College hoops notes: Freshmen shine
by Nicole Auerbach, USA TODAY Sports
ATLANTA — If Tuesday night was a preview of what’s to come in the Georgia Dome at the end of the NCAA tournament, we are in for a fun season.
After watching two highly competitive and entertaining games between Michigan State-Kansas and Duke-Kentucky, here are three observations I made and three players who impressed me:
1. Coaching is critical, particularly in the early part of the season, and I’m going to credit at least part of the high-caliber play in everyone’s second game of the season to these four Hall of Fame coaches getting their kids ready to play. Even some of these highly touted freshmen — Michigan State’s Gary Harris and Kentucky’s Alex Poythress especially — looked comfortable in pressure situations. They were prepared.
2. Despite losing Austin Rivers and Miles Plumlee, Duke is still one of the best teams in the nation. Seth Curry looked fantastic. Mason Plumlee played aggressively. And when he was too aggressive — in foul trouble early in the second half — the Blue Devils showed they can hold their own and even extend their lead without him on the court. This is a veteran team with an excellent coach, and until I see N.C. State or North Carolina beat a team as talented as Kentucky, I will consider Duke the favorite to win the ACC.
3. The two teams that lost on Tuesday — Kentucky and Kansas — will both be fine. The Jayhawks have a lot of talent, and they just need to get used to playing in big moments without Thomas Robinson or Tyshawn Taylor. Elijah Johnson is a spark plug, and Jamari Traylor looks like he can be an impact player. Perry Ellis needs to stop hesitating, as Kansas coach Bill Self said, and he will contribute more. I wrote about Kentucky’s youth, inexperience and lack of a point guard Tuesday night, but that’s going to be the theme with that team until the Wildcats get more practices and games under their belts — and either Ryan Harrow comes back to play the point or Kentucky coach John Calipari turns Archie Goodwin into … [For more on Mid-week college hoops notes: Freshmen shine, click here.]