What we learned on opening day: Isaiah Collier is the real deal, big truths and more

USC freshman guard Isaiah Collier was as advertised. The nation’s No. 1 recruit scored 15 of his 18 points in the first half of the No. 21 Trojans’ 82-69 win over Kansas State in a Hall of Fame series game at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena Monday night. Collier made seven of nine shots, and added three rebounds and a game-high six assists. He has six turnovers, though, and fouled out with 4:50 to play.

“Definitely great to get my feet wet with the college game,” Collier said. “So, I mean, I learned a lot tonight, as far as the crowd and just staying engaged in the game.”

The Trojans limited the Wildcats, coming off an Elite 8 run, to 31.0% shooting from the field, 24.2% from beyond the three-point arc. Kansas State forward Arthur Kaluma, a transfer from Creighton, was 0-5 from 3-point land while North Texas transfer Tylor Perry, who shot 41.3% from three-point territory over the last two seasons, to just 4-12 from the arc. He led Kansas State with 22 points.

USC freshman Bronny James, who suffered a cardiac arrest incident over the summer, traveled with the Trojans but watched the game from the bench in sweats. He did not participate in warmups and his father LeBron James said in Miami his son would undergo a checkup later this month and, if cleared, would start practicing with the Trojans in anticipation of playing this season. — Paul Gutierrez

N’Faly Dante and momentum from last season in Oregon‘s win

The former five-star recruit finally enjoyed a true breakout campaign last season, averaging 13.4 points and 8.4 rebounds, both career-highs. He took his game to a different level down the stretch of 2022-23, putting up 14.3 points and 12.2 rebounds in his final six healthy games, including five double-doubles. In Monday’s 2023-24 season-opening win over Georgia, it was more of the same for Dante. The center finished with 16 points and 21 rebounds and was completely dominant in the paint and on the glass. Oregon has really struggled in nonconference play the last two seasons, so Monday was a step in the right direction. — Jeff Borzello



Wooga Poplar drills 3 in

Wooga Poplar drills 3 in

The bigs will run amok again in 2024 (and 2025 and 2026….)

As my perceptive colleague Mr. Borzello has indicated, Dante recorded a mighty outing for Oregon against Georgia in the 2023-24 season’s first D-I vs. D-I game. Dante’s lead was soon followed by the usual suspects in the paint: Zach Edey, Armando Bacot and Hunter Dickinson all rampaged against somewhat overmatched competition. By now we’re accustomed to seeing dominant big men filling box scores and All-American teams. But it’s worth recalling how this picture has shifted.

The NBA was still using multiple first-round picks per year on college players that don’t shoot 3s as recently as six years ago. Not so much anymore, though the occasional Dereck Lively or Jalen Duren do still occur. The common denominator there, and with others like Mark Williams, Day’Ron Sharpe and Isaiah Jackson, has been an average age under 20. Conversely, veterans in the paint like Edey (21 years old), Dante (22), Dickinson (who does shoot 3s and turns 23 this month) and Bacot (coming up on 24) stick around the college game and wreak some wonderful havoc. — John Gasaway



Radford Highlanders vs. North Carolina Tar Heels: Full Highlights

Radford Highlanders vs. North Carolina Tar Heels: Full Highlights

The breakout buzz on Wooga Poplar is real

Throughout the offseason, there was steady buzz coming out of Coral Gables surrounding the potential emergence of Miami junior guard Wooga Poplar. Coach Jim Larrañaga seemed to confirm that at ACC Media Day, telling ESPN that Poplar “looks like a pro. He looks like a first-round draft choice … He’s in for a big year.”

While it’s only one game, Poplar is proving the offseason reports right. He led the Hurricanes to a 101-60 victory over NJIT, scoring 21 points and going 5-for-9 from 3-point range. With ACC Player of the Year Isaiah Wong leaving last spring, Larrañaga needs someone to step up and fill his shoes on the perimeter. Poplar looks like he will be that guy. — Borzello



Markus Burton fights off defender for and-1

Markus Burton fights off defender for and-1

North Carolina has some work to do to avoid a repeat of last season

The Tar Heels entered their season opener determined to put last season’s historic miss — they were the first preseason No. 1 team to miss the NCAA tournament — and they struggled. Early in their eventual 86-70 win over Radford Monday night, UNC needed a late second-half push to pull away after the Highlanders cut the lead to 56-55 with 14:56 to play.

I don’t know how much you can take from that shaky start in a season opener. But Radford’s backcourt of Kenyon Giles, Bryan Antoine and DaQuan Smith combined to score 49 points, getting to the lane with ease before UNC figured out how to clamp down. Against more talented teams, those gaps will be costly — UNC’s opponents made 48.4% of their shots inside the arc last year — if Hubert Davis doesn’t work it out. — Myron Medcalf

ACC freshman guards make statements

While most of Monday’s freshman focus centered around USC’s Isaiah Collier or Kentucky’s newcomers, it was two under-the-radar ACC point guards who had statement-making debuts. First up, Notre Dame‘s Markus Burton, who notched 29 points on Monday, going 11-for-20 from the field while also finishing with four rebounds and four assists. He took over in the second half against Niagara, scoring 16 points in a six-minute span in the final nine minutes.

Not to be outdone, Pittsburgh freshman guard Carlton “Bub” Carrington posted the program’s first triple-double since 1998 (18 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists) to help the Panthers cruise past North Carolina A&T. Jeff Capel has a team that on paper looks quietly competitive in the middle of the pack of the ACC this season — especially if Carrington can run the show at the point guard spot. — Borzello

John Calipari’s playing the long game

Although Kentucky struggled from 3 (9-for-29) in its 86-46 win over New Mexico State on Monday, it’s the number of attempts that matters.

Under Calipari, Kentucky’s 3-point attempts have never exceeded 32% of its overall field goal attempts in a season, per KenPom. On Monday, the Wildcats attempted 45%.. They’ll have to fall for Calipari to trust his shooters to keep taking them. But the sheer volume could mean Calipari will allow this team to play with more freedom on the perimeter than past groups. — Medcalf

Will Wade beats his former team in his McNeese debut

Last season, the Cowboys finished 11-23 (6-12 in the Southland Conference). Then, the school hired Will Wade this offseason. He won’t be available for a lengthy stretch to serve out his 10-game suspension and two-year show-cause — handed down from the IARP for his connection to the FBI investigation of college basketball in 2017. But with a fleet of transfers, Wade aimed to start this new chapter quickly. The 76-65 win over VCU, the reigning Atlantic 10 champion that Wade coached from 2015-2017, suggests McNeese is on track to trend up — it hasn’t had a winning season since 2011-12. — Medcalf

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