Welcome to The Messenger’s Two-Man Game, a weekly column where senior basketball writers Seth Davis and Jeff Goodman dive deep into the hottest topics in men’s college basketball.
In case you missed it, here’s what Davis and Goodman did to preview this season’s alert:
Let’s get this ball in the air.
We are very excited to finally be able to talk about some games. The first week’s slate isn’t very productive, but there are a few good matches on tap. The highlight will be Friday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium, when Duke will host Arizona. What do you want to see in that game?
Seth Davis: Obviously, it will be Caleb Love’s reception and performance. He may be wearing an Arizona uniform, but the Cameron Crazies will no doubt treat him like a Carolina guy, especially since Love was the one at UNC that ended Coach K’s career in the Final Four. Beyond the story, I’m looking forward to seeing how well Love plays, and especially how well he handles Arizona’s offense. We all know he can score, but he has to show he can lead, it’s never been his strong suit.
Jeff Goodman: Not exactly scintillating? That’s putting it mildly. The slate is brutal and I’ll have more soon about what needs to be done to get out of the gates with the big boys. I’ll be at the Arizona-Duke game, and I love that Tommy Lloyd and Jon Scheyer agreed to this home-and-home series. I’m interested in Love in Lloyd’s show, but I’ve learned not to get carried away based on one play, good or bad. I’m very interested to see how Kyle Filipowski looks coming off double-hip surgery. He told me he was less than 100% last season and averaged 15.1 points and 8.9 boards per game.
Speaking of Duke, Scheyer has had a week on the recruiting trail. A week ago today, he received a commitment from the consensus top player in the Class of 2024, Cooper Flagg. On Saturday, he added another five-star player Patrick Ngongba. That means for the third year in a row, Duke will arguably have the top recruiting class in the nation. Scheyer is in his second season as coach, but what does this tell us about where the program is, and where it’s headed?
Seth Davis: From a recruiting standpoint, what Scheyer is doing is unprecedented for a guy in his position. People act like it’s a coincidence that this happened just because of Duke. It’s obvious that Scheyer wouldn’t have made this hire if he was the coach at DePaul, but we shouldn’t take it for granted how difficult it is to step into K’s shoes when you’ve never been a head coach before. Scheyer still has a long way to go to prove he’s a great coach, but I’d rather have a team full of good talent and take my chances with the guy calling the plays. The big question for me is whether you can win more in today’s era with many other teams playing older, but the extra year of Covid is coming out, so the teams will be smaller than four years ago. Yes, there’s a lot of pressure on Scheyer to win with these guys, but that’s the ultimate definition of a high-level problem.
Jeff Goodman: Scheyer and his staff did an incredible job, and I’m not trying to take anything away from him. I said I think these young head coaches have a huge advantage these days, not only with their ability to connect with players, but also adapt to the changing landscape of college basketball with the transfer portal and NIL. However, let’s be honest: Scheyer has a Duke product to sell, and he has a high level of NIL in his arsenal. That, along with enough momentum and a little help from Coach K, is a dangerous combination. The key, as Seth said, is trying to make sure he sprinkles in enough experience — as he has this season with Jeremy Roach and a few key sophomores in Filipowski, Tyrese Proctor and Mark Mitchell.
Let’s take a look at some of the games this week. We have USC-Kansas State in Las Vegas (tonight), Auburn-Baylor at Samford Pentagon (Tuesday), Texas A&M-Ohio State (Friday), Tennessee-Wisconsin (Friday), and -San Diego State-BYU (Friday). Which is your favorite, and why?
Seth Davis: I’m excited to see Isaiah Collier start what I’m sure will be a short-term college career at USC. The dude is legit, a 6-foot-5 point guard who can score, distribute and finish. There’s been a lot of talk about Bronny James, who obviously won’t play, but Collier is the guy Andy Enfield is really counting on to get this team to the NCAA tournament. Collier has all the tools to be successful, but the bottom line is, this isn’t a high school, and he plays a tough spot on the floor. I would expect him to have many moments this season where he looks like a freshman, but many others where he looks like a lottery pick that he is not.
Jeff Goodman: That USC-Kansas State game in Vegas was supposed to be a big deal because of the highly anticipated performance of freshman guard, Bronny James. I’m glad to see Collier, who is electrifying to watch, but I’m not sure the game has much juice now. The Auburn-Baylor game in Sioux Falls is the best game in the first four days of the season, but one I can’t wait to watch is New Mexico at Saint Mary’s on Thursday night in Moraga. The Gaels’ backcourt of Aidan Mahaney and Augustus Marciulionis should be one of the best in the country, and the Lobos have talented guards in Jamal Mashburn Jr., and Jaelen House.
Finally, from a big picture perspective, what storyline will you be following as the season progresses?
Seth Davis: The charge may be the most unpopular call in sports, so I’m interested to see how it’s called after the rule change that says a defender must be in position when an offensive player plants his foot. Previously, the defender only had to be there before the attacking player went airborne. I like the change in the law, but I don’t despise tolling as many others seem to. Basketball should be a great game. We can’t just allow players to box defenders on their way to the basket. When you watch an NBA game, there are a lot of call calls, and no one seems to be exercising when that happens. But I’m curious to see if charge calls will be as rare as some are predicting. Curtis Shaw, the Big 12’s director of officials, said he has reviewed dozens of games in the offseason, and under the new rules almost every call he sees will be an interception this season. Coaches and players had plenty of time to prepare for this. Just because it’s hard to charge doesn’t mean they’ll stop trying.
Jeff Goodman: I can think of nothing more boring to read than a charging phone. I understand what Seth is saying, but I’m not trying to put anyone to sleep with this column. To me, there are two major storylines involving two of the biggest programs in college basketball, and they will be worth following throughout the season. 1) Can John Calipari get this young Kentucky team to where it belongs come March, and 2) Can Hubert Davis show that North Carolina’s run two years ago in March and April wasn’t a complete fluke? Both Calipari and Davis have legitimate pressure on themselves this season.