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9 Games That Make Opening Night Great for Mid-Major Fans

If you are looking up and down the ESPN schedule for tomorrow, you might be wondering what you should watch. Let us help you find the best matchups and tell you why you should be watching each one. A slate of nine previews to tip off your season.


With over 100 games to choose from on opening day, including quite a few on boats, you could have your head spinning trying to figure out what to watch.

You could concentrate on the major conference matchups, but that's the easy way out. You need to find those other sports channels a little higher up on the dial, and seek out the mid-major games that will be filling the slate.

That is where the real fun will be.

But before you seek out those games, we should fill you in on what to watch for. After all, if you haven't read our mid-major top 20 preview series, or any of the conference top 10 pieces, you could be at a loss.

Here is our take on what to watch tonight:

1. Drexel at Kent State: This one might be difficult to find on the dial. Our own Adam Hermann has been trying to find any way possible to look in on Drexel as they begin the "Revenge of the Dragon" campaign. The favorites in the Colonial get Kent State at the best time -- before the Flashes have fully baked all their pieces. Even once Kent State comes together, it is only supposed to be about average on offense and defense, and we know that won't be the case for the Dragons. Drexel will punish every mistake that the Golden Flashes make, and should have the firepower to put this one out of reach early on. Key matchup: Can Dartaye Ruffin do his best Samme Givens impression, and will Darren Goodson or one of the Kent State center be able to stop him?

2. Lehigh at Baylor: This late afternoon game has the feel of a first round NCAA Tournament matchup. But before you overlook Lehigh, remember the trouble that the Mountain Hawks were able to cause last season as a No. 15 seed. C.J. McCollum was certainly remembered as he landed on the preseason All-American list. The real question was if Baylor was paying attention. They Bears have a difficult defense to scheme for, especially when so much of a team's offense goes through one player. But Lehigh has also had all of the last month to prepare for Baylor, as opposed to just a couple of days. This is an important game for both teams, as Baylor doesn't want to trip early and Lehigh would love to get a big check mark on the good side of the ledger. Key matchup: This one is all about C.J. McCollum against the Baylor defense, especially the experienced backcourt. Will the Lehigh star find a way to step out of the spotlight to help his team win?

3. South Alabama at Florida State: Coach Arrow was good enough to give us an early look at the Jaguars, and there are a lot of things to be excited about. Now it is time to see how they can match up against maybe one of the top 20 players in the country in Michael Snaer. Between Snaer and Okaro White, the Seminoles are going to really apply the pressure on defense. It will be a big issue if South Alabama can't get its offense running, or picks up where they left off, turning the ball over on almost a quarter of their possessions. Key Matchup: Augustine Rubit is probably going to draw the taller and more physical White when he has the ball. Can the Jags' best scorer find a way around Florida State's second best defender?

4. Virginia at George Mason: There isn't much to say here, except that this is a different game if Erik Copes isn't suspended. The Patriots won't be big enough inside to deal with the Cavaliers without him. Key Matchup: He's sitting on the bench.

5. Bucknell at Purdue: Another of the early season potential NCAA Tournament sneak peaks here. The Bison bring a lot of experience against a Purdue team that lost a set of very good players, headlined by Robbie Hummel. While Mike Muscala is a handful for mid-major teams, big time opponents are used to dealing with a man his size. That still doesn't make him any easier to contain given his skill rebounding and shooting. With all that the Bison have learned over their last few years, including in their trips to the NCAA Tournament, they might be getting the Boliermakers early enough to trip them up. This one has a very strong upset smell with all the change in West Lafayette. Key Matchup: Muscala against a Purdue frontcourt that is used to banging inside during the conference season.

6. Belmont at Lipscomb: The Battle of the Boulevard is early this year in Nashville. This isn't exactly Duke-North Carolina -- it just might be better. The schools are in spitting distance of each other in Nashville, and this game is circled early on the schedule. Lipscomb is pretty down this season, so Belmont should have less to worry aboutthan normal, but don't be surprised if the Bison can hang around for a little while. Key Matchup: How dominant can Kerron Johnson and Ian Clark be on defense for the Bruins?

7. Tennessee State at BYU: We are quite high on BYU as you can read about in our preview. We just want to know what State's Robert Covington can do against the Cougars, especially with Brandon Davies on the inside. This is the first of a run of three difficult matchups for the Tigers to begin the season. Key Matchup: Covington vs. Davies will make the difference between a 10 and 20 point differential in this one.

8. South Dakota State at Alabama: This is another quick hit for you. Here is a chance for Nate Wolters to make an early impression against a major team. It won't be easy, but putting up good marks against the Tide will help set him on a path toward possible All-American status. Key Matchup: Woalters vs. everyone.

9. North Texas at Creighton: And then we come to the big one. Two of the best players in the country. Two very good teams. And yet this game is not on television (although if you have a subscription, you can stream it). Whomever was looking at the schedule when planning out the television coverage in Nebraska needs to check themselves. They are missing out on watching Tony Mitchell take on Doug McDermott. What could be more important than that, even if it is still early (a favorite excuse)? What is so exciting about this game is that it will be an actual test of whether the Bluejays have improved any on defense. They have to take on one of the best scorers out there (and they maybe have a little inside information as McDermott played with Mitchell over the summer; then again, that cuts both ways).

Going the other way, North Texas has just enough defense to contend with McDermott, but it isn't quite enough to handle McDermott, Gregory Echenique and the cast of thousands that Creighton will throw at them. Creighton is too good for North Texas to take this game, but that doesn't mean it won't be an amazing individual spectacle to watch ... assuming you can find somewhere to do that. Key Matchup: Tony Mitchell against what was a porous Creighton defense. Outscoring him should be enough for the Bluejay win.