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 matchups 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. Beware the Ides of March
Wagner over Connecticut. Chattanooga over Tennessee. Albany over Penn State. Nicholls State over Boston College.
Upsets were on display Friday as power conference teams were defeated on their home court. None of the previous lost by only a single possession and all trailed at halftime. No true college basketball fan should be surprised by the victorious mid-majors; three out of four finished first or second in their respective conference last year.
For Boston College, losing to Nicholls State takes the prize for most embarrassing loss to start the season. Though, a new culture is forming for the Colonels, starting with former Clemson assistant Richie Riley taking the helm.
Also, having a star like graduate transfer DeAndre Harris (North Texas) does not hurt. All in all, with the upsets starting day one, March Madness has the potential to be dominated by mid-majors. Who knows, perhaps the Final Four will be crashed as in 2011.
2. Wagner flying high
The Wagner Seahawks were one of the most talented teams to NOT make the NCAA Tournament in 2016.
They ran the NEC with authority before losing to Fairleigh Dickinson in the conference tournament championship. Then, the NIT extended their season and they upset 1st ranked St. Bonaventure in the first round.
This season, Wagner returns four of their top five scorers and, with their scoring balance, they made UConn the first ranked team to fall victim to an unranked opponent.
While Mike Aaman and Romone Saunders led the offense with 15 points and Corey Henson chipped in 10, defense proved to be the defining factor. In the second half, the defensive intensity was taken to a new height, resulting in the Huskies shooting just 26.7% from the field.
Could Wagner be this year’s Monmouth? Wait and see because on December 6, Justin Robinson and the Monmouth Hawks travel to Wagner for a non-conference showdown. Defense will again be key to stopping Robinson and the high-octane Monmouth offense (and bench mob)
3. Dejá Vu: Chattanooga rolls over another power conference foe
Many college basketball analysts stated if Chattanooga defeats Tennessee, it isn’t an upset.
They are right.
The Mocs are one of the biggest mid-major threats in college basketball. The 2015-16 Southern Conference champions return their top three scorers, who combined for 54 points on Friday. To further the conversation, there may not be a forward/center combination better than Justin Tuoyo and Tre’ McLean. In Knoxville, both posted double-doubles with Tuoyo having 22 points and 11 rebounds while McLean recorded 21 points and 10 rebounds.
Hence, teams are not only occupied guarding them on defense but keeping the offensive and defensive glass free of their reign. Last season, Chattanooga won on the road versus Georgia, Illinois, and Dayton over the span of a month. Over the next 34 days, meetings with #6 North Carolina (today) and Vanderbilt are a part of the non-conference schedule.
4. Texas-Arlington edges Texas Southern in Texas-sized showdown
Too often, the Baylor Bears, Texas Longhorns, and Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks steal the spotlight of college basketball within the state.
However, on Saturday, two conference favorites went head-to-head in a contest that surpassed expectations. UT-Arlington, the preseason favorite in the Sun Belt, and Texas Southern, the preseason favorite in the SWAC, took the court in what was by far the best matchup of the day.
While the Mavericks won in an action-packed 89-82 contest, a surprise came in the teams’ respective stars, UT-Arlington’s Kevin Hervey and Texas Southern’s Derrick Griffin, not scoring more than 27 points combined.
Mavericks senior Jalen Jones led his team with 23 points while redshirt junior Zach Lofton dropped a game-high 35. While the depth of UT-Arlington is no surprise, considering they return five starters, the more help Texas Southern’s Griffin receives, the further the Tigers go.
– P. Wesner