Welcome to the new NCAA basketball season! Your reaction to the news that the 2010 schedule opens on Monday night likely resembles one of the following two statements.
1. "Wow, that's a surprise. College hoops has snuck up on me yet again!"
2. "That took entirely too long. Let's watch some games already!"
No matter which camp you're in, you might be wondering how to spend your college hoops time--which may be more limited than mine--wisely.
So, as SB Nation's Resident Bracketologist, I'm offering this new monthly series as a public service. When the calendar turns for each of the five months of the season, I'll highlight the best game (or more) on the each day's schedule to help you plan your viewing, just in case your team of choice has the night off. As the season goes on, I'll feature the games that have the most bracket impact--in the major and mid-major conferences--but since November offers a clean slate for everyone, and a quiet schedule on several evenings in week one, these choices are a bit more random.
Since there are quite a few sterling November matchups that didn't make the cut for this list, bookmark Blogging the Bracket and visit each day (or follow @Dobber_BtB_SBN on Twitter) for a more complete rundown of televised games. For now, here's my pick for each of the next 23 nights.
Monday, November 8: Rhode Island at Pittsburgh, ESPNU (7 p.m. ET)
The Rams visit the Panthers, the fourth-rated top seed in my preseason bracket, as part of the "regional" rounds of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. The format of the tournament means that Rhody can't advance to New York if they pull the upset in this one; however, a victory would be a nice early season boost to their selection profile.
Tuesday, November 9: Northern State at Belmont, ESPNU (7 p.m. ET)
The only game on the night's slate is the first annual Don Meyer Classic, honoring the winningest coach in men's NCAA history who retired last season and is battling inoperable carcinoid cancer. Meyer is a good friend of Belmont coach Rick Byrd, dating back to when he coached the Bruins' neighbors and archrivals, Lipscomb. This will be the first game for the Wolves (who play in Division II) since Meyer's retirement.
Wednesday, November 10: College of Charleston at Maryland, ESPNU (7 p.m. ET)
Former Georgia Tech head coach Bobby Cremins heads back to an ACC arena to take on the Terps in another Coaches vs. Cancer "regional" game. Andrew Goudelock and the Cougars famously upset North Carolina at home last season, a game that didn't mean nearly as much at the end of the season as it did in January.
Thursday, November 11: None
There are no TV games on the schedule on the fourth day of the season. My advice is to take your significant other out for dinner. You'll need the brownie points for later in the month.
Note: Since I'm single, take my advice with several grains of salt.
Friday, November 12: Georgetown at Old Dominion, CSN Washington/WSKY-TV (7 p.m. ET)
The Monarchs won in Washington last season and will try to repeat the feat at home. Both squads lost impact big men after last season, Greg Monroe for the Hoyas and Gerald Lee for ODU, but return plenty of other weapons. If you don't have access to this one, I suggest checking out Stony Brook (my America East pick) at Connecticut on Big East Network/ESPN3 (7 p.m. ET).
Saturday, November 13: Southern Illinois at Illinois, Big Ten Network (8 p.m. ET)
Since college football still dominates the Saturday TV slate, there aren't many marquee matchups on offer, so Bruce Weber's Fighting Illini's matchup against his former employer will have to do.
Sunday, November 14: Wright State at Indiana, ESPNU (7 p.m. ET)
The Raiders, led by new head coach Billy Donlon, face a significant early season test in visiting Bloomington, even if Tom Crean's team is still rebuilding.
Monday, November 15: Siena at Minnesota, ESPNU (9 p.m. ET)
Like Wright State, the Saints promoted an assistant--Mitch Buonaguro--to replace a coach who left for a Big Six conference job. They'll face a significant test, facing the Gophers before Tubby Smith's team heads to San Juan for the weekend.
Tuesday, November 16
There are numerous matchups of note on Marathon Day, which I'll talk about more as the day approaches. However, the most intriguing may be the one at the end when San Diego State visits Gonzaga as part of the CBE Classic "regional" rounds (11 p.m., ESPN2). It's the second of five straight away games for the Aztecs. Even if the Mountain West co-favorites happen to upset the Bulldogs, they'll be headed to Oxford, Ohio for a "subregional" round next week, instead of to Kansas City for the tournament semifinals.
Wednesday, November 17: Utah State at BYU, The Mtn. (9 p.m. ET)
The day after ESPN's marathon--and before the first two of that network's tournaments tip off--is typically a quiet one. However, you'll want to get yourself somewhere (probably a bar) where you can see the WAC favorites visit the Mountain West co-favorites. The Aggies are in search of their second win in a row over the Cougars, but they haven't won in Provo since 2005, when they swept BYU in a rare home-and-home.
Thursday, November 18: Coaches vs. Cancer Semifinals in New York: Pittsburgh vs. Maryland and Illinois vs. Texas, ESPN2 (7 p.m. ET)
Three tournaments get underway on this day, but the TV games in San Juan are in the afternoon (if at all, as Minnesota-Western Kentucky is only on ESPN3) and the four quarterfinals in Charleston are regionally-televised. Since the New York event features four power conference schools, it naturally has a more advantageous broadcasting arrangement. The Panthers and Fighting Illini will be favored, but the Terrapins and Longhorns are capable of pulling mild upsets.
Friday, November 19: Coaches vs. Cancer Final, ESPN2 (7 p.m. ET)
Thursday's winners meet for the season's first tournament championship.
