The college basketball season began in earnest last night, with some huge matchups across the board in the Tip-Off Marathon. ESPN's double-header of Kentucky vs. Michigan State and Duke vs. Kansas got top billing, and it didn't disappoint. Notably, the biggest heads in 2013 NBA Draft Rushmore -- Andrew Wiggins of Kansas, Julius Randle of Kentucky, and Jabari Parker of Duke -- all played variations of excellent basketball. It was so much fun.
Rich will have his more muscular "In Lieu of Jrue" post tomorrow, but we wanted to make sure you, the reader, knew we at LB are committed to following through with our promise of college basketball talk from start to finish this season. Consider your whistles whetted.
KENTUCKY (1) vs. MICHIGAN STATE (2)
From a purer side of things, this was your classic Gotta Make Your Free Throws game. UK fought the whole game to keep it within reach, but couldn't cash in on the freebies to deliver at the end. They shot 20-36 from the line and turned the ball over 17 times to the Spartans' 7. Tom Izzo's mature team may not be as talented as John Calipari's intriguing bunch of freshmen, but they certainly play better together at this point. MSU won 78-74.
But you want to hear about Randle. After a rough first half where he turned the ball over a bunch (8 for the game) and got intermittently worked by Adrien Payne and Branden Dawson, Orange Julius came out in the 2nd and took over from the whistle. He's so incredibly strong and quick and athletic. But the most impressive thing I saw was how he absorbed contact while protecting the ball enough that he could then put up a clean shot. His touch is crazy soft -- defenders just bounce off him and he has an almost free look at the rim to just get the ball up there and see if it rolls in.
Lots of post moves on display from Randle, who is just not nice. Here. And here. He'll actually have more space to operate in the NBA when he's got some shooters around him. It'll be a lot of ISOball at UK this year, but when he has other off-the-ball threats around him, he can be so wonderfully unstoppable at the next level. He finished with 27 and 13 on 9-14 shooting. Mean dude. So good.
MSU's Gary Harris was also excellent. Love him as a starting 2-guard in this league for a while. Think Eric Gordon or a less selfish OJ Mayo. He's a guy I really like with that Pelicans pick. Adrien Payne will be a nice backup big man for a bunch of years. I'll let Rich talk about the other UK guys tomorrow.
KANSAS (5) vs. DUKE (4)
Everybody's talking about the hype surrounding Andrew Wiggins. Really, all we want to do is just watch him play basketball. Screw everything else. The kid is talented, let's see what he can do night in and night out. Tonight against an undersized Duke team where he played mostly the 4, he was really, really good.
But it was the Jabari Parker show first. He came to play once again, putting his silky jumper and heady game on display against a big-time opponent. Jabari finished with 27 and 9 on 9-18 shooting and 4-7 from beyond. Kid's a knock-down stud. I think he'll have the best chance to succeed as a 4 at the next level, but right now, he's being forced into playing some 5 for the smaller Blue Devils.
JP can do anything on the court. Including this, right in the face of people who bark about his athleticism lacking. Not bad. Parker would foul out on a late-game Wiggins fastbreak dunk, but not before pouring in 27 and 9 on 18 shots, 4-7 shooting from deep.
But Wiggins didn't falter either, scoring almost all of his points within the team concept -- the lone outlier being a Melo-esque stepback jumper that caused my friends and me to jump up and do a lap around the room -- finishing with 22 and 8 on 9-15 shooting. He is excellent. He will become excellenter. KU is so stacked that they don't need him to be as dominant as Randle and Parker will have to be -- that also tracks with what's been written about his personality. Nice start with a 94-83 team win over a good Duke team.
And yeah, Wayne Selden is a perfect human being, I want him with all my might.
NOT JUST ONE GUY
I'm gonna steal Rich's thunder a bit here, but I want to make a point now that I'll likely repeat over the next eight months. This isn't a one-player draft. The world does not end if the Sixers don't get the most recognizable name in Andrew Wiggins. This draft is flat LOADED. Marcus Smart and Aaron Gordon should not be seen as consolation prizes. Not to mention guys like Dante Exum and Mario Hezonja and Dario Saric, who we still aren't sure about.
Players will step up, players will slide, some will surprise and not even declare for this year's draft. So don't put all your eggs in one of these baskets -- they're all exceptionally talented and the hype machine is working overtime churning out bullshit about them.
All we need to do is be excited about one or two or more really, really good, young players joining the Sixers next summer. It's gonna be great.