By Andy Katz
FOX Sports College Basketball Analyst
The opening week of the 2021-22 men’s college basketball season was filled with excitement.
The campaign kicked off with a pair of outstanding matchups in the State Farm Champions Classic, as Ochai Agbaji put on a show in the opener, leading Kansas to an impressive 87-74 victory over Michigan State, followed by a dominant performance from Duke’s freshman duo of Paolo Banchero and Trevor Keels in the Blue Devils’ 79-71 win over Kentucky.
America was also introduced to Chet Holmgren and Emoni Bates, and there were plenty of upsets and must-see buzzer-beaters.
Here, in a Sweet 16 format, is a look at what we know after the first week of the season.
1. Jay Wright and Chris Beard deserve credit for challenging their teams – Villanova and Texasrespectively – and hopefully restarting a much-needed trend.
Last season, coaches had to schedule on the fly due to the pandemic and the cancelation of nonconference games. There was no pressure to restart true home-and-home games, especially not in the first week of the season. But Wright didn’t hesitate to take his No. 4 Wildcats to Pauley Pavilion and face No. 2 UCLA.
What did that decision do? Well, first off, it satisfied a starved Bruins fan base that had become apathetic at times. The white-out at Pauley was wonderful and provided one of the best atmospheres in the Pac-12 in years. The game was epic and lasted into the wee hours on the East Coast before UCLA won in overtime.
Beard took Texas, which is expected to challenge Kansas for the Big 12 title, to the Kennel in Spokane, Washington. Gonzaga students are some of the best in the country at providing a rocking atmosphere, but getting elite teams to come to Spokane has always been a chore. North Carolina did it two years ago. Michigan State has been there. But getting Texas to visit made this an event, and while the Longhorns weren’t up to the challenge on the court, the Zags were.
Drew Timme delivered a 37-point performance, and the game showed the Zags are deserving of an AP No. 1 ranking.
College basketball needs the fans. The packed Madison Square Garden crowd for the Champions Classic tipped off the season just right, as Duke, Kentucky, Kansas and Michigan State offered the kind of night the sport craved and missed so much in 2020.
2. The Big 12 might have picked the wrong Jayhawk for the conference’s preseason player of the year.
Remy Martin was tabbed with the honor because of his reputation from Arizona State, but Ochai Agbaji clearly is more in position to win the award. He was dominant in the victory over Michigan State, scoring 29 points. He didn’t dip much in Kansas’ second game against Tarleton State, scoring 25 points. He could be the next great KU guard / wing to win the Naismith College Basketball Player of the Year award and become an NBA player.
3. Coach K is going to receive lots of framed mementos.
Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski got his first one from ESPN Events, in honor of the 11 years of the Champions Classic, prior to tipoff at Madison Square Garden. His alma mater, Army, gave him a framed keepsake prior to its game with Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
While there will still be the usual jeers directed at Duke in visiting arenas, expect the gifts to continue on the road in the ACC. Also, tickets to Coach K’s final home game against North Carolina on March 5 at Cameron are already starting to climb north of $ 1,000 on the secondary market.
4. College basketball’s offseason has never been more important.
Teams are better prepared because players were so committed and eager to play this season. The addition of super seniors due to the pandemic exemption and the transfer portal means more teams were ready to go on day one.
That’s why we saw Final Four-level games such as Nova-UCLA and performances from Kansas and Gonzaga against fellow elite teams.
5. Don’t forget about Trevor Keels.
Paolo Banchero got the necessary preseason hype. He’s that good and will contend for national player / freshman of the year honors. But Keels could end up being the MVP for Duke. He put up a team-high 25 points in the season-opening win against Kentucky.
Also, the addition of Marquette transfer Theo John could prove to be one of the best pickups for any contending team. John is the ultimate glue guy.
6. Maryland might have filled the voids on its team perfectly.
That is because of the early-season play of Fatts Russell (Rhode Island) and Qudus Wahab (Georgetown). Both have been sensational early for the Terps and filled voids at ball handler and playmaker, as well as a rim protector.
7. College basketball is loaded with bigs again, and that’s after Luka Garza finished his eligibility at Iowa.
Timme (Gonzaga), Hunter Dickinson (Michigan), Oscar Tshiebwe (Kentucky) and Zach Edey (Purdue) are just a handful of the stars up front. The best one – Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn – didn’t play in Week 1 due to a three-game suspension for an NIL deal that occurred before the arrival of the rule July 1.
8. Trevion Williams might end up being the most unsung player of the season.
Williams has accepted coming off the bench to sub for Edey after Purdue coach Matt Painter decided to rotate the two bigs instead of playing them together. Williams would start on every other team in the country.
9. One of the best moments of the week came when Keyontae Johnson got the game ball after Florida crushed Florida State in Gainesville.
It was a year ago in this same rivalry game that Johnson fell to the floor and had to be resuscitated. Johnson’s playing and career statuses are still to be determined.
10. Virginia hasn’t had a true rebuilding year under Tony Bennett.
That said, this might be the season it occurs, after the opening loss to Navy. The Cavs should be an NCAA Tournament team, but they looked very bubblicious.
11. Buzzer-beaters were plentiful in Week 1.
Thanks to Wichita State and San Jose State and UC Riverside at Arizona State.
12. The MAC won at Georgia Tech (Miami) and Washington (Northern Illinois) and beat Belmont (Ohio).
It also had near misses by Akron (at Ohio State) and Eastern Michigan (at Indiana), and Buffalo played Michigan well in the second half. This league is always very tough to win, though since the late 1990s, it has had a hard time getting multiple NCAA bids.
13. Keep an eye on Colorado State.
The Rams should be the favorites out of the Mountain West after they thumped Oral Roberts in the opener.
14. It’s great to see the Ivy League back playing after a one-year hiatus.
Princeton beat South Carolina and then lost in overtime to Minnesota in the Asheville Championship. Dartmouth won at Georgetown, and Brown gave North Carolina quite a scare in Chapel Hill.
15. The biggest omission from the preseason All-Big East list was UConn‘with Adama Sanogo.
He’s the Huskies’ best player and didn’t get on the first or second team.
16. Memphis‘ Emoni Bates has looked like a superstar so far this season.
He originally committed to Michigan State and then reclassified and chose Memphis. Penny Hardaway should not only an NCAA Tournament team but also a squad that could make a Final Four run.
Those are just a few observations from Week 1! There’s so much more to come this month.
Andy Katz is a longtime college basketball writer, analyst and host. He can be seen on FOX Sports and Big Ten Network platforms, as well as March Madness and NCAA.com, and he hosts the podcast “March Madness 365.” Katz worked at ESPN for nearly two decades and, prior to that, in newspapers for nine years.
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