Saturday, November 20: Wisconsin at UNLV, Versus (7 p.m. ET)
Again, it's a football-heavy day, but take a break from the gridiron to catch this matchup of perennial NCAA contenders. And since both these teams can grind it out, you may not have to adjust too much.
Sunday, November 21: Puerto Rico Tip-Off Final, ESPN2, and Charleston Classic Final, ESPNU (both 8 p.m. ET)
In San Juan, North Carolina and West Virginia are the two teams expected to advance, but the Tar Heels' half of the bracket features three teams (Hofstra, Minnesota, Western Kentucky) capable of springing an early season surprise or two, while the Mountaineers have to get by Davidson, then likely Vanderbilt (sorry Nebraska fans).
Georgetown and NC State are the major conference teams in a mid-Atlantic heavy field in South Carolina, but once again, the path to the final won't be an easy one. The Hoyas will likely have to get by both Big South regular season winner Coastal Carolina and Southern Conference champion Wofford, who very nearly upset Wisconsin in the NCAAs last season. On the other hand, the Wolfpack should easily get past East Carolina in round 1, but a win over Charlotte or George Mason in the semifinals will be more difficult to earn.
Monday, November 22: Maui Quarterfinal No. 1: Connecticut vs. Wichita State, ESPN2 (3 p.m. ET)
The easy choice would be to go with the CBE Classic Semifinals in Kansas City, as Duke plays Marquette and Gonzaga takes on Kansas State starting at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2. However, the Maui Invitational also starts on this day, and even though the field isn't quite to the level of the 2011 one, a strong group of teams made the trip to the islands. Instead, I'm going to set my DVR for that event's first quarterfinal between the Huskies, a team that could use a strong Maui trip to rebound from last season, and the Shockers, a squad that could be as good or better than Northern Iowa was last year. You can watch the replay while Michigan State likely dismantles Maui host Chaminade at 9:30 p.m. ET (ESPNU).
Tuesday, November 23: CBE Classic Final in Kansas City, ESPN2 (10:15 p.m. ET)
The quartet of combinations for this game--Duke vs. Gonzaga, Duke vs. Kansas State, Marquette vs. Gonzaga, Marquette vs. Kansas State--are all rather appetizing.
Wednesday, November 24: Maui Invitational Final, ESPN (10 p.m. ET)
The Maui bracket projects a Michigan State-Kentucky final (especially with down Virginia and Oklahoma squads in the UK half), but the Wildcats need to watch out for Washington in Tuesday's semifinals, while the UConn-Wichita State winner will provide the Spartans a real test.
Thursday, November 25
Forget football, it's Old Spice and 76 Classic Quarterfinal day, so grab yourself some turkey and mashed potatoes and enjoy the action in Orlando and Anaheim. Here's a game from each event that stands out to me.
Georgia vs. Notre Dame, ESPN2 (7 p.m. ET): In Orlando, the Bulldogs get a chance to show all of the preseason love they've been receiving is deserved, while the Fighting Irish are out to prove there's life after Luke Harangody and Tory Jackson.
Murray State vs. Stanford, ESPNU (9 p.m. ET): Across the country in Anaheim, the Racers need to make a run through this tournament to have any shot at an at-large bid, and a winnable quarterfinal against the Cardinal is a start.
Friday, November 26: Old Spice Classic Semifinals, ESPN (12 p.m. ET) and ESPN2 (5 p.m. ET)
While this season's Orlando tournament may not be as star-studded as the 2008 event that ended with a Gonzaga-Tennessee final, the 2010 edition should be just as wide open. The noon game is likely to feature Texas A&M and Wisconsin, if they can get past Boston College and Manhattan, respectively. On the other hand, the 5 p.m. matchup, where the Georgia-Notre Dame winner will take on the better of Cal and Temple, is even tougher to figure.
Saturday, November 27: Arizona vs. Kansas in Las Vegas, ESPN2 (10:30 p.m. ET)
The two ESPN tournaments take the day off for Rivalry Weekend football, but there is no absence of hoops action. My featured matchup between the Wildcats and Jayhawks is a result of one of those tournaments that's conveniently ditched its typical elimination format to get a marquee matchup on TV. On Friday, Santa Clara faces Arizona and Ohio meets Kansas, in what normally would be the semifinals of the Las Vegas Invitational. However, win or lose, the two disrespected mids will play each other Saturday, instead of getting a shot at another marquee victory.
As for the Big Six matchup, a Wildcat win over the Jayhawks would do wonders for a program that's looking to start a new NCAA appearance streak.
Sunday, November 28: Old Spice and 76 Classic Finals, ESPN2 (starting at 7 p.m. ET)
I already mentioned how open the Orlando field is, but the Anaheim field also has potential. In the top half of the bracket, Virginia Tech is favored, with Oklahoma State their biggest barrier to the final. Murray State and the UNLV-Tulsa quarterfinal winner have the best shot in the bottom half.
Monday, November 29: St. Peter's at Seton Hall, Big East Network (7 p.m. ET/ESPN3)
Sure the Big Ten/ACC Challenge opens tonight with Virginia's visit to Minnesota, but I'd rather see if the Peacocks, who will contend in the MAAC, can defeat the Pirates after dropping a two-point decision in Newark to open last season.
Tuesday, November 30: North Carolina at Illinois, ESPN (9:30 p.m. ET)
It's a rematch of the 2005 National Championship game, in name only. Both teams had disappointing 2009-10 campaigns and are expected to be far better this time around. This one will be a good measuring stick to see if either one is in better shape.
My December list will run on December 1, the day the Big Ten/ACC Challenge concludes and the first full calendar month of the season begins.