By Ryan Campbell
Despite it being very early in the year, it is safe to say that we are amidst one of the best college basketball seasons ever. We have already seen transfers, upsets and storylines come into play like we have never seen before. The best part is that there are still four months left to play. Because of all these things, many fans are going into this season with one question in mind: will this be the greatest college basketball season ever?
The true story of this season started months ago once the transfer portal opened when some of the biggest names in Division I decided that their time was up at their current school, the biggest of which was former Michigan Wolverine Hunter Dickinson.
Dickinson’s final year in Ann Arbor ended in frustration after he averaged 18.5 points, 9.0 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game, but could not lead his team to March Madness. So, the 7-foot-2-inch center decided to transfer to the Kansas Jayhawks, who ended the previous season as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. This turned them into a legitimate powerhouse, as they began the season No. 1 in the AP poll.
The Jayhawks are not the only team that landed a superstar athlete. Gonzaga, Texas, North Carolina and Arizona also welcomed some of the best basketball players in the world to their teams. Gonzaga is the new home of star point guard Ryan Nembhard, who took over the Big East last year averaging 12.1 points, 4.8 assists and 4.0 rebounds a game as a Creighton Bluejay.
Texas took a more non-traditional route to the top of the NCAA by bringing in Max Abmas, a two-time Summit League player of the year. During his four years at Oral Roberts, a small school in Tulsa, O.K., Abmas led the Golden Eagles to an 84-42 record, including an incredible 30-5 record his senior season. The Texas Longhorns now look to Abmas to be the missing piece to their national championship puzzle.
Stanford’s historically bad basketball program lost the only bright spot on their team this summer, letting Harrison Ingram enter the transfer portal. The 6-foot-8-inch star forward took his talents to the UNC Tar Heels to try and start winning games before his potential is wasted. This may be harder than it seems, though, as a lack of winning is the exact reason that the all-time great guard Caleb Love left North Carolina last summer.
Last year, he averaged 16.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.1 steals per game, leading UNC to a 20-13 record. This, however, was not good enough to make the tournament, which led to Love’s departure.
Another team that is worth highlighting is the Florida Atlantic Owls. They are important for the exact opposite reason as the aforementioned teams. The Owls last year had their greatest season in program history, finishing 35-4 and making it to the Final Four.
That brings us to this season where they were surprisingly ranked No. 10 in the pre-season poll. This is because the mid-major only graduated one player from their Cinderella run, and no players transferred. Florida Atlantic’s story will be one of the best to see unfold throughout the season.
With the new landscape of Division I laid out, it is time to get to the action. On Nov. 6, in one of the very first games of the new season, an unranked James Madison team defeated the Michigan State Spartans who were ranked as the fourth-best team in the country at that point. The overtime game ended 79-76 in favor of the Dukes. The team was led by forward T.J. Bickerstaff, who had 21 points and 11 rebounds in the victory. Terrence Edwards Jr. also added 24 points to the Dukes' total. The action continued later that day, as the Princeton Tigers defeated Rutgers, a Big 10 team, 68-61.
Since then we have seen several all-time classics and upsets that continue to prove the insanity we are seeing early on this year. Some highlights of this season include No. 12 Arizona stunning No. 2 Duke 78-73 in Cameron Indoor Stadium (Duke’s home court), BYU pulling off the 74-65 upset of No. 17 San Diego State, who had just played in the National Championship the year before, Weber State taking down No. 23 Saint Mary’s 61-57 and the Penn Quakers defeating No. 21 Villanova 76-72 at home.
These games were just the cream of the crop for the week. There were dozens of great games played that continue to serve as evidence of how great this season will be. In the first nine days since opening day, we have seen seven teams ranked in the preseason top 25 lose (Michigan State twice).
On top of this, only five of the top 25 teams are still in the same position in the poll that they were in last week. This unpredictability is one of the things that shows the potential for this season to be incredible. Another aspect that could make this season one of the greatest ever is the storylines. There is of course the stories of the previously mentioned teams like Florida Atlantic or Kansas, but also so many more that are still up for question. Can Purdue finally top the mountain? How will UConn do after their historic national championship run? And can Fairleigh Dickinson succeed after pulling off the biggest upset of all time?