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The 5 best games of college basketball’s opening weekend

The madness is back.

West Virginia v Gonzaga Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

College basketball seasons often start with something of a thud. A light opening weekend typically precedes an exciting night at the Champions Classic and then the flurry of loaded early season tournaments that take place near the end of the month.

The first days of the 2017-18 season don’t figure to be much different. While there is a handful of interesting matchups on days 1-3, things won’t get really spicy until Tuesday when Duke battles Michigan State and Kentucky squares off against Kansas in Chicago.

Still, for diehard fans of the sport who have waited months for the madness to return, opening weekend remains a celebration. Here are the five games of this weekend most worthy of your time.

No. 11 West Virginia vs. No. 25 Texas A&M (Friday, 6 p.m., ESPN)

The 2017 Armed Forces Classic — played from Ramstein Air Base in Germany — will be the first game of the 2017-18 season featuring multiple ranked teams.

Texas A&M sophomore Robert Williams could have been a lottery pick last spring, but instead he’s teaming up with Tyler Davis to form arguably the toughest frontcourt in all of college basketball. Unfortunately, Williams will be sidelined for this game after a suspension for violating school policy.

West Virginia, which is coming off a trip to the Sweet 16 and a bitter loss to eventual national runner-up Gonzaga, figures to be Kansas’ toughest competition in the Big 12. The Mountaineers won’t have forward Esa Ahmad until January (suspension), but they do have conference Player of the Year candidate Jevon Carter (13.5 ppg) as well as three-year starter Daxter Miles (8.8 points, 2.5 rebounds).

Iowa State at Missouri (Friday, 9 p.m., SEC Network)

Few teams have been more polarizing this offseason than Missouri. The Tigers won just eight games last season but spent the spring wooing Cuonzo Martin away from Cal and signing a top five recruiting class headlined by potential No. 1 NBA draft pick Michael Porter Jr.

That dramatic shift has resulted in preseason predictions ranging anywhere from Mizzou being a legitimate top-15 team to one that won’t come close to making the NCAA tournament. The mystery of which side is the closest to being right will start to be solved Friday night when Porter Jr. and Co. host an Iowa State team that should be taking a large step back in the post-Monte Morris era.

No. 21 UCLA vs. Georgia Tech (Friday, 11:30 p.m., ESPN)

This game itself, being played at the Baoshan Sports Center in Shanghai, has become something of an afterthought in the wake of the off-the-court national headlines that have been made by both teams.

First there was Georgia Tech self-reporting that starters Josh Okogie and Tadric Jackson had accepted impermissible benefits and suspending both players indefinitely. That news was followed by the man who provided these benefits, Ron Bell, going public with the bizarre story of his relationship with Yellow Jackets head coach Josh Pastner and why he did all the things he did.

Not to be outdone, UCLA freshmen LiAngelo Ball, Jalen Hill, and Cody Riley were arrested for allegedly shoplifting from a Louis Vuitton store near their team hotel on Tuesday. The players will not be with the team for their game against Georgia Tech and are expected to have to stay behind in China and serve a 20-day house arrest sentence at the team hotel.

So, yeah, one of the marquee games of opening night has lost a bit of its shine.

No. 14 Notre Dame at DePaul (Saturday, 4 p.m., FS1)

Your first opportunity to hear on Twitter about DePaul losing comes Saturday when the Blue Demons host No. 14 Notre Dame. The two teams will be playing for the 105th time, but it’s the first time since 2013. The Fighting Irish have won the last nine meetings between the schools.

Vermont at No. 5 Kentucky (Sunday, 3:30 p.m., ESPN)

The Saturday/Sunday schedule of opening weekend is especially light, but Kentucky-Vermont in the middle of NFL Sunday has the potential to be entertaining. The Catamounts are the runaway favorites in the America East, and they could be a trendy pick to pull an upset in the NCAA tournament. Kentucky is once again loaded with super talented freshmen who coach John Becker hopes will already be looking ahead to Tuesday night’s showdown with Kansas.