Category archive: Northern Iowa Panthers

The atmosphere of the Carrier Classic, with its overwhelming sense of patriotism and the sheer uniqueness of playing a game on the deck of the USS Carl Vinson, along with the historical significance of that vessel, will be hard to top.

The view was magnificent. The Naval presence in all its glory and uniformity was as impressive as one would imagine. And the appreciation from the sailors for the break from the daily routine was genuine.

If you missed that game or any of the matchups on opening weekend, you're in for a treat because you won't be able to turn on the ESPN family of networks from 11:59 p.m. ET on Monday until about 1 a.m. ET on Wednesday without seeing college basketball on the screen.

Here are some questions to ponder as the fourth annual Tip-Off Marathon begins with Washington State at Gonzaga and ends with an NIT Season Tip-Off game the following night from Stanford.

Mike Krzyzewski and Bob Knight AP Photo/Charles KrupaMike Krzyzewski and Bob Knight are tied atop the all-time wins list, but Krzyzewski could set the new mark against Michigan State at the Champions Classic.

1. Will Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski become the NCAA's all-time winningest coach? The Blue Devils play Michigan State in the first game at the Champions Classic (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET) from Madison Square Garden. Duke struggled against Belmont in its opener and then blasted Presbyterian on Saturday. Neither result should come as a surprise. The Blue Devils are usually the home team in New York, but it will be interesting to see how many Spartans fans are able to make the trip, especially if some of them just went to San Diego. Still, Michigan State has a real shot to upstage Coach K. Despite their loss to North Carolina, the Spartans were the aggressor, outrebounding the Tar Heels convincingly 42-31. The Blue Devils have as much size as North Carolina, so the challenge will be similar. But MSU must shoot better from 3-point range than it did against UNC (2-of-20). Another key to the game is seeing which team converts timely perimeter shots. If Duke wins, we'll have the unique setting of Krzyzewski winning No. 903 and passing his former coach Bob Knight, who will sit courtside calling the game for ESPN.

2. How will the Thomas Robinson-Anthony Davis matchup unfold? This could turn out to be one of the more anticipated frontcourt showdowns during the nonconference schedule, as this individual battle highlights the second game of the Champions Classic between Kentucky and Kansas (ESPN, 9:30 ET). Robinson began the season as the go-to guy for Kansas, finishing with 18 points and 11 rebounds against Towson. Meanwhile, Davis, UK's highly touted freshman, blitzed Marist with 23 points and 10 boards in the Wildcats' 50-point rout. Kentucky has more options than KU and can lean on Doron Lamb or Terrence Jones to get it plenty of points. But the tussle between Robinson and Davis will be good theater throughout the night.

3. How will Ohio State's Aaron Craft and William Buford handle Florida's perimeter? We're not conceding the Jared Sullinger-Patric Young matchup (well, we will for these purposes), but this game may come down to the guards. Florida's set of Kenny Boynton, Mike Rosario, Brad Beal and Erving Walker is off to a sensational start. Rosario scored 19 points off the bench, while Boynton scored 19 and Beal 14 (Walker added 10) in a rout of Jackson State. Craft and Buford will be tested defensively more so than they were a year ago, when Ohio State won easily at UF during this same event. The Buckeyes, who host the Gators at 8 p.m. ET (ESPN2), are the No. 3 team in the nation because of Sullinger. But this will be the first time OSU may feel the loss of defensive specialist David Lighty.

4. Can Belmont emerge from the brutal opening weekend with a split? The Bruins nearly nipped Duke in a comeback that fell one possession short. The next challenge is a visit to in-state Memphis at noon ET on ESPN. Belmont won't have any awe factor in playing the Tigers. The Bruins should come into this game oozing with confidence after their showing versus the Blue Devils. Memphis is still a young team and a work in progress. The Tigers have more talent, but the question is whether they will show patience against a Belmont team that will want to run and run and run. This could be one of the most entertaining games of the day.

5. How will Baylor handle its one and likely only test during Perry Jones III's suspension? Jones must sit for three more games after accepting an extra benefit. The Bears beat Texas Southern on Friday and Jackson State on Sunday. The two games that follow Baylor's home matchup with San Diego State (ESPN, 2 p.m. ET) are South Carolina State and Texas-Arlington. This is not the same Aztecs team from last season after the roster was gutted by graduating seniors and an early-entry NBA departure. Still, they are athletic enough to cause problems. The Bears have options with Quincy Acy, Quincy Miller and Anthony Jones, but this game should at least push Baylor a tad more than the first two did during Jones' suspension.

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Marquise Carter
James Snook/US PresswireGonzaga's Marquise Carter hopes to find his shooting stroke against Washington State.

