College basketball is back, which means the Viewer’s Guide is also back. Here’s what you need to watch on Friday, as 23 ranked teams are in action.
Best game — No. 1 North Carolina (-9.5) vs. Temple, 7 ET, CBS Sports Network: This one will take place at the Naval Base at Annapolis, Maryland, with the Tar Heels taking their No. 1 overall ranking on board against the Owls. Look for a couple of things for this one. On the North Carolina side, we’ll get our first look at how the Heels plan to play without Marcus Paige for the next three or so weeks. Can they space the floor and get in and out of their offense without him? On the Temple side, how does this team compare to last year’s team that just barely missed the NCAA Tournament? Can they replace Will Cummings at the point and Jesse Morgan as a floor-spacer? Interesting questions all around, and ultimately why I’d probably stay away from betting this game.
Second-best game — Colorado vs. Iowa State (-8), 5 ET, ESPN2: The Cyclones are a top-10 team nationally for a reason despite losing Fred Hoiberg to the NBA, and it has to do with their well-rounded team. Monte Morris, Georges Niang and Jameel McKay are a triumvirate that any team would be excited to have. On the other side, Colorado missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time in four years last season, and will be looking for an upset to kickstart a return. Big man Josh Scott returns for one more go-around, and he should be tough for Iowa State to handle inside.
Another to watch — Pittsburgh vs. Gonzaga (-3.5), 7 ET, ESPN: This one could be a bit weird because it’ll be played in Okinawa, Japan. Who knows how the players have adjusted to being over in Asia. If that wasn’t the case, this line would likely be a bit too low, as the Zags have the preseason player of the year in Kyle Wiltjer as well as two big men in Domantas Sabonis and Przemek Karnowski who would start for just about anyone in America. On the other side, Pitt will be looking to return to form after a down season last year. One thing to keep an eye on: it’ll be our first look at a totally revamped Gonzaga backcourt. Can players like Josh Perkins, Kyle Dranginis, Eric McClellan and Silas Melson get it done?
Matchup of the night — Jalan West vs. Stefan Moody: A pair of really good undersized scoring point guards here in the Northwestern State-Mississippi matchup. Moody is an incredible athlete who can blow by just about everyone on the floor, and he could be in for a big game against what was one of the worst defenses in America last year. On the other side, West is the perfect maestro for the Demons’ uptempo style of play, as he’s a good passer, rebounder and shooter. Overall, just a fun matchup of two of the bigger little guys in the sport.
Potential upset: In another one of the best games of the night, Stephen F. Austin travels down the road to Waco to take on Baylor. Baylor should be pretty good again on the back of its frontcourt (Taurean Prince, Rico Gathers and Johnathan Motley). But the Lumberjacks are as well coached as anyone in America with Brad Underwood at the helm, and they return a lot of the pieces that made a strong team last year. I think this one probably goes down to the wire either way.
Pick of the night — Illinois State +9.5 against San Diego State: I do think the Aztecs come up with a win here, but the Redbirds under Dan Muller are a really well-coached group who defend and can score efficiently. San Diego State will have a clear advantage in the frontcourt, but it’ll be vice versa in the backcourt as Paris Lee should pester true freshman Jeremy Hemsley pretty heavily in his first collegiate game. With some offensive questions still to be answered with Steve Fisher’s group, I’d just be surprised if Illinois State can’t keep it within double-digits.
- The first game of the day starts at 11 AM ET, as Vermont and Eastern Michigan will take action. Vermont has a pretty legitimate chance to make the NCAA Tournament out of the America East.
- There are a lot of teams playing cupcakes to start the year, including Kansas, Maryland, Indiana, California, Duke, Virginia and Kentucky. You can check out the complete schedule of games here. Quite a big group of teams with numbers next to their names in action.
- One game that could have actual meaning is North Florida-Illinois. The Ospreys are the favorites in the Atlantic Sun, and could give the Illini a tough game. Remember, Matt Driscoll’s group beat Purdue early last year, so this wouldn’t be their first Big Ten upset.
- Belmont vs. Marqutte is another game with two teams that will come into the season with Tournament aspirations. Marquette is loaded with freshman, including phenom Henry Ellenson, a potential lottery pick this year. Belmont is very well-drilled under Rick Byrd, and Craig Bradshaw has an outside chance to lead the country in scoring this season.
- Boise State might be the favorite in the Mountain West, and Montana might be the favorite in the Big Sky. Might be a close one at the end if the Broncos struggle with the road atmosphere
- Missouri lost in their opener last year, and they seriously could do it again this year against Wofford, a solid NCAA team from last season who returns four starters.
Eastern Washingtontakes on Mississippi State in Ben Howland and Malik Newman’s debut. The Eagles lose the nation’s leading scorer last year in Tyler Harvey, but do return Venky Jois and might be a tougher game for the Bulldogs than you’d think on first glance.
- UAB might be the favorite in Conference USA, and they get Auburn to start the year. I think Jerod Haase’s group pulls the upset there on the road.
- Florida takes on Navy in the second game of the Veterans’ Classic. Mike White’s first game after taking over from Billy Donovan, so it’ll be interesting.
- Finally, Texas and Washington are playing tomorrow night in China. Yup, that’s happening. Look for Shaka Smart to get his first win as the coach of the Longhorns against the young Huskies.