Men's basketball: Five must-see opening-weekend games
College basketball has returned. There are more than 250 college basketball games this weekend, and no one has time to watch them all. So here are the five must-watch games on opening weekend:
No. 10 Arizona vs. No. 12 Michigan State - Hawaii
Friday's Armed Forces Classic in Honolulu marks the climax of college basketball's opening weekend, and the first matchup of the evening between Sean Miller's Arizona Wildcats and Tom Izzo's Michigan State Spartans is hardly an undercard. Michigan State boasts arguably the best freshmen class of Tom Izzo's storied career, including possibly his best newcomer ever in Miles Bridges, who was nearly a unanimous decision for preseason Big 10 Freshman of the Year. With only 60 combined starts in the backcourt and 41 in the frontcourt, Tom Izzo finds himself in an unusual position with his reliance on youth.
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No. 11 Indiana vs. No. 3 Kansas - Hawaii
The night caps off with a pair of extremely athletic, fast-paced teams that won't be afraid to push the tempo for 40 minutes. NBA scouts will drool over the matchup between Kansas super-freshman Josh Jackson lining up against Indiana's OG Anunoby, but just as interesting will be the possibility of Hoosiers' sharpshooter James Blackmon Jr. being covered by an excellent defender in Frank Mason III.
Tom Crean's squad is looking to defend its Big Ten regular-season championship with the help of a number of returning players, including All-Big Ten preseason team selection Thomas Bryant, who decided to delay his departure to the NBA for another year in Bloomington. While the Hoosiers will miss four-year-starter Yogi Ferrell, his fast-paced, 3-point-happy style of play remains with Indiana this season.
For Kansas, it's a changing of the guard. Last year's senior-laden roster has been replaced by extremely exciting freshmen in not only Jackson but also highly touted big man Udoka Azubuike. The few veterans who remain in Mason and forward Landon Lucas will be responsible for making sure that transition happens as smoothly as possible. In this matchup, don't change the channel or you could miss a ton of scoring.
Stephen F. Austin vs. No. 2 Kentucky
Getting to know new crops of Kentucky freshmen each season has become one of college basketball fans' favorite pastimes, and this year is no different. John Calipari has seven on this year's team, including an electrifying backcourt duo of Malik Monk and De'Aaron Fox. While the Wildcats are always a bit of a mystery early in the season, they have never given viewers a reason to avoid tuning in. Surrounding the youngsters are a handful of returning Wildcats, including big men Isaac Humphries and Derek Willis anchoring the middle.
On the other side is a very accomplished Stephen F. Austin team coming off three straight seasons with 28 or more victories, as well as three straight trips to the NCAA tournament and two March Madness victories. But this year's Lumberjacks will look much different, with the departure of head coach Brad Underwood as well as last year's three leading scorers looming large. Will new head man Kyle Keller be able to keep the momentum going in Nacogdoches? A win against Calipari's Wildcats certainly wouldn't hurt.
Chattanooga at No. 6 North Carolina
While this might seem like a lopsided matchup at first glance, don't be fooled by the billing. Coming into Chapel Hill is 34-year-old head coach Matt McCall's Scrappy Mocs, one of the most talented mid-major teams in the country. The team's biggest strength is the players' experience, returning four starters and seven lettermen from a team that went 29-6 and reached last year's NCAA tournament. Seniors Tre' McLean and Justin Tuoyo were both All-conference selections last season, and fifth-year guard Casey Jones was leading the team in scoring before an ankle injury ended his season early and earned him a medical redshirt.
Roy Williams' Tar Heels don't lack experience either, with an astounding nine upperclassmen on this year's team. Other than the departure of Marcus Paige, North Carolina has retained many of the weapons from last year's national championship runner-up roster, highlighted by All-ACC preseason team nominees Joel Berry II and Justin Jackson. The Dean E. Smith Center will be rocking Sunday evening, but the Chattanooga Scrappy Mocs will have their eyes set on an early upset.
Long Beach State at Wichita State
While this mid-major matchup is a lesser known game, college basketball junkies are incredibly anxious to see what Greg Marshall's Shockers will look like playing without Fred Van Vleet and Ron Baker for the first time since the 2011-12 season. Wichita State has reached the NCAA tournament for five consecutive years and has the talent to do it once again this year. Tabbed as the favorite once again in the Missouri Valley Conference, the Shockers will be turning to All-Missouri Valley preseason first-teamer Markis McDuffie for production. The 6-foot-8 sophomore showed an impressive combination of athleticism and versatility last year.
Long Beach State is another mid-major team that fans should keep on their radar when March rolls around. The preseason favorite out of the Big West Conference, the 49ers are led by junior point guard Justin Bibbins, who dished out the third most assists in a single season in school history a year ago. Head coach Dan Monson returns three starters from a 20-win team that earned an NIT bid last season. This game will be just a part of Long Beach State's treacherous opening month, which includes road trips to No. 6 North Carolina, No. 13 Louisville, No. 16 UCLA, Washington and No. 3 Kansas. To say it will be battle-tested by the end of the season is an understatement.