Grades for Every College Basketball AP Top 25 Team's 2013-14 Debut

Thad NovakCorrespondent INovember 10, 2013

Grades for Every College Basketball AP Top 25 Team's 2013-14 Debut

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    College basketball’s opening weekend is in the books, and the entire AP Top 25 emerged unscathed, but all those wins were not created equal. Some highly regarded squads lived up to the hype, but others have a lot of work to do after ugly starts.

    One of the worst offenders in the latter category is Big East favorite Marquette. The Golden Eagles did come away with a home win over Southern, but Davante Gardner’s paltry three-rebound performance was just the beginning of the problems for Buzz Williams’ team.

    Read on for more on Marquette’s slow start, along with evaluations of every season opener (excepting one no-show) for the AP’s ranked teams.

25. Baylor

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    The best part about Baylor’s opener was that the Bears faced a legitimate opponent (a Colorado team that received many votes in both preseason polls) and still won handily, 72-60.

    The rebuilt Bears backcourt held its own against Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker, limiting that duo to 20 points total while getting 23 from Gary Franklin and JUCO transfer Kenny Chery.

    Up front, Cory Jefferson picked up right where he left off in 2012-13, notching a double-double and getting to the free-throw line 11 times.

    However, Isaiah Austin—whose development holds the key to Baylor’s hopes this season—can only be called a disappointment, surrendering a double-double to Josh Scott while accumulating just five points and four boards himself.

    Grade: A-

24. Virginia

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    It’s tough to read too much into the numbers for Virginia in this game, because the Cavaliers (like so many teams on this list) mauled an overmatched opponent early and then got the reserves some playing time.

    In Virginia’s case, the victim was one of last March’s No. 16 seeds, James Madison, and the Dukes looked the part in a 61-41 loss.

    UVA’s renowned defense was on full display, with only one Duke reaching double figures (Tom Vodanovich, who had to play 38 minutes to do it).

    Offensively, Joe Harris was off his game, but his teammates picked him up by pounding the ball inside. Especially encouraging was Anthony Gill, a South Carolina transfer who led the Cavaliers in scoring (13 points) while hitting all five of his shots from the floor.

    Grade: B+

23. New Mexico

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    Only the execrable quality of their opponent (Alabama A&M) keeps the Lobos from earning an A+ for coach Craig Neal’s debut.

    The overmatched Bulldogs knew how to feed the hot hand (senior Jeremy Crutcher had 17 of the team’s 52 points), but not how to compete with a bigger, stronger, faster team in an 88-52 blowout.

    Alex Kirk got his double-double (16 points, 12 boards, plus two blocks), while Kendall Williams was actually efficient with his shot (4-of-4 from the field for 17 points, along with seven assists).

    The best news of all was a brilliant effort from senior Cameron Bairstow, who embraced his new starting role with gusto: a game-high 22 points (on 9-of-10 from the field), 11 rebounds, three assists and another two blocks.

    Grade: A

22. UCLA

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    Pauley Pavilion continues to be a house of horrors for the wrong team, as UCLA nearly opened the Steve Alford era with an embarrassing loss.

    Drexel cut UCLA’s lead as close as one point with just over two minutes to play before the Bruins managed to close the door on a 72-67 win.

    In the absence of Travis Wear, a shorthanded UCLA front line actually got outrebounded by Dartaye Ruffin and the Dragons (39-38). Meanwhile, the sophomore backcourt surrendered 37 points to veterans Frantz Massenat and Damion Lee.

    The Kyle Anderson point-forward experiment did get off to a good start (seven assists, one turnover), and he got some help off the bench from freshman playmaker Zach LaVine (two assists, plus three steals and 14 points).

    Grade: D+

21. Notre Dame

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    Considering that Miami of Ohio finished 3-13 in the MAC last season, it’s hard to be too impressed with Notre Dame for only beating the RedHawks by 12 points in South Bend.

    In particular, Miami sophomore Reggie Johnson gave the Irish defense fits, scoring 22 points on 7-of-13 shooting.

    On the plus side, Notre Dame’s three-guard offense looked sharp, with Jerian Grant, Eric Atkins and Pat Connaughton totaling 16 assists and Grant pouring in 26 points.

