If you haven’t noticed, it’s October. And October means the changing of the leaves and Halloween and the baseball playoffs and presidential campaign surprises and at least one other thing. It means the start of college basketball.
OK, not the start of the season, per se. Instead, it’s the start to the start of college basketball. Camps are opening. Madness extravaganzas are around the corner. Exhibition season will be here soon.
With that in mind, time for five college hoops questions:
1. How much will Harry Giles’ latest knee injury hurt Duke?
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You have to feel for Giles, the 6-foot-10 forward ranked second behind Kansas’ Josh Jackson among class of 2016 recruits. In 2013, Giles tore the ACL and meniscus in his left knee. In 2015, Giles tore the ACL in his right knee. Monday, Duke announced Giles underwent arthroscopic knee surgery again. He is expected to miss at least six weeks.
Even if Giles turns out to be Greg Oden, the Blue Devils remain favorites to win the national title. Mike Krzyzewski has holdovers Grayson Allen, Amile Jefferson, Luke Kennard and Matt Jones to go along with heralded newcomers Jayson Tatum, Marques Bolden and Frank Jackson.
Still, a prolonged Giles absence reduced Duke’s margin for error. Kentucky and North Carolina fans probably aren’t rooting for Giles’ return, but if you’re a college basketball fan you hope to see the kid on the court.
2. How much does Ben Carter’s latest knee injury hurt Michigan State?
Like Giles, the 6-9 forward has had more than his share of knee problems. After two years at Oregon, Carter moved to UNLV, where he suffered a torn ACL in January. Carter arrived at Michigan State as a grad transfer only to injure his knee again last weekend. We do know Carter will need surgery. We don’t know when or if he will return.
It’s heartburn for Tom Izzo, whose team plays Kentucky in the Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 15. The Spartans lost four to the NBA and two to transfer from last season. Carter was to bolster a young roster.
There is young talent on the roster, however. Rivals.com ranked Michigan State’s 2016 class fourth behind Kentucky, Duke and Arizona State. Small forward Miles Bridges is rated a top-10 recruit. Shooting guard Joshua Langford is ranked in the top 20.
3. Is there an SEC team that can challenge Kentucky?
It’s hard to see one now. Texas A&M lost four players from a year ago, plus new point guard J.J. Caldwell has been ruled ineligible. Florida has an interesting, but not intimidating roster. Mississippi State’s Ben Howland and Auburn’s Bruce Pearl have recruited well, but their teams might be a year away from making an impact.
Arkansas could be a sleeper. Moses Kingsley and Dusty Hannahs return to join a trio of junior-college stars signed by Mike Anderson. One problem, though. One of those fresh faces, 6-8 forward Arlando Cook, was arrested over the weekend for public intoxication.
4. Can Villanova repeat as national champions?
The chances looked brighter when Jay Wright expected to have fab freshman Omari Spellman to replace graduated center Daniel Ochefu, a key piece to last year’s title run.
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Then the NCAA declared Spellman ineligible, ruling the 6-9 center did not meet academic requirements in time to play. Ranked No. 18 in the class of 2016 by Rivals, Spellman is allowed to be on scholarship, train and practice with the Wildcats, but not play in games. That’s where Wright needed him most.
5. What’s the biggest question for Louisville?
Rick Pitino says that’s already been answered. The Cardinals coach is confident the NCAA will not add additional sanctions to the school’s self-imposed “Stripper Scandal” penalties, including last year’s tournament ban. How Pitino knows this, we’re not sure.
Meanwhile, Pitino is publicly bullish on his team. The Cards may lack a sure-fire star, but there are plenty of pieces, including freshman forward V.J. King. Look for sophomore guard Donovan Mitchell to have a breakthrough year.
Recent NCAA basketball champions
North Carolina 77-74
Michigan St 89-72
Memphis 75-68 (ot)
Ohio State 84-75
Georgia Tech 82-73