The Weekend Ahead - 11-11-11

        The first full week of basketball ends with a bang, not necessarily in big game matchups or must-see games, but in the aspects of college basketball is back. It's finally here. It's finally here. The conferences have realigned and although stars like Jimmer Fredette, Kemba Walker and Derrick Williams have moved on to their non-existent NBA careers, and future stars like Harrison Barnes, Jared Sullinger and Terrence Jones begin their quest for National Player of the Year and a National Title.

        The Big East conference that promoted a record 11 NCAA Tournament participants last season has six teams ranked in the preseason polls is now the poster child of the conference realignment mess, while the ACC looks to take over control as college basketball's perennial powerhouse next season or 27 months for now.

        With the NBA's future uncertain, some of the top players, mainly freshmen, decided to skip the one-and-done script and return to the college game. Four of the five pre-season All-Americans are in the sophomore class (Jared Sullinger, Harrison Barnes, Terrence Jones and Jeremy Lamb). Add in classmates like Perry Jones, Patric Young, Kendall Marshall and Terrence Ross and this is one of the best classes in recent memory.
Amongst the ranked teams, here are the games to watch:

No. 1 North Carolina vs. Michigan State

Carrier Classic in San Diego

Friday, November 11 - 7 PM EST

        It's all about the matchup of two of the college game's best coaches pits Tom Izzo and Roy Williams. Williams knows all about bouncing back from an underachieving year as UNC finished 20-17 in 2009-10 to 29-8 in 2010-11. Izzo's Spartans, despite being a national top five program a year ago, disappointed at 19-15 overall. The talent is there for a resurgence with senior Draymond Green leading the charge along with sophomore Keith Appling and freshman Branden Dawson, but face a daunting task of the Tar Heels' All-American front line of Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller. Plus, this game is on the USS Carl Vinson- how cool is that?

Belmont at No. 6 Duke

Friday, November 11 - 9 PM EST

        Belmont boasts one of the top non-BCS teams in the country after finishing 30-5 last season and returns three starters and every contributing role player; from their balanced attack that saw seven players average 6+ points per game, but none more than 12.5, Belmont returns six including its top two scorers and its defensive stalwart Kerron Johnson. They'll need that same balanced attack to counter a talented and deep Duke Blue Devils that has a tremendous frontline of imposing height and some serious perimeter shooting.

Oregon at No. 7 Vanderbilt

Friday, November 11 - 10 PM EST

        Coming off some mediocre campaigns and an offseason where the program was spurned publically by several head coaches, former-Creighton coach Dana Altman led the Oregon Ducks to 21 wins and a CBI postseason title. Now, Oregon enters the season with slightly more hype in the Pac-12 featuring a roster of three returning starters and three tremendous impact new faces including Wake Forest transfer Tony Woods, Louisiana Tech graduate Olu Ashaolu and freshman guard Jabari Brown. Vanderbilt, on the other hand, begins the season as a top-ten program with five starters returning plus the infusion of freshmen guards, but the only question is center Festus Ezeli who is out for several weeks with an injured right knee.

Among the non-ranked teams:

Bucknell at Minnesota

Friday, November 11 - 8 PM EST

        The Patriot League favorites take on Minnesota with some holes to fill in their backcourt. The matchup to watch will be 2010-11 Player of the Year in the conference Mike Muscala going head-to-head with the Gophers frontcourt stalwarts Trevor Mbakwe and Ralph Sampson III. Bucknell has the ability to slow the game down in an attempt to minimize Minnesota's athletic advantage by working inside out with Muscala and wings Bryson Johnson and Bryan Cohen. Minnesota, on the other hand, will look to finally get guard Rodney Williams going in transition, while pounding the ball inside to Mbakwe.

Missouri State at Nevada

Friday, November 11 at 10 PM EST

        2010-11 MVC Player of the Year Kyle Weems is the lone returning starter for the Bears compounded by the absence of former head coach Cuonzo Martin who left for Tennessee. Weems like cannot do it all by himself as the Wolfpack are loaded for a run out West with guards Malik Story and Deonte Burton and forwards Olek Czyz and Dario Hunt.

BYU at Utah State

Friday, November 11 - 9:05 PM EST

        The Jimmer-era comes to an end, but that's not it for BYU. Dave Rose still has plenty of  talent still there as then-suspended forward Brandon Davies, Noah Hartsock and Charles Abouo return to the lineup. Davies was an impact performer as the lone big and along with Abouo's slashing ability, the inside-outside has potential to make up for the massive scoring void left behind. But they'll take on another 30-win team from last season, one that hasn't lost at home since December 5, 2009, led by guard Brockeith Pane.

Northern Iowa at Old Dominion

Saturday, November 12 - 7 PM

        Northern Iowa crumbed in Missouri Valley play, losing 8 of their 18 games, more than their previous two seasons combined, but hope to erase their loss with four starters returning including Anthony James and Jake Koch. Old Dominion is always tough at home, losing five games in the last three years combined. Even with four starters moving on, guard Kent Bazemore will continue to cause matchup problems with his hard-nosed play.

By President - Corey Ruff - 11-11-11