College basketball is back!
For the last seven months, the nation has yearned for another chapter of upsets, buzzer-beaters, and busted brackets. The time has finally come.
Over the course of the season, I will highlight the most shocking results while forecasting what big match-ups are to come.
Don’t know who to watch out for? Is a team a true bracket-buster? Does a certain player have a career in the NBA? All these questions, and much more, will be answered over the course of the season.
1. Dayton is going to be real, really, REALLY good.
A team must start strong to finish strong.
From November through mid-February, the Flyers were one of the best teams in college basketball. Then, hiccups in Atlantic 10 play grounded the talented group of underclassmen.
Do it for “Big Steve.”
After the tragic off-season death of Steve McElvene (enlarged heart), Charles Cooke, Scoochie Smith, and Kyle Davis lead one of the nation’s most talented trio of seniors.
Bradley transfer Josh Cunningham (SO) is a breath of fresh air to the group and displayed such with 13 points and 6 rebounds in his Dayton debut on Friday (19 minutes). Cooke led the scoring charge and posted a career-high 31 points on just 17 shot attempts. Over the next two weeks, the nation will learn whether Dayton can compete with the best. The Flyers host the 17th-ranked Saint Mary’s Gaels, in between a trip to Tuscaloosa for a match-up with the Alabama Crimson Tide and a quarterfinal showdown at the Wooden Legacy against the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
With last year as valid testimony, do not be someone who sleeps on the Flyers.
2. South Alabama: Killers of the Mountain West
On October 10, South Alabama’s football team hosted 19th ranked San Diego State. They ended the Aztecs’ hopes of an undefeated season with a 42-28 victory.
Friday in Las Vegas, the Jaguars were back to thriving in the underdog role. South Alabama, taking advantage of a depleted UNLV Runnin’ Rebels squad, weathered an early run and late charge by the Runnin’ Rebels to take a lead and hold on, 76-68.
The team was unaffected by the rowdy environment and displayed maturity throughout. Don MuepoKelly proved why he is one of the best in the Sun Belt by recording a double-double of 18 points and 10 rebounds.
But, is this victory a fluke? December match-ups against the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (home) and Ole Miss Rebels (away) will provide clarity as to whether the Jaguars will be fighting for the automatic bid with UT-Arlington and Arkansas-Little Rock. Until then, one can only wait and pencil in South Alabama as a conference contender.
3. Wichita State, don’t sleep on Missouri State and Loyola (IL)
Since Doug McDermott and the Creighton Bluejays left the Missouri Valley Conference, the Wichita State Shockers have ruled.
Over the last three seasons, Gregg Marshall’s crew has won the regular season conference title three times while losing only three games. Because of their success, many analysts and fans are again deeming the Shockers runaway favorites, even though Ron Baker and 2015-16 Larry Bird Player of the Year award winner Fred VanVleet have graduated. College basketball is known for upsets.
Expect both the Missouri State Bears and Loyola (IL) Ramblers to have their fair share and take the Shockers to new depths.
On Friday, both the Bears and Ramblers started their seasons off on the right track. Missouri State, led by an equal balance of transfers and returnees, downed Alabama A&M, 96-62. Junior Austin Ruder, who missed nearly all last season with a hip injury, scored 18 points on 6 three-pointers in 22 minutes.
For Loyola (IL), star senior Milton Doyle stuffed the stat sheet with 21 points, 6 assists, and 3 rebounds in a 69-44 victory over Alcorn State. Yes, both opponents are not of the quality of Missouri Valley competition, but that fact does not take away from the impressive showing of the teams. Do not fall into a trap known as name recognition, Missouri State and Loyola (IL) will be playing deep into Arch Madness.
4. Lake Buena Vista will drown Davidson without Jack Gibbs.
On Saturday, Davidson played Appalachian State without star senior Jack Gibbs. Gibbs, dealing with a shoulder injury, watched all forty minutes from the bench.
The Wildcats won, 86-74, despite trailing for most of the first half and engaging in a back-and-forth battle throughout the second. Junior Peyton Aldridge scored 31 points in the season opener, complemented by 7 rebounds, and was the only Wildcat with the ability to score at will.
While some teams only wish to have a player with the scoring ability of Aldridge, Davidson has no chance to be successful in the very competitive Atlantic 10 without Gibbs. Per CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein, Gibbs was a game-day decision, prior to being ruled out. Thus, the severity of his injury must be low.
The Wildcats start a crucial slate in their non-conference schedule on Thursday as they open the Tire Pros Invitational with a showdown versus Jaron Blossomgame‘s Clemson Tigers. A match-up versus either #7 Xavier or Missouri looms depending on the results. My belief is Gibbs will play and be the Stephen Curry-esque scorer the nation has known him to be. However, if the 2015-16 Atlantic-10 first team selection is not on the court, the weekend in “City Beautiful” will be anything but.
– P. Wesner