The Morning Dunk: Welcome to Opening Week
It's the first edition of The Morning Dunk getting everyone set for the opening week of college basketball and who to pay attention to from a scouting perspective.
What is The Morning Dunk?
Welcome to my weekly column that will release every Monday through the 2021-22 college basketball season, and then inevitably evolve after the NCAA Tournament up until the 2022 NBA Draft.
But what exactly is the point of a Monday morning column? Ever heard of Sports Illustrated’s Monday Morning QB?
Every great content platform has its own version of a recap column to catch up readers with everything important that happened over the previous week, as well as to set the table for what’s to come this week.
Since we’re a scouting newsletter first and foremost, it will be my pleasure to keep you posted on when and where the top 2022 draft prospects are playing from opening night on. This is also the place where I’ll empty my notebook and give you a look at what I’ve been paying attention to and how my though process changes during the 2022 draft cycle on a number of top domestic players.
Will I occasionally do important updates on the G-League Ignite, NBL and other overseas teams/leagues? Absolutely. While not the purpose of this column (I would encourage you to check out Foreign Relations, our series dedicated to international prospects for more regular coverage), there will absolutely be weeks where I can’t contain myself and need to get thoughts out in the open.
With that being said this introduction will be a bit light, but let’s get to what everyone’s here for: THE BIG GAMES!
The Champions Classic
I remember attending the first event at Madison Square Garden back in the 2010-11 college season, and little did I know I saw a preview of that year’s national championship game between Kansas and Kentucky. Thomas Robinson and Anthony Davis stole the headlines, but the country also got its first primetime look at Michael Kidd-Gilchrist as well. In the game prior, Michigan State and Duke put on one hell of a show in their own right.
New York City was the place to be that night, and this Tuesday November 9th, that will once again be the case as this preseason showcase heads back to where it all started.
Michigan State and Kansas will get the night started at 7pm EST, and even though the matchup to follow is much more anticipated because of who’s in it, don’t sleep on this game as the perfect appetizer.
When it’s all said and done, I fully expect the Jayhawks to win the Big 12 and cash in on a one seed come March. Returning draft prospects Christian Braun, Ochai Agbaji and Jalen Wilson are joined by Arizona State transfer Remy Martin to form one dangerous scoring quartet. David McCormack and Mitch Lightfoot are still in the fold up front. And don’t sleep on Dajuan Harris Jr. to burst onto the scene as one of the nation’s rising distributors from the PG spot.
Kansas is absolutely loaded, but the Spartans won’t be pushovers either. Head coach Tom Izzo loves when his team is the underdog, but is that really the case with East Lansing’s latest crop of talent?
Marcus Bingham and Joey Hauser are the most notable carryovers from last year’s formidable squad, but all eyes will be on freshman Max Christie.
Christie is a 6’6” scoring wing who can impact the game from all three levels. We already have evidence that he’ll look to assert himself early and often within Michigan State’s offense and there’s no doubt he’ll want to make a strong first impression given he’s currently projected on draft sites as a late first/early second round prospect.
Once Kansas and Michigan State have had their fill, however, we move on to the marquee matchup between Duke and Kentucky.
Star studded from top to bottom, both teams are ready to rumble and make some serious noise after disappointing 2020-21 campaigns.
Leading the way for Duke is a pair of top freshmen in projected top pick Paolo Banchero and lottery level talent AJ Griffin. But the Blue Devils aren’t without veteran help, as sophomore Mark Williams will man the paint and Jeremy Roach and Wendell Moore should provide some extra perimeter scoring punch and distribution.
As for the Wildcats, it’s TyTy Washington’s time to shine. Tyrese Maxey put on an incredible display of shot making and offensive command in his Kentucky debut in the Classic, and fans will expect the same from Washington even though their games are a little different.
The 6’3” Washington isn’t a score-first guard who’s lightning quick off the bounce and willing to pull up beyond the arc at a moment’s notice off the dribble. His game is a little more deliberate as Tyler Rucker and I talked about on a recent episode of Draft Deeper.
Even though he doesn’t possess the same level of explosiveness, his poise and craft should help balance Kentucky’s offense and deliver a number of wins this season. His court vision and propensity for navigating through the defense will be necessary to properly complement the shooting talents of Kellan Grady and Davion Mintz as well as the interior finishing and vertical spacing of front court combo Oscar Tshiebwe and Daimion Collins.
Which returning players will have the biggest impact on opening night? Which freshmen will hit the big shots to carry their teams to victories? I would expect Christie, Banchero and Washington to all deliver in a big way, but in the end I’ll take Kansas and Kentucky to win each matchup.
Nevertheless, plenty of prospects I named to keep an eye on across two games, and I’ll be sure to give updates on anyone not mentioned here who potentially makes enough noise to thrust themselves into the scouting headlines by Wednesday morning.
Other Notable Matchups Throughout Opening Week
Friday November 12 - Villanova against UCLA at 11:30 EST. The Wildcats are led by Collin Gillespie and Justin Moore and should put up quite the fight against returning draft prospects Jaime Jacquez, Johnny Juzang and exciting newcomer Peyton Watson.
Saturday November 13 - Texas heads on the road to Spokane to take on Gonzaga in the night cap at 10:30 EST. The Big 12 has three high quality teams in Kansas, Baylor as well as Texas. The Longhorns have plenty of backcourt depth with Kentucky transfer Devin Askew joining seniors Courtney Ramey, Marcus Carr and Andrew Jones, but the Zags have the interior size to punish a small team thanks to Chet Holmgren. One of the most polarizing draft prospects in 2022, my eyes will be firmly on this matchup. I would expect Holmgren to have monster rebounding numbers in a competitive game. Other Gonzaga prospects to watch for include Hunter Sallis, Nolan Hickman and Drew Timme.