|Maryland is the first test on the schedule for Kentucky as the Wildcats look to repeat their title. (espn.com)|
It's finally here. College basketball season is at our fingertips, with just four more months before March Madness. There's no easing into it either. Tough matchups are awaiting ranked teams from the start, and with a multitude of games to watch and only so many TVs in your house, here are five games (and two who nearly missed the cut) to watch this opening weekend. All times are eastern.
Maryland vs. No. 3 Kentucky - 8:30 p.m. Friday ESPN
Kentucky is the defending national champion, although most of that team isn't around to defend the title. New faces are running the show, and this is the country's first look at a Calipari team without a "can they win a title this way" question surrounding it. The Wildcats might not breeze through the season as easily as last year - that was a special team - but they will still be very talented and win a lot of games. The Cats' first test is against a Maryland squad that is on the way up. Coach Mark Turgeon's squad got some great news this week regarding transfer Dez Wells, which is a huge lift for the Terps. Maryland will give Kentucky their best shot to see what the Cats have so early in the season.
Marquette vs. No. 4 Ohio State - 7 p.m. Friday NBC Sports Network
The big names are gone for both teams as they try to find new identities. It might be easier for Ohio State, as even though the Jared Sullinger and William Buford era is over in Columbus, the Buckeyes still have plenty of firepower. Deshaun Thomas will pick up some of the scoring and the defense will always be strong as long as Aaron Craft is on the court. The Golden Eagles are looking for people to step up after losing their top two leading scorers, Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder. It will be interesting to see which team's role players step up early, as it could be a good sign for growth throughout the season.
No. 10 Florida vs. Georgetown - 9 p.m. Friday NBC Sports Network
Florida - along with Missouri - has been many people's best bet to compete with Kentucky for the SEC crown without star guard Bradley Beal. Kenny Boyton should have an excellent year, starting with this game against a young Georgetown team without any seniors and with little experience. But both the Hoyas and Gators will be wearing camo jerseys and playing on an aircraft carrier in honor of Veteran's Day, so that's worth checking out in itself. The Gators should walk away victorious, but a program like Georgetown is never truly down and will put up a fight.
Bryant University at No. 1 Indiana - 8 p.m. Friday Big Ten Network
The state of Indiana has been waiting for this game for months. The hype is as strong as the expectations are for the No. 1 team in the country. This should be an easy win for the Hoosiers, but it will still be fun to see everyone's preseason pick for Player of the Year in Cody Zeller and the rest of the team in action. Let's not forget how low the program was after the Kelvin Sampson sanctions a few years ago. Tom Crean has done a great job revitalizing the program, and now is the time to see how far the team can climb.
No. 9 Syracuse vs. No. 20 San Diego State - 4 p.m. Sunday
This is probably the most evenly matched game of the weekend. The game was pushed back to Sunday afternoon due to rain on Friday on the aircraft carrier in San Diego, so now more of the country will be able to watch with fewer games to chose from on Sunday. The Orange were a National Championship contender last season, blowing through the Big East. That's the goal again this season (as it always is in Syracuse), although the talent might not be as strong as last season. And don't sleep on what Steve Fisher is doing at SDSU. They may not play in a power conference, but they have the skill and discipline to compete with Jim Boeheim's squad. We'll be seeing both of these teams in the NCAA Tournament in March.
Indiana State at No. 13 UCLA - 11 p.m. Friday Fox Sports Net
Talented freshman Kyle Anderson has been cleared to play for UCLA, but the Bruins are still waiting on word of fellow frosh Shabazz Muhammad's eligibility. It's been a dark couple of years for this storied program, but this highly recruited and highly praised freshman class could give UCLA instant success. They've all come in with plenty of hype, now it's time to watch what they can do at the college level.
No. 14 Michigan State vs. UCONN - 5:30 p.m. Friday ESPN
The Jim Calhoun tenure is over at UCONN, so now we get to see what Calhoun's protege Kevin Ollie can do. Even with Shabazz Napier, it will probably be a rough first season for the Huskies. On the other side, Michigan State is without Draymond Green, a Player of the Year candidate last season, but will always be skilled and well coached under Tom Izzo. The Spartans will turn around and face No. 7 Kansas on Tuesday, but they better not look too far ahead of the Huskies.
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