The 2023-24 men’s college basketball season kicked off with a series of memorable performances. And we’re still just in the first week.
Baylor’s Ja’Kobe Walter took control in the second half of his team’s 88-82 win over Auburn in South Dakota on Tuesday. Michigan transfer Hunter Dickinson scored 21 points in his debut with Kansas during the Jayhawks’ 99-56 win over the North Carolina Central Eagles on Monday. And John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats team showcased the young talent in its top-ranked recruiting class during its 86-46 victory over New Mexico State on Monday.
But Michigan State suffered a stunning 79-76 upset in overtime against James Madison in its season opener. Still, the week mostly featured a series of appetizers for what’s ahead this weekend and next week with the Champions Classic in Chicago. Before the latter, however, No. 2 Duke and No. 12 Arizona will play the most pivotal nonconference matchup to date. More on that later.
With this season’s matchups, I’ll sprinkle in some picks (odds via ESPN BET). I’m not an oddsmaker, or even a gambling expert — just a guy who loves college basketball and watches and analyzes a ton of games.
Although college basketball began Monday, the next five days will offer the league’s first full slate of high-level games. Enjoy it.
Friday, ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET
Throughout last season, Kyle Filipowski had two bad hips that had hindered him since high school. This summer, the Wooden Award contender finally had a pair of surgical procedures to correct those challenges. If injured Filipowski averaged 15.1 PPG and 8.9 RPG last year, what can a healthy Filipowski do this season? Our first glimpse of that potential should be clear in this matchup, when Oumar Ballo and Arizona visit Cameron Indoor Arena.
Ballo, also a 7-footer with a high ceiling, could stamp his Wooden Award aspirations here, too. Last season, Arizona connected on 59% of its shots inside the arc and 39% of its 3-point attempts with Ballo on the floor, per Hoop Lens. And North Carolina transfer Caleb Love should demonstrate poise on this court. It’s familiar to him. He’s 2-1 in his career against Duke in Cameron Indoor Arena. Love was a member of the North Carolina squad that won at Duke in Mike Krzyzewski’s final home game — a 94-81 loss to the Tar Heels on March 5, 2022. That was the last time Duke lost a home game.
Medcalf’s pick: Duke 80-75. Against the spread: Arizona +5.5
Friday, Peacock, 7 p.m. ET
Following last year’s disastrous 16-19 finish, coach Chris Holtmann’s tenure at Ohio State was scrutinized. That’s fair. But the best way to end all speculation is to turn things around this season. Texas A&M’s trip to Columbus on Friday will offer Holtmann and the Buckeyes that opportunity. But will they capitalize?
Ohio State struggled at home in its 79-73 win over a shorthanded Oakland squad, which was a double-digit underdog, on Monday. But four-star recruit Scotty Middleton gave Ohio State a push off the bench with 13 points (2-for-3 from the 3-point line). Wade Taylor IV (16.3 PPG last season) is a legit national player of the year candidate, though. For real. And Buzz Williams is coming off back-to-back top-45 seasons in adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom. The Aggies will be tough to beat, even in Columbus.
Medcalf’s pick: Texas A&M 75-70. Against the spread: Texas A&M -1.5
Friday, Peacock, 9 p.m. ET
Three years ago, the NCAA gave all winter athletes an extension on their eligibility. That decision has paid off for teams that have been able to hold onto their veterans for an extra season. This game will feature three players in their fifth seasons who took advantage of that option and subsequently enhanced their respective squads: Tennessee’s Santiago Vescovi (12.5 PPG, 37% from the 3-point line last season) and Zakai Zeigler (10.7 PPG in 2022-23) and Wisconsin’s Tyler Wahl (11.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG in 2022-23). Zeigler is coming off an ACL injury last season, and Vescovi has missed time recently because of a private family matter. Both hope to hit their strides in this matchup. Wahl is the leader of a Wisconsin team that ended up in the NIT last year and needs a strong start this season to avoid a similar decline.
Both teams ended last season on shaky runs. Tennessee lost its last five road games of the 2022-23 season, and Wisconsin finished 2-4 in its final six home matchups at the Kohl Center a year ago. Both teams will play in Madison with something to prove.
Medcalf’s pick: Tennessee 72-70. Against the spread: Wisconsin +2.5