Every year it seems as if the offseason gets longer and longer. This past one felt like Perry Ellis’s career in length. But thankfully, it is over, and college basketball promised for us a great slate of weekend games. They did not disappoint.
On behalf of the writers of College Pride Press, I present our awards for the very first week of the season:
Game of the Week
Indiana 103, Kansas 99 (6 votes)
The Armed Forces Classic in general exceeded the hype, with both games being stellar. The nightcap provided a bit of everything.
Two standout individual performances (you’ll see both later in this piece), excellent coaching, two teams reaching as deep as they could because of foul trouble, and drama at every twist and turn.
It was a game that would not be out of place in a late round of the tournament. Not bad for an opener.
Others receiving votes: Arizona 65, Michigan State 63 (2 votes)
Team of the Week
Wagner (4 votes)
Here’s a little bio about the Wagner Seahawks.
Wagner is a Lutheran University in Staten Island, New York, with an enrollment of 1,750 undergraduates. They play in the Northeast Conference, have been to one NCAA tournament (2003), played in the NIT last year, and has never beaten a ranked opponent.
Except for that last part. Now they have done that.
Almost lost in the shuffle of Friday night, Wagner went to Storrs, Connecticut and stunned #18 Connecticut 67-58. Wagner led most of the game, shot a higher percentage, and out-performed the Huskies in every statistical category except turnovers.
In other words, this was no fluke.
If you’re looking for a 15/16 seed that could shock the world in March, this is the team for you.
Others receiving votes: Indiana (2 votes), Arizona (2 votes)
Coach of the Week
Sean Miller, Arizona (7 votes)
Talk about a rough offseason for Sean Miller.
His best recruit, Terrance Ferguson, decided to play in Australia. Allonzo Trier, who was supposed to be a key player, is suspended indefinitely. And a prized freshman from the year before, Ray Smith, tragically tore his ACL for a third time and chose to retire.
With all of that happening, it’s easy to forgive Arizona for being a mess.
Except they’re not, and a huge amount of credit belongs to Miller. Miller, who has been to four Elite Eights but never a Final Four, had a well composed, mentally tough team ready for the Armed Forces Classic.
Going down 15-2 early to Michigan State, the Wildcats never wavered, and mounted a slow but steady comeback. When Michigan State tied the game on a bouncing three with 7 seconds left, Arizona never slumped or looked defeated, and were well prepared to run the final play. Kadeem Allen’s coast to coast lay-up fell in, and Arizona had a great victory.
For those that love resilience, this is the team to root for. And with a team this well prepared, Sean Miller has a legitimate chance at finally going to the Final Four.
Others receiving votes: Tom Crean (1 vote)
Freshman of the Week
Miles Bridges, Michigan State (3 votes)
Michigan State may have lost, but Miles Bridges has proven to be legit.
It wasn’t just that Bridges led the Spartans with 21 points, or had 7 rebounds, and played 37 minutes in his first collegiate game.
Rather, it was how he did it.
Bridges showed phenomenal athletic ability in scoring 7 straight points early on for the Spartans, including a spectacular baseline dunk that amazed everyone. Every one of his baskets was a sight to behold, and while he wasn’t perfect (1-6 3PG), it was as good of a debut as you would hope.
With performances like these, Bridges could establish himself as a legit Top 10 pick, something the Spartans haven’t produced since 2001.
Others receiving votes: Lonzo Ball, UCLA (2 votes), TJ Leaf, UCLA (1 vote), Curtis Jones, Indiana (1 vote), Kobi Simmons, Arizona (1 vote)
Point Guard of the Week
Frank Mason III, Kansas (8 votes)
On a roster full of potential lottery picks, it was an unsung senior that is not projected to be drafted that almost won the game for the Jayhawks.
Mason dropped 30 points, dished out 9 assists, and nearly took over the game at the end of regulation and overtime.
In spite of playing 40 minutes, Mason relentlessly attacked the basket at the end, and Indiana had no answer. Either he would score, or draw a foul, as he single-handily fouled out three Indiana players, while going 13-15 from the free throw line.
Ultimately, his and Kansas’ own foul troubles finally got them. But this game showed that as for Mason, so goes Kansas.
Wing Player of the Week
James Blackmon Jr., Indiana (5 votes)
Broken leg? What broken leg?
Lost in the hoopla of Indiana’s stunning comeback to the Big 10 title was James Blackmon breaking his leg right before Big 10 play, costing Indiana their best scorer for the season.