    The same rosy picture cannot be painted with regard to the new post players, though: Garrick Sherman and Co. were outrebounded by a none-too-formidable RedHawks frontcourt.

    Grade: C-

20. Wisconsin

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    Against the most talented opening-night opponent of any ranked team, the Badgers turned in an impressive showing. They got the job done against an athletic St. John’s squad, 86-75, in a fine display of the new-and-improved Wisconsin offense.

    Five Badgers scored in double digits, led by Josh Gasser’s 19 points (including 3-of-5 from deep).

    The rebounding battle was a wash despite the Red Storm’s superior length and leaping ability, but it’s hard to be too thrilled with the defense after it allowed 48.3 percent shooting from the field to a team not usually known for its marksmanship.

    Grade: A-

19. Oregon

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    Another ranked team that wasn’t afraid of a challenge, Oregon took on a veteran Georgetown squad in South Korea and came away with a hard-fought 82-75 win.

    The fact that the Ducks put up 82 points on an outstanding defense while PG Dominic Artis was suspended has to be considered a superb omen for their 2013-14 offense.

    Houston transfer Joseph Young was the major contributor, racking up 24 points (including 12-of-12 from the charity stripe), while senior Johnathan Loyd dished out seven assists in Artis' stead.

    Even the rebuilt frontcourt pitched in, with UNLV transfer Mike Moser totaling 15 points, seven rebounds and six steals.

    Grade: A+

18. Connecticut

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    In front of a friendly crowd at the Barclays Center, UConn really ought to have done better than a 78-77 win over a middling Maryland team.

    The Huskies, after all, returned all five starters (though Tyler Olander has been demoted to the bench) from a team that would have made last year’s Big Dance if it hadn’t been for its postseason ban.

    The major culprit was an erratic defensive performance that did include 10 steals and six blocks but still allowed five Terrapins to score in double figures.

    On the positive side, UConn won the rebounding battle (no small achievement for this underweight front line). The two-headed point guard combo of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright is also in good form early (27 points and 13 assists between them).

    Grade: B

17. Marquette

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    The news wasn’t all bad for Marquette in its home opener, as Todd Mayo erupted for 20 points in support of star center Davante Gardner (25 points, 15-of-20 from the free-throw line).

    However, that duo accounted for almost all the scoring the Golden Eagles got in a surprisingly narrow 63-56 win over Southern.

    The Jaguars, who gave Gonzaga a decent fight as a 16th seed last March, aren’t as bad as most SWAC teams, but they still don’t have any business hanging with a would-be Big East champion on its home floor.

    The visitors' tough defense held four Marquette starters (excepting Jamil Wilson) to five points total, and the Jaguars outrebounded the bigger Golden Eagles, 38-35.

    Grade: D

16. Wichita State

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    If you’re going to schedule Div. II Emporia State for your season opener, you’d better win 93-50. Wichita State pounded an outclassed opponent, but even with that, not all the signs were positive for the Missouri Valley favorites.

    Cleanthony Early shot just 2-of-7 from deep in scoring his game-high 21 points, while Louisiana-Lafayette transfer Kadeem Coleby committed three fouls in 15 mediocre minutes.

    On a positive note, sophomore guards Ron Baker and Fred Van Vleet played well, dishing out six assists apiece, with Baker locked in from the field (7-of-9 shooting) and Van Vleet locking down on defense (six boards, four steals).

    Grade: B

15. Gonzaga

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    The only real cause for concern for Gonzaga in its 100-76 home win over Bryant was the performance of Dyami Starks. The senior leader of the visiting Bulldogs put on a show, torching the Zags defense for 35 points on 13-of-22 shooting from the floor.

    Otherwise, things went pretty much as expected for Mark Few’s team, with five of the home Bulldogs scoring in double figures (led by Sam Dower’s 21-point, 17-rebound eruption).

    Kevin Pangos suffered through a lousy shooting night (1-of-7 from long range), but he made up for it with flawless playmaking: five assists without a turnover.

    Grade: B+

14. Virginia Commonwealth

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    Briante Weber’s debut as VCU’s starting point guard was an unqualified success.

