The first college basketball weekend of the season is here, which ushers in the return of the SI.com Weekend Preview. You know the drill. We’ll pick the biggest 10 to 15 games every weekend, and provide a quick breakdown and score prediction. The pickings are slim this first weekend, but we’re not going to let that stop us. College basketball is back.
All times Eastern
Arkansas at Texas
Friday, 7 p.m., ESPN
How about an interconference matchup between a couple of power conference schools to get things going? There’s a lot to like about this Texas team, from transfer Elijah Mitrou-Long and veteran big man Dylan Osetkowski, to the expanded roles for Matt Coleman and Jase Febres, to freshman guard Courtney Ramey. The Longhorns could make some noise in the Big 12, and should get back to the NCAA tournament after last year’s heartbreaking overtime loss to Nevada in the first round. As for Arkansas, it could be looking at a step back after waving goodbye to Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon. A lot of responsibility rests on the shoulders of sophomore Daniel Gafford.
Texas 81, Arkansas 69
Louisiana at No. 6 Tennessee
Friday, 7 p.m., SEC Network
Tennessee isn’t expected to have any trouble with Louisiana, so this game makes the list for one reason: This is the best team Rick Barnes has had in Knoxville, with the Volunteers harboring legitimate Final Four hopes. All eyes will be on Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams for the duration of the season, at the front one of the most experienced teams in the country, and a true threat to knock off Kentucky in the SEC.
Tennessee 87, Louisiana 68
Austin Peay at No. 18 Mississippi State
Friday, 7:30 p.m., SEC Network
The Volunteers aren’t the only non-traditional basketball school in the SEC with outsized expectations this season. Ben Howland might have his first tournament team at Mississippi State in his fourth season at the school. The Bulldogs just missed out on the dance last year, but ended the season strong, advancing to the NIT semifinals before falling to eventual champion Penn State. Back are last year’s leading scorers Quinndary Weatherspoon and Aric Holman, leading what should be an intriguing team in Starkville.
Mississippi State 82, Austin Peay 60
Buffalo at No. 13 West Virginia
Friday, 9 p.m., SEC Network
Buffalo won the MAC last year and pulled off a huge upset in the first round of the NCAA tournament, knocking off Arizona. The Bulls are again the favorite in the MAC, with four of last year’s five minutes leaders—Nick Perkins, C.J. Massinburg, Jeremy Harris and Davonta Jordan—all back in the fold. It’ll be a season of adjustments for the Mountaineers after losing Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles, but this is a team that reloads rather than rebuilds. It helps, of course, when you return players like Sagaba Konate, Esa Ahmad, Lamont West and Wesley Harris.
West Virginia 78, Buffalo 70
Georgia State at Montana
Friday, 9 p.m.
Believe it or not, this could be one of the few matchups this weekend of two teams that ultimately end up in the big dance. Georgia State and Montana are the favorites in the Sun Belt and Big Sky, respectively, making this a fun flag-planting game for both teams. Remember, Montana cruised through the Big Sky last year and made its first-round game with eventual national runner-up Michigan interesting for the entire first half. Georgia State was also in the tournament last year as a No. 15 seed, and actually led No. 2 Cincinnati by one point with 10 minutes to go, before the Bearcats went on a 24–8 run to end the game. Both teams return their leading scorers from a season ago, D’Marcus Simonds for Georgia State, and Ahmaad Rorie for Montana. This is a matchup of potential bracket busters in March, making it one of the best games of the weekend.
Montana 74, Georgia State 72
No. 25 Washington at No. 11 Auburn
Friday, 9:30 pm, SEC Network
This is the only matchup between ranked teams over opening weekend. Both teams opened their season earlier in the week, with Washington getting a solid win over Western Kentucky, and Auburn knocking off South Alabama with ease. Auburn returns much of its core from last year’s surprising run to a regular season SEC title, but it will have to adjust to life without Mustapha Heron. Washington, meanwhile, is putting a disappointing 2017–18 season in the rear-view mirror, with high hopes for this year. Noah Dickerson, Jaylen Nowell, Matisse Thybulle, David Crisp and Dominic Green are all back, giving the Huskies plenty of season-to-season continuity.
Auburn 80, Washington 71
Illinois State at Belmont
Saturday, 8 p.m., ESPN Plus
If any team knocks off Loyola-Chicago in the Missouri Valley, it will likely be Illinois State. The Redbirds went 0–3 against Loyola last year, but gave the Ramblers a run for their money in two of those games, including in Chicago. Milik Yarbrough, Phil Fayne and Keyshawn Evans give coach Dan Muller a diverse trio of scorers, and a strong performance in the non-conference could have them on the at-large radar. Belmont isn’t quite as strong, but gets a few high-profile opportunities against UCLA and Purdue, and is the favorite in the Ohio Valley Conference. Come March, the winner could be pointing back at this game as a résumé-builder.
Illinois State 75, Belmont 74
Ball State at No. 24 Purdue
Saturday, 8 p.m.
Ball State is no pushover in the MAC, and is likely the greatest challenger to Buffalo’s primacy in the league. Tayler Persons and Tahjai Teague lead what figures to be one of the more dangerous offenses among mid-majors, and could develop this team into one to watch as the season progresses. As for Purdue, Carsen Edwards is now the unquestioned leader of this team with Vincent Edwards, Dakota Mathias, Isaac Haas and P.J. Thompson all gone. The Boilermakers will be looking for big steps forward out of Nojel Eastern and Matt Haarms.
Purdue 85, Ball State 72
No. 17 Florida State at Tulane
Sunday, 7 p.m., ESPN3
It isn’t often you see a power conference team play a true road game on opening weekend, let alone one ranked inside the top 25. That’s exactly what the 17th-ranked Seminoles will do, though, heading to New Orleans to take on Tulane. The Seminoles already have a big win on the books this season, taking care of Florida earlier in the week. This is one of the most experienced teams in the ACC, led by seniors Terance Mann and P.J. Savoy, and junior Trent Forrest. The league is as deep as ever, but the Seminoles will be a threat all season.
Florida State 85, Tulane 64
Vanderbilt at USC
Sunday, 9 p.m., Pac-12 Network
We started with an interconference matchup between power conference teams, so let’s end with one, as well. Vanderbilt and USC suffered through disappointing campaigns last year, with the former missing out on the postseason altogether, and the latter getting knocked out of the NIT in the second round. There’s a changing of the guard in Nashville, with Jeff Roberson and Riley LaChance gone, opening the door for holdovers Joe Toye and Saben Lee, and freshmen Darius Garland and Simi Shittu. The same is true in Los Angeles, where last year’s minutes leaders—Chimezie Metu, Jordan McLaughlin and Elijah Stewart—have all moved on. That creates plenty of opportunities for juniors Nick Rakocevic, Jonah Mathews and Derryck Thornton.
USC 70, Vanderbilt 67