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Mike Lopresti | | November 22, 2013

What a start to the season

Free-throw shooting

Not bad for just two weeks of college basketball, hey?

The No. 1 ranking already changed hands. Seventy-nine games where a team broke 100 points, and three where both did. High-fiving individual performances, not all of them by freshmen.

Belmont beat North Carolina. North Carolina Central beat North Carolina State. St. Francis (N.Y.) beat Miami (Fla.). South Carolina Upstate beat Virginia Tech. Indiana State beat Notre Dame. (Memo to the ACC: Try to stop being the upset-ee).

Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky
A fortnight can’t prove much, but it can suggest a lot. This is what the first 14 days gave us, through Thursday.

There was the fondest hope of offensive regeneration and the darkest fear of free-throw inflation, with the new officiating emphasis on defensive contact. Both had their moments.

After two weeks, 23 teams were averaging 90 points a game, and 45 were shooting at least 50 percent. That will change when the pastry portion of the schedules end, of course, but still. At the end of last season, only three teams were averaging 80 points a game, and only three were shooting 50 percent.

After two weeks, Boise State was averaging 104 points a game, and Oklahoma State 102. The Cowboys’ low in four games had been 93. They had trailed for three minutes.

Shootouts popped up in the oddest places. That was Massachusetts outscoring Nebraska 54-51 -- in the second half. It ended 96-90 for UMass. Does Holy Cross vs. Sacred Heart sound like something that should end up 122-118, in two overtimes? With New Mexico vs. Charleston Southern, do you expect 109-93?

But the jump shot giveth and it taketh away. Marquette scored 114 points against Grambling State, and five days later managed only 35 against Ohio State, when the starting lineup went 3-for-28.

Or, in the opposite direction, Northwestern State was 0-for-17 in 3-pointers against LeTourneau, and a week later went 14-for-27 to beat Auburn 111-92.

There were also nights with a monsoon of free throws. Indiana shot 55 in one game, Marquette 53. Holy Cross and Sacred Heart combined for 94 of them. When Morehead State beat Marshall 102-94 in overtime, there were 76 fouls, 108 free throws, and presumably three officials taking liquids for whistle fatigue.

With so many chances at the line, missing them gave coaches even worse acid reflux.

Tulsa started 0-3, partly by clanking 36 of 66 free throws in two home games. North Carolina’s upset loss to Belmont came on the night the Tar Heels went 22-for-48 from the line, after which Roy Williams said there had been three days when he asked his players to shoot 200 free throws. So much for practice makes perfect.

Elsewhere, freshmen were all the rage. Duke’s Jabari Parker scored at least 20 points in each of the first five games. The only other Blue Devil to ever do that was Art Heyman, 51 years ago.

Indiana’s Noah Vonleh came within one rebound of starting with five consecutive double-doubles.

Kentucky trotted out an all-freshman lineup for the first time in history; yet another landmark in John Calipari’s quest to take over the world with 18-year-olds. One of the kids was Julius Randle, whose average of 20.8 points and 13.6 rebounds after two weeks informed us he required no break-in period to be deity in Wildcat Nation.

But not all the highlights came from students in college basketball 101. Oklahoma State sophomore Marcus Smart torched Memphis for 39 points, as a reminder a guy doesn’t have to be a freshman in this sport to be a star.

Evansville sophomore D.J. Balentine opened as the nation’s most consistent weapon, going 29-29-29-32 in scoring in the Aces’ first four games.

Wisconsin junior Frank Kaminsky scored 43 points against North Dakota by making 16 of 19 shots. His 6-for-6 perfection in 3-pointers would be impressive for a small guard, let alone a 7-footer.

But the shots did not fall for everyone. UAB’s Rob Rucker had a valiant effort against New Mexico with his 20 rebounds and seven assists, so maybe it's best to forget that 3-for-22 shooting.

Louisville extended its winning streak to 20 games, stun-gunning one outmanned opponent after another with debilitating runs – 22-2 against Cornell, 22-3 against Charleston, 35-2 against Hofstra. The Cardinals had sure hands as they dismantled the other teams. They committed only 25 turnovers in four games.

Duke played its 217th consecutive game as a top-10 team. VCU played its first -- and lost by 18 points to Florida State.

VCU was not the only team to struggle with promotion in the polls. Michigan State beat Kentucky to take the No. 1 spot for the first time in more than a decade and then hemmed and hawed through a 62-53 win against Columbia, which pushed one of Tom Izzo’s buttons. “It’s a team that’s reading their press clippings, listening to Twitter,” he said afterward. “We proved tonight that we’re not ready to handle any kind of success, and that disappoints me.”

The Big Ten started the season 46-5.

The Pitino family started 9-0. Dad Rick was 4-0 at Louisville, son Richard 5-0 in his first season at Minnesota.

The season began with eight North Carolina alums coaching Division I teams, the most of anyone. That’s not so surprising. What is surprising is the school at No. 2 with seven. Princeton, according to the Tigers’ sports information department.

To see the challenge of staying on top, visit South Beach. A year after going to the Sweet 16, Miami (Fla.) lost to St. Francis (N.Y.) and UCF.

Oregon State beat Maryland with President Obama in the house, watching brother-in-law Craig Robinson coach the Beavers. Robinson might want to send a couple of season passes to the White House. He is 4-0 at Oregon State with the President watching, and 76-90 without him.

Indiana State beat North Dame 83-70, spoiling Mike Brey’s 48-0 record at home in November.

Iowa State upset No. 7 Michigan, its highest ranked non-conference victim at home in 26 years. Then the Cyclones traveled to BYU and won, branding Iowa State the up-and-comer of the early season.

The Steve Alford era at UCLA began with three home victories. The customers apparently still have to be sold. The average attendance was 5,706.

A proper season promises upsets and juggernauts, performances that make you notice, the good, the bad and the ugly. This season has had them already.

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