By Riley Saxon
Fill Opening Day/Night with 10 Hours of College Basketball
12:00-2:00 Alcorn State @ Washington State (PAC 12)
The first game of the day (along with Manhattanville @ Manhattan) features a big time sleeper in Washington State. Alcorn State was a middle of the pack SWAC team last year, but they will surprise some teams this year. It’s not juicy like some of the other games on the slate, but it’s a solid start to our first basketball in 7 months.
2:00-4:00 UC San Diego @ California (PAC 12)
You could also replace this game with Mount St. Mary’s vs. Villanova, two teams that made the Big Dance last year, but they start at 1:30 and don’t fit the schedule exactly… so we’re sticking with the bottom dwellers of two conferences on the West Coast. It should be an easy Cal victory, as it should be for the Cougars in the Wazzu-Alcorn State game. Four hours into the season the PAC 12 can start taking care of business… or we’ll start to see the troubles the conference will have (again) this season.
4:00-6:00 Belmont vs Ohio (ESPN +) & Kansas vs. Michigan St (ESPN)
Belmont-Ohio looks like one of the old Bracket Buster games ESPN used to host. Belmont just missed last year’s tournament, and a win against a last-year tourney team in Ohio, even without Jacob Preston, is the type of win Belmont needs. Kansas vs. Michigan St is the opening act of the Champions Classic. Both teams have point guards that they think will be huge upgrades over last year’s iteration.
6:00-8:00 Louisiana Tech @ Alabama (SEC Network) & UCI @ NMSU (ESPN+)
The two most underrated games of the day. Kenneth Lofton Jr. takes his U19 performance on the road against Alabama, coming off a Sweet 16appearance. Alabama should win, but it won’t necessarily be easy. It’ll be an important game for both teams come Selection Sunday. UC Irvine and New Mexico State could have Selection Sunday implications as well, as both teams usually play a factor in their respective conference races. Neither team comes from a traditional two-bid league, but if that is going to change, it starts at 6:00pm opening night.
6:30-8:30 Oral Roberts vs Colorado St & Duke vs. Kentucky (ESPN)
Perhaps the best two games of the day. Of the four teams, Oral Roberts is the Sweet 16 team, but Duke and Kentucky are in the AP top 10 to start the season. Colorado St started fast last year, but missed the tournament. Winning this game could be a big boost to the resume come tourney time. The new-look Wildcats and Paolo Banchero led Blue Devils are both coming off seasons they want to forget. The winner of this game will likely have an easy time moving forward, at least to start.
8:00-10:00 CSU Bakersfield @ UCLA (PAC 12)
After opening the day with the Pac12 sleeper, wrap up the day with the Pac 12 favorite and get a great look at Preseason All-American Johnny Juzang, future All-American Jaime Jaquez and Top 10 recruit Peyton Watson. Mick Cronin said Bakersfield really gets in your face defensively, so it should be a great test for the Bruins.
- UCLA is more athletic this year
The addition of Peyton Watson naturally boosts the athleticism overall, but Jaime Jaquez looked phenomenal, Myles Johnson is more athletic than advertised and everyone else seemed to have more bounce in their step. It could have been the fact they were playing a DII team that hadn’t played in over 600 days, or maybe it was the return of fans to Pauley Pavilion, but our money is improved overall athleticism.
- The backup PG might be by committee
At various times, with and without Tyger Campbell on the floor, the Bruins had Jules Bernard, David Singleton, Johnny Juzang, Jaime Jaquez and Peyton Watson bring the ball down the floor and initiate the offense. If the group can move the ball well and be pass-first at the start of possessions, it’s going to be hard for opponents to defend.
- Tyger Campbell is still great at getting UCLA back on track
Speaking of point guard play, Campbell still has his knack for ending opponent runs with a bucket or directing the offense effectively to retake control of the game. He’s an unsung hero who is starting to get his due.
- Jaime Jaquez is going to breakout in a big way this year
Jaquez was all over the court during the scrimmage, doing damage from the catch and shoot and making plays off the dribble. There’s going to be a lot of attention on Juzang, and rightfully so, but Jaquez is going to steal the show on some nights.
- The Depth is going to be an extreme asset moving forward
Every player scored on Thursday, but the most noticeable aspect was the lack of drop-off as different lineups were on the court. And all this happened without Jaylen Clark and Mac Etienne. Juggling the lineups might be a challenge for Cronin when everyone is healthy, but Cronin won’t complain because a) that’s not his style and b) the mix-and-match possibilities are endless.
College Hoops Breakdown appears twice a month through the summer at JoeTorosian.com
Riley Saxon can be reached at:
Twitter: @CHoopsBreakdown …