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Inside the Bracket: Week 1 Games to Watch

Welcome to Bracketville

It’s time to start tracking results: the regular season begins.

The matchup between North Carolina and Michigan State is certainly Week 1′s primo event.  The Tar Heels open the season ranked No. 1 and are among the favorites to reach the Final Four in New Orleans.  Michigan State has some new faces but also the talent to contend for a top four spot in the Big Ten.  Both UNC and MSU open the year in our Preseason Power 24.  Add in the date (11-11-11), the backdrop (aircraft carrier), and two of the nation’s best coaches (Roy Williams, Tom Izzo), and we have a March-ish game in November.  See Schedule  for more games.

Here are some other Week 1 Games to Watch:

Akron @ Mississippi State (Wed | November 9) – Akron is a contender to win the Mid-American crown (Kent State, Western Michigan are others).  The Zips made the NCAA field in 2011 as an automatic qualifier, but will need good showings - and wins – in non-conference games for strong at-large consideration.  Akron is led by 7-0 center Zeke Marshall and forward Nikola Cvetinovic.  Marshall had 9 blocked shots in last year’s MAC title game.  At Mississippi State, coach Rick Stansbury hopes on and off-court troubles are behind the Bulldogs.  With Dee Bost and Renardo Sidney eligible for a full season, MSU has its sights on the SEC West and an NCAA bid.  Other potential contributors for MSU include UTEP tranfer Arnett Moultrie and star recruit Rodney Hood. 

Belmont @ Duke  (Friday | November 11) - This compelling matchup follows the UNC-MSU game.  Belmont raced through the Atlantic Sun en route to a 30-5 record and NCAA bid last season.  The Bruins return most of their key pieces including Mick Hedgepath, Scott Saunders, and Ian Clark.  Belmont faces Memphis on November 15, so two early chances await.  While winning either game isn’t crucial, keeping the games manageable will be. Other than Marshall, the remaining Bruins’ schedule likely won’t provide much of a boost to their at-large profile.

Oral Roberts @ West Virginia (Friday | November 11) – While certainly not alone, West Virginia has plenty of questions entering the 2011-2012 season.  Bob Huggins has a way of getting the most out of his players, however - one reason why WVU was one of the final teams selected in our Preseason 2012 NCAA Bracket Projection. Darryl “Truck” Bryant is the Mountaineers’ top returner, along with Deniz Kilicli.  Oral Roberts will battle Oakland for the Summit League title and returns a host of starters including Dominique Morrison.

BYU @ Utah State (Friday, November 11) – How will BYU react to life after Jimmer Fredette?  That – and a move to the West Coast Conference – are key questions for the Cougars entering their 2012 campaign.  It’s also worth noting that BYU will miss former starters Jackson Emery and Kyle Collinsworth.  Noah Hartsock is back and UCLA transfer Matt Carlino becomes available in December.  Brandon Davies has been reinstated, which is another boost for coach Dave Rose.  If the Cougars need an at-large bid in March, winning a game at WAC favorite Utah State will certainly look good on a resume.

Washington State @ Gonzaga (Sunday, November 13) – Coach Mark Few and the ‘Zags are looking for a 14th straight NCAA Tournament bid as favorites of the West Coast Conference.  Top returners for Gonzaga include Elias Harris, Marquise Carter and Robert Sacre.  Incoming talent includes guard Gary Bell.  While Washington State isn’t among the top Pac-12 teams entering the season, this is a rivalry game.  As usual, Gonzaga’s non-conference schedule is loaded: Notre Dame, Illinois, Xavier, Butler, Michigan State, and Arizona are among the challenges.

It’s also a big opening week for Northern Iowa (Missouri Valley).  The Panthers play at Old Dominion and St. Mary’s in back-to-back contests – the latter at 2:00 a.m. as part of the 24-hour tip-off marathon.  UNI isn’t favored in the competitive Missouri Valley, but has a big chance early to make some non-conference noise.  ODU (Colonial) and St. Mary’s (West Coast) are both potential at-large teams, so these are big games for everyone involved.

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