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Under-the-Radar ‘Bracket’ Games: Opening week

Dave2015The 2018-19 college hoops season kicks off with a pair of heavyweight matchups at the State Farm Classic in Indianapolis on Tuesday, November 6: Kansas vs. Michigan State and Kentucky vs. Duke.  There’s also the Florida vs. Florida State rivalry.  If those three don’t get your hoops’ juices flowing then, well, we’ll just leave it at that.

The reality, though, is that all six of those schools are likely to end up with solid seeds come Selection Sunday.  So let’s focus here on some Under-the-Radar (UTR) matchups of Opening Week.

Tuesday, November 6

North Carolina at Wofford –  Kudos to Tar Heel coach Roy Williams for scheduling a road game against a quality mid-major.  The Terriers return a host of talent and should challenge for the Southern Conference title.  It’s also a national TV game (ESPN 2).
Rider at UCF – Rider returns five double-digit scorers, so this isn’t a cake-walk for the Golden Knights.  They better be ready for a challenge.
Western Kentucky at Washington – Huge opportunity for Rick Stansbury’s Hilltoppers to give themselves an early resume boost.  The Huskies are a legit Pac-12 contender.
BYU at Nevada – The real opportunity here belongs to the Cougars.  Gonzaga is a heavy favorite to win the West Coast Conference, meaning BYU will likely need an at-large bid to go Dancing.  This is step one on an improved non-conference schedule.

Wednesday, November 7

Ohio State at Cincinnati – Both the Buckeyes and Bearcats are retooling a bit but this has the makings of a fun opener in the Natty.  Beyond that, there’s the whole in-state bragging-rights thing.

Friday, November 9

Wichita State vs. Providence – The Friar’s Ed Cooley and the Shockers’ Gregg Marshall are two of the game’s better coaches. Both squads are also trying to put together some new puzzle pieces.
Southern Illinois at Kentucky – The Salukis are a capable dark-horse in the Missouri Valley.  They will be overmatched physically in Lexington, but do return all five starters.  That type of experience can pay big dividends early in the season.
Buffalo at West Virginia – The Bulls knocked off Arizona in the NCAA tournament last spring and bring back the bulk of their talent.  They also get shots at Syracuse and Marquette outside the MAC.  Opportunity is knocking between now and New Year’s.
Missouri at Iowa State – The Cyclones should be back in the NCAA picture this season. Beyond that, Lindell Wigginton and Cameron Lard are a fun watch.  On the flip side, Missouri is dealing with the loss of Jontay Porter (injury).  It’ll be interesting to see how both teams come out of the gate.

Saturday, November 10

Ball State at Purdue – How will the Boilermakers fare without four mainstays from last year’s squad that notched a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament?  How will Carson Edwards handle an expanded leadership role?  Ball State brings in a veteran group that shouldn’t be discounted in the Mid-American race.
Illinois State at Belmont – Illinois State returns most of its firepower and has the goods to win a Valley title – no offense to Loyola.  The real question is whether the MVC can be a multi-bid league.  One way to get that done is to have your top schools win quality non-conference road games.  This one qualifies, even if it’s not a head-turner.

Sunday, November 11
East Tennessee State at Creighton – The Bluejays open the season with some question marks.  The Buccaneers have reloaded with junior-college transfers.  Solid opener for Greg McDermott and Company.
Vanderbilt at USC – It’s always fun to see a couple of Power 5 schools tip early.  Beyond that, either or both could end up a little bubbly on Selection Sunday.  You never know what games might end up making a difference.

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