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November 7, 2011
Ready or not, the season is upon us.
The season began Monday night with three games: St John's beating William & Mary 74-59, Mississippi State defeating Eastern Kentucky 77-66, and No. 16 Arizona holding off Valparaiso 73-64.
For at least the rest of the month, basketball battles with football for attention. Schedule-makers have taken heed; there a handful of top games Friday, led by Michigan State vs. North Carolina onboard the Navy aircraft carrier U.S.S. Carl Vinson in San Diego.
We help you prepare for the first week of the season with our Weekly Watch, highlighting all the best games and individual matchups across the country.
[Huguenin: Projecting the 68-team NCAA field]
All times Eastern.
Game of the week: Michigan State vs. North Carolina, Friday, 7 p.m., ESPN. The Spartans and Tar Heels are meeting for the third time in three seasons, and this game will have historic significance. On Veteran's Day, the teams will play the first college game on an aircraft carrier when they tip-off onboard the U.S.S. Carl Vinson. North Carolina enters the season as perhaps the top national title contender; Michigan State is trying to stay in the top four of the Big Ten.
Don't overlook this one: Oregon at Vanderbilt, Friday, 10 p.m., Fox Sports South/Sun Sports/Fox Sports Arizona/ESPN FullCourt. Is a CBI title a good-luck charm? VCU won the College Basketball Invitational before reaching the Final Four last season. While everyone else was paying attention to the NCAA tournament, Oregon won last season's CBI. The Ducks return E.J. Singler and add a solid recruiting class that should help the Ducks contend for a more prominent spot in the postseason. Vanderbilt returns every key player from a team that won 23 games but lost to Richmond in a first-round upset in the NCAA tourney.
Mid-major to watch: George Washington at California, Sunday, 9:30 p.m., ESPNU. No one's quite sure what to make of the Atlantic 10. Xavier and Temple will be at the top, but who's next? GW has a new coach in Mike Lonergan, and this game could give us an idea on where the Colonials stand. Cal is one of the Pac-12's most experienced teams and sports a formidable guard duo in Allen Crabbe and Jorge Gutierrez. The matchup of George Washington's Tony Taylor (15.0 points per game last season) against Cal's guards will be one to watch.
Storyline you might be missing: Bryce Drew's coaching debut. The Drew family legacy continues at Valparaiso with Homer Drew retiring and passing the whistle on to son Bryce, who coached his first game for Valpo at Arizona on Monday. Homer Drew retired once before, in 2002, and handed the job to son Scott Drew. But Scott eventually moved on to Baylor and Homer returned to the bench and hired Bryce as an assistant. Bryce is best remembered for a buzzer-beater to upset Ole Miss in the first round of the 1998 NCAA tournament. It was bittersweet, though, as Valpo's season began a few months after it was announced that Homer and his wife have been diagnosed with cancer.
[Countdown to Tipoff: Rivals.com preview stories]
Stat watch: This season features 53 new coaches; that's a coaching turnover of 15.8 percent in Division I. Both are the highest numbers since the 2008 season. Last season began with 34 new coaches.
Tournament implications: BYU at Utah State, Friday, 9 p.m., ESPN FullCourt. Yes, there are tournament implications early in the season, mostly for mid-major programs looking to build postseason resumes. BYU and Utah State combined to go 62-9 last season, but the Cougars and Aggies enter this season with a ton of questions. Now in the West Coast Conference, BYU will rebuild without consensus player of the year Jimmer Fredette. Meanwhile, Utah State returns only one starter. Neither team has had trouble rebuilding in the past, but both teams still have questions. Utah State generally has played weaker non-conference schedules, but defections in the WAC forced the Aggies to rethink that strategy. Utah State visits NIT champion Wichita State and Mississippi State in the first two months of the season. BYU edged the Aggies last season, and this is a contentious rivalry.
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