We missed you, college basketball. The first night of the 2019-20 campaign, per the norm, did not disappoint as teams around the country tipped off the season and produced an abundance of highlights. Here are a few moments that stood out Tuesday night, along with a trio of storylines we’re excited to see on Wednesday.
3 things from Tuesday
Down goes No. 1; Maxey’s legend begins
Michigan State likely will lose its No. 1 ranking following its 69-62 loss to No. 2 Kentucky on Tuesday night in the Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Although Michigan State fought back after entering halftime down 10 points, Kentucky had been the better team for the bulk of the night. Freshman Tyrese Maxey (26 points) was the best player on the floor. Until the final minutes of the game, Kentucky enjoyed a clear edge with its length and defense around the rim.
Tough opening loss for Michigan State in a long season, but no shame in losing to a good Kentucky team. We say this at the start of every season, but it’s true again: John Calipari appears to boast a roster with Final Four potential. There are questions, especially on offense. Players not named Tyrese Maxey combined to finish 12-for-37. That’s not good. But the Wildcats also forced 16 turnovers against Michigan State, which made 19% of its 3-point attempts. Kentucky is a contender again. What’s new?
In January 2018, Texas guard Andrew Jones was diagnosed with leukemia. The life-changing event led to a series of treatments that allowed Jones to play a total of only 11 minutes with the team over the next 1½ seasons. In a 69-45 win over Northern Colorado on Tuesday night, however, Jones scored 20 points (8-for-13), a career high, in his true comeback game after his diagnosis. It was a beautiful moment for Jones, who practiced with the team between treatments last season.
“Man, I can’t even explain the feeling,” Jones said after the win. “Coach [Shaka Smart] gave me a pep talk before the game even started. Reminding me about the 23 months, the last time I played, how much work I put in. I just had to trust my work and everything I’ve been putting in. Just come out here and play.”
All-Americans shine on Day 1
This year’s Associated Press preseason All-American first team featured four returnees and a highly touted freshman, Memphis star James Wiseman. They all justified their selections on Tuesday night. Markus Howard scored 30 of his 38 points (7-for-10 from the 3-point line) in the first half to become Marquette’s all-time leading scorer in his team’s 88-53 win over Loyola Maryland. Wiseman, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft, was a monster (28 points, 11 rebounds) in a 97-64 win over South Carolina State. Seton Hall’s Myles Powell recorded 27 points in his team’s 105-71 win over Wagner. Jordan Nwora’s 23 points and 12 rebounds fueled Louisville’s 87-74 win over Miami. And Cassius Winston scored 21 points as Michigan State fell to Kentucky, although he did finish 1-for-7 from the 3-point line.
3 things for Wednesday
Introducing Cole Anthony
During the 2017-18 season, Trae Young captivated the country with a flashy style. Zion Williamson was last year’s must-see star. That torch gets passed to North Carolina’s Cole Anthony in 2019-20. He is a polished guard with an NBA pedigree (his father, Greg Anthony, won a national title at UNLV before he commenced a lengthy pro career). He is at North Carolina. And he is a projected top-10 pick in next summer’s NBA draft. His first, and probably only, collegiate season will begin Wednesday night with a matchup against Notre Dame.
Welcome to college basketball, Jerry Stackhouse
Stackhouse, in his first year at Vanderbilt, is the latest former pro to lead a college basketball program. The North Carolina legend and former two-time NBA All-Star is the head coach of a Commodores team that finished 0-18 in SEC play last year, before Bryce Drew was fired. It’s a daunting task for Stackhouse, who has never been a collegiate head coach. But his deep ties to the grassroots scene should help him rebuild at Vanderbilt, which opens the season against Southeast Missouri State.
The defending champs face the unknown
Virginia authored the greatest turnaround in NCAA history by winning last season’s national title a year after losing to a 16-seed in the first round. The Cavaliers then lost Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter from their championship team. Tony Bennett, however, has won 29 or more games in five of the past six seasons. The coach has weathered similar challenges in the past. On Wednesday, the Cavs will face Syracuse on the road in their first game of the season.