In his first game back, Blackmon showed no ill effects.
Blackmon was unstoppable on Friday night, scoring 26 points on 8-17 shooting, having a balanced attack of drives, mid-range jumpers, and three-point shooting.
Particularly at the end of the game, with Indiana in serious foul trouble, Blackmon continuously attacked the Kansas D, taking advantage of their foul trouble, and keeping the Hoosiers ahead in overtime.
With potential lottery picks Thomas Bryant and OG Anunoby, Blackmon helps form one of the most balanced, dangerous trios in the nation.
Others receiving votes: Bryce Alford, UCLA (1 vote), Trevon Blueitt, Xavier (1 vote), Charles Cooke, Dayton (1 vote)
Post Player of the Week
Caleb Swanigan, Purdue (4 votes)
Normally, games against cream-puff opponents don’t get much attention. Of course, normally, 20-20 games don’t happen either.
In Purdue’s opener versus McNeese State, Swanigan ate their big men alive, scoring 23 points, grabbing 20 rebounds, and even dishing out 6 assists as Purdue cruised 109-65.
Impressively, Swanigan shot 7-13 for the field, 9-11 from the line, and committed only 1 foul. It was the first 20-20 game from a Purdue player since 1972.
For a team with no post depth and okay guard play, Purdue is going to need excellence from their bigs almost nightly.
Swanigan seems ready for just that.
Others receiving votes: Thomas Bryant, Indiana (2 votes), TJ Leaf, UCLA (1 vote), Jock Landale, St. Mary’s (1 vote)
“Goat” of the Week
Josh Jackson, Kansas (3 votes)
With other contenders for the #1 pick in the NBA draft either sidelined (Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles) or playing in smaller games (Dennis Smith Jr, Markelle Fultz), Jackson had the first chance to light up the college basketball scene and state his claim for the top pick.
But Jackson did not light it up. It was more of a stray spark.
Jackson struggled in his first game, scoring only 9 points on 3-11 shooting, grabbing only 6 rebounds, and playing only the fifth most minutes of Kansas wing players.
In other words, Jackson played like a typical freshman.
Now this is only the first game, and Jackson has an opportunity to rebound against Duke on Tuesday night.
But this was not the start a potential top pick should want.
Others receiving votes: Lorenzo Romar, Washington (2 votes), Jalen Adams, Connecticut (2 votes), Boston College (1 vote)
Sean Miller playing his freshmen for big minutes (3 votes)
Many teams with freshmen will normally play them with a minutes constraint early in the season, even teams that will rely on mainly said freshmen throughout the season.
But Arizona is not in a normal situation.
Playing with little depth, Sean Miller let loose his still very talented freshman class, playing Rawle Alkins, Kobi Simmons, and Lauri Markkanen over 25 minutes each.
While Alkins struggled, the other two shined. Markkanen provided a needed low post threat, scoring 13 points and preventing Michigan State’s big men from doing much damage.
Simmons, meanwhile, nearly single-handily lead Arizona’s comeback against the Spartans, scoring 15 of his 18 in the first half. Remarkably, he only needed 7 shot attempts to do so, going 8-10 from the line and showing remarkable efficiency.
Without those freshmen Arizona would have lost, and this will almost certainly become a theme for them this season.
Others receiving votes: Frank Mason driving constantly (2 votes), Duke resting their injured freshmen (1 vote), UCLA letting Lonzo Ball control the game (1 vote)
Moment of the Week
Lonzo Ball’s dunk (4 votes)
No words, just this link (at around the 0:18 mark): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N5jd5yvnlUk
Others receiving votes: Kadeem Allen’s lay-up for the win (2 votes), Kansas losing their opener for the first time in 15 years (1 vote), Wagner (1 vote)
Player of the Week
Frank Mason III, Kansas (4 votes)
Normally a player on the losing team does not win player of the week. In fact, this will probably be the only time this happens because it’s such a small sample size.
But wow, Mason was good.
The senior proved that he was in fact one of Kansas’ most valuable players, decimating Indiana over and over before his own foul trouble finally stopped him.
His value should only increase, as on Tuesday he leads a jet-lagged Kansas team to New York to face #1 Duke.
As a Duke fan, I’d rather not see him win.
As a college basketball fan, I hope he continues to light teams up.
Others receiving votes: James Blackmon Jr., Indiana (3 votes), Frank Jackson, Duke (1 vote)