Today is a gorgeous day. Today is the day we college hoop junkies have been waiting for since the cutting of the nets last March. College football? It’s been alright this year. NFL? Yeah, same old stuff. Baseball? It’s over, but hey, the Cubbies won the World Series (I’m from Chicago, so allow me to boast just a bit). A long, tumultuous season of basketball, basketball, and more basketball awaits, and if you’re like me, you could not be happier. Literally, I could not be happier. To give you some perspective, I’ve had two nightmares in the past 30 days in which I somehow missed the entire basketball season and didn’t get to watch March Madness. You could say I’m a bit of a fan. But tonight is the night it all comes back to us. And while football will reign king on the weekends for some time, there are still plenty of intriguing matchups to keep you entertained this weekend. So sit back, relax, and cancel all of your Friday plans. We’ve got quite a season ahead of us.
There aren’t too many noteworthy A-10 games this opening weekend. That said, the way a team plays in its first contest is very indicative of how the regular season may go. If any Atlantic 10 team blows an easy game to a below-average mid-major opponent this weekend, it could be in for a rough time. The tough part about this weekend is that there really aren’t too many positives that can come out of it for each team. If you win, that’s what was supposed to happen, so, whatever. If you win narrowly, you might be concerned about your team’s ability to handle tougher opponents. And if you lose? Oh boy.
La Salle may be the only team that’s not “expected” to win this weekend (Saint Louis and Fordham may not escape with opening night wins either, though). Kenpom gives the Explorers a 40% chance of beating Temple in a true away game, but La Salle is the higher rated team overall according to his model. Regardless, this should actually be a great inner-city rivalry game between two teams pretty decent mid-major teams. This La Salle team has a lot of question marks, but there is a very good chance that John Giannini’s squad finishes in the top half of the conference this year. This first game will be very telling; can the Explorers get a very meaningful opening road win over an injury-ridden but still very solid Temple team?
Rhode Island will face Dartmouth tonight and really shouldn’t have too many issues. The Rams are the only Atlantic 10 team in the AP Top 25, and it’s going to be interesting to see if this team lives up to high expectations. Watch for E.C. Matthews. Rhode Island’s junior missed all of last season due to a torn ACL, and if he catches fire early in the season, this team could be even more dangerous than we all think.
I also would not sleep on VCU’s home game against UNC Asheville. VCU lost its exhibition game to Queens, and even though fans might be a little antsy heading into the regular season, there shouldn’t be much to fear. The Rams typically don’t get upset by lower teams (they like being the team to pull upsets), and this UNC Asheville team is not ranked as high as last year’s NCAA Tournament team. That being said, I’d be curious to see if the Rams clean up their act (especially in committing turnovers) and show that they’re going to be dominant again this season.
Massachusetts, Dayton, George Washington, and Richmond shouldn’t have any problems with their opening games. If one of those teams get upset, you should be concerned. The betting line slightly favorites Eastern Tennessee (-6.0) over Fordham and Ball State (-3.0) over Saint Louis right now. Fordham is on the road and actually has a pretty challenging opening game against the Buccaneers (Kenpom gives the Rams a 42% chance of winning). I actually think Saint Louis should take care of Ball State, though Kenpom gives the Billikens just a 47% chance of winning. Both games are up in the air. Duquesne should take care of Loyola MD at home, but the Dukes exhibition loss is concerning for their program as well.
Bottom line: it’s going to be a good night. I’m not your college basketball T.V. guide, but if you’re going to watch an A-10 game on Friday, I’d make it Temple v. La Salle. Also, I wouldn’t blame you for skipping the A-10 on opening night and tuning in for the Armed Forces Classic. Michigan St. vs. Arizona and Indiana vs. Kansas make for some very competitive, high-level hoops to start the season. But, of course, watch your team, and just enjoy the fact that we get to bask in college basketball from now until March. It’s a great day to be alive.