Welcome to "On the Quad," your weekly campus tour into what is and what was in college basketball. This is a class you don’t want to skip. Here, we’ll provide a quick glimpse around the game, including where the hot spot is for the week, a player who is establishing a name, a coach/team that earned recognition and a number you need to know. Let’s get this started:
The place to be
Some are calling it the "Final Four in November."
Tuesday’s State Farms Champions Classic in Chicago’s United Center will have that kind of fanfare. No. 2 Kentucky and No. 5 Duke start off the doubleheader, followed by No. 4 Kansas and No. 13 Michigan State.
“I am really looking to maybe arguably one of the best nights of college basketball when you look at how it has been over the years, between Duke and Kentucky and us and Kansas,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “I want to be in those kinds of venues. I think it is great for Michigan State, I think it is great for college basketball, I think it is great for the Big Ten.”
The kind of games that usually make up NCAA tournament regional finals are being brought to you in just the second week of the season.
Asked about the positives of playing the Blue Devils so soon, Kentucky coach John Calipari joked, “Well, they’re mostly minuses. The only good news is we’re both trying to figure out our teams.”
As a break from the home-guarantee games against lesser-talented opponents, on Tuesday we’ll see where these four teams stand. Last season, Kentucky established itself early on with a 32-point demolition of Kansas in the Classic.
“Each one is a little bit of a measuring stick,” Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski said. “... You just can’t practice that. The Champions Classic has been great for all four of the teams.”
The big man on campus
Looks like Duke sophomore guard Grayson Allen has successfully transitioned from afterthought to the spotlight. Last season, Allen played his role as the “fourth” freshman in a class where the other three (Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, Tyus Jones) are now in the NBA.
Allen dropped 26 points in the season opener against Siena and followed that with a career-high 28 against Bryant on Saturday.
“For me, it’s fun, it’s no pressure,” Allen said. “Whether I’m at the top of the scouting report or at the bottom of the scouting report, I’m still going to play my game.”
His game has changed slightly this season. Allen has been asked to facilitate the offense more while freshman Derryck Thornton, the only true point guard on Duke’s roster, gets up to speed. Allen has been comfortable so far, notching a combined eight assists and three turnovers. He ranks second nationally in offensive efficiency, according to Ken Pomeroy.
Team of the week
Western Illinois coach Billy Wright navigated half of last season with just eight scholarship players after injuries ransacked his roster. The Leathernecks plummeted to a last-place finish in the Summit League, where they were also picked to finish this season.
No one expected much from Western, least of all No. 17 Wisconsin, which in choosing its season-opening opponent picked the game to unveil its 2015 Final Four banner.
The Badgers’ athletic department Twitter account even released a prescheduled tweet Saturday morning that proclaimed its “big win” over the Leathernecks to promote the school's women’s basketball opener.
Only that didn’t happen.
Western Illinois claimed its first win over a ranked opponent in program history, not to mention Wright’s first road win, in a 69-67 stunner Friday. Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan entered the game with a 210-22 record at the Kohl Center.
“Obviously I’m thrilled for our program, shed a few tears of joy, I think it’s something that can help us moving forward,” Wright said. “... With all we went through last year as a program, for those kids to not give up and not quit -- our motto is 'All in and play hard, play smart, play together, all for one and one for all.' [Friday] we did a great job of demonstrating that philosophy.”
When it comes to scorers, Davidson is about that life. It’s no surprise its former star and reigning NBA MVP Stephen Curry leads the league in scoring at 33.4 points per game.
But did you know Wildcats junior guard Jack Gibbs scored 35 points in their opening win over UCF to lead Division I scorers? It should be noted that Gibbs, who averaged 16.2 points per game last season and was a second-team all-Atlantic 10 selection, only made two 3-pointers. He was 10 of 14 from inside the arc.
Whether he can keep scoring at this clip remains to be seen. Gibbs is one of 12 players nationally who scored 30 or more points in his season opener. But since the 1990-91 season, only four players have finished the season averaging 30 or more points: Alliant International's Kevin Bradshaw averaged 37.6 points in 1990-91; Mississippi Valley State's Alphonso Ford averaged 32.7 points also in 1990-91; Purdue's Glenn Robinson averaged 30.3 points in 1993-94; and LIU-Brooklyn's Charles Jones averaged 30.1 points in 1996-97.