One of the first early-season college basketball events tips off Thursday in Madison Square Garden in the 2K Classic. It’s just a four-team field, but it features two teams ranked in the top 15 — No. 13 Oregon and No. 15 Syracuse.
Syracuse will face old Big East foe UConn at 7 p.m. ET, followed by Oregon and Iowa at 9 p.m. ET. Both games are on ESPN2. The losing teams in each game will face off at 4:30 p.m. ET Friday and the winning teams will play at 6:30 p.m. ET.
Here’s a quick look at each of the four teams.
The Orange return all five starters from last season’s team that beat fellow No. 11 seed Arizona State in the First Four before making a run to the Sweet 16, where they lost 69-65 to No. 2 seed Duke.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim has made a few changes in the team’s starting lineup with his son Buddy Boeheim starting in place of guard Franklin Howard, who’s recovering from an injury, and Elijah Hughes moving into the starting lineup, while Marek Dolezaj comes off the bench.
Through two games, sophomore forward Oshae Brissett leads the team in scoring and rebounding at 18.5 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. Guard Tyus Battle, a potential All-American selection this season, is second in scoring at 15.5 points per game.
It’s early in the season, but Syracuse has shown a deeper rotation than the seven-man unit it used in the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
The Huskies hope to return to prominence under first-year coach Dan Hurley, who arrives at UConn after six years at Rhode Island — which ended with back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances. UConn is coming off a 14-18 and 16-17 record from the last two seasons under Kevin Ollie.
Hurley will benefit from having senior guard Jalen Adams on his roster in his first season in Storrs, Connecticut. Adams is averaging a team-high 18 points per game on 63.6 percent shooting from the field and 50 percent from three. He’ll have help in the backcourt from Duquesne transfer Tarin Smith, who began his career at Nebraska and is averaging 17 points and 4.5 rebounds through two games.
UConn and Syracuse have beaten a common opponent, Morehead State, and the Huskies’ latest win was against UMKC.
The Ducks enrolled the third-best freshman class in the country, according to the 247Sports rankings, thanks to five-star freshmen Bol Bol and Louis King picking Oregon.
Bol is a 7-2 center, who’s father is the late former NBA player Manute Bol. He’s leading the team in scoring and rebounding at 17 points and 12 rebounds per game. King is expected to miss the first month of the season as he recovers from a torn meniscus.
Guard Payton Pritchard is back, and he’ll provide some valuable experience in Oregon’s backcourt. Through the first two games of the season, he’s on pace to average a career-high in points, assists and steals.
The Hawkeyes have displayed a balanced attack in the first week of the season with four players averaging at least 12 points per game, led by junior forward Tyler Cook at 14.5 points per game.
It’s worth keeping an eye on where Iowa’s three-point shooting will come from this season. Through two games, only two players have made more than one three-pointer — Jordan Bohannon and Joe Wieskamp have made four apiece.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery has the opportunity to coach his son, Connor, for the next four seasons, and the freshman guard could be a valuable player in the team’s rotation starting this year. He’s averaging nine points and three assists.
The Hawkeyes were porous defensively last season, ranking 242nd in defensive efficiency, according to kenpom.com, so even with the return of major contributors, Iowa will have to make major strides on that end of the floor in order to play in the NCAA Tournament.