Looking Ahead: 10 Can’t-Miss Opening Night Games Featuring Mid-Major Teams

Lee, William
Fresh off their NCAA Tournament berth and upset over Iowa State in the opening round a year ago, William Lee and the UAB Blazers are ready to get back to the Big Dance in 2015-16. They open their season with a road date at Auburn.

The 2015-16 college basketball season is less than two months away. It’s on the horizon, and it can’t get here fast enough.

Non-conference schedules from across the country have been released, and the first full day of games is Friday, November 13th. So far, there are over 140 games slated for that day, according to ESPN and their schedule page. That means there are a plethora of games to choose from, but which ones are worth your time to watch?

Opening contests usually pit power conference teams against mid-major programs, and they often result in blowout victories for the power schools. With that being said, mid-majors are very capable of pulling off the upsets, and hopefully you will tune in to a game or two despite the possibility of a total mismatch.

To make your opening day a little easier, and the decision of what game(s) to watch a little less stressful, we have gone through the list of games and selected the 10 best games that feature mid-major programs.

These games are definitely worth your time, and are the best chance to see an upset victory or two.

UAB Blazers @ Auburn Tigers

Last season, the UAB Blazers made headlines everywhere when they made their run through the Conference USA tournament and punched their ticket to the Big Dance. They made headlines again when they shocked Iowa State in the Round of 64. This season, the Blazers return virtually everyone from last year’s team, including William Lee and Chris Cokley, and will look to recreate the magic they found last season.

The Blazers have a big opportunity to score a true road win in their season opener when they travel to take on Bruce Pearl and the Auburn Tigers. The Tigers will have Marshall-transfer Kareem Canty eligible to play this season, providing the back court with an instant boost. If UAB can keep Cinmeon Bowers at bay in the paint, and control the duo of Canty and Tahj Shamsid-Deen in the back court, they have a great shot at scoring a big season opening win.

Northwestern State Demons @ Ole Miss Rebels

The focus of this game will be on the play of those in the back court, and for good reason. The Northwestern State Demons have one of the best back court tandems in the entire NCAA, in senior Jalan West and junior Zeek Woodley. On the flip side, the Ole Miss Rebels counter with Stefan Moody and Martavious Newby. The duo of West and Woodley put up points in bunches, which will make things tough for the Rebels. But, Ole Miss has another weapon at their disposal in the form of Liberty-transfer Tomasz Gielo. The native of Poland could be the difference between an Ole Miss win or an upset win by the Demons. Tune in to find out how this one plays out!

Chattanooga Mocs @ Georgia Bulldogs

This game may be the one from the entire list that people won’t quite understand, but here’s why you may want to tune in. Georgia star J.J. Frazier may not play in this game due to a possible suspension stemming from an incident in the off-season. If he doesn’t play, the chances for the Mocs just got a heck of a lot better. With guards Greg Pryor and Casey Jones in the back court, not having to defend a player like Frazier would do wonders for the Mocs. If he doesn’t play, this game could be a lot closer than people expect it to be.

Wofford Terriers @ Missouri Tigers

Kim Anderson’s tenure at Missouri hasn’t started off as planned, and he could be in for more growing pains in 2015-16. The Tigers are without Montague Gill-Caesar, Deuce Bello, and Jonathan Williams III, who all opted to transfer, and Keith Shamburger, who graduated after last season. Anderson will rely on Wes Clark and Ryan Rosburg to lead the Tigers this season. With all of the losses to the personnel, the Wofford Terriers have a perfect opportunity to open their season with a big win. Now, they’re missing their star guard, Karl Cochran, who graduated after last season. However, the defending SoCon champions have Eric Garcia and Spencer Collins returning, and Evansville-transfer Ryan Sawvell is eligible this season and will help provide some depth to the front court. Don’t be surprised to see Wofford go on the road and come away with a victory.

