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Season Primer: What you need to know on college basketball’s opening day

Take it in.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Kansas State vs UMBC
Who will emerge as the face of 2018-19?
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

It’s Nov. 6, which means it’s my wife’s birthday. I still have no idea what I’m getting her, and you probably don’t, and shouldn’t, care about that, though any last gasp suggestions would be more than welcome. What I know you care about is the gift that you, me and everyone else that loves college basketball is getting on this particular Tuesday in November.

The season opener.

A lot happened this offseason, a lot will happen before too many .500 power conference teams probably get bids in March. Get ready for it all by reading our conference preview series, the Other Top 25 and all the other great content our writers have churned out over the past few months. In the meantime, here are some quick thoughts to get you ready for the 2018-19 season.

Will the NET bring happier times?

We’re a long way — literally, months — from knowing how the NCAA’s new, singular tournament selection and seeding metric (the NET) will affect mid-major programs. There is some thought that smaller schools could benefit from a predictive model that takes more factors into consideration when rating teams. That said, mid-majors have been fighting an uphill battle on Selection Sunday for years, and was RPI really all to blame for that? We’ll start to get some answers in March.

Innovation in action

Friend of Mid-Majors and ESPN Analyst Mark Adams concocted a new scheduling format, pitched it to several leagues and found buyers in C-USA and the Sun Belt. The primary goal is to improve NCAA Tournament seeding, such as helping league champions land in more manageable No. 12/No. 5 games. This seeks to avoid the alternative of a quality team being banished to a first round game against a No. 1 or No. 2 seed. C-USA will roll out the new format this season (with the Sun Belt waiting until 2019-20), adding even more interest to where Marshall, Western Kentucky and/or whomever else get bids from the league are placed.

The at-large, multi-bid league conundrum

Tied closely to the NET, and more loosely to the new scheduling format, is the continuing plight of the at-large mid-major and multi-bid league. It is in fact a dying breed, with only Nevada, Rhode Island and St. Bonaventure (and notably, not Middle Tennessee) getting the call from the Selection Committee last year. Will we see movement in the other direction this year? The A-10 appears to be down, which won’t help, but there’s reason for optimism in the Missouri Valley (Illinois State, Loyola Chicago), C-USA (Western Kentucky, Marshall), and generally out West (Gonzaga, Nevada, BYU, San Diego State).

The best of the best live here

We may have a season-long debate brewing. No, it’s not whether being extremely reasonable and calling Gonzaga a mid-major is a sin, but it does involve the Bulldogs. Gonzaga and Nevada are both as talented, complete and experienced as almost any team in the country, and the polls reflect that. We’ve got the Wolf Pack atop our rankings ahead of No. 2 Gonzaga, while the AP gives the edge to the Zags. In any event, tracking these two decidedly-not-Cinderella teams should be a blast, as will defending why a team with high-major resources that plays in a mid-major conference is still technically a mid-major. Right?

Encore time

NCAA Basketball: Final Four-Loyola vs Michigan
Clayton Custer and Marques Townes will try and follow up a historic run.
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The interest around Loyola Chicago and UMBC still lingers after being two of the biggest stories of 2018 NCAA Tournament. To various degrees, both may struggle to catch lightning in a bottle twice. The Retrievers are replacing the primary drivers (Jairus Lyles, K.J. Maura) of their historic upset, while Clayton Custer and the Ramblers are expected to contend for the Missouri Valley, but also lose some important players (Donte Ingram, Aundre Jackson) from their Final Four team. No matter how this season goes, both have stamped their names in college basketball lore and, for the time being, have brand appeal.

Can’t miss bucket-getters

As always, there are appointment viewing scorers scattered throughout the mid-major ranks. South Dakota State’s Mike Daum (21.5 career PPG) and Campbell’s Chris Clemons (23.0 career PPG) oddly have the same career point total (2,232) as they each enter their senior season. Barring injury, both will end up the career scoring leader in their respective conference. Those two get top billing, but it’d be negligent not to mention Marshall’s Jon Elmore, Montana State’s Tyler Hall, Hofstra’s Justin Wright-Foreman, Howard’s R.J. Cole, Wofford’s Fletcher Magee, Georgia State’s D’Marcus Simonds, Davidson’s Kellan Grady...you get the picture (feel free to scream politely point out other guys we’ve left out).

That new car smell

There were 46 coaching changes at the mid-major level over the past offseason, and you can catch up with it all here. In no particular order, here’s a sampling of some of the most intriguing new hires:

NBA: Summer League-Boston Celtics at Los Angeles Lakers
Walter McCarty is back in the college game.
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
  • High Point. Tubby Smith returns to his alma mater adding a national championship winner to the Big South’s coaching ranks.
  • Incarnate Word. Former NAIA coach Dr. Carson Cunningham heads to San Antonio with a unique resume (published author, PhD in history, Brad Stevens confidant).
  • Evansville. National championship and Brad Stevens, you say? Former Kentucky great and Boston Celtics assistant Walter McCarty takes over the Purple Aces.
  • La Salle. Former Villanova assistant Ashley Howard will try to kickstart another Big 5.
  • Texas Southern. Just years removed from landing Ben Simmons, Johnny Jones is back in charge of a program.
  • Colorado State. Drake hardly new Niko Medved. The former Furman coach moved on to Fort Collins after a lone 17-win season in Des Moines.
  • Chicago State. Lance Irvin will try to leverage his big-time local connections to revive the Cougars.
  • Pepperdine. Super recruiter Lorenzo Romar will try to lead the Waves up the WCC standings.

New faces, new places

Two previously-Division II programs join the fun this year, with California Baptist joining the WAC and North Alabama joining the Atlantic Sun. Meanwhile, there’s still some conference shuffling going on, with North Dakota (Summit), USC Upstate (Big South), Hampton (Big South) and Liberty (ASUN) all making debuts in new leagues. The latter two especially may be factors right away in their respective new homes.