Five must-watch games for college hoops opening weekend
The college hoops season tips off on Friday in fullcourt-press fashion as most every Division I school will be in action. The ones that aren't will play over the weekend. The biggest contest, of course, will take place aboard the USS Carl Vinson in San Diego between
Coach K begins his final march to a record-setting 903 wins, but number 901 won't come easy. Belmont was one of the most dominant teams in the country last season. The Bruins went 30-5 and led the nation in scoring margin (17.5), and they return nine of their top 11 players. Still, it won't be easy to knock off the Blue Devils in Cameron Indoor Stadium. I know most people will tune in to check out Duke freshman Austin Rivers in action, but I'm more curoius to see how comfortable 6-foot-2 junior guard Seth Curry looks while playing point guard.
This is technically a home game for the Bruins, but like most of their "home" games this season, it will take place at the L.A. Sports Arena because Pauley Pavilion is closed this winter for renovations. Sure, UCLA should win, but don't forget they also should have beaten Montana at home in early December last season but lost. The Lions, who went 2-12 in the West Coast Conference last season, probably won't pose much of a test, but it's still important for the Bruins -- and especially sophomore center Josh Smith, who has battled weight problems -- to get off to a strong start.
No, Artis Gilmore is not coming through that door, but Jacksonville has become a very respectable program under seventh-year coach Cliff Warren, a former assistant at Georgia Tech. The Dolphins return four starters from a club that finished third in the Atlantic Sun. The Seminoles aren't ranked but they should be. Even though Chris Singleton is gone, three other starters, including All-ACC candidate guard Michael Snaer, are back to challenge Duke and North Carolina for supremacy in the league.
NIU lost four starters from a team that only won nine games, so this should be a pretty safe game for the Boilermakers. Still, it's hard to feel totally safe given that Robbie Hummel will be playing his first college game in more than 20 months. Hummel, a 6-8 senior forward, suffered his second ACL injury at the start of practice last year, so I'm interested to see what kind of shape he's in. It's too much to expect Hummel to be back to his old self right away, but if he can be anywhere near where he was before he got hurt, the Boilermakers will be an NCAA tournament team.
This is a pretty sexy matchup for a season opener. It's worth watching if only to see whether it merits an early appearance from Wild Bill. Beyond that, these are two pretty good basketball teams. BYU begins the post-Jimmer era playing in a new league (the WCC) and with junior forward Brandon Davies, who was suspended last season for violating the school's honor code, back in the lineup. Meanwhile, Stew Morrill's Aggies lost four starters from the team that won 30 games and entered the national rankings, but you don't win four straight league titles and play in three straight NCAA tournaments by being unable to replenish your talent.