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  • The appetizers to next week’s full slate of neutral-site showdowns featuring top teams are not to be passed over.
By Michael Beller
November 17, 2017

The season’s second weekend brings our first batch of tournaments, the highlight of the schedule over the next few days. For the second straight week, we’re extending our weekend preview to an extra day because there are two games that are simply too great to ignore taking place on a national stage on Monday night.

Virginia at VCU

Friday, 4 p.m., CBS Sports Network

This could be a season of retooling for both programs, so it will be interesting to see where they stand, relative to one another, this weekend. VCU has shown a desire to speed up games early in the season, but it’ll be a lot harder to do that against Virginia than it was against Grambling State and North Florida. Keep an eye on Kyle Guy, who didn’t commit a turnover in the first two games. If the Cavaliers are going to stand a chance among the heavy-hitters in the ACC this season, Guy will need to take a major step forward.

Virginia 67, VCU 58

Fresno State at Arkansas

Friday, 8 p.m., SEC Network

This is Arkansas’s final tuneup before the loaded Phil Knight Classic, which features, among others, Michigan State, North Carolina, Florida and Gonzaga. Jaylen Barford is off to a strong start this season, scoring 43 points in the Razorbacks’ first two games, and his scoring will have to remain in peak form for them to make some noise over Thanksgiving week. The Bulldogs will be a player in the Mountain West, and this is a good opportunity to see exactly where they stand early in the season. Unfortunately, it’s also one of two quality non-conference games, with the other coming against Oregon next month.

Arkansas 78, Fresno State 66

Princeton at St. Joseph’s

Saturday, 7 p.m.

Princeton is doing a good job of challenging itself early, playing Butler, BYU and now Saint Joseph’s to start the season. This will serve the Tigers well once they get into conference play, where they’ll be battling Yale as the co-favorites in the Ivy League. This is also an important game for a St. Joseph’s program that missed the tournament last year and has been to the dance just three times in the last decade. Phil Martelli’s squad started the season with an ugly road loss at Toledo and likely won’t be able to afford too many sub-100-RPI losses.

Saint Joseph’s 71, Princeton 65

Bucknell at Maryland

Saturday, 8:30 p.m.

How about a tip of the cap to Nathan Davis and the Bison? They scheduled up to start the season, with Saturday’s game in College Park already their third road game against a power conference foe, having already visited Arkansas and North Carolina. The Bison, which nearly knocked off West Virginia in the first round of last year’s NCAA tournament, are once again the favorite in the Patriot League, led by senior Nana Foulland. Maryland is coming off an impressive home win over Butler, a game in which sophomore Anthony Cowan scored 25 points. This should be a better game than expected, but in the end it’ll be too much offense from the Terrapins.

Maryland 87, Bucknell 73

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UT-Arlington at BYU

Saturday, 9:30 p.m.

BYU is used to being the stepchild in the West Coast Conference, and that’s its role again this season—all that has changed is the favored sibling, with Saint Mary’s vaulting Gonzaga. If the Cougars have any chance of powering their way into the discussion, they will have to field one of the most explosive, efficient offenses in the league and score on any and all quality foes, including UT-Arlington.

BYU 84, UT-Arlington 72

No. 10 USC at Vanderbilt

Sunday, 8 p.m., SEC Network

This is my favorite game of the weekend. The Trojans have a chance to be truly special this season, and it’s encouraging to see them take a legitimate non-conference road test so early. The Commodores will have their hands full with Bennie Boatwright, Jordan McLaughlin and Chimezie Metu, who could form one of the country’s best scoring triumvirates this season. If Vanderbilt is going to spring the minor upset, it will have to find a way to keep the pace under control. The Trojans will win the game going away if they turn it into a track meet.

USC 78, Vanderbilt 70

No. 23 UCLA vs. Creighton

Monday, 7 p.m., ESPN (Hall of Fame Classic, Kansas City)

The Blue Jays showed what makes them so dangerous in a 92–88 win at Northwestern earlier this week. They shot 51.9% from the floor in that game, making eight of 16 attempts from long distance and 14 of 16 free throws on their way to 1.21 points per possession. What’s more, they did it on a night where Marcus Foster was just 3-for-11. With all due respect to Georgia Tech, this will be a much different challenge for UCLA than the game it won in China. Its offense will have to show up in this one.

Creighton 83, UCLA 79

No. 25 Baylor vs. Wisconsin

Monday, 9:30 p.m., ESPN (Hall of Fame Classic, Kansas City)​

The nightcap of what should be a great night of basketball in Kansas City features the veteran-led Bears and youthful Badgers. This is Baylor’s first test of the season after opening the year with three cupcakes, but there’s not much mystery to a team led by seniors Manu Lecomte, Jo Lual-Acuil and Terry Maston. The Badgers are the more interesting team from an early-season litmus test standpoint—on Thursday they played No. 15 Xavier even through 38 minutes before fading to an 80–70 loss. Is it too late to make the Hall of Fame Classic games into a tournament?

Wisconsin 70, Baylor 69

There are five prominent tournaments taking place this weekend before Feast Week tips off in earnest next week: the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, Paradise Jam, Gildan Charleston Classic, Hall of Fame Tip-Off and 2K Classic. I’ll offer up a prediction of the winner of the first four (the 2K Classic ends Friday).

Puerto Rico Tip-Off: Illinois State

The Redbirds aren’t quite as good as they were last year when they were just barely on the wrong side of the bubble, but they pulled off an impressive win over South Carolina in the first round of the Tip-Off behind 18 points, 14 of which came on free throws, from Milik Yarbrough. The biggest hurdle is out of the way, and the Redbirds should be considered a favorite to at least reach the tournament’s championship game.

Paradise Jam: Houston

The Cougars should easily dispatch first-round opponent Drexel on Friday. From there, they’ll have to get through the Mercer-Liberty winner to get the championship. Anything short of a berth in the finals would be a major letdown for a Cougars squad that should make some noise this season in an improved American Athletic Conference. The bet here is that, come Sunday, sophomore Armoni Brooks has led the Cougars to the Paradise Jam title.

Gildan Charleston Classic: Auburn

This tournament features an intriguing final four, with Temple, Clemson and Dayton joining Auburn. So why the Tigers? Put simply, Bryce Brown will be the best player on the floor in every game Auburn plays. Until one of the other teams proves it can stop him, Auburn is the team to beat.

Hall of Fame Tip-Off: Northwestern

With all due respect to Boston College and La Salle, we should—we better—get a Northwestern–Texas Tech championship game. Barring disaster, both the Wildcats and Red Raiders will go dancing this season, giving us a little taste of March in November. Northwestern dropped a home game to Creighton earlier this week, but its offense looked the part of a juggernaut in that game, scoring 88 points on 51.3% shooting and 1.16 points per possession. The Red Raiders feature a great experience-youth mix, with seniors Keenan Evans, Tommy Hamilton and Zach Smith joined by freshmen Zhaire Smith and Jarrett Culver this year, but Northwestern’s offense will be too much in this potential matchup. Bryant McIntosh, Scottie Lindsey and Vic Law will form one of this season’s deadliest scoring trios.

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