Originally found on Fox Sports:
Nov. 7, 2023 2:53 a.m. ET
The best thing men’s college basketball has going for it is March Madness. The next best thing is the rich amount of parity that the sport provides. On an opening night across the sport that was heavily criticized for featuring 185 games, with 72 of those contests featuring Division I programs facing non-DI opponents, and not a single ranked vs. ranked showdown, college hoops still delivered the dramatics.
In East Lansing, Michigan, it’s a state of shock for Michigan State fans. The Spartans, who returned nearly 80% of their minutes and scoring from a Sweet 16 team last season, suffered a 79-76 overtime, upset loss to James Madison on Monday night at the Breslin Center.
According to FOX Sports Research, Michigan State is the first AP top-five team to lose its season opener against an unranked opponent since 2005 (also Michigan State, lost to Hawai’i in 2005). It marked the Dukes’ second win over a ranked opponent in program history (1992 over No. 19 Cal).
So yes, it’s James Madison University’s best regular-season win in program history.
It’s also perhaps a good thing that Michigan State coach Tom Izzo is spending his Thanksgiving by coaching his Spartans against Arizona in the Acrisure Classic, as Matt Bucklin, the nephew of Tom Izzo, is an assistant coach for James Madison.
But back to the upset: James Madison’s Terrence Edwards Jr. and T.J. Bickerstaff deserve a ton of credit for leading the way with a combined 45 points. Bickerstaff also added a game-high 14 rebounds in the win, while Edwards added five boards and three assists. The Spartans were a flawed team on the interior last season, and it looked that way again Monday night as they got out-rebounded in the loss, 51-48.
But despite getting out-rebounded, this game came down to shooting … or lack thereof. The Spartans shot 1-for-20 – 1-for-20! – from beyond the 3-point arc. A.J. Hoggard, Jaden Akins and Malik Hall are simply too seasoned to go a combined 6-for-33 from the floor in a game. Tyson Walker did all he could, scoring 35 points with three assists, but it was a rough night for MSU’s supporting cast. To not only shoot that poorly from 3, but also go 23-for-37 from the free throw line is inexcusable.
“They outplayed us, played harder than us and played stronger than us,” Izzo said after the game. “We just missed free throw after free throw after free throw. We had a couple of guys who I thought played really poorly.”
Izzo was only complementary of 6-foot-5 freshman wing Coen Carr, who had 14 points, six rebounds and shot 5-for-6 from the floor in the loss.
“I don’t know why three juniors and seniors didn’t play well, but I don’t care,” Izzo said. “I’ll play some freshmen. Let the controversy begin.”
Here are four other takeaways from opening night …
In what was labeled as the best game of the day on paper between the 21st-ranked Trojans and a Wildcats program that reached the Elite Eight last year, it did not live up to the hype – but Isaiah Collier did.
The No. 1-ranked freshman in the country, Collier scored 18 points on 7-of-9 from the floor and notched six assists in his college debut. The way the 6-5 guard makes everything come easy to him from a scoring perspective, and just how much he can mesh with FOX Sports Preseason All-American Boogie Ellis is impressive and holds so much potential. Ellis was phenomenal in the debut of his fifth season, scoring 24 points with eight rebounds, five assists and three steals. With Collier, Ellis and junior wing Kobe Johnson combining for 58 points and 12 assists, that’s a statement-making performance in the season opener.
While Bronny James has been the headliner story for USC and his timeline to return from injury still up in the air pending a doctor’s check-up at the end of this month, the Trojans showed that they’ve already got a well-rounded group. Anything James would contribute is house money for a team that could very well reach the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
Kentucky has a team that matches John Calipari’s preferred style as Wildcats dominate opener
Here’s the figure that stands out the most from the Wildcats’ 86-46 win over New Mexico State: Kentucky scored 25 fast-break points and only committed six turnovers.
Calipari has been questioned in his career beforehand with whether or not he could get John Wall and Eric Bledsoe to coexist, or the group of Chris Douglas-Roberts, Derrick Rose and Antonio Anderson in his Memphis days.
At least in the season opener, Kentucky’s freshmen guards showed what you were hoping to see if you’re a member of Big Blue Nation.
Rob Dillingham came off the bench and led the way with 17 points, five rebounds and three assists. DJ Wagner got the start and totaled 13 points and four assists in the win, while sharpshooter Reed Sheppard had 12 points on 4-of-6 from the floor. The Wildcats did shoot 9-for-29 from 3-point range, which could be a concern as the season progresses, but this is still a quality opener from a group of freshmen guards that will end up determining just how far this Kentucky team goes this year.
The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer said on the FS1 broadcast Monday night that he believes UConn sophomore Alex Karaban is the Huskies’ best player. That is a scary thought considering Donovan Clingan is walking through that door every day for Connecticut.
But Calhoun, the three-time national champion in 1999, 2004 and 2011, might have a point. Karaban should have been named Big East Freshman of the Year last season. At 6-8, his versatility and ability to stretch the floor is impressive. He has rich basketball instincts, something that was on display Monday as he scored a career-high 22 points on 8-of-12 from the floor and 3-of-6 from 3-point range. With Clingan manning the post and scoring 12 points with eight boards and three assists, the reigning national champions were all business in a 95-82 win over Northern Arizona.
Donovan Clingan draws the foul on a monster two-handed jam to extend UConn’s lead over Northern Arizona
The X-factor might have also been revealed in Storrs, Connecticut: Samson Johnson. The 6-10 junior, who has played in just 25 games in his first two years due to injury, scored 11 points on 5-of-6 from the floor in 19 minutes. If he can stay healthy, UConn will have an embarrassment of riches in the paint. Dan Hurley’s key to repeating this season is Tristen Newton staying steady and consistent at point guard, something he did on the national title run, scoring 19 points last year to lead Connecticut past San Diego State. On Monday, Newton delivered 14 points, seven rebounds and three assists. It was certainly a nice start for the Huskies, who host Stonehill at Noon ET Saturday on FS2.
The Princeton Magic continues! Tigers start where they left off, knock off Rutgers
Mitch Henderson and the Princeton Tigers formed a storyline that didn’t get talked about enough last March when they reached the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1967.
On Monday night, the Pete Carril disciple led his Tigers to a statement win over Rutgers, 68-61, at the inaugural Jersey Jam event.
Last year, Matt Allocco helped Princeton punch a ticket to the NCAA Tournament with 15 points in the Ivy League title game win over Yale. On Monday, the 6-4 guard had his finest hour yet, delivering 21 points and nine rebounds on 9-of-13 from the floor. Xaivian Lee, a 6-3 guard from Canada who was labeled in the preseason by Henderson as an X-factor, shot 3-for-6 from 3 and added 16 points.
The Tigers shot 9-for-20 from beyond the arc against a Scarlet Knights team that simply didn’t have the consistent perimeter threats – they shot 4-for-14 from 3 – to keep up in this game. Outside of big man Cliff Omoruyi (12 points, 7 rebounds), Rutgers didn’t have a real distinct advantage. Impact transfer Noah Fernandes only shot 3-for-10 from the floor, while sophomore breakout candidate Derek Simpson only made one shot on the night.
Rutgers lost Caleb McConnell, Paul Mulcahy (Washington), and Cam Spencer (UConn). It showed on Monday, because the guard play for this team is a big question mark. Princeton exploited that and showed why they went on a deep March run a year ago.
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John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.
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