Opening Night Games to Watch

13 Oct

The opening night of college hoops on Friday Nov. 13 doesn’t seem to have as many intriguing match ups as years past, but there is a trio of games that should catch your eye.

In one of the first games to tip off Bruce Pearl returns for his second season at Auburn and opens with a tough Alabama-Birmingham squad.    The Tigers finished just 15-19 last season but made a magical run to the SEC semifinals, a solid building block for the 2015-16 season.  They do lose three key players in Antoine Mason, KT Harrell and K.C. Ross Miller but senior big man Cinmeon Bowers returns to lead a recruiting class headlined by two top 100 recruits, 6-9 forward Horace Spencer and 6-7 swingman Danjel Purifoy, whose status remains unresolved by the NCAA Clearinghouse.  UAB finished last season on a much higher note.  After dropping two straight to end the regular season, the Blazers won three straight to win the Conference USA tournament and proceeded to knock off #3 Iowa State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.  The Blazers return their top six scorers from that team including senior Robert Brown who averaged 13.7 points a game last season and sophomore William Lee who scored 14 points with 12 rebounds in the upset over Iowa State as a freshman.

It seems we say this about Baylor every season but the Bears are again extremely athletic and long (eight players 6-5 or taller) and could be a contender in the Big 12.  They won 24 games but fell to Kansas in the Big 12 semifinals and then were knocked off by #14 Georgia State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in a game that had you on the edge of your seat.  Baylor returns plenty of experience with five players that averaged over 17 minutes a game returning, led by seniors Rico Gathers and Taurean Prince.  Scott Drew’s team certainly has a stiff test to open the season, hosting Stephen F. Austin.  A Lumberjack team that has won an average of 29 games over the past 3 seasons under Brad Underwood returns seven of the nine players that saw double digit minutes last year including Player-of-the Year candidate Thomas Walkup.  They must find a way to replace Jacob Parker but there are plenty of candidates on the roster like the 6-5 duo of Ty Charles and Clide Geffrard, Jr.

The nightcap of opening night pits two teams with something to prove, Texas and Washington.  After years of disappointing finishes in Austin Rick Barnes was finally let go.  Brought in to replace him is the most highly sought after mid major coach in recent memory, VCU’s Shaka Smart.  Smart doesn’t exactly inherit an empty cupboard either, the Longhorns are coming off a 20-win season that culminated in an NCAA Tournament berth.  He also returns nine of the ten players that played in at least 20 games only losing NBA lottery pick Myles Turner.  It remains to be seen how havoc will play in Austin but some of the excitement is back for a program that had become stagnant.  No team was hit harder by defections in the offseason than Lorenzo Romar’s Washington Huskies who lose eight players off last year’s team including their best player Nigel Williams-Goss who transferred to Gonzaga.   As a result, after Andrew Andrews and his 15 points per game the highest returning scorer is Donevan Dorsey and his 3.8 along with eight freshmen and four sophomores.  It will be interesting to see how so much turnover affects a team that won just 16 games last season.

This trio of games should be enough to whet your appetite for another five months of mayhem and unpredictability that is college basketball.

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