With the clock changing to midnight, the calendar has officially switched over to November 11th, and it’s the day we’ve all been waiting for since April.
It’s officially opening day for college basketball!
At 12:00pm EST, the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders will take on Milligan, and the 2016-17 season will officially be underway. The day is chalked full of games, giving fans plenty of opportunities to satisfy the craving of college basketball.
With games come upsets, and as we learned last season, no team is safe from them. From the Blue Raiders’ win over the highly-favoured Michigan State Spartans in the NCAA Tournament, to a handful of upsets on opening night, anyone can seemingly beat anyone on any given night.
The first day of action in 2016-17 is no exception. There is potential for upsets all over the slate on Friday. Below are three power conference teams who should be weary of an upset on opening night.
Penn State Nittany Lions
Opponent: Albany Great Danes
Over the past few seasons, the Penn State Nittany Lions have been a mediocre team in the Big Ten Conference. They’ve had talent on their roster, but haven’t been able to turn that into success in the regular season. In fact, Penn State hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2011.
However, this year is expected to be different for the Nittany Lions. The level of optimism surrounding the program is higher than it’s been in previous years, and much of it is due to the team’s incoming crop of freshmen. Led by freshman guard Tony Carr, who joins junior standout Shep Garner in the back court, the future looks bright for the program.
In an article released by 247 Sports, Penn State will be implementing a new, fast-paced game plan for the 2016-17 season. They’ll be looking to ‘blitz their opponents on both ends of the floor’, with press and run on virtually every single play.
On opening night, the Nittany Lions will take on an opponent who knows a thing or two about having success in their conference over the past few years. The Albany Great Danes make the trip to University Park, PA for an evening tilt with Penn State.
Last season, Albany finished the season with a record of 24-9 overall, and 13-3 in America East play. The Great Danes appeared in the 2016 College Basketball Invitational, falling in the First Round to the Ohio Bobcats.
In 2016-17, the Great Danes will be without their top three scorers from a season ago, as Evan Singletary, Peter Hooley, and Ray Sanders have all graduated from the program. However, a trio of returnees will take on bigger roles this season, and will give the Great Danes a fighting chance on opening night.
Sophomore guard Joe Cremo is back, and is expected to take on a leading role in terms of offensive production this year. Add in senior forwards Dallas Ennema and Mike Rowley, and Albany is in good hands this season.
If they’re able to keep up with Penn State’s fast-paced play from the outset, the Great Danes have the talent and shooting ability to keep the game close and possibly steal a win on opening night.
Opponent: Fort Wayne Mastodons
Heading into the 2016-17 season, there’s a ton of positive bzz surrounding the Arkansas Razorbacks. Many predict that this year will be the year they make a push into the upper echelon in the SEC and return to the NCAA Tournament, something they have only done once since between 2009 and 2016.
With forward Moses Kingsley, our Preseason SEC Player of the Year, leading the way for the Razorbacks, they appear to be in good hands. Add in the sharp-shooting of senior guard Dusty Hannahs, and it’s easy to see why people have been talking about Arkansas as a sleeper team in the SEC.
In his first season with Arkansas after transferring from the Texas Tech Red Raiders, Hannahs shot 43.3% from three point range.
Junior guard Anton Beard is also back for the Razorbacks, and could be in for a breakout campaign. In 23 games last season, Beard averaged a shade over 7 points per contest. With the departure of Anthlon Bell, more opportunities could be on the horizon for Beard.
On opening night, Fort Wayne will have the edge over the Razorbacks in one key area, but will be vastly over-matched in another.
The Mastodons have a trio of guards who could all play for a power conference team. A healthy Mo Evans and Purdue Boilermakers’ transfer Bryson Scott join sophomore standout John Konchar to give Fort Wayne a formidable trio on the back end.
Konchar averaged a team-high 9.2 rebounds per game a season ago, to go along with his 13.0 points per contest. Evans missed the final 16 games of the season due to injury, but averaged 16.9 points and 5.1 assists per contest before going down.
The loss of Max Landis, the team’s leading scorer, will undoubtedly hurt. But, adding a player like Scott, who has power conference experience at Purdue, will help to ease the pain.
If Fort Wayne can somehow find a way to slow down Kingsley in the front court, then the Mastodons could very well go into Fayetteville and come away with a sparkling 1-0 record to open the 2016-17 season.
Kansas State Wildcats
Opponent: Western Illinois Leathernecks
Simply put: the pieces are in place for the Kansas State Wildcats to bounce back from their dismal performances in Big 12 play last season, where they went 5-13.
Senior forward Wesley Iwundu averaged 11.9 points and 4.5 rebounds per game last season, but is in a position to see a significant jump in his production this season. He is among the Big 12’s best forwards.
Over the summer, the likes of Carlbe Ervin II and Dean Wade impressed on the Wildcats’ exhibition tour in Europe. Add in sophomore guard Kamau Stokes, and a talented freshmen class, and Kansas State has talent sprinkled all over their roster.
Come Friday night, the Wildcats will likely be double-digit favourites over the visiting Western Illinois Leathernecks.
But, we all remember what happened last year when they Leathernecks were counted out before the game started. Nobody remembers it better than the team, themselves.
Western Illinois went into Madison, WI, and left with a 69-67 victory over the 17th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers.
This season, the guard duo of Jabari Sandifer and Garret Covington will look to recreate the magic from last season’s program-defining victory. Covington led the team in scoring a year ago, averaging 17.9 points per game.
While their guard play is as solid as can be, it’s the front court that will raise some concerns in 2016-17 for the Leathernecks. Mike Miklusak is the lone senior in the front court, and he’s joined by four sophomores.
Center Brandon Gilbeck appeared in all 27 games last season, averaging 2.8 points and 3.6 rebounds per contest. Standing at 6’11”, Gilbeck will likely see an increase in minutes this season at the 5-spot. If he can get contribute on both ends of the floor, in terms of points, rebounds, and simply disrupting his opponent’s shots in the paint, then Western Illinois will be in good shape moving forwards.
– T. Bennett