UCLA freshman Aaron Holiday: After one assist and six turnovers—part of a team-high 23—in UCLA’s season-opening snafu setback against Monmouth, Holiday responded two nights later with seven assists to just one turnover in a close win over Cal Poly. Holiday will be one of the keys for UCLA this season, allowing added flexibility for Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton on the wing. Those three accounted for 22 combined assists (to just six turnovers) against the Mustangs, and strong play from Holiday will allow Hamilton and Alford greater flexibility off the ball within the offense.
Though this weekend was from a resounding statement for the Bruins, the starting five of Welsh, Parker, Hamilton, Alford, and Holiday bears tremendous balance, and could develop into one of the better units in the West. Now, finding consistent depth off the bench, aside from freshman Jonah Bolden, becomes key.
What to watch for: No rest for UCLA. On Thursday, Pepperdine comes to Pauley Pavilion, stinging from its own season-opening loss, on the road to Fresno State. The Waves are going to contend for a top-three spot in the West Coast Conference, and in 6–6 senior Stacy Davis, boast one of the best forwards in the country. UCLA coach Steve Alford told the program’s official site following the Cal Poly win that he was pleased with the response. Getting a win after a loss is always tough, and it is a marker of early growth for this very young Bruins team.
Roderick Bobbitt is on fire: The 6–3 Hawaii senior is one of the best on-ball defenders in the country (he averaged 2.9 steals in ‘14–15), and he’s quickly cementing a rep as a dynamic playmaker, too. After posting 21 points and 16 rebounds in a dramatic exhibition overtime win over Chaminade, Bobbitt has helped the Rainbow Warriors begin ‘15–16 proper with a 2–0 record, thanks to his 16.5 points, 9.0 assists, 5.0 rebounds, and 4.5 steals. He’s shooting 53% from the field, and 55% from three—the latter category a significant early jump from last season, when Bobbitt made just 25% of his treys.
Evansville off to a strong start: Egidijus Mockevicius and D.J. Balentine don’t get enough credit for being one of the best 1–2 tandems in college basketball. The secret has long been out on Balentine, a 6–2 senior who’s among the best scorers in the country, but Mockevicius, a 6–10 senior from Lithuania, has steadily developed into a formidable presence down low. For the past two seasons, he has hovered around averaging a double-double.
In Evansville’s season-opening win against Southeast Missouri State, Balentine scored 20, and Mockevicius posted 18 points, 14 rebounds, six blocks, and a steal. He will be a huge asset as Evansville chases an NCAA tournament berth this season.
Valparaiso hasn’t skipped a beat: Never underestimate the role a foreign trip plays in a fast start to the season. That’s a point Fran Fraschilla made over the weekend, about Michigan State’s showdown with Kansas (both teams took trips this past summer), and it was reinforced resoundingly in Valparaiso’s 2–0 start to ‘15–16. The Crusaders went to Canada in August, reeling off four wins in a five-game stretch that was played over just five days.
Valpo won the Horizon League regular and tournament titles last season, enjoying the resulting NCAA tournament appearance. Following up its season-opening win over IPFW, Valparaiso decimated Iona on Sunday, 83–58, holding the Gaels’ elite backcourt of Shadrac Casimir and A.J. English to a combined 16 points on 4-of-11 shooting. Peters was his effervescent self, with 12 points, seven rebounds, and three steals, but perhaps most importantly, four of his teammates posted 10+ points.