It's just about college basketball time with the season set to tip off Friday, Nov. 11, and nothing says college basketball more than a good upset. Sure, it's more fun when they happen at the end of the year in the NCAA Tournament, but we'll be in store for some early season surprises as well.
Here are five upsets I expect to happen in the early going:
1. Creighton will beat NC State in the Paradise Jam
For this game to happen, they'll both have to get through their first-round opponent in the Virgin Islands -- NC State plays Montana and Creighton plays Washington State. I'm going to assume that happens.
The Wolfpack got great news as its Turkish freshman, Omar Yurtseven, was ruled eligible after the first nine games of the season, but that won't help them here. The Wolfpack, led by super freshman Dennis Smith Jr., are still really talented and will be among the top echelon in the ACC once they get their sea legs, but Creighton has quietly been loading up for this season and has an older, talented team.
Sharpshooter Isaiah Zierden returns to the Bluejays after a knee injury, and though Kansas State transfer Marcus Foster hasn't played for the Bluejays yet, he has been in the program a year. In fact, Creighton has smartly positioned itself as the Transfer U of the Big East, with Cole Huff (via Nevada) and Mo Watson (Boston U) in line to play major roles. This is an experienced team that can really score, and they'll be farther along their growth curve than NC State when they meet.
2. Oklahoma State over UConn
Jawun Evans is the best point guard in the Big 12. He wasn't in great shape last year and earned a reputation last season and in the summer as having a bit of an entitled streak, but Brad Underwood has turned that around almost immediately with help from his fifth-year senior Phil Forte. It is obvious that the Cowboys will have to use smoke and mirrors on their interior at times, but their perimeter is talented and experienced.
Forte's shooting numbers will peak playing off Evans as well as Jeffrey Carroll. Mitchell Solomon is the key to opening up the defense as he has the ability to be a stretch 5, but has lacked the confidence. UConn's Jalen Adams is a stud, but with Daniel Hamilton's departure a freshman next to Adams in the backcourt, I'm going to guess UConn will be a little overwhelmed at what the Cowboys will have in store for them.
3. Harvard will smash Stanford
What really led to the downfall of Johnny Dawkins was his staff's inability to find a good enough backcourt. Stanford recruits from a smaller pool than many schools based upon academics but in that pool, Stanford selects, they do not recruit. In my opinion their inability to evaluate the point guard and shooting guard positions make the rest of their personnel look average and it is NOT.
Reid Travis, when he is healthy, is a stud, and Michael Humphrey is a 6-9 super talented pro prospect as a face-up 4 man. Even Roscoe Allen, who left school with one year of eligibility remaining to play in Spain, was never made into the player he should have been, because of their lack of shooting and ball-handling skill.
That is the challenge for Jerod Haase with the Cardinal, and in the meantime, Harvard is loaded. The Crimson return Syiani Chambers at the point, and Corey Johnson, whose 74 3-pointers as a freshman last season was the third most in program history, will get even more quality looks. Tommy Amaker also has the type of interior talent/depth usually reserved for solid high-major teams. The crazy part about this game will be that Harvard will not just play hard, it will have a talent edge as well.
4. UCLA falls to Dayton at the Wooden Legacy
Same deal here as NC State and Creighton in the Paradise Jam; the Bruins and Dayton each have to get through their first-round opponents to meet up in the second round. UCLA plays Portland and Dayton plays Nebraska. Count on those wins.
I'm bullish on UCLA this season. Lonzo Ball, an elite freshman recruit, is worth the risk that Steve Alford took in giving back a year of his contract to bet on his program. UCLA has turned the tide in recruiting for next season as well, and I believe that Alford, on the hip of his sharpshooting son Bryce, will have a great year and sign an extension in the spring.
This UCLA team can really score with Thomas Welsh as a true center, and T.J. Leaf will be helped by Alford's passing at both guard spots, but mostly because Ball can just create and make everything easier. Having said that, Dayton will travel like nothing you will ever see fan-wise. They return four starters from a group that has made the last three NCAA tourneys, and they are tougher than a two-dollar steak.
At the end of the season, UCLA wins this game because of skill and the development of Ball, but in the early going before the Bruins really find their groove, Dayton's culture of toughness and rebounding, and their ability to win grinders, will rain on the Bruin parade.
5. Princeton over Cal at Pearl Harbor Invitational
Cal had top-five talent last season. Two players left for the NBA Draft, and Jordan Mathews left for Gonzaga. That leaves, most notably, Ivan Rabb, who we selected as a preseason second-team All-American after he smartly returned to school. Sam Singer replaces Tyrone Wallace, and Singer can play. He just needs to gain confidence. The Bears also bring back Jabari Bird, who was a McDonald's All-American but hasn't, to this point, come to fruition as a scorer.
And don't forget Kam Rooks, who is 7-2 and may well play in the NBA.
Still, Princeton will spread Cal out and make their size defend the perimeter. Spencer Weisz is probably the best passer in the Ivy and the Tigers might, in turn, be the best Ivy team, even better than the really talented Harvard team we talked about earlier. Don't think of this year's Princeton squad as a slow-it-down, play-in-the-40s club. They play fast, shoot the ball very well and their wide-open style will give Cal fits early in the season.