College Basketball: Most Lopsided Matchups in the First Month of the Season
Believe it or not, the college basketball season is only about a month away.
Most of the season previews you'll read in the coming weeks will probably revolve around postseason predictions, All-American players and even the best early season tournaments.
Well, this preview is a bit more sadistic.
Every year the November and December college hoops slate is filled with games that make fans cringe. After all, the heavyweight programs need to get fat somehow, and one way to do so is by feeding on smaller schools that willingly accept a paycheck to line up for the slaughter.
Here are some of the most lopsided matchups in the first month of the 2012-13 season.
Indiana vs. Bryant (November 9)
Indiana has gotten nothing but love this offseason and for good reason.
The Hoosiers return almost all of their contributors from last year’s Sweet 16 team, including Cody Zeller, Christian Watford and Victor Oladipo. Sporting News recently ranked Indiana No. 1 in its preseason top 25.
With all that hype during the summer, you can bet Tom Crean will make sure the Hoosiers are ready to play from day one, especially considering the fact that the first game is in front of their home fans.
Well, those fans will enjoy this one.
Bryant was an abysmal 2-28 last season, finishing the season with a 15 game losing streak. To make matters worse, the Bulldogs were 1-17 in the Northeast Conference, which isn’t exactly as imposing as Indiana’s Big Ten.
Bryant finished last season ranked 294th in points per game, 297th in rebounds per game and 311th in field-goal percentage. Bryant's struggle to rebound highlights the field day that Zeller will have on the inside against the Bulldogs.
Indiana probably won’t run the table despite its early status as top team in the nation, but game one will be nothing to worry about.
North Carolina vs. Gardner Webb (November 9)
On the same night that Indiana will be obliterating Bryant, North Carolina will be doing the same to Gardner Webb.
Gardner Webb isn’t exactly terrible, at least in comparison to some of the other sacrificial lambs on this list (the Runnin’ Bulldogs were 12-20 last year), yet I expect the Tar Heels to start the season with a textbook-sized chip on their shoulder.
Whenever North Carolina was mentioned this offseason, it was almost always concerning the academic fraud scandal that surrounded its football and, to a lesser extent, basketball program.
My guess is that the North Carolina coaches and players are tired of hearing about and answering questions regarding the scandal, and just want to play basketball.
Someone is going to be the target of all that frustration, and it looks like that target will be Gardner Webb.
Louisville vs. Samford (November 15)
While the reasons may be different from North Carolina, it’s safe to say that Louisville is itching to get back on the basketball court.
No doubt the Cardinals were frustrated this offseason by the bad taste left in their mouth after losing in the Final Four to in-state rival Kentucky. A Final Four loss is bad enough on its own, but the Cardinals and their fans probably had to hear about it all summer from their next-door neighbors in blue.
Peyton Siva, Gorgui Dieng and Wayne Blackshear could form one of the nation’s best cores, and Louisville (who was ranked No. 2 by Sporting News) has to be considered the Big East favorite heading into the season.
Anytime a Big East favorite matches up against a middle of the road team from the Southern Conference, the result often isn’t pretty. Samford finished with a 11-19 record in 2011-12 and will certainly have to take an early loss in this game.
Kentucky vs. Lafayette (November 16)
There was no way the defending champions weren’t making this list somehow, right?
Sure, Kentucky lost more talent in last year’s NBA draft than some programs have had in their entire history, but no one is betting against John Calipari’s ability to instantly reload.
Despite the fact that the series with Indiana was put on hiatus, the Wildcats still have a formidable nonconference schedule. Games against Maryland, Duke, Baylor and Notre Dame loom before the start of SEC play.
But one nonconference game that won't be much of a challenge: the Wildcats’ November 16 tilt with Lafayette.
The Leopards finished 13-18 last season as a member of the Patriot League, but more concerning is the fact that they ranked 333rd in rebounding per game.
There may not be a safer call in all of college basketball this season than predicting that Kentucky will take advantage of Lafayette’s weakness down low, early and often.
Ohio State vs. UMKC (November 23)
As mentioned before, Sporting News recently released its preseason top 25 list, and the Buckeyes got a lot of love at the No. 3 spot.
But this ranking is certainly not without warrant.
Aaron Craft is perhaps the nation’s best defender, and Deshaun Thomas has All-American potential based on his offense alone.
The Buckeyes will be tested plenty of times in the nonconference portion of their schedule by the likes of Marquette, Duke, Long Beach State, Washington and Kansas.
They will not be tested on November 23, however. Ohio State’s Thanksgiving dessert will come in the cupcake form of the University of Missouri-Kansas City Kangaroos. UMKC finished an awful 4-14 in Summit conference play last year and will surely take its fair share of nonconference lumps in 2012-13 (the Kangaroos also play Louisville, Kansas State and Seton Hall).
UMKC ranked 340th in rebounding last season, so expect Amir Williams (Jared Sullinger’s replacement) to pitch a tent and set up camp inside the lane for this one.
Kansas vs. San Jose State (November 26)
Kansas lost a significant amount of talent from last season’s Final Four team, including Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor.
Nevertheless, it’s still Kansas, and head coach Bill Self, who has won eight straight Big 12 regular season championships. Departed players just means it’s time to reload.
Center Jeff Withey is one of the best defensive big men in the country, while Ben McLemore and Elijah Johnson have the ability to become go-to scorers.
On the other hand, San Jose State doesn’t exactly reload every year. The Trojans finished a frightening 1-13 in the WAC last season and finished 9-22 overall. They weren’t particularly good at anything, but they truly struggled putting the ball in the basket, finishing 327th in field-goal percentage.
If San Jose State struggled to make shots against WAC competition, I wish them the best of luck trying to find the bottom of the net over the outstretched arms of Withey.
Arizona vs. Northern Arizona (November 28)
Many experts believe that the Pac-12 will be a two team race between UCLA and Arizona.
The Wildcats are incredibly deep and Sean Miller has racked up another terrific recruiting class for 2012. The addition of Mark Lyons (who transferred from Xavier) gave the ex-Musketeer coach a solid point guard, which was the one position that truly needed improvement.
Arizona may drop a few games here and there, especially if the Wildcats look ahead to conference showdowns with the Bruins. However, if somebody sneaks up on Arizona and knocks them off, it will not be Northern Arizona.
The Lumberjacks were one of the worst teams in the entire country last year. They couldn’t score (287th in points per game), rebound (270th in rebounds per game) or make shots (294th in field-goal percentage), which led to a 5-24 overall record, 1-15 in Big Sky play.
As much as I wanted to make a “timber” pun here with the Lumberjacks falling, I’ll resist and simply say Arizona will steamroll Northern Arizona on November 28.
UCLA vs. Cal State Northridge (November 29)
If UCLA can avoid eligibility problems with its star-studded recruiting class, it could be in for a special season.
The Bruins high expectations are largely due to freshmen Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson and Tony Parker. This team should be able to score, defend and rebound with anyone in the country, especially in a Pac-12 that is somewhat weak outside of Arizona.
But if you think UCLA will have a sizable advantage over most of its conference counterparts, wait until the Bruins play Cal State Northridge on November 29.
Cal State Northridge finished 3-13 in the Big West conference last year, largely due to its .384 shooting percentage. If the Matadors shoot like that against the Bruins, this one could get out of hand before the fans have even settled in their seats.