    The former super-sub dished out eight assists with just two turnovers, and he didn’t exactly have to cut down on his famed defensive aggressiveness: His five steals keyed a 14-takeaway night for the Havoc defense.

    Unsurprisingly, those numbers led to a runaway win, 96-58 over a young Illinois State team.

    Florida State transfer Terrance Shannon looked comfortable in his VCU debut (14 points on 6-of-8 from the field, six rebounds). Reserve Jared Guest’s seven boards suggest that Shaka Smart might even have a worthwhile big man on his bench for once.

    Grade: A

13. Memphis

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    Alone among the AP Top 25, Memphis hasn’t started its season yet. The Tigers don’t open up until Thursday night at home against Austin Peay, when Michael Dixon Jr. (formerly of Missouri) will make his much-anticipated debut in a loaded backcourt.

    Grade: Incomplete

12. North Carolina

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    With Dexter Strickland graduated and P.J. Hairston suspended for the opener, perimeter defense against the veteran Oakland guards was a legitimate concern for North Carolina.

    Instead, the Tar Heels got the job done, holding Travis Bader and Duke Mondy to a reasonable combined total of 32 points and locking down everybody else in an 84-61 romp.

    James Michael McAdoo got off to the kind of start he had to be hoping for (21 points on 9-of-13 shooting) against a nondescript frontcourt, and new starter J.P. Tokoto notched five assists and four steals to go with his 13 points.

    Nate Britt and Joel James played down to expectations (eight combined points), but this was very much the kind of game Roy Williams must have wanted.

    Grade: A

11. Ohio State

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    The Buckeyes who are supposed to be scorers came through, but nobody else did (or needed to) in an 89-50 rout of Morgan State.

    Lenzelle Smith Jr. played a rare aggressive offensive game, attempting 11 field goals (and hitting seven) in scoring a game-high 18 points.

    Shannon Scott, meanwhile, proved a very effective backcourt partner for Aaron Craft, adding seven assists to the senior’s six while scoring 16 points of his own.

    However, centers Amir Williams and Trey McDonald combined for just 10 points against an overmatched front line, and Craft managed only five points on 1-of-5 shooting.

    Grade: B

10. Florida

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    Young North Florida didn’t seriously threaten the Gators in Gainesville, but the Ospreys never went away, either.

    Florida’s 77-69 win included surrendering an uncharacteristic 40.6 percent shooting to the unheralded Atlantic Sun representatives, though Billy Donovan’s press did force 17 turnovers.

    Casey Prather dominated offensively (28 points, 10-of-15 from the floor), but Florida shot only 2-of-10 from deep in the absence of suspended Scottie Wilbekin.

    Touted freshman Kasey Hill was unremarkable at PG, and neither Patric Young nor Will Yeguete showed any indication of growing beyond their passive offensive roles of a season ago.

    Grade: C

8 (tie). Oklahoma State

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    Interestingly, the least impressive part of Oklahoma State’s season opener was Marcus Smart’s stat line. The superstar sophomore scored a quiet 11 points as his Cowboys demolished Mississippi Valley State, 117-62.

    New PF Brian Williams made his presence felt, posting 14 points (on 6-of-7 shooting) and seven boards, while Le’Bryan Nash managed a rare double-double.

    Freshman guard Stevie Clark looked especially sharp with eight assists off the bench, and the Cowboys as a team outplayed the hapless Delta Devils in every statistical category.

    Grade: A

8 (tie). Syracuse

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    To Syracuse’s credit, the Orange pulled together after a rotten first half to pummel Cornell, 82-60. Of course, the fact that the Big Red led 38-32 after 20 minutes at the Carrier Dome is a major red flag for Jim Boeheim’s team.

    The major problem was sophomore Nolan Cressler, who torched the fabled Syracuse zone for 23 points on 8-of-16 shooting.

    Even a monster 27-point effort from Trevor Cooney can’t entirely erase the bad taste of Syracuse’s terrible start (or C.J. Fair’s seven turnovers).

    Grade: B-

7. Michigan

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    Much like Syracuse, Michigan disappointed early, heading to halftime in a flat-footed tie with UMass-Lowell. The Wolverines took care of business in the second half for a 69-42 win, but as a team they shot just 37.7 percent on the night.

