and he cracks my starting lineup for my All-Dark-Alley Team. That second half versus MSU was impressive and I can’t wait until he matures into the next best big man in the NBA.
This freshman class and this upcoming year of college basketball excites me. I can’t wait to follow all of these players and teams throughout the season. There are plenty of question marks going forward, but these guys and these teams got put on the radar last night.