GAME OF THE DAY: Pittsburgh vs. No. 9 Gonzaga, 10:00 p.m. (ESPN)
The Panthers and Bulldogs made the long trek to Okinawa for their season opener, and it should be an interesting game between the two. Pittsburgh is looking to return to the NCAA tournament after narrowly missing out last season, with point guard James Robinson and forwards Jamel Artis and Michael Young leading the way. As for Gonzaga, Mark Few has one of the top front courts in the country at his disposal featuring Kyle Wiltjer, Przemek Karnowski and Domas Sabonis (who took a hard fall in their exhibition last weekend). The question for Gonzaga: how well will a backcourt hit hard by departures perform? We’ll get your first piece of evidence Friday night.
THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: No. 1 North Carolina vs. Temple, 7:00 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)
The Tar Heels enter the season as one of the favorites to win the national title, and they’ll be without their best player for the next couple weeks. Marcus Paige is out with a broken bone in his non-shooting hand, which means other perimeter options will be needed to step forward as distributors and perimeter shooters. Joel Berry II, Justin Jackson and Theo Pinson are three of the perimeter players to keep an eye on for the Tar Heels, who face a Temple squad that has to account for the graduation of point guard Will Cummings. The Owls are hoping to reach the NCAA tournament after missing out in each of the last two seasons, and a good showing in Annapolis could help Jaylen Bond and company in that quest.
WHO’S ON UPSET ALERT: Auburn -2 (vs. UAB, 9:30 p.m. SEC Network)
While there’s heightened optimism on The Plains thanks to the arrival of a talented recruiting class, and rightfully so, this is a dangerous opener to Bruce Pearl’s second season at Auburn. UAB returns all five starters from a team that won the Conference USA tournament title and upset Iowa State in the NCAA tournament, including forward William Lee and guard Robert Brown. The question for UAB is how they’ll match up with Auburn’s rugged power forward Cinmeon Bowers, who averaged 12.1 points and 9.6 rebounds per game as a junior. Look for this to be one of the better games of the day.
SIX THINGS TO WATCH FOR:
1. Shaka Smart makes his debut as head coach at Texas and he’ll do so in Shanghai, with the Longhorns taking on a very young Washington team. Led by guard Isaiah Taylor, Texas returns four starters and added a talented recruiting class that includes Tevin Mack and Kerwin Roach.
2. There’s a lot of optimism in Milwaukee as Marquette’s talented freshman class led by Henry Ellenson opens up regular season play. However, they better be careful with a Belmont team that has plenty of experience and is the preseason pick to win the OVC. Senior guard Craig Bradshaw leads the way for Rick Byrd’s Bruins, who are tough to slow down on the offensive end of the floor.
3. The Mountain West will be involved in some intriguing opening night match-ups Friday night. Preseason favorite San Diego State hosts a dangerous Illinois State team, with another contender in Boise State visiting one of the preseason favorites in the Big Sky in Montana. And then there’s the battle of possible league dark horses, as Fresno State hosts an experienced Pepperdine squad.
4. Steve Prohm leads No. 7 Iowa State up against Colorado in Sioux Falls in his first regular season game as head coach. The Cyclones are expected to be contenders both in the Big 12 and nationally thanks to the return of players such as Georges Niang and Monté Morris. They’ll face a Colorado team that has a lot of questions to answer, but they’re anchored by one of the better post players around in senior Josh Scott.
5. Defending national champion No. 5 Duke opens its regular season with a home game against Siena. Mike Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils added a highly regarded freshman class to some solid returnees, including sophomore guard Grayson Allen who’s expected by many to break out this season.
6. No. 22 Baylor has a difficult season opener to deal with, as they’ll host Stephen F. Austin in Waco. Brad Underwood’s Lumberjacks have reached the NCAA tournament in each of the last two seasons, and this experienced group led by senior forward Thomas Walkup will not back down from this challenge. Baylor boasts one of the nation’s best front courts led by seniors Rico Gathers Sr. and Taurean Waller-Prince.
TOP 25 SCHEDULE
- Colorado vs. No. 7 Iowa State, 5:00 p.m. (ESPN2)
- Pittsburgh vs. No. 9 Gonzaga, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN)
- North Carolina A&T at No. 23 Purdue, 7:00 p.m.
- Albany at No. 2 Kentucky, 7:00 p.m. (SEC Network)
- No. 1 North Carolina vs. Temple, 7:00 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)
- Siena at No. 5 Duke, 7:00 p.m. (ESPNU)
- Mount St. Mary’s at No. 3 Maryland, 7:00 p.m. (Big Ten Network)
- Morgan State at No. 6 Virginia, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
- Northern Michigan at No. 25 Michigan, 7:00 p.m.
- Eastern Illinois at No. 15 Indiana, 7:00 p.m.
- Florida Atlantic at No. 13 Michigan State, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
- Fairleigh Dickinson at No. 11 Villanova, 7:00 p.m.
- Maine at No. 20 Connecticut, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN3)
- Saint Francis (PA) at No. 19 Notre Dame, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN3)
- Northern Colorado at No. 4 Kansas, 8:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
- Charleston Southern at No. 10 Wichita State, 8:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
- Austin Peay at No. 18 Vanderbilt, 8:00 p.m. (SEC Network)
- McNeese State at No. 21 LSU, 9:00 p.m. (SEC Network)
- Western Illinois at No. 17 Wisconsin, 9:00 p.m. (Big Ten Network)
- Pacific at No. 12 Arizona, 9:30 p.m. (Pac-12 Network)
- Stephen F. Austin at No. 22 Baylor, 9:30 p.m.
- Southern Utah at No. 16 Utah, 10:30 p.m. (Pac-12 Network)
- Rice at No. 14 California, 11:30 p.m. (Pac-12 Network)