Frank Sinatra once sang, "I did it my way." And from now until the end of this season stuffed with storylines and possibilities, The Floor is Yours will offer context, commentary, perspective and analysis every Monday of the 2015-16 campaign. And we'll do it our way.
Because that's the only way in a room filled with informed fans. Our way will feel like the barbershop or the bar stool. College basketball banter at the house party with Tony and Earl. A phone call with that one friend who thinks Western Illinois over Wisconsin in the season opener IN MADISON didn't mean much. Or that Twitter war with the college basketball fan who called Kentucky's Jamal Murray the best player in America on Friday after the No. 2 Wildcats beat Albany and trigger-happy on Saturday after his 3-for-13 outing in a win over New Jersey Institute of Technology.
We're here to talk. And question.
Duke fans thinking repeat? We understand. Wisconsin haters thinking NIT? Stop it. North Carolina backers booking hotel rooms in Houston? Don't do the prepay option. Kansas fans planning Big 12 championship parties in Lawrence? We'll bring the popcorn.
Listen, people, we're not hating on your favorite team. Not yet, anyway. But like you, we're anxious to figure out if they're real or not. We're not sure.
But we're trying to turn a season-opening weekend of action that mostly followed predicted form into a projection about the future. And we're stuck. You are, too. So hopefully we'll cut through the first layer of the unknown this week and soon discover something about the teams we think we know.
And that mission will begin Tuesday with the Champions Classic in Chicago. Is Kentucky vs. Duke really anything more than an early-season gut-check between two powerhouses that will grow into stronger assemblies in the coming months and can't be judged off one night in November? Maybe. Still, there's always the chance that these two teams will meet again in March or April -- ask Michigan State and North Carolina or Louisville and Kentucky. We know. That's like five months from now.
This game will offer some initial insight, though. Thus far, Grayson Allen has been Duke's orchestrator and dominator through two games. He cut through Wisconsin's defense when he helped the Blue Devils secure last year's national title and, in his first two matchups of 2015-16, he took 46.2 percent of his shots at the rim, compared to 26.4 percent last season, according to hoop-math.com research. He's ready, but what about top-20 recruit Derryck Thornton? He's 3-for-17 in his first two games. Tuesday will provide a platform for the freshman to prove he's capable of an expanded role on a team that will need him to log quality minutes in its pursuit of an ACC title.
And what about Kentucky? On Friday, Murray looked like a Wooden Award candidate (8-for-15, 19 points, eight assists and three steals against Albany) and a freshman on Saturday in a victory over NJIT (3-for-13, eight points). Still, we'll likely see Murray from Friday more often than Murray from Saturday throughout the season. In their first Division I competition, Skal Labissiere and Isaiah Briscoe also competed, showing the beyond-their-years savvy that has become the norm for teenagers in Lexington. Tuesday's game against Duke could be a DJ Khaled-like announcement for those youngsters and the program: "We da best." It's the most crucial nonconference barometer that we'll probably see in 2015-16.
Now, it's unfair to call Michigan State vs. Kansas the undercard. Tom Izzo added more talent to a Final Four team, and Kansas retained its key players and signed a few intriguing prospects, too. They're both conference-title contenders in their respective leagues.
Not sure a tight win by either team will change assessments or projections, especially those that involve the Cheick Diallo-less Jayhawks. An unlikely, lopsided victory? Well, that's different. For Kansas, it would provide evidence that Bill Self's crew has the makings of a national champion, even if Diallo -- awaiting an eligibility verdict from the NCAA -- never plays a minute this year. For Michigan State, it would remind the Big Ten that Izzo's team presents the same dangers as oft-touted Indiana and Maryland.
The education won't stop there.
San Diego State ... the front-runner in the Mountain West? Utah a player in the Pac-12? Monday's meeting in Salt Lake City might give people the answer they desire and deserve. Baylor travels to Oregon on Monday; the winner of the Ducks-Bears matchup will elevate their national stock.
Imagine what a home win over Big 12 contender Oklahoma on Tuesday would do for Josh Pastner's status among Tigers fans. Tulsa could introduce itself to the nation when it faces Wichita State that same night. That's a dangerous road game for the Shockers ... and everyone else. Plus, Duke faces VCU at Madison Square Garden after the Kentucky game.
Georgetown, which lost to Radford on Saturday, runs into Maryland and Wisconsin this week. An early test would tell us more about a Terrapins squad that looks like a Final Four team on paper but hasn't had the chance to do enough to make us forget how many close calls the program endured -- and won -- a year ago. And the Badgers might need a win over Georgetown later this week after what happened with Western Illinois.
Yeah, we don't know much yet. But we'll know so much more in a few days.
Four technical foul calls 23 minutes into the 2015-16 season: The Karl Hess Story
The new rules put pressure on officials to legislate each game with more tact, balance and intent. Their collective aim is to reduce the physicality that made the game messy in recent years. Two years ago, we did this dance. Promised change. And by the start of conference play, the sludge had returned.
On Friday, Karl Hess' crew called 47 fouls during the Kentucky-Albany matchup. Fine. Some were questionable. Many were justified. But just 23 minutes into the 2015-16 season, Hess, who no longer works ACC games, called four offsetting technical fouls after a minor dustup between Kentucky and Albany players. It all started with a tussle for a loose ball and ended with four players, including Alex Poythress, earning techs. It just wasn't necessary. No serious punches thrown. The issue ended quickly, and everyone seemed content to move forward.
Murray drew a technical late in the game, too. Again, seemed unnecessary.
