Hey, it's college basketball's opening night. Sort of! Woo!
OK, so Monday was the first night of actual games. And next week's ESPN Tip-Off Marathon (wherein, yes, I will be liveblogging for 25 hours straight; I hope to see you there) feels like the official beginning of the college hoops season. But tonight is the first real night of college hoops, the first time just about everyone in Division-I laces up the sneakers, puts on the slightly tweaked uniforms, and gets to the business of real, actual basketball. It's a good night.
Unfortunately, as is often the case when most teams are playing for the first time, there aren't many marquee matchups to speak of Friday night. Everyone's playing, and that's nice, but few of these games are going to keep you out of the bar tonight. (Or put you in it, depending on the bar.) It's a lineup almost entirely composed of good teams playing bad teams, and bad teams playing bad teams, and sorry, but it's just true. Not that I'm complaining, of course. College basketball, dude. At this point, as long as they're keeping score, I'll curl up with the laptop and settle in with the Great West. The offseason is too long to turn your nose up now.
The good news? There are a handful of intriguing games this evening and at least three legitimately good ones to keep an eye on. (And yes, starting next week, we'll be doing this nightly preview thing every day, just like last season.) They are as follows:
No. 21 Georgetown at Old Dominion, 7 p.m. EST, not televised: Some will argue that Temple-Seton Hall is a bigger game, and that's not unreasonable. But it's fair to say this is going to be the most intriguing -- and perhaps most important -- game on the docket tonight. Georgetown faces one of two Colonial favorites in Old Dominion, one of the best defensive teams in the country last season. ODU is in the process of adjusting to the loss of star forward Gerald Lee, and will be relying on the ongoing offensive development of guard Kent Bazemore; Georgetown is adjusting to the loss of star forward Greg Monroe, and will be relying on the ability of its now guard-heavy attack (Austin Freeman, Chris Wright) to carry the team much for much of the season. Also of interest is pace: John Thompson III is usually loathe to play up-tempo (though the Hoyas played slightly faster in 2009-10), while ODU was one of the slowest teams in the country last season. Expect a defensive, down-tempo grinder of a game, expect the Constant Convocation Center to be insane, and expect the result to reverberate for weeks and months to come. Mid-majors like Old Dominion don't get many chances to play big-time opponents like Georgetown at home. What a win or loss will say about each team means NCAA tournament ramifications -- even on Nov. 12 -- are already in play.
Seton Hall at No. 22 Temple, 7 p.m. EST: It's a bit of bummer that the two best games of the night aren't available on either TV or the web, because were you to tune in here, what you'd see would be very revealing, particularly in the case of Seton Hall. The Pirates are many observers' Big East dark horse thanks to the return of every major contributor from last year's talented but inconsistent team. The Pirates are also a dark horse because no one really knows what to expect. Is Herb Pope fully healthy? Will Seton Hall's talent emerge from the post-Bobby Gonzalez mess with better focus under Kevin Willard? Or is this basically the same team as in 2009-10? If Seton Hall manages to pull off a win over A-10 favorite Temple on the road, sit back and watch enthusiasm for the Pirates skyrocket.
Northern Iowa at No. 13 Syracuse, 7 p.m. EST, ESPN3: Every season-opener can be billed as a "first look," because that's exactly what they are. But this first look has more value than most. For one, we haven't seen Syracuse's freshmen -- center Fab Melo, wing Dion Waiters -- yet. How they mesh with Jim Boeheim's group of talented returners will be the difference between a solid Big East foe and a Final Four team. Nor have we seen the new-look Northern Iowa Panthers, who lost Missouri Valley player of the year Adam Koch and 7-foot center Jordan Eglseder (not to mention some guy named Ali Farokhmanesh) this offseason. UNI is going to lean heavily on former sixth man Lucas O'Rear and capable point guard Kwadzo Ahelegbe, who was underrated throughout UNI's dominant 2010-11 MVC season. UNI would love to win this one, sure, but the result is almost less important than seeing what each team, beset by turnover but optimistic about its conference title chances, looks like.
There are other interesting games out there, but those are my top three. For more preview-y goodness, be sure to check out Andy's Daily Word. Let the games begin.