Holiday tournaments reveal trends
PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas — Notre Dame, Villanova and Wichita State have serious potential for deep March runs.
Duke’s freshmen are fast learners.
And Arizona is in an early funk.
Three Thanksgiving-week tournaments — the Maui Invitational, the Battle 4 Atlantis and the PK80 Invitational’s two brackets — provided early tests for some of college basketball’s top teams. Arizona failed miserably, the Blue Devils’ youngsters passed with impressive marks and the Wildcats from Philly showed they are a group to be reckoned with this year.
“That’s what happens in college basketball,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said after winning a surprise-filled Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas. “You’re really never as good as everyone says you are and you’re not as bad as people say you are.”
Here are some takeaways from those holiday tournaments:
Upperclassmen can play
Notre Dame: The Irish have great senior leadership in preseason Associated Press All-American Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell, along with multiple scoring options and plenty of grit. The Fighting Irish rallied from 16 down in the Maui final to beat Wichita State in Lahaina, Hawaii, and made every needed big play late.
Colson (25 points, 11 rebounds) can do it all, while Farrell — the tournament’s MVP — is the perfect point guard for this group.
Wichita State: The Shockers have veteran talent, though their Maui letdowns — trailing big against California, squandering the lead to the Irish — offer plenty for coach Gregg Marshall to work from in practice. Still, the Shockers are good at both ends, ranking in the top 12 of KenPom’s adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency numbers through Saturday’s games.
Worth noting: The Shockers nearly won in Maui without Markis McDuffie. Last year’s top scorer and rebounder is out until next month with a stress fracture in his foot, so there’s room to grow.
Different kind of cats
Arizona: The Wildcats entered the Bahamas with a No. 2 ranking. They left with a stunning 0-3 showing.
The Wildcats allowed North Carolina State, SMU and Purdue to shoot 45 percent overall and 42 percent from 3-point range. There were rebounding and turnover problems against SMU (20 offensive rebounds by the Mustangs, 20 turnovers by the Wildcats). And they weren’t competitive against Purdue in the seventh-place game.
While Allonzo Trier and freshman Deandre Ayton are good starting points, the Wildcats need sophomore guard Rawle Alkins back from a preseason foot injury to find some cohesiveness at both ends.
Villanova: Preseason AP All-American Jalen Brunson gets a lot of the attention, but 6-foot-7 redshirt junior Mikal Bridges is giving the Atlantis champion Wildcats a scary 1-2 punch. Bridges averaged 9.8 points last season, but has made a huge leap (18.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 59 percent shooting) to start this one.
That includes the defensive end, where he can defend multiple positions and seemingly spent all three days throwing himself on the floor to chase loose balls — and possibly catching a few floor burns, too.
Duke’s fab five
The top-ranked Blue Devils are all in on their touted freshman class.
Grayson Allen fouled out late in Friday’s comeback win against Texas at the PK80 Invitational, so Duke went with five freshmen — Marvin Bagley III, Wendell Carter Jr., Trevon Duval, Gary Trent Jr., and Alex O’Connell — for nearly all of the final 2 minutes of regulation and overtime.
Then came Sunday’s comeback against Florida. The Blue Devils closed the game on an 8-0 run — fittingly all scored by freshmen — to win the Motion Bracket championship in Portland, Oregon.
In those two games, Mike Krzyzewski’s rookie-led team rallied from 16 down against Texas and 17 down against Florida in the final 10-plus minutes. And Bagley followed his 34 points and 15 rebounds against the Longhorns with 30 points and 15 boards against the Gators.
And it’s still only November.
Worth the trouble
Now everyone who watched can see why North Carolina State worked so hard to get Braxton Beverly on the court.
The 6-foot freshman missed the first two games amid a much-publicized NCAA eligibility dispute tied to him attending summer classes at Ohio State before coming to N.C. State. He’s not an elite talent but his skillset fits new coach Kevin Keatts’ offensive scheme and he provides backcourt depth needed for the Wolfpack’s pressure defense.
Beverly scored 20 points in the Atlantis upset of Arizona. And he’s apparently earned Keatts’ trust, playing 34 and 35 minutes in the following two games while offering potential as an outside shooter and secondary ballhandler.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks clearly can score, but they might contend in the Southeastern Conference if they defend like they did in Sunday’s PK80 win against Connecticut. Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon lead the way, but a key could be the development of 6-11 freshman Daniel Gafford (12.8 points).
Gonzaga: The Bulldogs may be ahead of schedule after losing so much from last year’s national runner-up. Josh Perkins has become the leader and Johnathan Williams (39 points) showed he can be an offensive force in the double-overtime PK80 loss to Florida .
Michigan State: The Spartans lost their first marquee matchup to Duke in the Champions Classic in Chicago, but offered a reminder of their upside by locking down reigning national champion North Carolina in the PK80 Victory bracket championship game.
Purdue: Coach Matt Painter’s Boilermakers bounced back from two losses in Atlantis by routing Arizona, but he wants to see his high-scoring bunch grind out a win on a bad shooting night.
Tennessee: The Volunteers — who finished third in Atlantis — look ready to cause problems in the SEC under third-year coach Rick Barnes. Their athleticism allows them to pressure opponents, while they can run their offense through tough forward Grant Williams (15.6 points, 8.2 rebounds).