It happens every year, a team from the Mid-Major ranks will step up and knock off one of the nation's finest during the first night of the season. Every week of the out of conference portion of the season we'll bring you a list of major teams who should be on upset alert from one of our brave Mid-Major programs.
Oakland Golden Grizzlies at #12 North Carolina Tar Heels
Friday November 8, 9 PM (Raycom Sports)
North Carolina is a team with a lot of question marks heading into the season, the two biggest being when P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald might play due to lingering off the court issues. The Tar Heels struggled at times in a exhibition against UNC-Pembroke and the Golden Grizzlies could take advantage of a team in partial disarray to start the year.
Travis Bader may bring back foul memories of J.J. Redick, as the sharpshooter is only 101 three pointers away from the Redick's record. After averaging over 22 point per game a year ago, Bader refined his game at Kevin Durant's summer camp and ready to bomb it once again. Facilitating Bader is Duke Mondy, who lead the country in steals a year ago. Mondy also averaged 12 rebounds, 4 assists, and 5 rebounds per game a year ago and shouldn't be ignored by the Tar Heels. In the paint, Corey Petros is a formidable big man who averaged over 12 points and 8 boards a year ago. UNC may play bigs Joel James and Brice Johnson on the court at the same time, due to lineup shifts, so Petros could have his hands full.
The Golden Grizzlies biggest challenge should be slowing down lottery prospect James Michael McAdoo, who lead the Tar Heels with 19 points and 10 rebounds versus Pembroke. Marcus Paige and Nate Britt are expected to handle backcourt duty and it'll be interesting to see if Duke Mondy can disrupt the freshman (Britt).
Of course, personnel could change drastically before tip-off Friday with so much in the air regarding Hairston and McDonald.
Davidson Wildcats at #4 Duke Blue Devils
Friday November 8, 7PM (ESPNU)
I'm not sure how much a chance Davidson has against Duke, but I've learned to never count out Bob McKillop and his Wildcats. McKillop is one of the few who won't "abandon all hope" when he enters Cameron Indoor Stadium on Friday night.
Though Davidson lost Nik Cochran, Jake Cohen, and others, the Wildcats still return a talented squad who will compete with Elon for a Southern Conference title in their last year in the conference. Leading that veteran laden group is De'Mon Brooks. Brooks has been the SoCon's Player of the Year before and is a two-time SoCon Tournament MVP. The 6'7 forward averaged nearly 14 points and 6 boards a year ago and is going to need all of that and more against the Blue Devils.
Beyond Brooks, McKillops will rely on the rest of his senior core Chris Czerapowicz, Tyler Kalinowski, and Tom Droney to step up big on Friday. This may also be the coming out party for Miami (Ohio) transfer Brian Sullivan, who averaged over 10 points per game his freshman year while being named to the All-MAC Freshman team.
Duke is the other Tobacco Road team that struggled a bit in their preseason warm up. The Blue Devils found themselves down to Drury 38-34 Saturday afternoon, but they pulled away in the second half for a 81-65 victory. Freshman Jabari Parker and Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood will be the story for Coach K's team. Parker is expected to be a top five pick in the NBA Draft, while Hood is considered among the nation's top transfers. Rasheed Sulaimon missed the Blue Devils tune up due to illness, but expect him and Quinn Cook to be firing on all cylinders Friday night in Durham
Gardner-Webb Bulldogs at Xavier Musketeers
Friday November 8, 7PM (Fox Sports Ohio)
Beating a Big East team, on the road, in your head coaching debut is a tall order for anyone, but Gardner-Webb's Tim Craft may have the talent to pull it off against Xavier on Friday night. The Bulldogs nearly knocked off Illinois in an early season match up a year ago and now they'll have the Musketeers in their cross-hairs.
Donta Harper will be the key for Craft's squad, as the 6'6 forward averaged nearly 13 points and 5 rebounds a year ago. Joining him the in the frontcourt is 6'5 Texas A&M transfer Naji Hibbert, who will be playing under the lights for the first time as a Bulldog after sitting out a year. Hibbert, a Baltimore native, was highly touted out of high school but never really caught on with the Aggies. Tyler Strange and Mount St. Mary's transfer Josh Castellanos will set the table for these two forwards and will have to control the pace of the game against the X-Men.
Three starters return for Chris Mack including Semaj Christon who averaged 15.2 points and 4.6 assists per game a year ago. While Christon mans the shooting guard spot, Dee Davis returns at a point guard to lead Xavier's offense. Also expect freshman combo guard Myles Davis (insert trumpet joke here) to get serious burn against Gardner-Webb. Strange and Castellanos will have their hands full on the defensive end and Christon can really challenge them when they are on offense.
Mercer Bears at Texas Longhorns
Friday November 8, 8PM (Longhorn Network)
Many may not even be surprised if Bob Hoffman's Bears knock off the Longhorns on opening night. Rick Barnes is certainly on the hot seat in Austin and just think how heated things may get if the Atlantic Sun favorites prevail Friday.
Four starters are back for Mercer, including point guard Langston Hall who many consider to be the preseason Atlantic Sun Player of the Year. Hall is a 6'4 point guard who averaged 11 points and 5 assists per game a year ago. To win big games you need a skilled, veteran point guard and Bob Hoffman certainly has that in Hall. The Bears essentially have nine seniors on their roster and they will not be intimated when they into the Erwin Center.
Rick Barnes will returns three starters, but will rely mostly on a roster full of inexperienced players. The Longhorns have no seniors on this year's team and only one junior in Jonathan Holmes. An inexperienced squad with a coach fighting for his life versus a senior-laden squad who have won 66 games over the past three years...I smell a Lone Star sized upset.