College basketball scores, highlights: Luka Garza starts hot, Cade Cunningham shines in Oklahoma State debut

A mask-wearing McNeese State hooper. A Memphis player trying — and bless his heart, failing in spectacular fashion — to start the season with his jersey on backwards. A scheduled game being called off just hours before tipoff because of positive COVID-19 tests.

The 2020-21 college basketball season got underway Wednesday, but much like the rest of the bumpy year that is 2020, it was anything but an ordinary opening day. 

Here are the highs, lows and highlights from the opening-day action as the season gets off to its start.

Cade Cunningham leads OSU to close win

It wasn’t pretty, at least not for Oklahoma State, but Cade Cunningham’s Cowboys got it done on the road Wednesday with a 75-68 win over UT Arlington to open their season. Cunningham, the No. 1 overall national recruit in last year’s recruiting cycle and the favorite to go No. 1 overall in the 2021 NBA Draft, scored 21 points and added 10 rebounds and three assists in the effort. He was one of three Pokes who reached double figures in scoring, along with Keylan Boone (10) and Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe (11).

Coming off a monster junior season in which he finished second in National Player of the Year voting and earned consensus All-American honors, Iowa big man Luka Garza picked up right where he left off. The 6-foot-11 Garza paced Iowa in its 97-67 win over North Carolina Central with 26 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks … in only 24 minutes of action in a game that was well in hand.

Illinois shows off its depth, star power

If you took heed to my preseason advice — and why wouldn’t you have?! — then you may have gotten in on Illinois before it’s too late with 15-1 national title odds. Wednesday was about as good as it could’ve been for the Illini. Returning star Ayo Dosunmu scored a career-high 28 points and made a career-high five 3-pointers, but perhaps more impressively, freshman Adam Miller added 28 points of his own and knocked down six of his eight 3-point attempts.

We already knew based off last season and the returning players this season that Dosunmu and big man Kofi Cockburn — who had 18 points and 10 boards — would be a force. But Miller’s scoring ability is a game-changing talent that can elevate this Illini team from very good to potentially great. We don’t need to crown this team yet, of course — North Carolina A&T came in at No. 338 on Matt Norlander’s preseason rankings of every team in the sport — but circle this game. It might be a sign of bigger things to come in Champaign.

DJ Jeffries with the Doug Gottlieb out of the gate

Can you think of any single picture that better sums up 2020? Bueller? Bueller? That’s right. You can’t.

Eerily reminiscent to Doug Gottlieb’s infamous backwards-shorts outing against Kansas. And it was a foreshadowing of how the game would go for Jeffries, unfortunately, as he

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Iowa college basketball star and preseason All-American Luka Garza

Without the abnormal circumstances that 2020 has brought, Luka Garza might have heard his name called by Adam Silver alongside other established college standouts in the 2020 NBA draft. Instead of navigating the increased uncertainty of the draft process, the Iowa star returns as the face of college basketball entering the 2020-21 season — the 6-foot-11 big man tops ESPN’s first top 25 player ranking of the season and is the preseason front-runner for every reputable national player of the year award.

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Garza (23.9 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game, 36% from the 3-point line last season) also aims to make history in Iowa City, where the Hawkeyes haven’t won a Big Ten title (1979) or reached the Final Four (1980) in more than 40 years. The Hawkeyes are a top-10 team entering the season, and with America’s best player back in the fold, every ambition seems possible for this group.

Garza recently spoke with about the upcoming season, his expectations for himself and his team, his excitement about the 2020-21 campaign and a few wrinkles he hopes to add to his game:

Myron Medcalf, ESPN: How has your team handled the preseason buzz, including entering the season with a top-10 ranking?

Luka Garza, Iowa: When I was a freshman, we were 14-19 and we made a change. It has been awesome to see our growth since then, but for us right now, I think our main focus is just trying to improve day to day and not worrying about the ranking. I think later in life that’s going to mean something more. But right now, we’re just focused on improving as much as we can every single day to reach our potential as a team. And that’s all we can do, and whatever that is, it’ll work itself out. Every day I’m trying to push these guys to work as hard as they can, and starting [this] week, we’re going to do the same things when we get on the floor.

ESPN: When you’re watching film on other players at the next level, who are the models for you? Whom do you hope to emulate?

Garza: There’s a lot of guys. Obviously, this summer, watching the NBA a lot then and the fall, I think Nikola Jokic was one guy I really locked into and was watching a lot. Just his versatility on the offensive end, his ability to pass the ball, score from all three levels. Offensively, looking at Anthony Davis and his versatility on the offensive end and his ability to shoot the ball and handle it and all that stuff is really fun to watch, as well as when he plays in the post. I try to take some of his moves.

I think, really, for me, I look at so many different players. Obviously, Frank Kaminsky from his senior

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