The bottom line is that we need the officials to enforce the new rules because that will enhance the game. Quick-whistle, overzealous enforcer types, however, only harm it. That will just lead us to the same problems of yesteryear.
Chill, man. Chill.
Your sports life could be worse: You could be an Illinois fan
Yeah, you're upset. We get it. Your favorite team just lost or struggled. Maybe you're in Madison. Maybe you're a Georgetown Hoyas fan. Maybe you jumped on the Boise State bandwagon before Martin "The German Dreamliner" Breunig (21 points) helped Montana rally in a 74-72 victory over the Mountain West contender Broncos on Friday.
It's rough. But you're not an Illinois fan. You're hurting from a loss. They're on a bad, Midwestern cable-access reality show about a basketball team that can't get healthy.
Not only did John Groce's squad suffer a 93-81 loss to North Florida in its home opener on Friday, but his team also lost point guard Jaylon Tate to a dislocated finger. Leron Black, who did participate in Illinois' 80-74 win (Groce's squad was down by 14 at one point) over North Dakota State on Sunday, didn't play against North Florida due to injury, along with Kendrick Nunn. Senior Tracy Abrams suffered a season-ending Achilles injury during the preseason. Darius Paul got kicked off the team. Get ready, Illinois fans. You might be the starting point guard for this team by the time Big Ten play begins.
No, but seriously. Know anybody who can play point guard and lives near Champaign? Call him. And preferably before Illinois faces Wooden Award contender Kris Dunn in a matchup at Providence on Wednesday.
Tough times ahead for the Hurley clan
Bobby Hurley and Danny Hurley probably had a sad Facetime chat over the weekend. No smiles. Just sighs. Bobby Hurley, Arizona State's new coach, kicked off his tenure with a loss to Sacramento State, ranked 187th in KenPom.com's final rankings last year. Um, the Sun Devils will also face Belmont, Texas A&M, Kentucky and UNLV before Pac-12 play begins.
Rhode Island's Danny Hurley lost star E.C. Matthews, an Atlantic 10 player-of-the-year candidate, to a season-ending knee injury minutes into his team's first game, a victory over American. Hate to see that happen to any player. Just seems unfair.
That's somebody's child, Butler!
Was 144 points -- the most that any Division I team has scored against another Division I team since 1997 -- really necessary against Citadel, Butler??? I mean, what about their feelings? Clearly, the Bulldogs weren't worried about emotions in the best offensive effort -- based on sheer output -- that we'll see this season. Butler is real, everyone. Villanova is, again, capable of Big East title and national championship runs. The rest of the Big East, however, is more uncertain.
Georgetown will aim to avoid a 0-3 hole and prove something in games against Maryland and Wisconsin this week. The difference from last year that we saw in the Radford loss? How much the Hoyas miss Joshua Smith and Mikael Hopkins inside. They were outrebounded 15-5 on the offensive glass against Radford.
And they're not alone in the Big East. Beyond Butler and Villanova, it's unclear how the league will fare this season.
What did Kris Dunn do this time?
The Providence star almost messed around and got a triple double. (32 points, six rebounds, five assists, eight steals, two blocks in 76-64 win over Harvard on Saturday.)
Don't you dare get on that "Wisconsin is doomed!" bus
Don't do it. Been on that bus before. Even drove it once. That trip always ends with a flat tire on some country road where you don't have cell phone reception.
Yep, the Western Illinois loss was bad. It actually can't get much worse than a home loss to a team picked to finish last in the Summit League. The Badgers aren't those Badgers anymore. They lost a pair of first-round picks when Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker turned pro. Most teams slide in that situation. Wisconsin will take a step back, too. But Wisconsin has never missed the NCAA tournament under Bo Ryan. The Badgers will continue to grow and build around Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig. Yes, they struggled on both ends of the floor against what might be the worst squad in the Summit League. Yes, we don't know if they have a reliable third option on offense after Koenig and Hayes. But this is still Wisconsin. Way too early to get goofy about the future of a program that always seems to play its way into Big Ten contention and national relevance.
Is the West Coast really the best coast?
Let's end this thing with a discussion about Cuonzo Martin's Cal squad. Before we get to that, however, let's admit that "Cuonzo and Cal" would have been a great name for a 1990s buddy cop flick starring Eddie Murphy and Woody Harrelson. Instead, it's a pairing that could change everything about the Pac-12.
Here's what you need to know about Cal right now. During the Bears' 97-65 season-opening win over Rice, freshman NBA prospect Ivan Rabb blocked a shot and threw an outlet pass to senior NBA prospect Tyrone Wallace, who then found freshman NBA prospect Jaylen Brown on the elbow. Brown twirled and flicked a shot off the glass that rolled and spun off as Rabb rose and caught the rebound for a nasty dunk. You could see the entire Rice squad look at its bench like "What are we supposed to do about that, Coach?"
Not much, Rice. Not much.
But Cal joined a collection of Pac-12 squads that started strong. Washington outplayed Texas in China. Oregon State freshmen Drew Eubanks, Tres Trinkle and Stephen Thompson Jr. combined to score 39 points in their team's season-opening victory over Northwest Christian. Ryan Anderson finished with 18 points (8-for-11 from the free throw line) and 12 rebounds in Arizona's win over Pacific on Friday. Utah?
The Utes are full of realness, although Brandon Taylor and Isaiah Wright finished a combined 0-for-16 in their team's win over Southern Utah on Friday. (We'll leave UCLA out of this convo after that Monmouth loss.)
This is definitely a league to follow this week and beyond.