The first Friday of the college hoops season provides fans with an excellent slate of games to watch. Below is a summary of the five best games around the country, complete with key match-ups to watch and final score predictions for each.
Wichita St. vs. Providence (Annapolis, MD)
Match-up to Watch: Erik Stevenson (Wichita State) vs. A.J. Reeves (Providence)
This game features a great match-up of freshman shooting guards who had excellent college debuts on Tuesday. Stevenson was able to come off the bench and give a struggling Shockers team some life in their loss to Louisiana Tech, leading the team with 16 points in just 23 minutes. Expect him to play a lot more for a unit that is still searching for answers.
The highly touted Reeves lived up to the billing and more in the Friars seasoning opening win vs. Siena, scoring 29 points, shooting a ridiculous 7-9 from three point range. All eyes will be on Reeves Friday night, as he’ll look to prove he can be the go-to guy in the Providence back-court against his toughest test to date.
Prediction: Providence 74, Wichita St. 60
Unfortunately for Wichita St., this is not the type of Shockers team we’ve been used to over the last 7-8 years, and that became apparent in their 13 point season opening loss Tuesday. The talent level just isn’t there this season after losing four starters, and despite a solid freshman class on campus, they will certainly struggle. Providence is still a bit of a mystery team, but look solid early thanks to the play of Reeves and junior guard/forward Alpha Diallo. I think the Friars will be too much for this young Shockers group to handle.
Missouri at Iowa State
Match-up to Watch: Missouri offense vs. Iowa State defense
This match-up really intrigues me, as I’m interested to see how the Missouri offense will look without Jontay Porter (Torn ACL), and how much the Iowa State defense will improve with the addition of Virginia transfer Marial Shayok. Missouri will now play this season without their top three scorers from a year ago, and they struggled somewhat in the season opening win over Central Arkansas, scoring just 68 points on 42% shooting against an inferior opponent. Sophomore guard Mark Smith, an Illinois transfer, was the one bright spot on offense, scoring 19 points and connecting on 5 of 8 threes. On the flip side, Iowa State finished last in the Big 12 a year ago, which was mostly due to poor defense. The Cyclones gave up 80 points per game in conference play, but with an elite defender in Shayok stepping in and a more experienced team overall, the defensive numbers should improve dramatically.
Prediction: Iowa State 84, Missouri 69
This is the first major test for both teams, and the winner will be put on the right path early towards an NCAA bid. I’m really high on Iowa State this year, as the back-court of Lindell Wiggington and Nick Babb can hang with anyone in the country, and as mentioned above, Shayok gives them a piece they desperately needed as an elite wing defender. Even with starting forward Cameron Lard out, the Cyclones have a lot more firepower than the undermanned Tigers, and should win with relative ease.
Arkansas vs. Texas (Fort Bliss, Texas)
Match-up to Watch: Daniel Gafford (Arkansas) vs. Dylan Osetkowski (Texas)
Daniel Gafford is one of the nation’s top centers, and a likely future first round pick. He’s got great size (6’11, 235) and athletic ability, but is still a little raw on offense. However, he has the tools to dominate at this level and once he puts it all together, very few players will be able to keep up with him. Osetkowski is a much different player, as he stands 6’9 but has a solid build at 255. While not as quick or athletic as Gafford, Osetkowski is still an excellent college player. He’s very skilled and smart, and plays hard on both ends of the floor. Guarding Gafford will be a huge challenge, but expect Osetkowski to try and turn the tables and go right at Gafford in the post and make him defend and try to force him into foul trouble early.
Prediction: Texas 77 Arkansas 68
This is a great high-level early season game between two teams with tournament expectations. This will be the Razorbacks’s first game of the season, and it is a very tough opener for a team replacing four starters. Texas looks to have a well-balanced team, but Shaka Smart is still looking for a go-to guy to emerge, and this could be a game where that happens. I think Arkansas will be fine as the season progresses, but Smart’s full-court press will be too tough for this young team to overcome in game one.
Buffalo at #13 West Virginia
Match-up to Watch: West Virginia guards vs. Buffalo guards
I’ve had this game circled on my calendar since the summer. A great test for the Mountaineers vs. one of the best mid-majors in the country, and honestly, there’s great match-ups at every spot on the floor. However, I am particularly intrigued to see how both back-courts play. Buffalo has a veteran group led by stud senior C.J. Massinburg that has tons of experience in big games and aren’t afraid to play against big time opponents. West Virginia had to move on from four year greats Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles, and will have two freshman getting significant minutes in Brandon Knapper and Jordan McCabe. That pair along with junior Beetle Bolden, last year’s sixth man, will have a very tough test in trying to contain these talented and fearless Bulls guards. Whether or not the press bothers Massinburg and his back-court mates will go a long way in determining who wins this game.
Prediction: West Virginia 84, Buffalo 81
This will be a great contest form start to finish, and I think both back-courts will have their moments but will ultimately play pretty evenly. While Nick Perkins, Jeremy Harris, and Montell McRae make up a great front-court, they aren’t quite at the level of West Virginia, who have a trio of All-Big 12 caliber forwards in Esa Ahmad, Sagaba Konate, and Lamont West. The Mountaineer’s bigs, especially Konate and his rim-protecting ability, will be a little too much for Buffalo to handle, doing just enough to lead Bob Huggins’s squad to victory.
Washington at Auburn
Match-up to Watch: Auburn’s guards vs. the Washington Zone
Mike Hopkins brought the 2-3 zone with him from Syracuse when he took over as the Huskies’ head coach last season. The zone saw mixed results, but should be much better in year two with the players being more familiar with its intricacies. This Auburn team will be a tough test, as they have several shooters and one of the best passing point guards in the game in junior Jared Harper. This is a strength vs. strength match-up, and it will be interesting to see if Washington can slow down the Auburn guards or if the Tigers get hot and Harper and company can exploit the zone for some easy buckets.
Prediction: Washington 77, Auburn 73
I’m going out on a limb a little bit here and calling for the Huskies to pull off the upset. They were tested by Western Kentucky on Tuesday, and after trailing by nine at half woke up and blew out the Hilltoppers in the second half for an 18 point win. I think that early test will pay quick dividends, as they will build off that second half performance and ride big games out of stars Noah Dickerson and Jaylen Norwell to pull out a gutsy win.