Surprise Players Emerge Early in College Basketball – The New York Times

One thing that’s very clear right now in college basketball: New faces are starting to emerge.

With November tournaments creating key early season showdowns, many players are taking advantage of fresh opportunities to produce. That should continue from now until the start of conference play in early January.

Jared Butler showed again why he’s one of the sport’s best guards. The 6-foot-3 sophomore shined with 22 points in Baylor’s win over Villanova on Sunday in Myrtle Beach. Baylor should threaten Kansas in the Big 12 once veteran forward Tristan Clark fully recovers from a knee injury he suffered last season. Baylor Coach Scott Drew said Clark probably would not be fully healthy until conference play begins.

Vernon Carey has arrived. Carey, a Duke freshman, dominated the Empire Classic last week at Madison Square Garden, averaging 25.5 points and 11 rebounds in the two-game tournament. “He’s a focal point in our offense,” Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski said of the 6-10 Carey. “He’s not just a big man either. He’s versatile.” Carey has made three 3-pointers already this season and has the ability to open things up for the Blue Devils offense because of his ability to face the basket. “I think he’s potentially a national player of the year candidate,” California Coach Mark Fox said after the Golden Bears lost to Duke on Thursday.

Memphis still has reinforcements without James Wiseman. The Tigers are likely to have to wait until Jan. 12 to have Wiseman in the lineup after he was suspended by the N.C.A.A. because Coach Penny Hardaway gave Wiseman’s family $11,500 when he was in high school. Memphis is still capable without Wiseman, with many talented players as shown in Saturday’s home win over Mississippi. First-year forwards Precious Achiuwa and D.J. Jeffries combined for 48 points and 15 rebounds in the victory over the Rebels, thriving in Memphis’s high octane approach.

Oregon plays Seton Hall. Both were picked to win their conferences. The Ducks have one of the deepest perimeters in college basketball headlined by senior point guard Payton Pritchard. Seton Hall has Myles Powell, who could be an all-American or even the national player of the year. Their game at the Battle 4 Atlantis feels like it could be a round of 16 matchup in the N.C.A.A. tournament.

Maryland tops a deep field at the Orlando Invitational. Although the Terps have won their first five games by an average of 22.8 points, all five were at home. “It’s going to be good for us to get away and test ourselves a bit,” Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon said. Maryland opens in Orlando against Temple. Harvard, Texas A&M, Southern California, Marquette, Davidson, and Fairfield are also part of the tournament.

Louisville gets its toughest test so far. The Conference USA favorite, Western Kentucky, plays Louisville on Friday in Nashville. The Hilltoppers have a potential all-American in center Charles Bassey. Western Kentucky earned wins last season over West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Arkansas. The Cardinals are 6-0 and have only played one team so far from a power conference.

  • Virginia may be elite on defense, but its offense remains a major work in progress. The Cavaliers had a nine-minute scoring drought in Sunday’s 48-45 win over Arizona State. Through six games, Virginia is averaging only 56.7 points.

  • Mississippi State’s Robert Woodard is one of the best kept secrets in the Southeastern Conference. It won’t stay that way for long. “He’s shooting the ball much better, and he’s really rebounding and defending,” Mississippi State Coach Ben Howland said. “He looks like a legitimate small forward now.” With Woodard and his fellow sophomore Reggie Perry up front, the Bulldogs have a legitimate chance to return to the N.C.A.A. tournament in 2020. Through seven games, Woodard is averaging 12.1 points and 8.3 rebounds.

  • Connecticut Coach Dan Hurley has a burgeoning star in freshman guard James Bouknight. After missing the first three games of the season because of a suspension based on a car crash and arrest, the 6-4 Bouknight shined over the weekend at the Charleston Classic. In three games, Bouknight averaged 13.3 points and shot 72.7 percent. He is easily the most talented prospect in the Huskies’ program.

  • The players at U.C.L.A. may be rated more highly than any team Mick Cronin coached at Cincinnati, but the overall toughness of the Bruins remains a serious question. U.C.L.A. gave up 88 points at home last Thursday to Hofstra. No team scored that many points against one of Cronin’s teams in the final 64 games that he coached at Cincinnati. U.C.L.A. was scheduled to play Brigham Young on Monday night in the first round of the Maui Invitational.

  • Utah State’s 7-0 start without Neemias Queta shouldn’t go unnoticed. The 7-footer has yet to play this season because of a knee injury and was a major key to the Aggies’ N.C.A.A. tournament run last season. Queta is also a potential first-round pick in next year’s N.B.A. draft. Coach Craig Smith’s team could be a trendy pick to do damage later in the season if it ever returns to full strength.

  • Temple could be the sleeper team in the American Athletic Conference. The Owls have a proven scorer in senior guard Quinton Rose and a hidden gem in Nate Pierre-Louis, who is quietly emerging as the best rebounding guard in college basketball. “You can teach technique all you want, but you can’t teach desire when it comes to rebounding,” Temple Coach Aaron McKie said. “When I get to the gym early in the morning and hear the ball bouncing, I know it’s Nate.” Pierre-Louis is averaging 15.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 3.5 assists.

  • Arkansas is giving up an average of only 47.8 points through its first five games. The competition has not featured a single team from a power conference, but the Razorbacks are clearly committed to guarding opponents with tenacity. “They’ve really bought into man-to-man defense,” Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman said. “I thought maybe we could get to this point by the middle of the season. We’re ahead of schedule.”

  • DePaul’s 6-0 start is the best for the Blue Demons since the 1986-87 season. Coach Dave Leitao has two major opportunities in the next two weeks to continue to show progress. DePaul travels to Minnesota on Saturday and then hosts Texas Tech in Chicago on Dec. 4.

  • The city of Destin, Florida, will be the home of this week’s sleeper early season tournament. The Emerald Coast Classic features four teams — Tennessee, Purdue, Florida State, and Virginia Commonwealth — that could finish this season in the Associated Press Top 25 poll. All four teams played in the N.C.A.A. tournament in March.

All times are Eastern.

TUESDAY Wichita State vs. South Carolina (6 p.m., CBS Sports Network)

WEDNESDAY Michigan vs. Iowa State (noon, ESPN2), Oklahoma State vs. Syracuse (7 p.m., ESPN2), Oregon vs. Seton Hall (9:30 p.m., ESPN2)

THURSDAY Maryland vs. Temple (11 a.m., ESPN2), North Carolina State vs. Memphis (4 p.m., ESPN2), Texas Tech vs. Iowa (8 p.m., Fox Sports 1)

FRIDAY Florida State vs. Tennessee (7 p.m., CBS Sports Network), Purdue vs. V.C.U. (9:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network)