Davidson vs. Marquette (Neutral)
The Wildcats scheduled one of the strongest non-conference slates in my recent memory. With Auburn on a neutral site, Nevada at home, and Loyola Chicago on the road, among others, Davidson has the out-of-conference SOS necessary to build an NCAA Tournament resume. An important stretch of games will come down in Orlando during the Orlando Invitational where a first round date with Marquette is set. Preseason rankings still don’t mean much, but I’ve seen analysts put Marquette in the top 15. They should be a consensus top 25 team at the start of the season, and a lot of that is due to national player of the year contender Markus Howard returning for the Golden Eagles. This will be an important game for the Wildcats who will have one of the best backcourts in the country ready to go toe-to-toe with Howard and company. If the Wildcats can find a way to get past Marquette, they’ll have a shot at winning the tourney. That said, Maryland is another strong team in the field for this November preseason tournament.
VCU vs. LSU
Will Wade’s return to the Siegel Center is unlikely to be a friendly one, as the VCU Rams will be out for blood against their former coach. The Rams reckon to be in the top 25 at the start of the season and scheduled a great home contest against an LSU team that earned a 3 seed in last year’s NCAA Tournament and made it to the Sweet 16 as well. Two important pieces in Naz Reid and Tremont Waters are gone, but the LSU Tigers are still a top 25 caliber team with the addition of 5-star power forward Trendon Watford. Mike Rhoades got last year’s VCU squad to the NCAA Tournament, but an injured Marcus Evans led to a challenging first round contest where the Rams would fall to UCF. This year’s loaded squad has 3 star scoring seniors and a powerhouse rising junior in Marcus Santos-Silva, and the Rams have their eyes set on more than just making it to the Big Dance. This could easily be a matchup of 2 ranked programs in November, and the winner will have a leg up in building a solid NCAA Tournament resume.
Rhode Island @ Maryland
I think this is going to be a long shot for Rhode Island, but it’s a great early season test nonetheless. Facing off against a potential top 10 program, URI is going to see if it can ride last year’s momentum with an experienced bunch vying for a trip to the NCAA Tournament. Anthony Cowan and Jalen Smith are the two best returning players for the Terrapins, but Rhode Island has talent to match at either position. Fatts Russell and Jeff Dowtin will look to erupt in the backcourt while Cyril Langevine can contest with Jalen Smith to be the biggest and most physical player on the floor. As I mentioned, I don’t expect URI to walk away with a win, but I think this game will be telling as to whether or not this team is capable of finishing in the top 3 in the A-10 this season. Hang around all game, and URI might be a lot better than we expect; get blown out in College Park, and it could be a long season for David Cox’s ball club. An honorable mention on this list is Rhode Island’s trip to Jamaica where it will face off against a very good LSU team (see above) and could face off against an even better Utah State team. Needless to say, the Rhody Rams scheduled a bear of a non-conference slate.
Saint Louis vs. Seton Hall
Unfortunately, I expect Saint Louis to take a step back this season without Tramaine Isabell or Javon Bess leading the way. However, the Billikens took care of business on the road against Seton Hall last season (a team that went on to earn an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament), and I think this makes for an interesting rematch at Chaifetz Arena. Myles Powell is returning for the Pirates, and if you watched last season’s contest, you may remember Javon Bess basically shut him down en route to the upset victory. Seton Hall is a probable top 15 team this year as it returns nearly everyone, and Saint Louis is going to have a more difficult time stopping the Pirates this season. A lot of Saint Louis’ success in this game (and this season entirely) will depend on defense and physicality (something this team has never lacked) and how well the freshmen pick up the slack. Notably, the Billikens’ poor shooting will need to be immediately alleviated by some of the new faces. Travis Ford will be in for a fight when SHU comes to town.
Dayton vs. Georgia (Neutral)
I frankly don’t know how good Georgia is going to be this year; the Bulldogs got the #2 player overall in the class of 2019 joining them this season, but they also went 2-16 last year in the SEC. I think this game in the Maui Invitational will be a pretty even battle between two teams that should be in contention to go dancing come March. The real gem is the potential to face Michigan St. in the 2nd round. I’m guessing the Spartans will be the #1 team overall entering next season, and Dayton’s Obi Toppin would get a lot of attention in a game against Tom Izzo’s club at the Lahaina Civic Center. Either way, this is a very strong field. Facing MSU in the first round is Virginia Tech coached by Mike Young from Wofford. Kansas is on the other side of the bracket along with UCLA and BYU. If the Flyers could get out of Maui with 2 wins, I think they’re going to be happy. Dayton travels pretty well too, so I’m excited to see who makes the trip out to Hawaii in November.
Dayton vs. Saint Mary’s (Neutral)
Davidson vs. Auburn (Neutral)
Richmond @ Georgetown
Rhode Island vs. LSU (Neutral)
Rhode Island @ West Virginia
Rhode Island vs. Alabama
VCU vs. Purdue (Neutral)