College basketball. Is. Here.
Plenty of games highlight the first day — we all know about the Blue Blood games, but here are some that are more our speed here at MMM:
Cleveland State vs BYU
A cross-country showdown on the opening day of the season, as a pair of tournament teams tangle in Provo. The Cougars had a strong 2020-21, but still couldn’t take down West Coast Conference goliath Gonzaga. Cleveland State will be coming into Provo off one of their best seasons in school history. In Dennis Gates’ second year, he led the Vikings to a 19-8 record and both the Horizon League regular season and tournament championships. The Vikings return all five starters from last season, making them unsurprisingly the preseason favorite in the Horizon. BYU comes into the season voted second in the WCC preseason poll behind some team named Gonzaga. BYU opens the season just outside the top 25 and they’ll be headlined by All-American honorable mention Alex Barcello. This game will be a big early season test for each team, helping put the winner even more on the map right off the bat.
Belmont vs Ohio
Opening night isn’t a night of non-DI blowouts as we look at another marquee mid-major showdown on the first day. We’ve heard from the Bobcats recently, as they took down Virginia in March. This will be game one of the post-Jason-Preston era in Athens County, and it’s not an easy matchup to start out with. The Bruins are coming off a disappointing ending to the 2020-21 season, missing the tournament after a loss in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament finals. Belmont returns all five starters, led by possibly the top duo in mid-major hoops: Grayson Murphy and Nick Muszynski. Ohio will need to prove they were more than a drop in the pan last year, and this game against Belmont will be big to start the season.
App State vs ETSU
Moving off opening night, we have a premier mid-major showdown in Boone. After the best season in program history in 2019, East Tennessee State is looking to bounce back after a tougher 2020-21 campaign. The Buccaneers return three of their top five scorers, including their top scorer Ledarrius Brewer. They don’t have an easy start to the season, traveling to Boone to face off against the 2021 Sun Belt tournament champion Appalachian State Mountaineers. It’s Dustin Kerns’ third season in Boone, and App State eyes to keep improving off their first tournament appearance in 21 years. The Mountaineers have gone over .700 in Boone since Kerns took over and the Mountaineers look to continue that home dominance as they return their top four scorers, including preseason All-Sun Belt first teamer Justin Forrest.
UNCG vs NKU
It’s an era of change in Greensboro. After 10 years with Wes Miller on the sidelines, the Mike Jones era begins for the Spartans. The first week won’t be a breeze. Following an opening game at home against NC A&T, Greensboro heads north for a big nonconference matchup against Northern Kentucky. The Spartans are coming off a first round exit in the NCAA Tournament, but look very different from that Big Dance team. They return only three of their top seven scorers, and are without a selection on the preseason SoCon All-Conference team. Hosting them in Highland Heights will be the Northern Kentucky Norse. The Norse are coming off an average campaign and did not make the NCAA Tournament last season. They return 91% of their scoring from last season, and 85% of their total minutes from last year. The experience will be key for the Norse in a heavily contested Horizon League. They’ll be led by all-league second teamer Trevon Faulkner and 2021 Horizon League Freshman of the year Marques Warrick who combined for one of the the top frontcourts in mid-major hoops.
Harvard vs Iona
It’s been a long time since the Harvard Crimson touched a basketball court, it has been 612 days since they beat Yale to finish off their regular season before the pandemic shuttered sports (and, well, everything). This game will be their second of the season, but their first against a D-I opponent, and it’s no easy task. It’ll be a tough start to the year for Tommy Amaker and the Crimson, especially having to go on the road to a tournament team in Iona. Year one of Rick Pitino in New Rochelle went exactly how the Gales wanted it to: a MAAC Tournament championship and an NCAA Tournament berth. The Gales got bounced in the first round, but competed the whole game and have something to build off of. Iona returns four of its top six scorers from last season, but doesn’t return their top two scorers. Nelly Junior Joseph will lead the Gaels. He was chosen as a preseason first team All-MAAC player. The road back to basketball is here for Harvard, but the road back to the victory column will be tough in their first game against a D-I opponent in New Rochelle.