A mask-wearing McNeese State hooper. A Memphis player trying — and bless his heart, failing in spectacular fashion — to start the season with his jersey on backwards. A scheduled game being called off just hours before tipoff because of positive COVID-19 tests.
The 2020-21 college basketball season got underway Wednesday, but much like the rest of the bumpy year that is 2020, it was anything but an ordinary opening day.
Here are the highs, lows and highlights from the opening-day action as the season gets off to its start.
Cade Cunningham leads OSU to close win
It wasn’t pretty, at least not for Oklahoma State, but Cade Cunningham’s Cowboys got it done on the road Wednesday with a 75-68 win over UT Arlington to open their season. Cunningham, the No. 1 overall national recruit in last year’s recruiting cycle and the favorite to go No. 1 overall in the 2021 NBA Draft, scored 21 points and added 10 rebounds and three assists in the effort. He was one of three Pokes who reached double figures in scoring, along with Keylan Boone (10) and Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe (11).
Coming off a monster junior season in which he finished second in National Player of the Year voting and earned consensus All-American honors, Iowa big man Luka Garza picked up right where he left off. The 6-foot-11 Garza paced Iowa in its 97-67 win over North Carolina Central with 26 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks … in only 24 minutes of action in a game that was well in hand.
Illinois shows off its depth, star power
If you took heed to my preseason advice — and why wouldn’t you have?! — then you may have gotten in on Illinois before it’s too late with 15-1 national title odds. Wednesday was about as good as it could’ve been for the Illini. Returning star Ayo Dosunmu scored a career-high 28 points and made a career-high five 3-pointers, but perhaps more impressively, freshman Adam Miller added 28 points of his own and knocked down six of his eight 3-point attempts.
We already knew based off last season and the returning players this season that Dosunmu and big man Kofi Cockburn — who had 18 points and 10 boards — would be a force. But Miller’s scoring ability is a game-changing talent that can elevate this Illini team from very good to potentially great. We don’t need to crown this team yet, of course — North Carolina A&T came in at No. 338 on Matt Norlander’s preseason rankings of every team in the sport — but circle this game. It might be a sign of bigger things to come in Champaign.
DJ Jeffries with the Doug Gottlieb out of the gate
Can you think of any single picture that better sums up 2020? Bueller? Bueller? That’s right. You can’t.
Eerily reminiscent to Doug Gottlieb’s infamous backwards-shorts outing against Kansas. And it was a foreshadowing of how the game would go for Jeffries, unfortunately, as he finished 2-of-10 shooting for 4 points. Memphis got the 73-56 win over Saint Mary’s, though, and Jeffries managed to add a team-high nine boards.
Shouts to this mask-wearing McNeese State hooper
McNeese State guard Ra’Shawn Langston wore a mask while balling the heck out in the Cowboys’ opener, leading the team in assists (3) and finishing second in scoring (10) in an impressive off the bench showing.
He was the only player on the floor to wear a mask, but you know somewhere Dr. Anthony Fauci is smiling with pride. Sign of the times.
Virginia star transfer addition shines in debut
Marquette star-turned Virginia star Sam Hauser scored 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting on Wednesday in his debut with the fourth-ranked Cavaliers, including a perfect 3-for-3 mark from the 3-point line. His 19 points were just shy of a team-high 21 from Trey Murphy III, and his eight rebounds was tops on the team as UVA opened its season with a blistering 89-54 beatdown of Towson. Towson missed nearly twice as many shots as it made in the game (18-of-49).