The start of the college basketball season hasn’t been all that peculiar relative to any other season. There have been major upsets, intense battles among the game’s elite and new players are proving themselves invaluable early. Additionally, the return of fans are highlighting the atmosphere we all missed so much from our beloved game. However, players and teams are exhibiting themselves at historical levels through the opening week of action.
Pirates Charting Their Own Course
Seton Hall’s road victory over #4 Michigan adds a lot of momentum for the program, as well as solidifying their potential for a post-season run. Reinforcements this offseason have helped to buoy the program in the wake of losing Sandro Mamukelashvili to the NBA in the offseason and reassessing top scoring priorities. The Pirates have been able to establish strong scoring depth in their rotation with seven players eclipsing the 9.0 point per game mark. As an added bonus for Kevin Willard, that group of players does not yet include talented Syracuse transfer Kadary Richmond who was expected to be among this contingent.
While Seton Hall scored the ball well, there defensive efforts have carried more of their successes this season. Currently sitting with the 5th-ranked defensive unit in the nation, Coach Willard has been able to count on consistently stopping opponents even if his team finds difficulty scoring the ball. The main cause is the reliability of center Ike Obiagu who is averaging an insane 4.0 blocks per game this season. In fact, Obiagu is 1 of 2 players in college history to average 4.0 BPG and score less than 2.0 PPG (Harry Maurice – NC A&T – 2021-22).
Obiagu’s presence in the paint has become a huge deterrent for opposing shooters. The result of his intimidation in this part of the floor has forced teams to become far less efficient and attempt shots further from the basket. As such, Seton Hall holds the 2nd ranked perimeter defensive % in the nation at .133 behind Virginia Tech. No team has recorded better than .264 for a season going back to 2009-10 (stats limited beyond this point). With the Pirates prowess, they may be in line to break this mark set by Colgate in 2020-21.
Memphis Length is an Issue…For Everyone Else
From the outset, Memphis preseason roster was bound to draw attention to the collective height and length on the team’s roster this season. However, no one could’ve predicted just how effective it would be at contesting shots. Through the team’s first three games on the year, the Tigers are averaging an eye-popping 12.7 blocks per game.
A large part of that is freshman center Jalen Duren’s freakish athleticism and physicality on the court. Duren is averaging 4.7 blocks a night, but even that impressive mark is only good enough for a third of the team’s total production. Memphis possesses six players on this year’s roster averaging at least one block a night. The consistency from top to bottom is really impressive.
Historically, this pace is hard to maintain. However, the all-time mark for games in a single-season with 12+ blocks is 6 set by the 2011-12 Kentucky Wildcats featuring Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones. The Tigers are already halfway there having only played 3 games compared to the 40 tallied by Kentucky. The mark is due to be smashed.
Iowa Has a New Star
The departure of Luka Garza set the Iowa program back a bit, but sophomore Keegan Murray has done everything in his power to make fans forget about last year’s star. The Hawkeyes have started the year 3-0 and have been able to confirm the new stardom of Murray following his performances in each win. Thus far, he is averaging 25.3 points, 10.7 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game.
The 6’8” forward has been able to score in all areas of the court and his .591 overall shooting % makes his efficiency something to really behold. While we can say Iowa fans are likely used to a 25 PPG scorer, or at least the proximity of the accomplishment since Garza never finished a season over this mark (24.1 PPG), a new bar is being set in a Hawkeye uniform. In the history of college basketball, no other player has been able to tally 75+ points and 30+ rebounds in the first 3 games of a season. Additionally, no other player has poured in 25+ points per game with at least 3 blocks added in history either.
Murray has taken complete command of the program’s offense and with it is crushing barriers and records left and right. His production is due to be just as exciting and worthy of watching on live TV as it was for Garza the last pair of seasons.
Arizona’s Frontcourt Making Noise
The move to Arizona for Tommy Lloyd drew a lot of excitement and the addition of fellow Gonzaga Bulldog Oumar Ballo to the program as well was a very nice consolation. With Azuolas Tubelis, Ballo and Christain Koloko in the fold, the Wildcats were at least going to have a formidable frontcourt while trying to figure out their backcourt rotation. While Tubelis was expected to be the leader in minutes and production this year, Ballo and Koloko have been making plenty of noise on their own accord.
Koloko has shown himself to be a very efficient scoring weapon this season hitting on 16 of 22 attempts (72.7%) to the tune of 14.0 points per game. Additionally he has flashed as a quality shot blocker during his time with former head coach Sean Miller, however he has fully blossomed into a shot eraser following another minutes increase this year. Koloko has become the only player in collegiate history through 3 games to averaged 14.0+ points, 6.5+ rebounds and 4+ blocks per game.
His counterpart Ballo has been coming off the bench, but has still managed to accumulate 10 points and 7 rebounds a night. His contribution has been vital for Arizona off the bench and being able to maintain the frontcourt dominance exhibited by both Koloko and Tubelis. Despite only playing 37 minutes over the 3-game span, Ballo has become the only player in college history to accumulate 18 free throw attempts with this type of minutes restriction.
** All statistics compiled from Sports Reference CBB.