November, the time of year when the air is crisp (well, at least in places in the Northern Hemisphere where there are actual seasons) and everyone is unbeaten. Unfortunately, that second fact can't last forever, as a proper college basketball game requires a winner and loser.
And, indeed, that's what all college basketball fans wait for, the action and the subsequent result, be it a blowout win for your favorite team or a potential BracketBuster pulling an upset that captures the country's imagination. November is the time for us to start on our collective road to March and April. Casual fans often dismiss the early season, saying that the Tournament is the only thing that matters, and that there are too many meaningless regular season games. (I wonder how many of these critics are NBA fans.)
But without the bumps in the road and potholes teams face in the early season, the finish line of March wouldn't just be unsatisfying, it would be an impossibility. Not only do college basketball fans learn more about the hoops landscape in the early season, teams really learn about themselves and their capabilities, especially when faced with the rigors of playing three games in three or four nights on a neutral floor.
Those early-season tournaments are a big part of this first month of the season, so on a few nights this month, you'll see more than one game listed, usually a semifinal doubleheader of some sort. Join me after the jump for my thoughts on the creme de la creme of games for the opening month of the 2009-10 season. TV information, as always, can be found at MattSarzSports.com.
Monday, November 9
Florida International at North Carolina (Coaches vs. Cancer Classic) (ESPNU, 7 ET)
Remember when Isiah Thomas said he didn't want his Golden Panthers to play UNC in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic? Do you think the Tar Heels are going to remember that?
Tuesday, November 10
There are no TV games listed for this night. Maybe colleges anticipated bad weather and hired the MLB scheduling department to plan out the first week of the season. Oh wait...
Wednesday, November 11
Robert Morris at Syracuse (Coaches vs. Cancer Classic) (ESPNU, 7 ET)
These two teams met at the Carrier Dome in the first round of the NIT in 2007, and both made the NCAAs in 2008. In fact, this is the only meeting of two 2008 NCAA teams in the opening rounds of the Coaches vs. Cancer event. The rosters will just be a tad different, however.
Thursday, November 12
James Madison at Ohio State (Coaches vs. Cancer Classic) (Big Ten, 7 ET)
This is the only TV game listed for this night, so it wins by default.
Friday, November 13
Bradley at BYU (Missouri Valley/Mountain West Challenge) (the mtn, 9:30 ET)
Last March, the Cougars found themselves a first round victim in the NCAAs, while the Braves finished as runners-up in the first ever College Insider Tournament.
Saturday, November 14 and Sunday, November 15
Portland State at Washington (Athletes in Action Basketball Classic) (FSN NW, 10 ET Sunday)
Thanks to football, there's a small group of games to choose this weekend. The best matchup appears to be the last one of the group to tip. While Ken Bone has moved on (coincidentally, to UW's archrival), his top assistant, Tyler Geving, will attempt to keep the program's momentum going. The homestanding Huskies, one of the favorites in the Pac-10, will serve as a stern test for the Vikings.
Monday, November 16
Miami (OH) at Kentucky (FSN South, 7 ET)
If Billy Gillispie was coaching the Wildcats, you could watch this one half expecting Charlie Coles' Redhawks to pull the upset. However, John Calipari was hired to make these sorts of games a formality.
Tuesday, November 17
Memphis at Kansas (Hall of Fame Classic, St. Louis) (ESPN, 10 ET)
With ESPN running hoops for 24-plus hours, you have a lot of options on this particular day. Watching the near consensus preseason number one open up their season with a rematch that's not really a rematch of a game the NCAA says now didn't happen back in 2008 would be a nice way to end the marathon.
Wednesday, November 18
Butler at Northwestern (Big Ten, 8 ET)
The Wildcats have a legitimate shot at finally making the NCAAs this year. Beating a very strong Bulldog team in Evanston would provide a nice win for the resume.
Honorable mention goes to an Interesting doubleheader of intrastate battles on the mtn, Utah State at Utah and Nevada at UNLV.
Thursday, November 19
Coaches vs. Cancer Semifinals--California vs Syracuse and North Carolina vs. Ohio State (ESPN2, 7 ET)
Even if one of these teams were to lose during the on-campus opening rounds, they'd still make it to New York to battle with the other BCS schools in the field.
Saturday, November 21
Rider at Kentucky (FSN South, 1 ET)
Again, not a great slate of games because of football. This game deserves special mention because it's one of the few chances you'l have to see Rider G Ryan Thompson, younger brother of the Sacramento Kings' Jason, (18 ppg. 6.5 rpg in 2008-09) on TV before the MAAC season.
Sunday, November 22
Puerto Rico Tip-Off Final (ESPN2, 8 ET)
This bracket appears a bit unbalanced, with A-10 favorite Dayton, rising ACC club Georgia Tech, and Big East favorite Villanova all featuring in the top half of the bracket (and don't sleep on George Mason either. Indiana, Kansas State, and Mississippi are the three power teams in the bottom half, with America East favorite Boston U capable of pulling a shock.
Monday, November 23
Cincinnati vs. Vanderbilt (Maui Invitational First Round) (ESPN2, 5:30 ET)
The Bearcats and Commodores are two teams who look like they're ready to make up for disappointing 2008-2009 seasons.
Tuesday, November 24
Florida State at Florida (FS Florida, 7 ET)
The Seminoles are looking to build on last year's return to the NCAAs, while the Gators are looking to get back themselves after an unexpected two year absence following two consecutive titles.
Wednesday, November 25
Maui Invitational Championship (ESPN, 10 ET)
While Gonzaga and Maryland would have to be considered the favorites here. Arizona and Wisconsin hope to stand in the way of the Bulldogs, while the aforementioned Bearcats and Commodores will hope to stop the Terps.
Thursday, November 26
Minnesota vs. Butler (76 Classic First Round) (ESPN2, 8:30 ET)
I'm traveling clear across country for this tournament because when I saw the field for the first time last November, I knew it was going to be a classic. While all four quarterfinals are intriguing, this one stands out to me because it matches up a Gopher team that should really be clicking in the third year of Tubby Smith's tenure with a Bulldog squad that could really shock the public (but not those of us in the know) with a good run through this event. Winner faces either Portland or UCLA in Friday's semifinals.
Friday, November 27
76 Classic Semifinals (ESPN2, 2:30 and 5 ET)
While I've already mentioned the potential second semifinal matchups, the first semifinal should be just as entertaining, as it will feature the winner of Long Beach State (the Big West favorite)-West Virginia and either Clemson or Texas A&M.
Saturday, November 28
Louisville at UNLV (Versus, 4 ET)
This is a rematch of the Rebels upset win at Freedom Hall last New Year's Day. At that point, it looked like the Rebels were well on their way to the Tournament and the Cards were reeling.
See, this is why every game is important.
Sunday, November 29
76 Classic Final (ESPN2, 10 ET)
I think the organizers are hoping UCLA will be involved in this one, but as I've shown you, the Bruins won't have an easy time getting here.
Monday, November 30
Penn State at Virginia (ACC/Big Ten Challenge) (ESPN2, 7 ET)
The month closes with a quiet Monday night slate. After playing Stanford and either Kentucky or Cleveland State in a ballroom in Cancun, Tony Bennett's squad must host the defending NIT champions.
That should get you started for the season. My games for December will follow tomorrow evening.