The 2022–23 men’s college basketball season opened with a whimper, with only two games in the first four days pitting two high-major teams (Vanderbilt vs. Memphis and Tulsa vs. Memphis, both on opening night). As independent site Heat Check CBB pointed out, the numbers point to this being the worst opening-week slate in at least a decade.
There are multiple reasons for this, the most obvious being that the move to open the season on a Monday night to avoid conflicts with Election Day meant the traditional opening-night-headlining Champions Classic was pushed to the second week. But while we wait for Kentucky vs. Michigan State and Duke vs. Kansas in Indianapolis next week, the faucet of high-quality games starts to at least drip this weekend.
Here’s a look at five games worth paying attention to before the Champions Classic kicks off a loaded two-plus weeks of action.
Gonzaga vs. Michigan State, Nov. 11, 6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
This is our first traditional headliner game of the new season, pitting the No. 2 Bulldogs against a perennial contender in michigan state. It will be played on the USS Abraham Lincoln, an aircraft carrier in San Diego. Current plans are for the game to be played outside, though contingencies for bad weather or court conditions (as we’ve seen in other aircraft carrier games) could move the game inside if needed.
The two men’s games previously played aboard an aircraft carrier have been low-scoring: a 67–55 win by North Carolina over Michigan State in 2011 and a 62–49 grind-it-out affair between Syracuse and San Diego State in ’12. That means this game might not be the best showcase for the sport, even if the Zags are known for their outstanding offense. Still, it’s a battle between two of the biggest brands in the sport and one of the nation’s biggest stars in Drew Timme. The Zags need a strong showing from sophomore Nolan Hickman at point guard as he takes the reins from Andrew Nembhard this season. Meanwhile, Tom Izzo loves his team of just 10 scholarship players, though its unproven center spot will be tested by Timme and the Gonzaga frontcourt.
Villanova at Temple, Nov. 11, 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU
The Kyle Neptune era at Villanova has opened with a pair of Big 5 rivalry games. This matchup could be a real test for the Wildcats, especially with talented freshman Cam Whitmore likely out again after preseason thumb surgery. Temple is coming off a shocking home defeat against Wagner to open the season, but finished above .500 in AAC play a season ago and expectations were high thanks to the return of key cogs like Khalif Battle in the backcourt.
How the Wildcats handle this first road challenge will be interesting. The return of Caleb Daniels and Brandon Slater gives Neptune a veteran core to lean on as he makes the transition to one of the sport’s biggest jobs, but the Wildcats have questions to answer at point guard if they want to challenge for the Big East title. Veteran Chris Arcidiacono got the start in a season-opening win over La Salle, but freshman Mark Armstrong has more upside.
Stanford vs. Wisconsin, Nov. 11, 7:30 p.m. ET, FS1
Continuing with nontraditional venues, this game will be played at American Family Field, the domed baseball stadium in Milwaukee, in what’s being dubbed the “Brew City Battle.” It’s certainly a unique venue for a basketball game, which again could impact scoring.
Still, it’s an interesting litmus test game for two teams projected just outside the NCAA tournament field in Sports Illustrated‘s preseason rankings. Wisconsin returns key pieces like star forward Tyler Wahl and promising point guard Chucky Hepburn, but will have to find a new identity offensively after the pro departure of high-volume wing scorer Johnny Davis. Meanwhile, excitement is high at Stanford about this year’s group thanks to the return of former five-star recruit Harrison Ingram and the addition of a rare transfer in former Davidson guard Michael Jones, who had 31 points in his debut against Pacific. Winning in front of what promises to be a heavily pro-Badgers crowd would be a big statement for Jerod Haase’s team.
Eastern Michigan at Michigan, Nov. 11, 9 p.m. ET, ESPNU
The result of this game may not be overly close, but it’s still one of the most intriguing matchups of opening weekend. Emoni Bates, the former five-star recruit once thought to be a surefire NBA star, is spending his sophomore season close to home at EMU, bringing plenty of national intrigue and scouting attention to Ypsilanti. This showdown with the wolverines is a prime opportunity for Bates to begin rebuilding his NBA draft stock after a disastrous season at Memphis in 2021–22 and an offseason arrest (the charges were later dropped).
Even if Bates plays well, it might be tough for the Eagles to hang around against Hunter Dickinson and Michigan. Freshman Jett Howard, son of coach Juwan Howard, had 21 points and five assists in his collegiate debut Monday.
Colorado at Tennessee, Nov. 13, 2 p.m. ET, ESPN
Expectations are high for the Vols, who won the SEC tournament a season ago and return key pieces like Santiago Vescovi and Zakai Zeigler. And excitement in Knoxville for the new season jumped even more when Tennessee blew out Gonzaga in a charity exhibition (albeit a very competitive one) in late October. So how will Rick Barnes’s club handle its first high-major test Sunday afternoon?
Colorado is coming off a fourth straight 20-win season under Tad Boyle, and excitement is high around sophomore guard KJ Simpson and juco import J’Vonne Hadley. Being competitive with a national contender like Tennessee would be a good sign for the Buffs’ hopes of competing for an NCAA tournament bid.
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