5 Best Games of College Basketball's Opening Day
In terms of opening days, college basketball’s doesn’t exactly turn heads like other sports.
There is something magical about opening day of baseball (perhaps it brings us back to the days of our youth, when we were pulled out of school early to go to that first game), and the start of college or pro football is memorable because it signifies the end of summer.
Give college hoops some credit though. Midnight Madness celebrations across the country are special events that give the fans an early glimpse of their teams. But this event happens about a month before the season.
The lack of a headline-grabbing first night in years past is partially responsible for the games aboard aircraft carriers that seem to be here to stay for the foreseeable future.
Perhaps the best news that comes from these games is the marquee matchups that fans aren’t used to seeing early in the season.
Read on to see the five best games of college basketball’s opening day (Nov. 9) of the 2012-13 season.
Ohio State vs. Marquette
Ohio State and Marquette are two teams that will kick off their seasons aboard a ship—specifically, the Buckeyes and Golden Eagles will be playing each other in the Carrier Classic aboard the USS Yorktown.
A showdown between a team coming off of a trip to the Final Four and a perennial Big East contender is not something fans are used to seeing on opening night.
The game will also feature a handful of players that fans aren’t used to seeing, either.
Ohio State lost William Buford and two-time All-American Jared Sullinger, while Marquette lost last season’s Big East Player of the Year Jae Crowder and its leading scorer Darius Johnson-Odom.
Thad Matta and the Buckeyes probably have a bit more left over in the cupboard than the Eagles based on past recruiting classes (Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas), but it should be a tightly contested game, and may come down to which team can count on its new go-to scorers at the end.
Michigan State vs. Connecticut
A game against Michigan State won’t exactly be the easiest way for Connecticut to begin the post-Jim Calhoun era.
In a typical season opener, the biggest news from this game would be the fact that it’s a showdown between the Spartans and Huskies. After all, this seems like a matchup that is typically reserved for a late March weekend.
But this game will take place in the Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
And you thought teams that play an early tournament in Hawaii suffer from jet-lag.
Michigan State, behind returning players Keith Appling, Adreian Payne, Derrick Nix and 5-star freshman Garry Harris, is probably the stronger roster heading into this game. But you know what they say about games that are played on the other half of the planet rather than either team’s campus—anything can happen.
What’s more, Michigan State plays Kansas in its next game in Atlanta, Georgia. Hopefully, the Spartans’ student athletes can get some studying done while they are shipped to various corners of the globe.
Syracuse vs. San Diego State
The matchups between powerhouse programs and talented teams from non-power conferences are always some of the most intriguing early season games.
This one pits the Syracuse Orange against the San Diego State Aztecs in what should be a closer contest than it may appear at first glance.
Syracuse is ranked No. 7 in Sporting News’ preseason Top 25, while the Aztecs sit in the 19 position.
Jamaal Franklin may be the best player on the court for this one, and he plays for San Diego State.
In a perfect world, Franklin will play the same talented leader role that Kawhi Leonard did during the Aztecs’ impressive 34-3 run during the 2010-11 campaign.
As for the Orange, there is a noticeable amount of talent missing from last year’s Elite Eight team, but an impressive recruiting class and the guidance of Jim Boeheim should help them compete in the Big East once again.
Whoever comes out on top will end up with a marquee win on their resume come March.
Florida vs. Georgetown
Florida and Georgetown will also be playing aboard a ship in their contest.
The Gators and Hoyas are slated to kick off their respective seasons on the USS Bataan in Jacksonville, Florida.
Georgetown finds itself in the unfamiliar position of being unranked in Sporting News’ preseason Top 25, but the Gators are sitting pretty in the 16 slot.
But Billy Donovan is not without his own problems.
The Gators lost Bradley Beal and Erving Walker and will be counting on the talented Kenny Boynton and big man Patric Young to pick up the significant loss of production.
Still, if the past is any indication, Florida will find itself with a formidable seed come March Madness and will be a difficult out for any opponent.
Georgetown hopes it can say the same.
Maryland vs. Kentucky
How many teams can lose basically its entire roster of contributors and still be considered a Top 5 squad before the next season starts?
Welcome to the world of John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats, where one-and-done stars rack up the collegiate wins before they rack up the dollars at the NBA level.
Unfortunately for Maryland, this may be a marquee matchup in name only.
Maryland isn’t quite what it was during its heyday, and Kentucky has basically assumed the role of bully on the college basketball block (even if Indiana will probably be the top-ranked team when the official polls are released).
Nerlens Noel will play the part of defensive stopper in the paint this season for Calipari’s squad, a position that Anthony Davis so effectively filled last year. Something tells me he will be up for the challenge.
Maybe the Terrapins can use the recent loss of the Harrison twins to Kentucky as motivation for this one.
Because they are going to need it.
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