It's the first full week of November, and you know exactly what that means, right? Less than two weeks until Ohio State-Michigan. No, not that! College hoops is what I had in mind, and yes, the regular season finally begins this week. While it's not a great schedule of opening-week action, there are a number of key battles to keep an eye on, not to mention the early rounds of this year's 2K Sports Classic. So don't take your focus off the gridiron just yet, but also don't forget to keep an eye on the hardwood as hoops season has finally arrived!
Coaches vs Cancer Classic - Tuesday through Saturday
A field of sixteen squads will begin play in this year's 2K Sports Classic on Tuesday night, and by Saturday evening, we should have that field narrowed down to just four. Those remaining after this weekend will travel to New York City for the finals next Thursday and Friday. Texas, Michigan State, St. John's, and Maryland are the host schools and the favorites. Of the four, it appears the Terps may have the toughest road to NYC, as their four-team pool features both New Orleans (one of the Sun Belt's better teams) and Vermont (a squad with a good deal of recent success out of the America East).
Pennsylvania vs UTEP (at Syracuse) - Friday
The Quakers, featuring star guard Ibrahim Jaaber, are the odds-on favorite in the Ivy League this season, but they'll get an early neutral court test from a UTEP squad that has won 20 or more games each of the past 3 years.
UAB vs Washington State (at Milwaukee) - Friday
The Blazers are now in the post-Mike Anderson era, though the UAB faithful are just as excited about new head man Mike Davis. The Cougars are still trying to catch up with in-state foes Washington and Gonzaga at this point, meaning this is a game the Blazers should win.
Monmouth at Old Dominion - Friday
Fresh off a run to the NIT final four last March, ODU is hoping to build upon that late-season success from a year ago and make a NCAA Tournament run this spring. That effort begins with a season-opening matchup against Monmouth, one of the early favorites in the America East Conference.
George Washington at Boston U. - Friday
The Colonials were a topic of much discussion a year ago but ended the season in disappointing fashion. Though they lost a few big-time players from last year's team, expectations are still high heading into the season-opener against Boston U., a team that's made postseason appearances four of the last five years.
Eastern Washington at Gonzaga - Friday
EWU's Rodney Stuckey may be the best player in the country that you've never heard of. The Big Sky's Freshman and Player of the Year from a season ago will get his first test of the season against in-state rival Gonzaga, a squad with lower-than-usual expectations but good talent and a good coach.
Jackson State at (#7) Alabama - Friday
The Crimson Tide is thinking championships this fall, and with the likes of Ronald Steele and Jermareo Davison returning to campus, those are very realistic expectations. The season will begin with a battle against Jackson State, a squad featuring all-everything guard Trey Johnson.
Oral Roberts at Loyola Marymount - Friday
Though ORU loses a number of talented players from last year's NCAA squad, Mid-Con Player of the Year Caleb Green is back, and that alone means high goals have been set in Tulsa for the season ahead. The schedule, though, begins with a challenging road test at LMU, a squad that very nearly won the WCC last year and hopes to cash that effort in this year.
Coastal Carolina at Xavier - Saturday
These teams finished their 2005-2006 seasons in very similiar fashions, both getting hot late and winning big games down the stretch. Each hopes to ride that momentum into this winter, and this season-opening matchup will certainly be a test for both.
Hofstra at Charlotte - Saturday
After being left out of the Big Dance last season, the Pride certainly has a reason to be motivated and take care of business this year. The key to putting together an impressive resume will be winning games like this against a team like the 49ers who are looking to replace star forward Curtis Withers.
Monmouth vs Clemson (at Norfolk, VA) - Saturday
The Hawks get their second tough test of the week, this one against a Tiger team that came up just a couple wins short of earning a NCAA Tournament berth last March. This is the kind of game that will set the tone for the entire non-conference schedule for both.
Bucknell at Albany - Saturday
The Bison have been one of the best non-power conference teams in the country over the past few years, and little is expected to change this season. Albany, though, led by star guard Jamar Wilson, hopes to take a step forward this year in the America East and make a run of their own at the Big Dance.
Northern Arizona at (#3) Kansas - Saturday
Expectations, including a #3 preseason ranking in SCS.com's Fab 15, are sky-high for the Jayhawks this season. The schedule for KU will begin with a matchup against a Northern Arizona team that won the regular season Big Sky title a year ago and brings back 5 of the top 6 players from that squad.
Clemson at Old Dominion - Sunday
It's the second tough test of the weekend for both, and by the time each is done playing Sunday night, we should have a good feel for where both squads' seasons are heading.
UAB at Wisconsin-Milwaukee - Sunday
After taking on WSU on Friday, the Blazers will take on a UWM team that has made two straight NCAA Tournament appearances on Sunday. The expectations for Milwaukee aren't quite as high this season, though the Panthers do have this matchup at home. A 2-0 start would be impressive for new UAB head man Mike Davis.
(#8) Arizona at Virginia - Sunday
This may be the best matchup of the enitre opening week, as the Arizona Wildcats, ranked #8 in the SCS.com Preseason Fab 15, venture eastward to take on a Virginia squad hoping to follow star guards J.R. Reynolds and Sean Singeltary into the NCAA Tournament this March.