Opening Night Goodies

13 Nov

The longest offseason in sports is nearly over.  It seems like eons ago that Connecticut was the center of the basketball universe, winning national championships on both the men’s and women’s side.  The dawning of a new college basketball season is nearly upon us (Friday) and there will grace period to get acclimated to another season as there are 157 games on opening night.  With so many games combined with early-season scheduling it might be hard to find compelling match ups right out of the gate, but here is a handful that you should have your eye on for one reason or another.

#8 Louisville at Minnesota 7pm ET-This game is taking place in Puerto Rico as part of the Armed Forces Classic.  The Gophers are coming off an NIT championship and a 25-win season.  Even though Minnesota scored just over 71 points per game last season they do return two of their three double-digit scorers in senior guards Andre Hollins and Deandre Mathieu.  The Cardinals on the other hand won 31 games losing in the Sweet 16 to Kentucky, are ranked in the top 10 nationally, return a pre-season All-American in junior forward Montrezl Harrell and have Final Four aspirations.  Can Minnesota slow down a Louisville team that wants to run, run and then run some more? Oh by the way the coaching match up isn’t bad either, Rick Pitino for Louisville facing his son Richard on the Gophers’ sideline.

Siena at UMass 7pm ET-The Saints went from losing 24 games in 2013 to winning 20 and the CBI title under first-year coach Jimmy Pastos.  Siena returns its top nine scorers and should challenge for the top spot in the Metro Atlantic thanks to the combo of Rob Poole and Brett Bisping and their 26.1 points and 11.5 rebounds per game.  UMass returned to the NCAA Tournament but fell to Tennessee in their first game.  Derek Kellog’s squad did win 24 games and although they do lose their floor general Chaz Williams, they do return one of the better big men in the country in Cady Lalanne hoping to return to the NCAA Tournament.

UC-Santa Barbara at #5 Kansas 8pm ET-The Jayhawks should once again rule the roost in the Big 12.  They were beaten by Iowa State in the Big 12 Tournament and then stunned by Stanford in the 3rd round of the NCAA Tournament.  Bill Self lost the likes of Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Nadir Tharpe and Tarik Black but returns Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis to lead a new crop of heralded freshmen like Cliff Alexander, Kelly Oubre and Devonte Graham.  UC-Santa Barbara may not be a household name but this game will be a nice showcase against good competition for one of the country’s best big men few people know about, senior Alan Williams who averaged a double-double last season with 21.3 points and 11.5 rebounds per game.

Milwaukee at Auburn 10pm ET-This game is interesting for one reason, Auburn Head Coach Bruce Pearl who returns to the sidelines after a stint at ESPN as an analyst after he was let go at Tennessee for NCAA violations.  Not only does he return but he does it against the team that gave him his first Division 1  head coaching job, Milwaukee.  No one knows how good Auburn will be but they sure have an interesting roster.  The nation’s top returning scorer Antoine Mason and his 25.6 ppg  join the Tigers after three years at Niagara.  K.C. Ross-Miller who spent two years manning the point at New Mexico State also joins the team and the country’s top Junior College transfer the 6-7 278lb. bruiser Cinmeon Bowers will add some beef to the frontcourt.

As is the case with every season there are many different factors that can make a game interesting.  These are just a few that will be worth keeping an eye on during night 1 of this glorious journey to the first weekend in April.

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