Florida Gators @ Navy Midshipmen

If you remember last year’s Veterans Classic, you’ll remember just how tough Navy was to knock off on their home court. They almost knocked off Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans, losing by 5 in the end. This season, they take on a less-talented Florida Gators team who also has a new head coach in Mike White. Now, Navy doesn’t have the talent that they had a year ago, but Tilman Dunbar and company won’t shy away from a challenge. With a new coach, Florida is hoping to get feet set from the start of the season. However, if they falter, Navy will be right there waiting to capitalize on any mistakes the Gators make. You can bet Kasey Hill and Dorian Finney-Smith will do everything they can to avoid a letdown for the Gators.

North Florida Ospreys @ Illinois Fighting Illini

An injury-riddled Illinois team was hoping for an easy start to their 2015-16 season, but that’s far from what they’ll get on opening night. Starting guard Tracy Abrams will miss his second straight season, meaning La Salle-transfer Khalid Lewis will be thrown right into the fire to open the year. In North Florida, the Illini will face the Atlantic Sun favourite in 2015-16, and a team that;s balanced from top to bottom. Illinois will look to Lewis and fellow transfer Mike Thorne, Jr to provide from the start, while the Ospreys have the majority of their team back from a season ago when they made the NCAA Tournament. Illinois could be in trouble to open the campaign, although playing in Champaign, IL is tough for any road team.

Lehigh Mountain Hawks @ Syracuse Orange

The pre-season favourite team in the Patriot League takes on a power conference team who has limited scholarships as a result of an NCAA investigation. This game has potential upset written all over it. The Lehigh Mountain Hawks, equipped with their star-studded roster that includes Tim Kempton, Kahron Ross and Justin Goldsborough will march into the Carrier Dome looking to knock off Jim Boeheim and the Orange. Trevor Cooney and DaJuan Coleman will give Syracuse a boost, but Lehigh is a strong team that doesn’t receive the attention it deserves. Keep an eye on this one over the course of the day.

Boise State Broncos @ Montana Grizzlies

Last season, the Boise State Broncos took home the regular season Mountain West title, but couldn’t turn that into a conference tournament victory. With a healthy Anthony Drmic back in the mix this season, alongside returnees Nick Duncan and Mikey Thompson, the Broncos are hoping for another strong showing in 2015-16. Their opponent on opening night is one that people don’t know much about, but they will get to know the Montana Grizzlies over the course of the season. German star Martin Breunig returns to lead the Grizzlies, and the big man will have an experienced supporting cast to help shoulder the load. If nothing else, tuning into this game to see how Drmic does in his return to action and to see how the Broncos handle Breunig are worth your time.

Vermont Catamounts @ Eastern Michigan Eagles

This game makes the list for two reasons. One, it’s the first game of the day, tipping off at 11am EST in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Second, there is talent on both ends of the floor. The Vermont Catamounts look like a top contender in the America East again this season (surprise, surprise). Two players you need to keep an eye on, and get to know, are Ethan O’Day and Trae Bell-Haynes. The tandem will be the key to success for the Catamounts this year. On the flip side, the Eagles have their own electric duo in Raven Lee and Tim Bond. With talent all over the floor, it’s tough to ask for a better opening game to kick start an exciting day, and season, of basketball.

Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks @ Baylor Bears

Arguably the top game of the night will take place in Waco, TX, as a top contender in the Big 12 welcomes the nation’s most consistent mid-major program over the past three seasons to town. The Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks have taken the college basketball world by storm in the past few years with their dominance of the Southland Conference, and this year looks to be no different. Reigning Southland POY Thomas Walkup, Trey Pinkney, and company are ready to wreak havoc on the NCAA, but first have to get past a Baylor team who appears ready to contend in the Big 12. The double-double factory that is Rico Gathers is back, plus Taurean Prince and Johnathan Motley give Baylor one of the best front courts in the country. This game has excitement written all over it, and it’s the can’t miss game of opening night!


Five More Games to Keep an Eye On

Texas Longhorns v. Washington Huskies (Shanghai, China)

Northeastern Huskies @ Boston Univ. Terriers

Canisius Golden Griffins @ Hofstra Pride

Colorado Buffaloes v. Iowa State Cyclones (Sioux Falls, SD)

Pittsburgh Panthers v. Gonzaga Bulldogs (Armed Forces Classic)

– T.B.