    The major culprit there was Jon Horford, who went just 2-of-9 from the field in place of injured Mitch McGary (though he did grab a game-high 12 boards).

    On the bright side, the Wolverines got a solid effort from freshman PG Derrick Walton Jr. and an even better one from new shooting guard Caris LeVert (a game-high 17 points plus five rebounds and two steals).

    Grade: B

6. Arizona

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    Maybe Cal Poly knows something. The largely anonymous Big West school beat UCLA on its home floor last fall, and this year it opened the season by putting up a respectable fight at the McKale Center in a 73-62 defeat.

    Arizona’s amazingly balanced offense saw six Wildcats score between 10 and 13 points (out of eight who played).

    Sean Miller’s comparatively small lineup (three guards, with Brandon Ashley and Aaron Gordon up front) still dominated the glass, but Nick Johnson and his backcourt mates couldn’t keep the Mustangs’ Kyle Odister from hitting seven of his 14 three-point tries.

    Grade: B

5. Kansas

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    Even by the standards of season-opening cupcakes, Louisiana-Monroe (4-23 cellar-dwellers in last year’s Sun Belt) is a dreadful team. That being the case, Kansas’ 80-63 win over the Warhawks can’t hide some notable problems.

    Most obviously, the Jayhawks defense—which allowed 42.9 percent shooting and sent ULM to the line 29 times—looked like a team breaking in a bunch of freshmen and missing its floor leader (Naadir Tharpe, suspended for this game only).

    Even with Andrew Wiggins scoring a team-high 16 points, the offense was nothing that special either, with 15 turnovers against just 17 assists.

    Grade: C+

4. Duke

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    Mike Krzyzewski couldn’t have scripted his team’s opener much better than the reality of a 111-77 pounding of a solid Davidson team.

    Against a leading contender from a respectable mid-major conference, the Blue Devils were never tested, shooting a double-take-inducing 70.4 percent from the field (including 13-of-21 from three-point land).

    Freshman sensation Jabari Parker put on a show with 22 points (tying Rodney Hood for the team high) and six rebounds, while PG Quinn Cook had 21 points to go with his eight assists.

    Rasheed Sulaimon even excelled in his new role of sixth man, adding another 20 points off the bench.

    Grade: A+

3. Louisville

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    The defending champs got more of a test than they really wanted, as the College of Charleston stayed close for a half before falling by a 70-48 margin.

    Louisville’s major problem, unsurprisingly, was its still-unimpressive field-goal shooting (38.2 percent, including 4-of-18 from beyond the arc).

    Returning star Russ Smith led the Cardinals with his usual 21 points, while new starter Montrezl Harrell looked solid with 10 points, eight rebounds and four steals.

    The best indicator for Rick Pitino’s squad was the turnover column: While Louisville’s pressure forced 21 giveaways from the Cougars, new PG Chris Jones led a sparkling three-turnover effort from the Cardinals offense.

    Grade: B+

2. Michigan State

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    Tom Izzo can rail against his team’s 15 turnovers, and rightly so, but the Spartans did little else wrong in bludgeoning McNeese State, 98-56.

    The visiting Cowboys were held to 27.4 percent shooting and lost the rebounding battle—always an Izzo emphasis—by a staggering 66-29 margin.

    Gary Harris and Adreian Payne both notched double-doubles, even if Payne only got 10 points on his ledger.

    The only other concern was a lackluster debut for new starter Matt Costello, who had just six points and three rebounds in limited action.

    Grade: A-

1. Kentucky

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    UNC-Asheville had the bad luck to be the warm-up game for John Calipari’s Kentucky juggernaut, and the result was a predictably one-sided 89-57 score.

    Julius Randle stood head and shoulders above the Wildcats’ other five McDonald’s All-Americans, grinding his way to 23 points and 15 rebounds in his college debut.

    Sophomore Alex Poythress, meanwhile, showed no ill will about being benched, matching Randle’s double-double with one of his own.

    The Wildcats can expect lots of free-throw practice in their future after shooting 30-of-48 from the stripe, but the only other dark cloud here was a brief and ineffective stint from freshman center Dakari Johnson off the bench.

    Grade: A-