The opening night is over with for Big Ten basketball, and it provided us with some good insight as to who these teams are and what the Big Ten could look like throughout the rest of the month.
For No. 3 Wisconsin, it seemed to pick up right where they left off, but for No. 18 Michigan State there are more questions than answers after game one. However, we also saw that Minnesota isn’t quit ready for the upper echelon of college basketball, but may be closer to it than a lot of people thought coming in to the season in its 81-68 loss to No. 8 Louisville.
Those are just a few of the things we learned on night one of Big Ten action. Let’s take a look all that we learned though.
Best Team Performance: Wisconsin 62-31 over Northern Kentucky
Wisconsin was always going to win this game. That shouldn’t have been a question, but there was a lot of questioning of how they’d respond to all the preseason hype. Bo Ryan had his team ready and thensome, as Frank Kaminsky dominated (16 points, 11 rebounds) and fellow forward Sam Dekker showcased some big time physical moves around the basket. Oh, and the Badgers held the Norse to the lowest opponent total of the night in the conference.
This was an easy pick for me, because of the defensive effort of UW, and the team effort on the offensive side too. Good luck stopping a team full of guys capable of carrying the scoring load on any given night.
Best Individual Performance: D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State
Yes, that’s right…a freshman stole the show in a night full of inflated stat lines and egos thanks to inferior competition. One could make the argument in the case of Ohio State taking on UMass-Lowell, but there was no way to deny that this was an impressive debut for the most-hyped freshman coming in to the Big Ten.
Russel had a team-high 16 points on 7-of-14 field goal shooting, for a team in desperate need of a scoring punch. He also happened to do other things well, adding six rebounds and three steals on the night. Not too shabby for a freshman’s first game.
Biggest Team Surprise: Michigan State only winning by five
It was nice of the Spartans to travel to Annapolis, Md. to take on the Naval Academy, but the hosts weren’t exactly compliant on the basketball court. A lot of people assumed this team was going to be just fine despite a decrease in nationally acclaimed recruits coming to East Lansing. On Friday night the Spartans got a serious test that no one saw coming. I mean, only winning by five points against a Navy team that is coming off a nine-win season (in the Patriot League no less)? Really, Sparty, really?
Clearly there are a lot of issues that need to be fixed for Tom Izzo and Co., and knowing Izzo this could be the catalyst game towards becoming a force in the Big Ten down the road. But, it is hard not to be surprised by this effort.
Biggest Individual Surprise: James Blackmon, Jr.
The only reason he’s here is because I didn’t see him getting off to the fast start that he did on night one, and frankly you could make an argument that he’s the winner of best individual performance too. The Hoosiers freshman went nuts, as in 25 points on 7-of-10 shooting nuts.
We knew the guy was going to be good, but I didn’t see him taking the most shots on the Hoosiers team and making the most field goals either. Sure, it was just Mississippi Valley State, but its one heck of a start for a player that will be leaned on by his team all season long.
Shocked, Not Shocked Moment of the Night: Illinois struggles to win at home
John Groce is starting to recruit well and he’s got some talent on this team. Yet, on opening night the Illini nearly laid an egg. If ever there is a team that shouldn’t shock us by underwhelming it is Illinois under John Groce. He’s continuously done it in conference play, and now his team nearly lost to Georgia Southern AT HOME.
Highlight of the Night: Half-court alley-oop baby…