The Champions Classic, which features a pair of top-10 matchups in Kansas-Michigan State and Kentucky-Duke, will obviously garner most of the attention on the first day of the college basketball season. However, the notable games Tuesday night aren’t limited to the matchups at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Here are the other games to watch on Tuesday.
No. 8 North Carolina at Wofford
Last season, Wofford won 79-75 in Chapel Hill behind 27 points from Southern Conference Player of the Year Fletcher Magee. Now the Tar Heels make the return trip to Spartanburg to open the season against a Terriers team that was picked to finish second in the conference.
Magee, a senior guard who was named SoCon preseason player of the year by the conference’s coaches, is back for his final year of eligibility after making 148 3-pointers last season. That mark is the fifth-most makes in a single season in NCAA Division I history.
North Carolina starts the season ranked in the top 10 for the fifth season in a row, thanks to the return of Third Team All-American Luke Maye and guards Kenny Williams and Cameron Johnson. UNC will also get five-star freshman forward Nassir Little. On the other side, Wofford returns four starters.
Don’t be surprised if a top-10 loses to an unranked opponent Tuesday night. After all, the same upset already happened on the road last year.
Towson at No. 5 Virginia
Virginia can never truly escape its historic loss to No. 16 seed UMBC in the first round of last season’s NCAA tournament but at the very least, Tuesday marks a new beginning for the Cavaliers as they try to defend their ACC title and contend for another No. 1 seed.
Given the way last season ended, the Cavaliers’ excellence through the first 33 games of their 31-3 campaign seems to be overlooked, if not forgotten. Virginia won the ACC by four games and also captured its conference tournament to earn the No. 1 overall seed.
The Cavaliers return three of their top four scorers in Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter. Alabama transfer Braxton Key received a waiver to play immediately this season and should boost Virginia’s offense.
Don’t let the way Virginia’s 2018 season ended prevent you from buying the Cavaliers as one of the best teams in the country this season.
Florida at No. 17 Florida State
College basketball fans should consider themselves lucky with the slate of games they have in store on Tuesday when an in-state rivalry game between a pair of teams that made the NCAA tournament last season isn’t considered one of the biggest games of the night.
Florida State made a surprise Elite Eight run as a No. 9 seed last season and the Seminoles start the 2018-19 campaign ranked in the AP Top 25 and picked to finish seventh in the ACC, according to the conference’s preseason media poll.
The Seminoles return seven of their top nine scorers from last season, led by redshirt senior forward Phil Cofer (12.8 ppg) and senior guard Terance Mann (12.6 ppg). Florida State should be long, deep and athletic once again.
Florida earned a No. 6 seed last season after finishing third in the SEC. The Gators will have to replace of pair of starters from their backcourt, Chris Chiozza and Egor Koulechov, but they return leading scorer Jalen Hudson (15.5 ppg). Five-star freshman guard Andrew Nembhard will be one of the most impactful freshmen in the SEC outside of those in Lexington.
This is a game that should appear in a “Quality Wins” graphic for the winner in March when NCAA tournament bids and seeding is being discussed.
Florida Gulf Coast at Illinois State
After is Final Four run, Loyola Chicago was picked to win the Missouri Valley in the conference’s preseason media but Illinois State still received 10 first-place votes and was slotted second, so don’t be surprised if the Redbirds make the NCAA tournament.
Illinois State is led by 6-6 senior guard Milik Yarbrough, who was named to the MVC First Team last season after averaging 16.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game. In total, the team’s top four scorers from its 18-win team all returned for their senior season.
Florida Gulf Coast was also picked to finish second in the Atlantic Sun and Marquette transfer Haanif Cheatham was named to the preseason all-conference team. He averaged 11.8 points per game as a freshman in the Big East.
Since the start of the 2013 season, when Florida Gulf Coast made the Sweet 16 as a No. 15 seed, the Eagles have averaged more than 23 wins per season and they’ve made the NCAA tournament three times. They’re one of the most consistent mid-major programs in the country and FGCU has now won at a high level with two different head coaches, which is a great sign for first-year head coach Michael Fly.
It’s great that two of the better mid-major teams are facing off on college basketball’s opening night.
Western Kentucky at No. 25 Washington
Washington earned two first-place votes in the Pac-12’s preseason media poll, where the Huskies were picked to finish third in coach Mike Hopkins’ second season behind Oregon and UCLA. Washington returns Pac-12 First Team selection Noah Dickerson and Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Matisse Thybulle, plus its leading returning scorer in sophomore guard Jaylen Nowell.
This should be the season that the Huskies end their NCAA tournament drought that dates back to 2011.
It might come as a surprise by Western Kentucky might have the best individual talent on the floor in freshman center Charles Bassey, who was ranked sixth in the 2018 recruiting class, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. Another impactful Hilltoppers newcomer will make his Western Kentucky debut on Tuesday in Auburn transfer Desean Murray, a 6-4 forward who started and averaged 10 points and 6.7 rebounds for the SEC co-champions last season.
Like several teams mentioned above, Western Kentucky is projected to be a strong mid-major this season.
BYU at No. 7 Nevada
This might be the best Nevada team in program history and its preseason No. 7 ranking isn’t a fluke. The Wolf Pack, led by fifth-year seniors Caleb and Cody Martin and Jordan Caroline, won 29 games and made the Sweet 16 last season. Then they enrolled McDonald’s All-American forward Jordan Brown — the school’s first-ever five-star recruit.
Nevada is perhaps one of the few schools that can reasonably expect to win 30-plus games this season and it should be treated as a legit Final Four contender. BYU is part of a tough non-conference schedule for the Wolf Pack that includes games against USC, Arizona State, Utah, Loyola Chicago, Tulsa, South Dakota State and Akron. We’ll have a good idea of where Nevada stands nationally prior to the start of conference play.
While BYU hasn’t made the NCAA tournament since 2015, the Cougars have won at least 20 games and 10 conference games every season since 2006. A win at Nevada would symbolize a strong non-conference road win that BYU lacked last season when it missed the NCAA tournament despite its 24-10 record.
The Cougars return six of their top seven scorers from last season, most notably forward Yoeli Childs (17.8 ppg, 8.6 rpg) and guard TJ Haws (11.7 ppg, 4.2 apg).