A viewing guide to the best of college basketball's opening night
Is the Star Trek transporter up and working? We’re going to need to borrow it Friday for the opening day of the college basketball season.
Here’s the idea: Hit as many of the most intriguing first-day games as possible, and watch some of each. But obviously, Uber won’t get it done. And so, beam us up Scotty . . .
10:30 a.m. – Spring Arbor at Eastern Michigan
This might be the opener for all Division I basketball, but NAIA Spring Arbor is already 6-0. We’ll stay long enough to see who scores the first basket in the nation this season.
Noon – Savannah State at No. 12 Cincinnati
Savannah State led the nation last season by putting up nearly 41 shots a game from the 3-point line. Not exactly the style coach Horace Broadnax learned playing for John Thompson at Georgetown, is it? Caution: Don’t land on Cincinnati’s campus. The Bearcats’ home away from home is in another state. With their arena being renovated, they’ll be borrowing Northern Kentucky’s place this season, which is why BB&T Arena is hosting a day-night doubleheader this day.
We’d like to stay for Northern Kentucky’s opener at 7 p.m., but we have to get to . . .
3 p.m. – Oglethorpe at The Citadel
Last year, the 12-21 Bulldogs tied for first in the nation in scoring offense at 89.8 and were last in the nation in scoring defense at 94.6. Coach Duggar Baucom's reaction? "We’re going to try to play a little bit faster than we did last season." Someone revive the scoreboard operator.
6 p.m. – No. 25 Texas A&M vs. No. 11 West Virginia at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany
It’s the only game of the day between two ranked teams, and what better place to play it than Hangar 5? The Aggies have vaunted big guys—though they’ll be missing the suspended Robert Williams – and the Mountaineers have vaunted guards, to lead the pressure defense that forced a turnover on 27 percent of opponent possessions last season. It created some truly astounding stats, such as the Mountaineers’ 61-58 loss to Gonzaga in the Sweet 16, when the Zags took 44 shots and West Virginia missed 44 shots.
.@RamsteinAirBase welcomed @WVUhoops and @aggiembk today for this years #ArmedForcesClassic! Both teams got the week started off bowling on base with troops and their families. pic.twitter.com/XsrCqsyFyk— U.S. Dept of Defense (@DeptofDefense) November 8, 2017
This might also be the only college game this season with a dress code: Uniforms for active military personnel, business casual for civilians. All suitable for late-evening wear, since tipoff local time is midnight.
6:30 pm. – Memphis vs. Alabama at Annapolis, Md.
Tubby Smith was born to Maryland sharecroppers 66 years ago, but this is only the second time in his 866 games at six schools as a coach that he’ll be taking a team home to play. His Memphis roster has 11 guys who have never appeared in a Division I game. Alabama is ranked and has a vaunted recruiting class. Just like the football team.
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7 p.m. – Northern Iowa at North Carolina
The Tar Heels’ title defense starts here, seven months after that glorious Final Four weekend in the Arizona desert, with Joel Berry III out due to a broken hand. Hurt diving for a loose ball in practice? Nah. Bashed a door after losing a video game. Nominations for screwball injury of the year are now open.
Northern Iowa comes off its first losing season in 14 years, but two years ago knocked North Carolina out of No. 1 with an upset in Cedar Falls.
7:30 p.m. – Elon at Duke
A short beam down the road to Durham for some of the No. 1 ranked Blue Devils very, very probably winning their 133rd consecutive non-conference home game. We can check how freshman Marvin Bagley III looks in his Duke uniform. By the way, Elon has beaten Duke five times. Of course, the most recent was 1922. That was before Mike Krzyzewski. Wasn’t it?
8 p.m. – Utah Valley at Kentucky
News flash: a lot of Kentucky Wildcats will be playing their first real college game! Meanwhile, the visiting Wolverines have a layover in Rupp Arena on their way to play Duke in Cameron the next night. To honor such pluck, let’s all wear Utah Valley shirts on this stop.
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8:30 p.m. – UNC Asheville at Rhode Island
It’s the team picked to win the Big South going against the team picked to win the Atlantic 10.
9 p.m. – Iowa State at Missouri
Here’s a prediction. Loudest game of the day. Clearly, the fans in the Show Me State can’t wait for Michael Porter Jr. to show them. Not even Kentucky has a freshman with this much buzz. Last year, Mizzou sold 5,802 season tickets. The Tigers just announced they’ve sold out all 9,572 season tickets this year. That’s probably not just to see new coach Cuonzo Martin walk the sideline.
And the Cyclones are not just any ol’ first-game opponent, but a former conference rival the Tigers have played 233 times – none since 2012. Iowa State has won 19 season openers in a row. With only 17.9 percent of the scoring back from last year, and Porter ready to take the stage before a teeming Missouri arena, No. 20 will be a challenge.
10 p.m. – Texas Southern at Gonzaga
Four of the top five scorers from the national runner-up team are gone, but will Gonzaga just trot out the next wave of winners -- as is accepted custom in Spokane? The long slog begins for Texas Southern, picked to win the SWAC. This is the first of 13 consecutive road games. Good luck, Tigers. Mark Few is 18-0 in season home openers at Gonzaga.
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10:30 p.m.— Cal State Fullerton at USC
How good are the Trojans, anyway? Nearly everyone is back from a 26-win team, and USC is No. 10, its highest preseason ranking in 43 years.
11:30 p.m. – Georgia Tech vs. UCLA in Shanghai
Friday night here, Saturday afternoon there. No Lonzo Ball for the Bruins, no TJ Leaf, and most of the headlines from China this week have been about shoplifting suspicions cast upon three UCLA players -- including the Next Ball Up, LiAngelo. Never good news when legal experts are on TV talking about a team’s season opener. Georgia Tech returns its top three scorers from the NIT second place finisher. It’s the first time in 25 years the Yellow Jackets have opened the season against a ranked opponent.
Ready to beam home after that? When Friday is over, 163 games will be in the books. One long day down, a season to go.
Mike Lopresti is a member of the US Basketball Writers Hall of Fame, Ball State journalism Hall of Fame and Indiana Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame. He has covered college basketball for 43 years, including 38 Final Fours. He is so old he covered Bob Knight when he had dark hair and basketball shorts were actually short.
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