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A game a day for the 2017-18 season: November

November 6, 2017 Columns No Comments

It doesn’t matter how big or realistic television resolutions get, or how much fun it might be to follow social media feeds during a sporting event. There is no substitution for being there. And never will be.

When it comes to college basketball, one of the many beauties of the sport is it provides so many different experiences when you are there. There is Syracuse’s mammoth, 33,000-seat Carrier Dome and Cal State Northridge’s Matadome, which fits in 2,400-after recently adding a second level of bleachers to increase capacity by 50%. BYU has the Marriott Center (capacity: 19,000, even after some recent reductions); UNC Asheville plays in Kimmel Arena. And whether the Cougars are hosting Gonzaga in a battle of WCC heavyweights or UNCA is facing Winthrop for Big South supremacy in 3,200-seat Kimmel, the atmosphere will be almost equally electric for both.

Add in city rivalries, state rivalries and cross country rivalries. Conference rivals and non-conference grudge matches. Different coaching styles and different playing styles. The spice of the sport is variety, and its breadth ensures that there is plenty of it. All of which creates any number of good places to be on any given night.

Of course, the logistics of money and time make it impossible for one to travel literally across the country to go to whichever college basketball games one wants to in a season, though it might seem sometimes like Final Four-quality referees like John Higgins try. But if we could, we would.

For the third straight year, here is our fantasy itinerary, where we would be every day of the season if we could pick one game to be at. As mentioned in the past, this is a list of the most attractive games of each day to one person, based on any number of criteria-teams, location, rivalry, you name it.

It’s not a pick of where the two highest ranked teams would be that day, nor is it the game TV would hype the most that day. Anyone can tell you that much. But if we were trying to get a nationwide sampling of NCAA Division I, this is where we’d be headed.

Our 2017-18 Game A Day look begins with November:

Nov. 10: West Virginia vs. Texas A&M from Germany. Yet again, the season opens with a horrendous buffet of buy games and Division I schools hosting non-D-1 opponents, and don’t think for a second a midweek start date would fix that. (People can randomly prefer one date over another, but the idea that moving the start date of the season up is a solution to anything is so misguided it’s hard to even fathom.) There are a handful of intriguing matchups among a huge schedule, and we’ll go with this game from Ramstein Air Force Base with the perennially tough Mountaineers against an Aggies team with high expectations, though also being affected by suspensions early. Honorable mention: Iowa State at Missouri, which an extra mention to South Carolina at Wofford, with a Final Four team opening the Terriers’ new arena

Nov.11: Notre Dame at DePaul. Two teams that should be playing every year and had many great battles when both were independents in the 1970s and 80s meet for the first time since 2013, this to open the Blue Demons’ new arena. Even as the Irish will be considerable favorites, the energy this should have means this one is worth turning off the college football for a while. Honorable mention: Illinois State at Florida Gulf Coast

Nov. 12: Bucknell at Arkansas. The Bison won at an SEC school last year when they dumped Vanderbilt, and an experienced team is very capable of doing it again here against the reloading Razorbacks. Honorable mention: an Ivy League trio, with Massachusetts at Harvard, Yale at Wisconsin and Princeton going to Butler

Nov. 13: Oral Roberts at Tulsa. There are better teams facing off this night-our tasty No. 2 pick game below, plus Vanderbilt at Belmont, Middle Tennessee State/Murray State and New Mexico State/Saint Mary’s are all more enticing on those lines. But this is our list, and we’ve come to enjoy this always competitive city rivalry, one where the more prominent Golden Hurricane’s win last year snapped a three-game losing streak to ORU. Honorable mention: Minnesota at Providence.

Nov. 14: Lipscomb at Alabama. ESPN committed an indefensible flub in cancelling its Tip-Off Marathon that normally takes place this day, thinning the ranks greatly. We also know we’re supposed to pick one of the Champions Classic games here, but forgive us rent-a-freshman teams aren’t our favorite cup of tea, especially early on. We’ll have plenty of time to check those teams out as the season goes on; in the meantime, we go with this one, where the high-powered, three-point bombing Bisons get a shot against a touted Alabama team that still has a lot to prove. Honorable mention: Duke vs. Michigan State

Nov. 15: Butler at Maryland. On paper, the Terrapins should be comfortable favorites, but these are the type of road games the Bulldogs seem to specialize in winning, the sign of an elite program that only reloads, never rebuilds. Honorable mention: Ball State at Oklahoma

Nov. 16: Xavier at Wisconsin. An early-season heavyweight matchup between two perennial March contenders who both are reloading. Honorable mention: Belmont at Middle Tennessee State

