LAS VEGAS — Here are a few key observations after watching three tournaments over three days in Las Vegas:
1. The Big Ten is going to be a beast: Michigan State looked sensational in blowing out UCLA and then came back from 19 down to knock off Texas for the Las Vegas Invitational title. Josh Langford scored 29 in the second half in the win over the Longhorns. Michigan State has lulls but when the Spartans turn it on, they can beat any team in the country.
“[Coach Izzo] can make a player do something that they never thought they were capable of doing.”— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) November 24, 2018
Josh Langford reflects on Coach Izzo with @TheAndyKatz after @MSU_Basketball took home the Las Vegas Invitational title! pic.twitter.com/DmBCcp6Muy
Michigan has looked like a Final Four team, let alone a Big Ten title team. Wisconsin (which lost to Virginia Friday), Ohio State, Purdue and Minnesota have all had solid wins this season where they each looked like a contender. Nebraska needs to do its part after losing to Texas Tech to stay in this grouping. Indiana had its notable win at home against Marquette, Maryland blew out Marshall Friday and Iowa won the 2K Classic by beating Oregon and UConn.
Seriously, this year may see the most bids the Big Ten has ever earned. But the Spartans are still the team to beat in the regular season until someone (like Michigan) knocks them off the perch. They showed they can be more than just a Big Ten title team here in Vegas.
2. Coby White is going to be the star of North Carolina: The Tar Heels have a preseason All-American in Luke Maye and two fellow seniors in Cam Johnson and Kenny Williams. And the preseason hype was about Nassir Little. But you couldn’t help but fall for White’s game in Las Vegas.
White dazzled whenever he was on the floor, and you always knew he was on the court. White scored 33 in the loss to Texas and then 19 in the win over UCLA. He had eight assists and two turnovers in the win over the Bruins. He made 7 of 10 3s in the loss to the Longhorns. Carolina fans are going to love him this season. There may be a lot of justified hype for the three freshmen down on Tobacco Road at Duke, but White deserves to get his share in the spotlight.
3. Texas has incredible length: The Longhorns will be a matchup problem for every team on their schedule. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo couldn’t get over the reach of the Texas duo of 6-11 Jaxson Hayes and 6-9 Jericho Sims. Add in the stretch/strength ability of Dylan Osetkowski and Texas can pose plenty of problems. Kerwin Roach II has the moxie to pull up and drop 30 on a team. But the difference for Texas will be the rim protection and overall intimidation of the bigs.
4. Arizona State will have a chance in the Pac-12 because of one player: Freshman Luguentz Dort is a linebacker playing basketball. He’s got a Vinnie Johnson-type game and can bully his way to big numbers. The 6-4, 215-pound guard scored 33 in a win over Utah State, making 10 of 15 shots and 11 of 14 from the free throw line. Two days prior, he helped the Sun Devils knock off No. 15 Mississippi State with 17 points. Dort had a combined 16 rebounds and six assists in the two games in Vegas.
5. The UCLA Bruins aren’t ready for prime time yet: UCLA has talent to watch, notably big man Moses Brown. But this team is still very young in key positions, especially in the middle with Brown. The Bruins were blitzed by Michigan State and had North Carolina on the ropes before yielding to the experienced Tar Heels and White. But UCLA needs Kris Wilkes to be the go-to player who takes over games. There were times during the loss to Carolina in the second half where Wilkes was open but Prince Ali looked him off. There must come a time where they yield to Wilkes to take over since he’s the one that can be trusted the most in that role.
6. Jordan Caroline is an All-American talent: Caleb Martin was the popular preseason All-American pick out of Nevada. But it’s Caroline who is the most important player for the Wolf Pack. Caroline is a runaway train in the middle who can’t be stopped. He has great size, powers past his players and plays with tremendous emotion. The Wolf Pack are a top 10 team but it’s Caroline who can deliver them a deep run in the NCAA tournament.
7. Michigan State’s fan base has to be rated as one of the most passionate: The Spartans had the Orleans Arena rocking both nights. While North Carolina brought its fair share of fans, the arena was dominated by the Spartans faithful. They were loud, proud and helped spur the Spartans' comeback on Friday.