All 25 ranked teams played on college basketball's opening day, and while there were no marquee matchups, there were still insights to glean. You can't win the national championship in early November, but the journey must start somewhere and even early-season tune-ups will wind up on your NCAA Tournament résumé months down the road.
College basketball featured immense personnel turnover even before the transfer portal era, but the advent of it loosened restrictions on player movement and has only accelerated the amount of change we see on rosters each season. In many ways, these early-season games can be the first look at overhauled on-court products even for programs with veteran coaches.
While No. 1 North Carolina and No. 2 Gonzaga feature some familiar faces, plenty of other hopeful national contenders look almost unrecognizable. No. 7 Duke returns just one rotation player from last season and is breaking a new coach in Jon Scheyer, while No. 10 Arkansas essentially has a whole new team.
As we reflect on the familiar and foreign sights that college basketball's opening couple of nights provided, our writers are sharing which teams impressed the most for this edition of the Dribble Handoff.
Only one team from a top-seven conference already owns a win over another team from a top-seven conference -- and that team is Memphis, which looked rock-solid in Monday's season-opening victory at Vanderbilt. The Tigers led by double-digits 10 minutes in, and by as many as 19 points in the second half, before ultimately winning 76-67. In doing so, Memphis improved to 36-12 with DeAndre Williams in the lineup since his enrollment prior to the 2000-21 season. FYI: the Tigers are just 7-7 in that same span when Williams does not play, which is among the reasons it's sensible to argue that even though five different five-star freshmen have enrolled at Memphis in the Penny Hardaway era, no player has been more important under Hardaway than Williams, a 26-year-old transfer whose college career began at Evansville.
Three of Hardaway's first four teams at Memphis featured at least one five-star freshman, and those teams often disappointed early for a variety of reasons. This team is different, though. The starting lineup at Vanderbilt featured five players who are either seniors or super seniors. According to KenPom.com, the Tigers are literally the most "experienced" team in college basketball. They have one great player (Kendric Davis), another very good one (DeAndre Williams) and a bunch of role players who seem to understand and embrace their roles. Bottom line, Memphis is not as talented as it has been in previous years, but these Tigers seem less vulnerable to enduring wild ups and downs and internal chemistry issues. If so, that's a great thing -- and the season-opener was certainly an encouraging start. -- Gary Parrish
Most top 40-level teams opted for playing a buy game to open the season. I don't like it, but that doesn't matter. Auburn didn't apply to that scenario. Bruce Pearl scheduled a George Mason team that's by no means an elite mid-major, but it could conceivably compete for an NIT bid in 2023. It's a viable squad. And after losing multiple first-round picks, Auburn went out and won 70-52, holding Mason to .74 points per possession. The 3-point shooting was abysmal (4 of 25), but most everything else looked good for a team that will be guard-dependent in a way it wasn't a season ago. I've heard expected blowback from Auburn after I picked the Tigers to finish outside the top four in the SEC, and I stand by that, but at least the early returns suggest this team could be a major problem to face on defense. That alone should keep the Jungle engaged all season long. -- Matt Norlander
No. 2 overall recruit Dereck Lively II did not play in Duke's season-opener as he nurses a calf injury. No. 3 overall recruit Dariq Whitehead was also held out as he recovers from a right foot fracture suffered in August that required surgery. Still, Duke rolled in its season-opener vs. Jacksonville. The Blue Devils were 15-point favorites, yet nearly doubled up on that in a cover, winning 71-44. Freshman Mark Mitchell looked stellar with a team-high 18 points. Veteran guard Jeremy Roach looked comfortable facilitating, finishing with 16 points, 6 boards and 4 assists. And one of the other five-star freshmen -- big man Kyle Filipowski -- had a double-double with 10 points and 12 boards. It's hard to be too impressed with a win over Jacksonville, a team out of the A-Sun, but the Dolphins might be the best team in their conference and shorthanded Duke just obliterated them. Small sample be damned, it was a nice debut for first-year coach Jon Scheyer. -- Kyle Boone
Arizona is replacing three NBA Draft picks and was without Texas transfer Courtney Ramey, a potential starter, for its opener against Nicholls. Considering that Nichols was 21-12 last season and is picked to finish second in the Southland Conference, the contest seemed like it could be a fairly challenging opener for the retooling Wildcats. Not the case. Arizona shot a ridiculous 71.7% from the field, a school record, on its way to a 117-75 win. Azuolas Tubelis dominated with 23 points, seven rebounds, six assists and two blocks while hitting 10 of 12 shots from the field. Six players hit at least one 3-pointer for Arizona as the Wildcats drilled 11 of 18 shots from beyond the arc as a team.
Replicating that offensive display will be impossible, but the opener was nonetheless a sign that this retooling effort won't be overly difficult. Coach Tommy Lloyd implemented a fun, up-tempo offensive system last season that worked beautifully as the Wildcats won the Pac-12 regular season and tournament titles while securing a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The early returns suggest we're in for more of the same in Tucson during Lloyd's second season, despite the significant losses from the 2021-22 roster. -- David Cobb