The men’s college basketball season is finishing its first week following a wobbly start due to concerns and issues related to the coronavirus.
As expected, scheduling issues will be a theme in the early stretch, as several Top 25 teams have been forced to postpone or reschedule games due to positive COVID-19 tests, contact tracing and quarantining. The NCAA tournament selection committee will have perhaps its most challenging assessment ever as a result of this season’s scattered schedules and potentially unbalanced schedules.
Nevertheless, college basketball is back.
Here’s a look at four big-name teams that have struggled through a tough first week.
Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari talks with guard Terrence Clarke (5) in the second half against the Richmond Spiders at Rupp Arena at Central Bank Center. (Photo: Jordan Prather, USA TODAY Sports)
The Wildcats (1-2) lost to mid-major Richmond in the Bluegrass Showcase on Sunday. They turned the ball over 21 times and were 0 for 10 from three-point range. Tuesday’s loss to Kansas, a top-tier opponent, was a slight improvement (16 turnovers and 3 for 21 from beyond the arc), but the Wildcats still made poor decisions. Aside from freshman BJ Boston, the offense is stagnant.
“They’ve got to go through this; it’s all part of the growth of this,” coach John Calipari said. “(Kansas) punked us. We couldn’t even bring in the ball.”
Calipari is a master at meshing five-star talent and fostering an egos-at-the-door culture, but at first glance, this UK roster is not a top-10 team. It will have more growing pains as it tries to evolve into a contending Kentucky squad we’re used to seeing.
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The Cavaliers (2-1) remain ACC title contenders because coach Tony Bennett’s methodical offensive system and pack-line defense position them to offset other teams’ high-octane offenses with a slower tempo. But that can also work against them and allow mid-major opponents to pull off shocking upsets (ahem, UMBC 2018). Virginia was upset by mid-major San Francisco on Nov. 27, but there’s plenty of time to regroup. Preseason All-American Sam Hauser can be the difference-maker, but the supporting cast will have to fill in more offense.
The preseason No. 8 team in the coaches’ poll played like the lesser-ranked team in Tuesday’s Champions Classic loss against No. 12 Michigan State. Coach Mike Krzyzewski has a young group that hasn’t blended well yet, and it’s clearly going to take some time to develop chemistry. In a season where depth will be necessary, right now, it doesn’t look like Duke has much.
Expectations are high for No. 10 Illinois, as coach Brad Underwood brought back two future NBA talents — preseason All-Americans Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn. But a scare against Ohio on Nov. 27 is worrisome, and this week’s loss to No. 1 Baylor was a missed opportunity for a huge win and program breakthrough. All in all, the Illini are in good shape, but they’ll need to lock in better defensively and keep Cockburn out of foul trouble if they want to move into the national contender conversation.
Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.