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College basketball weekend preview: Harvard, Saint Mary’s, Illinois State among mid-majors with big opening games

Mid-major basketball is back! What games should you keep an eye on this weekend?

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-2nd Round-North Carolina vs Harvard
In one of the weekend’s more intriguing games, Tommy Amaker’s Harvard squad takes on Stanford in Shanghai.
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

College basketball is finally back with regular season games tipping off Friday.

Some high stakes contests will be played this opening weekend, and here are some matchups to keep an eye on each day:

Friday, November 11

Friday is loaded with games, starting at noon and lasting deep into the night. Of the “early” games, Illinois State travelling to Murray State sticks out. The Redbirds are a trendy pick to challenge Wichita State for the MVC crown and come it at #18 in our preseason mid-major top 25. However, they’ve had some players run into legal trouble, which brings to question how competitive they will be. The trip to Murray State, which is favored to win its OVC division, will be a barometer of how Illinois State’s season could go.

The late night slate contains the day’s two best mid-major games. Harvard gets a shot at a Pac-12 team right out of the gate as it takes on Stanford. The Crimson boast an impressive freshmen class and sit at #14 in our top 25 poll. They have an excellent shot of tallying a win over a power conference school right away. This game is being played in Shanghai, China, adding another level of intrigue.

Have that coffee brewed because perhaps the best game between two mid-majors also tips off late. Nevada, sitting at #25 in our preseason top 25 poll, hits the road to take on St. Mary’s. The Gaels are #2 in our own poll, and also ranked in both the AP and Coaches polls. They should be favored to win this game and are looking for a fast start to a season of high expectations. The Wolfpack, on the other hand, are looking for an early statement in what they also believe should be a successful season.

Saturday, November 12

After so much action the previous day, Saturday’s schedule seems light. Two games in particular could have big implications. The first has St. Joseph’s playing host to Toledo. This game probably means more to St. Joseph’s as they look to move past the loss of DeAndre Bembry to the NBA. Expectations may not be as high for the Hawks, but a win over a solid mid-major opponent would build confidence.

The other impact game is somewhat “under the radar.” UT-Arlington hosts in-state rival Texas Southern. Expectations are high for the Mavericks, as they sit at #67 in the preseason KenPom rankings and #13 in our top 25 poll. A year ago they notched road wins over Ohio State and Memphis, and took Texas to overtime. In the present, Texas Southern shouldn’t be taken lightly. The SWAC power is coming off a trip to the NIT and have a uniquely skilled player in Derrick Griffin, who is capable of taking over a game with his physical play. The Mavericks should win, but will need to be sharp to avoid an early slip up.

Sunday, November 13

Cling to the last moments of opening weekend on Sunday night with a contest between Long Beach State and Wichita State. The Shockers are entering a new era without Fred Van Vleet and Ron Baker. They’re still the MVC favorite and come in at #5 in our top 25 poll. But, there is some cause for skepticism with the loss of two of the programs most decorated players. Long Beach State will hope to capitalize on a Wichita State team that might still being searching for its new identity, but who would undoubtedly be a strong win to add to the resume.

Sunday also features the second game of a bizarre opening weekend for Texas Southern. The Tigers’ game against UT-Arlington game tips at 8:30 ET Saturday night, and they follow it up with a 2 PM ET tip against Delaware State the next day. That games is in Dover, Del., meaning nearly 1,500 miles of travel overnight. It’ll be interesting to see how the Tigers respond.