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Men's Basketball: Hot Takes After A Wild Opening Week In CBB

ByBryan Armetta

Published on Sun Nov 21 2021

|

4 min read

Men's Basketball: Hot Takes After A Wild Opening Week In CBB

It's been a chaotic week of college basketball. In less than seven days of play, we've had an overtime classic, a 37-point masterclass, and jaw-dropping upsets. It's heartburn for coaches, but heaven for hoops fans.

While we're still a long ways from March, it's never too early to prognosticate on how this year's drama will unfold. Here are four bold predictions that just might be right this season.

Gonzaga got better

There wasn't a ton of new information we learned about #1 Gonzaga in a comfortable twelve-point home win over #8 Texas. Championship game embarrassment against Baylor aside, last year's WCC champs had an unprecedented 2020 campaign, steamrolling all challengers en route to an undefeated regular season. The 2021 group seemed to pick up where they left off last Saturday.

There have been some questions about the Zags this offseason. With Jalen Suggs and Corey Kispert departing for the NBA last summer, it was fair to wonder how the Bulldogs planned to replace the production of two lottery picks. Enter seven-foot unicorn Chet Holmgren, a big man with elite shot-blocking and shooting ability, along with talented Iowa State transfer Rasir Bolton at guard. Despite Holmgren's lackluster two-point outing vs. Texas, he still has a good chance of emerging as the nation's top freshman standout.

While the new additions should keep Gonzaga highly competitive, their ceiling has been raised by the improvement of their returning players, most notably Drew Timme. The junior big man was already in contention to win the Wooden Award, but his career-high 37 points against a powerless Longhorns interior defense solidifies his place as the favorite to take home the honor. Timme, along with other returnees Andrew Nembhard and Anton Watson, give Gonzaga a mix of core stars and new recruits that not even last year's unit possessed. While going undefeated again is an unrealistic expectation (especially with a showdown against #2 UCLA looming), it's certainly no stretch to call this the most talented roster Mark Few has ever coached.

Syracuse will contend for the ACC title

Ever since Syracuse left the Big East for the ACC eight years ago, the Orange have been good, but far from great. Typically sneaking into the tournament rather than winning their beast of a conference, Jim Boeheim's team could make history this season, namely from long-distance.

Buddy Boeheim, one of the elite shooters in all of college basketball, should be as good as last year, if not better. The Orange's other starting guard, Joseph Girard III, has looked much better from long range with an absurd 100

three-point percentage through two games. Another opening week standout has been Villanova transfer Cole Swider, a forward who combines size and a lethal shooting stroke. With three of the better shooters in the nation on the floor together, opposing defenses will have no choice but to guard the perimeter. That should open up the paint for five-star freshman Benny Williams, seven-foot center Jesse Edwards, and Cornell transfer Jimmy Boeheim (son of Jim, brother of Buddy).

That being said, the Orange did stumble in a 100-85 home loss to Colgate on Saturday night, a tough break for a team with high expectations. Still, Colgate was boosted by shooting a scorching 42

on three-point attempts. If Coach Boeheim's zone extends the floor a bit more and tightens up on the boards, the experienced Orange should be able to improve.

Admittedly, part of this bold prediction can be traced to even more uncertainty amongst 'Cuse's conference rivals. North Carolina has been inconsistent, Duke has already gone through off-court issues, and Virginia might be in for a rebuilding year following their loss to Navy. None of this means Syracuse should be seen as conference favorites, since they've had their own struggles. However, it sure helps to have solid chemistry and so few distractions this early in the season, with shooters capable of getting hot and taking just about anyone down. Watch out for the Orange as a pesky ACC challenger this year.

The Big East is deeper than ever this year...and the Big 10 is worse

Talk about a conference-wide statement. In the span of one week, the Big East asserted itself as a force by taking out some of the Big 10's premier programs during the Gavitt Tipoff Games. Most impressive: they did it without the help of #5 Villanova.

The first domino to fall occurred last Monday, when Shaka Smart's Marquette Golden Eagles shocked #10 Illinois by a score of 67-66. The following day, Seton Hall went to Ann Arbor and took down #4 Michigan, 67-65. Finally, Xavier beat #19 Ohio State 71-65 on Thursday. Overall, the Big East is 6-2 against the Big 10, with three of those wins coming against arguably the best teams in the conference. The signs are pointing to a potential Big East resurgence, perhaps reminding us of those intense, highly-competitive seasons prior to the conference's initial dissolution eight years ago.

On the other side, it's difficult to recollect a time in which the Big 10 looked so shaky, especially when factoring in #20 Maryland's loss to George Mason. With talented squads suffering brutal losses to weaker (on paper) teams, one can't help but think of the Big 10's highly publicized failure in the postseason last year, where nine teams entered March Madness but only Michigan reached the Elite Eight. The teams beaten this week should turn it around, and #6 Purdue is still undefeated after a neutral-site victory over North Carolina. Still, it's not crazy for Big 10 fans to panic somewhat. It's now been two years where the majority of the conference has failed to play up to both their opponents and their own talent level. That is cause for concern.

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