Although it doesn't come with the pomp and circumstance of MLB's Opening Day or the anticipation of the first weekend of NFL games, college basketball(and their television partners) seem to be making an effort in recent years to put some quality games together for the opening night slate. Last year we had Kentucky/Maryland and UConn/Michigan State. The Syracuse/San Diego State aircraft carrier debacle did put a slight damper on the evening but at least the effort was there. Compare that to the opening night of games in 2011 where we had Arizona/Valparaiso, St. John's/William & Mary and Mississippi State/Eastern Kentucky. That was it. Even as a die hard college basketball fan those three games don't really move the needle (although as a die hard St. John's fan, it moved mine).
This year it looks like(on paper) that there are even more watchable games on tap for opening night. Everyone is talking about UConn/Maryland, Oregon/Georgetown and Duke/Davidson. I'm looking at three lesser talked about games that I think should be interesting watches:
-Boston College at Providence: This is an under the radar game no one is talking about. I'm very high on Providence. Brandon Austin is one of the early front runners for Big East Rookie of the Year so his suspension hurts some but this team returns the Kadeem Betts, LaDontae Henton, Kris Dunn and leading scorer Bryce Cotton. And once they get Austin back, that's a formidable starting five. I haven't seen them picked higher than 6th in the Big East. It wouldn't shock me at all if they finish in the top half of the conference. Boston College has a chance to be sneaky good too. Oliver Hanlan, Ryan Anderson and Joe Rahon are three solid options. BC has a good chance to finish in the middle of the pack in the ACC which will classify as a pretty good season going forward in that mega conference. I think we are looking at two teams here that, at worst case, on the NCAA Tournament bubble come march.
-St. John's vs. Wisconsin: I have no questions about Bo Ryan's ability to coach defense but I am curious as to how defensive oriented teams like Wisconsin handle the new rule changes. Win or lose this game, Wisconsin will be in the tournament and towards the top of the Big 10. This is a big game for St. John's and the new Big East. As much as Steve Lavin is trying to keep the expectations lowered, this is an immensely athletic roster which should make the NCAA Tournament. An early season win against a Big 10 power would be a nice statement for the Big East and St. John's.
-Florida Gulf Coast at Nebraska: I know, I know. Nebraska has been widely considered the worst team in the Big 10 during the preseason but if you're a college basketball fan and got swept up in Dunk City last March, don't you want to see if Joe Cooley keeps these guys playing with the same style and fearlessness? Don't you want to see Brett Comer throwing lobs to Chase Fieler? Aren't you curious to see what the transfers from high majors, Jamail Jones(Marquette) and Nate Hicks(Georgia Tech), add to the team?
-Buffalo at Texas A&M: The start of the Bobby Hurley era at UB.