Yes, it's that time again. You can feel it in the air. It's been a long summer and start to fall, but college basketball is finally back. If you are like us, glued to the TV this weekend, DVRing several games or headed to watch several more in person, then it's Christmas come early. Of the 338 Division I schools, 222 of them are playing Friday, including 15 Top 25 teams and all the top Player of the Year candidates. Here's a breakdown of the weekend ahead:
Lehigh @ Baylor
Don't underestimate the Mountainhawks from the Patriot League. This Lehigh team, led by preseason All-American guard .C.J McCollum, upset Duke in the opening round of NCAA play in 2012 and could very well tip-off the 2012-13 season with another upset. Baylor has plenty of new pieces to its rotation, including future NBA lottery pick Isaiah Austin, a 7-footer with perimeter skills. Baylor will have too much size for Lehigh to matchup, but if McCollum can play his aggressive defense on Bear point guard Pierre Jackson, turnovers will keep Lehigh in the game.
Michigan State vs. Connecticut
In name alone, this is a top tier matchup, but the Spartans will be no match for the UConn Huskies at the Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany. Michigan State lost their best player, Draymond Green, but point guard Keith Appling and freshman guard Gary Harris can put points on the board in a hurry. It will be an interesting matchup of that duo with UConn's backcourt of Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright and freshman Omar Calhoun, but Michigan State' size, athleticism and depth in the frontcourt will give new head coach Kevin Ollie fits on the glass.
Ohio State @ Marquette
On the USS Yorktown in South Carolina, Marquette will be a top team in the Big East this season despite losing the conference Player of the Year in Jae Crowder along with scoring guard Darius Johnson-Odom. The Golden Eagles brought in underrated do-it-all versatile guard Trent Lockett from Arizona State, but will sit Todd Mayo in the meantime due to academics. That's not a good sign for Marquette as Ohio State lost plenty this offseason, but also returns the best perimeter defender in the country in Aaron Craft and one of the best pure scorers in Deshaun Thomas.
Bryant @ Indiana
The story line will get old real soon, but the Hoosiers are back. Led by national Player of the Year favorite and potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, Cody Zeller, Indiana has plenty of offense and new point guard, Yogi Farrell, is the missing piece to make this offensive attack even more dangerous. There's outside shooting, interior scorer and an improving defense led by Victor Oladipo.
North Texas @ Creighton
Creighton is led by preseason All-American Doug McDermott who not only finished top five in the country in scoring a year ago at 23 points, but he led his Bluejay team with 8 rebounds per game. His ability to score inside and out is nearly unmatched by any player in the country. But the one who can match McDermott is North Texas' Tony Mitchell, a 6'8" bruising forward who can dominate inside and out. Despite solid 2011-12 production, Mitchell is still flying under the national radar, but not too scouts. He is a lottery pick if he enters the 2013 Draft and plenty of fans can see why in this game.
Maryland vs. Kentucky
The college basketball game that opens the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn, headlines NBA talent on opening night. Most of that talent is young and inexperienced, especially on the Wildcats: Nerlens Noel, Alex Poythress, Archie Goodwin and Ryan Harrow could all be first-round picks, while the same could be said for Maryland center Alex Len and new shooting guard Dez Wells. It will be a big game for both Len and Noel in front of scouts.
Georgetown vs. Florida
Another battleship game, this time in Jacksonville on the USS Bataan. Florida will be without starting point guard Scottie Wilbekin, the team's top perimeter defender. There is still more scoring punch in the backcourt with Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario and forwards Erik Murphy and Patric Young. But Georgetown has the vastly underrated forward Otto Porter along with a dynamic playmaker at point in Markel Starks. If Georgetown can slow the game down and limit the Gator's possessions, they will be able to stay in it.
UCF @ USF
The Florida matchup takes place early on and the matchup could get dicey. USF plays ugly and hard, but they find ways to win with point guard Anthony Collins and forward Victor Rudd. Last season, they surprised many by winning 22 games, including 12 in the Big East. UCF plays more up tempo and should be one of C-USA's better teams this year, led by power forward Keith Clanton and his diversified offensive game. Former UVA-wing Tristan Spurlock and junior guard Isaiah Sykes gives the Knights two scoring athletes that could hurt USF's stingy D.