Rothstein Files | Sky’s the limit for Duke

SEC rothstein

1. Duke has no ceiling

Marvin Bagley III was supposed to play the leading role in the Champions Classic against Michigan State, and he was even nominated for best supporting actor.

Duke’s freshman big man — who averaged 24.5 points and 10.0 rebounds in his first two college games — had to leave Tuesday night in the middle of the first half after getting poked in the eye. Bagley wouldn’t return and wound up as a non-factor with four points and six rebounds as the Blue Devils still scored 88 points and earned a seven-point victory.

Think about that for a second.

Bagley — who right now could very well could be the National Player Of The Year and No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft — contributed a small fraction of what he likely would have if he had logged his regular allotment of minutes and Duke still beat an older and deeper Michigan State team by seven points on a neutral floor.

Granted, Grayson Allen went off for a career-high 37 points and freshman point guard Trevon Duval (17 points, 10 assists, six steals) was sensational as well, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that the Blue Devils barely got anything from Bagley and still never really lost control of the game.


There’s no ceiling. Not with this Duke team.

2. Kentucky needs to sort out its point guard situation

The one thing that’s been synonymous with John Calipari’s great teams since he signed Derrick Rose at Memphis is elite play from the most important spot on the floor. Right now, that spot is a major mystery for Kentucky.

In Tuesday night’s loss to Kansas at the Champions Classic in Chicago, the Wildcats went back-and-forth between freshmen Quade Green and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander at the one, with neither player separating himself from the other.

During the final 10 minutes, Calipari rotated both, even playing them together for a brief period before ultimately closing the game with Gilgeous-Alexander on the ball.

From Rose to Tyreke Evans to John Wall to Brandon Knight to Marquis Teague to Tyler Ulis to De’Aaron Fox, Calipari has always had a high-level floor general when he had teams that had a chance to play deep into the NCAA Tournament.

Is Green or Gilgeous-Alexander cut from that same cloth?

Not initially.

The duo combined for 12 points and six assists against Kansas, and for Kentucky to truly get into a rhythm as a team, it needs one of these players to truly emerge between now and the start of SEC play.

3. Depth can be overrated

Michigan State may find that out firsthand.

The Spartans have a bevy of options on their bench, but sooner or later Tom Izzo is going to have to find rhythm and chemistry.

On Tuesday night against Duke, Michigan State used 11 different players and regularly mixed and matched lineups, never truly settling on something that boasted the “it” factor.

To be fair, the season is only a few days old, but it does bring up an interesting question: Is depth overrated?

Most coaches will tell you that it’s a lot easier to keep guys happy and in a solid flow if they have seven or maybe eight guys in their rotation because they know which guys are going to play and which aren’t. It’s a luxury that allows players to play through mistakes and play with the comfort of knowing that they’re going to have a piece of the pie.

This writer was blown away by Michigan State’s frontcourt depth when he was in East Lansing during the preseason, but it was clear Tuesday night against Duke that this is something that Izzo is going to have to work through as the season progresses.

The Spartans have six frontcourt guys that played against the Blue Devils, and that doesn’t count Bridges, who spent spurts as an undersized power forward.

The Rubik’s Cube is officially out in East Lansing.

This and That:

– Arizona’s Allonzo Trier has began the 2017-18 season with the focus of a surgeon. Through two games, the 6-5 guard is averaging 31.0 points while shooting 64.5 percent from the field and 50.0 percent from 3-point range. Wildcats freshman Deandre Ayton has received a great deal of preseason hype thanks to his long-term potential, but if Arizona was a snake, Trier is definitely still the head.

– The biggest early takeaway from watching Wichita State? The Shockers are an extremely difficult team to prepare for because they have so many different people who can be the assassin. Through two games, Gregg Marshall’s squad has six different players averaging between nine and 17.0 points. That’s without starting four-man Markis McDuffie, who is out until early December with a foot injury.

– Need a power forward? I’ll take Minnesota’s Jordan Murphy and be happy seven days a week and twice on Sunday. The 6-6 junior was the best player on the floor when the Gophers beat Providence on Monday night at the Dunkin Donuts Center and has all the requisites to be one of the best players in the Big Ten this season. Murphy is averaging 29.0 points and 14.5 rebounds through his first two games.

– Two programs — UCF and Rhode Island — suffered key injuries this week, as the Golden Knights and Rams lost B.J. Taylor (foot) and E.C. Matthews (wrist) for four-to-six weeks respectively. The injury is a major blow to UCF, who already lost starting wing Aubrey Dawkins to a season-ending shoulder injury, while the injury to Matthews is something that Rhode Island can absorb thanks to its perimeter depth.

– Arkansas may be college basketball’s biggest early surprise, not because it won its first two games, but rather because of how it won. The Razorbacks beat two quality mid-majors — Samford and Bucknell — by 39 and 28, respectively, in back-to-back home games at Bud Walton Arena. Both of those teams are favorites to win their leagues. Mike Anderson’s squad returns to action Friday against another quality mid-major — Fresno State — in Fayetteville.

– If St. John’s wants to be taken seriously as a legitimate contender for the top half of the Big East standings then it has to beat Nebraska at home on Thursday night in the Gavitt Games. No other words are needed.

– How is SMU 2-0 without Akoy Agau? Freshman big man Ethan Chargois. The little-known post player is averaging 19.0 points and 8.5 rebounds through his first two games and is giving the Mustangs a bonafide interior presence early. It’s going to difficult to fully judge Tim Jankovich’s squad until JUCO transfer and former South Florida guard Jahmal McMurray is eligible in December.

– The best newcomer in college basketball right now that no one is talking about? UNLV freshman Brandon McCoy. The 7-1 McCoy had 25 points, 18 rebounds and two blocks in his college debut on Saturday against Florida A&M. Competition aside, those are video game-type numbers, especially when you consider that McCoy only logged 23 minutes.

– Who is the freshest team right now in college basketball? Temple. Why? The Owls have yet to play a game. “We tried to get something during opening weekend,” Fran Dunphy told FanRag Sports. “But it just didn’t work out. That’s scheduling in 2017 in college basketball.” Temple will instead play its first game of the year on Thursday against Old Dominion in the first round of the Charleston Classic.

– We’re a long ways from March, but be sure to put Florida Gulf Coast on your list of elite mid-majors this season. Joe Dooley’s squad is averaging 92.0 points through two games and is a heavy favorite in the Atlantic Sun. There’s two words to describe this team in 2017-18: Upward trajectory.

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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