CANMORE, Alta. — Waking up on Friday morning will be just like Christmas morning for college basketball fanatics everywhere.
The 2017-18 season gets underway at 10:30am ET, as the Eastern Michigan Eagles take on Spring Arbor in the first game of the season. There’s a full slate of games on Friday that is sure to please everyone. The vast majority of programs are in action throughout the day, and there are some must-see games on tap.
Like this guide mentions, mismatches take place each and every day on the hardwood. Many look at the match-ups and pick a winner based on the prestige of the schools alone. That could very well happen again this week, and most times, people would be right.
However, here are three games to keep an eye on during Friday’s action-packed slate, as the result could go in favour of the visitors when all is said and done.
Opponent: Northern Colorado Bears
With a down year expected for Colorado, and a Northern Colorado team that’s on the rise in the Big Sky Conference in 2017-18, all signs point to the Bears coming away with a big win over one of their instate rivals.
Colorado will be without three of their top four scorers from a season ago, with the only returnee being guard George King. Now, King is no slouch, as he put up 11.1 points and a team-high 6.8 rebounds per game as a junior last season. But, replacing three of their top four guys is no easy task.
The Buffaloes will need a big year from the likes of Dominique Collier and Tory Miller-Stewart, among others. Both Collier and Miller-Stewart will take on expanded roles in 2017-18, and they will need to seize their opportunities early on to help Colorado find their groove.
Unfortunately for the Buffaloes, their season opener isn’t a walk in the park. Northern Colorado boasts arguably the top back court in the Big Sky Conference, headlined by Big Sky Player of the Year candidate in Jordan Davis. Last season, Davis posted a team-high 19.3 points and 5.6 assists per game, while shooting 49.0% from the field.
While the team will be without DJ Miles, who finished second on the team in scoring last season, sophomore guard Jonah Radebaugh looks more than ready to step into Miles’ role and become a nice complimentary scoring option to Davis. Add in the return of Chaz Glotta (11.3ppg, 2.1 rpg), and it’s easy to see why the Bears’ back court is held in such high regard coming into the season.
Opponent: Yale Bulldogs
The Creighton Bluejays have their fair share of talent on their roster, but they will be tasked with replacing two of their biggest contributors from a season ago, in point guard Maurice Watson, Jr. and big man Justin Patton.
Watson only played 19 games last season before a season-ending injury, but the Bluejays were a completely different team with him in the lineup. Creighton was 18-1 in games that Watson played, and they looked like the team that would knock off the Villanova Wildcats atop the Big East. Then, after Watson got injured, the Bluejays went 7-8 the rest of the way, and were bounced in the First Round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament by the 11-seed Rhode Island Rams.
However, Creighton does return a formidable duo, in guards Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas. Foster should be among the top scoring guards in the Big East as a senior, while Thomas will look to take another step towards becoming a star for the Bluejays. A thin front court could pose a few problems going forwards for Creighton.
For the Bulldogs, a healthy Makai Mason makes his return to the lineup, and immediately pushes Yale towards the top of the Ivy League standings. After missing all of last season to a foot injury, Mason will look to make up for lost time before he transfers to the Baylor Bears at year’s end.
The secret weapon for the Bulldogs this season could very well be the play of junior guard Alex Copeland. As a sophomore last season, he finished tied for the team lead with 12.9 points per game, up from 2.3ppg as a freshman. The trio of Mason, Copeland, and Miye Oni make Yale one of the favourites in the Ivy League this season, and could lead the Bulldogs to a road upset over Creighton in an on-campus game in association with the Hall of Fame Classic.
Penn State Nittany Lions
Opponent: Campbell Fighting Camels
Before the 2016-17 season tipped off, we tabbed the Nittany Lions as one of the three power conference teams to fall on opening night. They had just implemented a new system, and were taking on a talented Albany Great Danes‘ team. In the end, Penn State came up short in their first game of the season, and that could very well happen for a second year in a row.
The Nittany Lions are a more talented team than they were a season ago. Guard Tony Carr is among the Big Ten’s best players, regardless of position, and there’s more positive buzz around the program this season. Sophomore forward Mike Watkins is one of the nation’s premier shot blockers and defenders, and Penn State fans should see another big year from him.
Penn State is a talented team, but they’re young, as they have nine players who are either freshmen or sophomores on their roster. Senior guard Shep Garner will look to help guide the Nittany Lions, who are only going to get better over the next couple of seasons.
On the other side, Campbell boasts the top returning scorer in terms of guards in the NCAA. Chris Clemons put up 25.1 points per game as a sophomore, which was tied with Mike Daum for second in the nation. Clemons is known as one of the most athletic guards in the country, despite coming in at 5’9”, and he can score in bunches.
Clemons put together 29 games with 20 or more points, with an impressive 51 points against the UNC Asheville Bulldogs in the Big South Tournament.
Add in forward Andrew Eudy, who is one of the more underrated defenders in the Big South, and fellow forward Shane Whitfield, and the Fighting Camels have a talented roster that will look to build off their CIT appearance last season. A win over Penn State on opening night would do wonders for their confidence moving forwards.
Five more upsets to keep an eye on
Samford Bulldogs @ Arkansas Razorbacks
Cornell Big Red @ Syracuse Orange
South Carolina Gamecocks @ Wofford Terriers
Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns @ Ole Miss Rebels
Mercer Bears @ UCF Knights
– T. Bennett