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Rothstein Files | SEC has come out of gates swinging

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1. Marvin Bagley III will step up a weight class against Michigan State’s frontcourt

There are first impressions and then there’s what Bagley did this past weekend.

The 6-11 standout averaged 24.5 points and 10 rebounds in Duke’s first two games, quickly showing that he was well worth the amount of preseason hype he received in this space.

Now things are about to get real.

Bagley isn’t just going to a different level of competition when the Blue Devils face Michigan State on Tuesday night in the Champions Classic; he’s going against a frontcourt that is without question the deepest in the sport.

Tom Izzo has six different options — Jaren Jackson Jr., Nick Ward, Ben Carter, Gavin Schilling, Kenny Goins, and Xavier Tillman — to use at the two frontcourt spots… and that doesn’t include Miles Bridges, who was the Spartans’ primary four-man a year ago before shifting to small forward.

Michigan State’s isn’t using “platoons” up front; it has tanks coming down a hill with the simple the snap of a finger.

That type of depth will be a major test for both Bagley and fellow Duke freshman Wendell Carter in what should be one of the most anticipated early-season games college basketball has seen in years.

2. Minnesota-Providence feels like a Round of 32 game

Richard Pitino’s voyage to his alma mater on Monday night as part of the Gavitt Games represents a terrific early-season tilt between two teams that should go back to the NCAA Tournament in 2018.

Minnesota returns five starters — Nate Mason, Amir Coffey, Dupree McBrayer, Jordan Murphy, and Reggie Lynch — from last year’s squad that earned a five seed in the field of 68, while Providence may have the deepest team during Ed Cooley’s tenure in his home city.

The biggest key to this game?

How the Friars deal with the Gophers’ lethal power forward-center combo of Murphy and Lynch, who combined for 50 points and 25 rebounds in Minnesota’s opening night win over USC Upstate.

Cooley will need legitimate mileage up front out of two young big men — Kalif Young and Nate Watson — if Providence is to emerge victorious.

This feels like the type of game teams play in March when they’re attempting to advance to the Sweet 16.

3. The SEC has come out of the gates swinging

Florida won’t open the 2017-18 season until Monday night against Gardner-Webb, and Kentucky held off America East favorite Vermont by four points on Sunday at Rupp Arena, but the rest of SEC definitely held up its end of the bargain during the first three days of the season.

The league, which has been pegged by this writer as a potential seven-bid conference in 2018, was a combined 15-0 on college basketball’s opening weekend.

How impressive was Texas A&M’s 23-point triumph over West Virginia in Germany?

The Aggies won decisively against a Bob Huggins-coached team without their most important player (J.J. Caldwell) and top NBA prospect (Robert Williams). Think about that for a second.

Alabama meanwhile, dominated Memphis on Friday night in Annapolis without the services of three players — Collin Sexton, Braxton Key, and Riley Norris — who all have the requisites to eventually be on the floor for this team in crunch time in a close game.

Add Arkansas’ back-to-back wins by 39 and 28 over Samford and Bucknell respectively, and you have one heck of an opening weekend for the SEC.

This and That

– It’s officially getting to the point where John Calipari and Mike Krzyzewski are just playing ping-pong in recruiting and the rest of college basketball is serving as a slew of glorified spectators. The Hall-of-Fame head coaches continue to take turns securing commitments from 5-star prospects and show no signs of slowing down anytime soon. This is a silent rivalry the sport needs more of. Duke and Kentucky play every third year as part of the Champions Classic, but the sport would be best served if these two blue bloods squared off on an annual basis.

– Duke freshman Trevon Duval currently has an assist-turnover ratio of 20:1 after the Blue Devils’ early wins over Elon and Utah Valley. You have to take the level of competition into account, but that ratio can’t be ignored. The 5-star floor general has been terrific for Duke out of the gate.

– Xavier’s Trevon Bluiett is an under-the-radar All-America candidate. The senior forward scored 25 points on 12 shots in just 12 minutes on Friday when the Musketeers routed Morehead State. He is in line to be a first- or second-team All-American at the end of the year. Bluiett didn’t get mentioned in the same breath during the preseason as some of the best players in the country, but people entrenched in the sport know he’s definitely in the conversation. Watch his stock rise if Xavier has the type of season it had two years ago when it earned a two seed in the NCAA Tournament.

– One big thing to remember about Kentucky:

In addition to its marquee non-conference games between now and the start of SEC play, the Wildcats will also host UIC, Harvard, and Virginia Tech at Rupp Arena in the next month. After Sunday’s four-point win over Vermont, those three games are definitely something to monitor.

– USC’s decision to hold De’Anthony Melton out of early games due to his potential link to the FBI investigation opens for the door for Jonah Mathews. The 6-3 sophomore was a key reserve for the Trojans last year and like Melton, is a pesky defender. The brother of former Gonzaga wing Jordan Mathews, this Santa Monica native should help Andy Enfield’s squad stay afloat as it hopes to get back to full strength at some point this season.

– The best player this writer saw after watching two games at the Veterans Classic in Annapolis on Friday night? Alabama big man Donta Hall. The 6-9 junior had 11 points, 11 rebounds, and five blocked shots in the Crimson Tide’s win over Memphis, living up to the billing that he was due for a breakout year.

– Why did Shaka Smart sleep so well this past weekend? Texas freshman point guard Matt Coleman had seven assists and zero turnovers in his college debut on Friday night against Northwestern State. The Longhorns had a combined 377 assists to 443 turnovers last season.

– Bob McKillop has always been viewed as one of college basketball’s best offensive coaches, but what his Davidson team did on Friday night against Charleston Southern was utterly ridiculous. The Wildcats made 26 3-point shots in the win and had 29 assists to just one turnover.

– Two early games this week that should be on every true college basketball junkie’s radar: Rhode Island at Nevada (Monday) and San Diego State at Arizona State (Tuesday).

– Need more proof that preseason polls don’t matter in college basketball? Indiana State — which beat Indiana in Bloomington by 21 on Friday night — was picked to finish eighth in the Missouri Valley this season when the league released its poll in October.

Jon Rothstein has been a college basketball insider for CBS Sports since 2010 and is the lead college basketball columnist for the FanRag Sports Network. He is also the host of the College Hoops Today Podcast via Compass Media Networks, which is available via iTunes. Rothstein is also a regular in-studio correspondent for both WFAN and CBS Sports Radio. He currently lives in Manhattan.





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