Nov. 17: Virginia at VCU. Tony Bennett proves again that he doesn’t duck anyone, and this series is back on with the first game of a two-year home-and-home at the Rams’ Siegel Center, which is rocking even for lesser opponents. This will be fascinating and fun, and the sport is better for it. Honorable mention: New Mexico at New Mexico State, where new Lobos coach Paul Weir returns to his previous post

Nov. 18: Texas-Arlington at BYU. With college football still going on, this Saturday is mostly a woof. For entertainment value, though, you could do a lot worse than these two, who put on a shootout in the NIT first round in March. Any chance you get to watch UTA’s Kevin Hervey and Erick Neal this year, you should take advantage of it. Honorable mention: Bucknell at Maryland

Nov. 19: USC at Vanderbilt. There’s perhaps no better example of the collusion among the top conferences to schedule each other-and avoid good teams from conferences outside them-than this one, a cross-country intersectional that makes zero sense other than the conference company these two keep. Nevertheless, Memorial Gym should be rocking for a highly ranked Trojans team, who will get a terrific early-season road test. Honorable mention: Samford vs. Loyola (Ill.), a quality matchup of up-and-coming teams in Chicago as part of something called the Savannah Invitational

Nov. 20: Iowa vs. Louisiana-Lafayette in Cayman Islands Classic quarterfinal Thanksgiving week opens with the Maui Invitational and Gulf Coast Showcase among the offerings, and another new event is the Cayman Islands Classic, which will furnish this appealing matchup with the young Hawkeyes against one of the Sun Belt’s better teams.  Honorable mention: Georgia Southern vs. Missouri State in a Gulf Coast Showcase quarterfinal

Nov. 21: Maui Invitational semifinals. Maui semifinal night is always one of the best nights of the non-conference season. This year’s field isn’t quite as strong as last year’s but semifinals of Marquette or VCU against Wichita State and Notre Dame vs. Michigan still are worthy watches. Honorable mention: Florida Gulf Coast at Middle Tennessee State

Nov. 22: Maui Invitational final. Wichita State against Michigan or Notre Dame would be a fantastic title game. Honorable mention: Belmont at Providence

Nov. 23: Seton Hall vs. Rhode Island in NIT Season Tip-Off semifinal. An outstanding matchup on paper with a chic top 15 pick in some circles against the Atlantic 10 favorites, though it’s hard to imagine how the Rams will stop Angel Delgado. Honorable mention: Saint Mary’s vs. Harvard in the Wooden Legacy quarterfinals in Fullerton, Calif.

Nov. 24: Battle 4 Atlantis final. Arizona and Villanova are all set up for a collision course to a battle of Wildcats final that would be spectacular, though Purdue could be a stumbling block for Nova. Honorable mention: Phil Knight Invitational semifinals, where the matchups should be tenfold better than the quarterfinals a day earlier

Nov. 25: Great Alaska Shootout final. The 40th and (sadly) final edition of the granddaddy of the modern day in-season tournaments. It’s a shame that this tradition-rich event will be ending, doubly so with how much this sport regularly flubs non-conference play, but this should be a special night.  Honorable mention: Boston College at Providence

Nov. 26: Phil Knight Invitational finals. Made for TV, in every way imaginable. Possible title games include North Carolina against Michigan State and Duke against Florida or Gonzaga.

Nov. 27: Lipscomb at Belmont. Maybe the best-kept secret among non-conference rivalries, one that certainly deserves more recognition. The Battle of the Boulevard in Nashville had two incredible finishes in the home-and-home last year, with the Bruins beating the buzzer to win both. Honorable mention: Wisconsin at Virginia

Nov. 28: Louisville at Purdue. It will be fascinating to see how the Cardinals-with their rocky offseason and an interim coach-fare all year, and especially here in their first road test in what is bound to be a boisterous Mackey Arena. Honorable Mention: Baylor at Xavier

Nov. 29: BYU at Utah Valley. This should be a raucous environment as the Wolverines get to host their more prominent crosstown rivals one year after knocking off the Cougars in Provo. UVU is an experienced team that could do it again, but the Cougars won’t be lacking in motivation. Honorable Mention: Michigan at North Carolina

Nov. 30: Notre Dame at Michigan State. The environment for this one in East Lansing will feel like the middle of conference play-in November. Honorable mention: San Diego State at San Diego, another city rivalry renewed

Last year’s game a day picks:
November 2016
December 2016
January 2017
February 2017

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