By Steve Silverman
Every week, we will look at three to five college basketball games that get our attention. The start of the college basketball season is usually overshadowed by college football and the NFL in the sporting world, but we are undaunted.
While much will change between the games in November and the conclusion of the season in late March and early April, the early games will provide a few hints of what we can expect as the season progresses.
Nov. 10: Northern Arizona at No. 3 Arizona
The Wildcats have some injuries as they start the season, but don’t worry about Sean Miller’s team just yet. Arizona is loaded with talent up and down the lineup, and this game is likely to give all the Wildcats a chance to show off their abilities.
While Miller won’t be able to go to sophomore wing Rawle Atkins because he is recovering from foot surgery, he is going to be able to show off junior guard Allonzo Trier and freshman power forward DeAndre Ayton.
Trier is likely to be in contention for player of the year honors after averaging 17.2 points per game last year, while the jury is out on Ayton. Some have questioned how high his motor will run on an every-night basis, while Miller believes his talented young star is obsessed with becoming a great player.
Trier has improved his all-around game, and in addition to being a shooter and a scorer, he passes the ball well and appears to be an improved defensive player.
Northern Arizona is almost certainly in for a long night, but the Lumberjacks have a pair of fine guards in Malcolm Allen and Gino Littles. Both are transfers, as Allen started his career with Stanford and Littles played earlier at UTSA.
Nov. 11: No. 11 Notre Dame at DePaul
Mike Brey has built one of the most consistent programs in the country and his Notre Dame teams are 17-0 in season openers.
While the Irish figure to have an edge over the Blue Demons, DePaul will be opening its brand-new Wintrust Arena, located in Chicago’s South Loop.
Forward Bonzie Colson wants to pick up where he left off a year ago when he averaged 17.8 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. Colson has an excellent chance to end up as a first-team, All-America player, and appears to have a shot at contending for national player of the year honors.
He is joined by guard Matt Farrell, who ignites the Fighting Irish offense. He averaged 14.1 points per game last year and he also distributes the ball with a ton of speed that is likely to put most opponents on their heels. Farrell can hit long shots, as he made 42 percent of his three-pointers a year ago.
The Blue Demons will try to combat Notre Dame with Northern Illinois transfer Marin Maric, who averaged 14.4 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. He will be joined by Tre’Darius McCallum, who averaged 9.7 points and 6.8 rebounds last year.
The key to DePaul’s season may be four-star freshman guard Justin Roberts, who has the kind of speed and driving ability that the Blue Demons have not had in previous years.
Nov. 14: No. 1 Duke at No. 2 Michigan State
While the Spartans open their season with an uncharacteristically easy game against North Florida, the second game of the year will be a major challenge as they welcome top-ranked Duke to the Breslin Center.
Michigan State has perhaps the nation’s best player in Miles Bridges, who would have been a first-round draft choice had he opted to go the NBA last spring. Head coach Tom Izzo had told his young star that he was ready for the big time, but Bridges opted to return to East Lansing.
The 6-foot-7 swingman averaged 16.9 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.5 blocks during his freshman season, and this should be an even stronger year for him. Izzo expects Bridges to do a lot more damage as he plays closer to the rim.
In addition to this superstar, the Spartans return sophomore forward Nick Ward and experienced point guards in Tum Tum Nair and Cassius Winston.
The Blue Devils have a big-time star in Grayson Allen, who averaged 14.5 points and 3.7 rebounds per game last year, and while he had several incidents where he got involved with opponents by tripping them, he should be a more mature player this year.
Allen has a slew of talented freshman teammates, including Trevon Duval, Gary Trent Jr., Wendell Carter and Marvin Bagley III to play with.
These players are so good that they could be ready to dominate right from the start, but it’s more likely that they will need some time to develop and Duke will be a much better team in late January and February than they are right now.
Nov. 15: Indiana at No. 23 Seton Hall
Archie Miller has a chance to put his stamp on the Indiana program, and while he clearly established himself as an excellent coach at Dayton, it may not be easy to come flying out of the gate with the Hoosiers.
Miller has a few decent senior players in guard Josh Newkirk, guard Robert Johnson and forward Collin Hartman, but the team does not appear to have the kind of dominating athleticism that would help the Hoosiers become contenders in the Big Ten.
However, the Pirates appear to be in an excellent position to have a memorable year and they could put an impressive win on the board in the first week of the season against a Big Ten opponent.
Guard Khadeen Carrington is set up for an outstanding season after averaging 17.1 points and 3.1 assists per game last year. Carrington can fill it up and also set up his teammates with pinpoint passes.
Center Angel Delgado is a tough, physical player who is going to score and dominate on the glass. He averaged 15.2 points and 13.1 rebounds per game a year ago. Delgado plays with an edge and he could wear down opponents in the second half, and will allow the Pirates to win games in the late going.