6. How will Gonzaga's guards respond after a poor first outing? The Bulldogs showed in a tight win over Eastern Washington that they can rely heavily on Robert Sacre (22 points and 10 boards). But the perimeter shooters went 3-of-13 on 3s, and Marquise Carter was 2-of-11 and Mike Hart, Gary Bell, Kevin Pangos and David Stockton were a combined 6-of-15 from the field. Washington State is a team in transition, and the Zags should win this game. But Gonzaga has plenty of tougher challenges ahead, and so its guard play will need to improve. Still, this will be a good chance to see Sacre and Elias Harris on display against the Cougars, tipping off the Marathon at 11:59 p.m. ET on Monday night (ESPN).

7. As for the two women's games on the Marathon schedule …
How will Tennessee perform after coach Pat Summitt's health diagnosis? If you saw Robin Roberts' piece on "Good Morning America," you know it is clear that the Lady Vols are determined to win a national title for Summitt. The Tennessee coach also seems as driven as ever in her quest to keep coaching while she battles early-onset dementia. This should be an emotional game, as they all may turn out to be, for the No. 3 Lady Vols as they host No. 7 Miami (ESPN2, 6 p.m. ET). And how will Texas A&M handle its status as the reigning champs? The Aggies aren't expected to repeat as national champs, but they have established themselves as an elite program. The primer to the Tennessee game won't involve as much theater, but may be as competitive a game when No. 9 Louisville goes to College Station to play the No. 6 Aggies (ESPNU, 4 p.m. ET).

8. What should we expect from Texas' Myck Kabongo? Kabongo is an impressive young man who handles himself with poise and class. Now he has to translate that onto the court against a talented Rhode Island squad that lost at George Mason by two points in its season opener Friday. The Longhorns will lean heavily on Kabongo to start the season. How he handles this first assignment will be a strong indicator on what to expect, as URI will push Texas from the outset (ESPN, 4 p.m. ET).

9. How will Drexel handle the hype as the CAA's favorite? The Dragons play at Rider (ESPN, 6 a.m. ET) when most people might be waking up to watch the Marathon. Drexel is the early pick to win the Colonial Athletic Association, a conference that's receiving some buzz after placing its second team (VCU) in the Final Four since 2006. Drexel will be minus the injured Chris Fouch, but Samme Givens and Frantz Massenat should be enough to beat Rider. But the Dragons could do themselves a service by looking impressive, too.

10. How productive can the Saint Mary's frontcourt be this season? Randy Bennett anticipates that this frontcourt will be more productive than the one led by Omar Samhan, who led the Gaels to the Sweet 16 two seasons ago. That means Rob Jones will be getting help from Kyle Rowley, Brad Waldow, Mitchell Young and Beau Levesque. Jones dominated Fresno Pacific with 25 points and 12 boards, but Northern Iowa -- coming off an impressive road route of ODU -- will be a much more formidable foe for the Gaels (ESPN, 2 a.m. ET).

11. What should we expect from LeBryan Nash? Well, if you believe the hype, Oklahoma State has an all-Big 12 player who can elevate it to the NCAA tournament. The Cowboys will likely have plenty of chances to feature Nash against Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the NIT Season Tip-Off (ESPN3, 8 p.m. ET).

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Kris Joseph
Richard Mackson/US PresswireIf Syracuse beats Manhattan on Monday, Kris Joseph and the Orange will face either Albany or Brown in the NIT Season Tip-Off.

12. How polished will Syracuse look? If they defeat Manhattan on Monday, the Orange will face either Albany or Brown on Tuesday (ESPN3, 7 p.m. ET) in the NIT Season Tip-Off. The early indication is that this veteran team will be ready to compete for the Final Four. Of course, Syracuse isn't being challenged as much as some other teams, but the Orange smacked Fordham in the opener as Dion Waiters complemented Kris Joseph quite well.

13. A surprisingly close game? I'm going with Austin Peay at Cal (ESPN2, 10 p.m. ET). The Governors should be one of the favorites in the Ohio Valley Conference. Will Triggs and TyShwan Edmondson could play at any level. California is one of the Pac-12 favorites, but the Golden Bears will be tested in this CBE Classic matchup. Guards Allen Crabbe and Jorge Gutierrez will be tested versus Austin Peay.

14. What are the chances of a surprise to end the Marathon? I think Stanford will have a tough time with either SMU or Colorado State at home in the NIT Season Tip-Off. The Mustangs or the Rams are fully capable of being a pest and upsetting the Cardinal (ESPNU, 11 p.m. ET). Stanford first has to get past Fresno State, of course, to be in this matchup. To do that, Aaron Bright, Chasson Randle and Josh Owens will have to really take control.

15. How will Miami score inside? The Hurricanes are sans Reggie Johnson and Julian Gamble due to injuries. The given has been that the Canes have the guard play with Malcolm Grant and Durand Scott. But Rutgers will try and make Miami (ESPN3, 7 p.m. ET) beat the Scarlet Knights on the inside. This could turn out to be one of the closer games in the Marathon.

16. What should we expect from Villanova? This is somewhat of a blank slate. The Coreys -- Mr. Fisher and Mr. Stokes -- are gone. Maalik Wayns will be the dominant presence, but there are plenty of other options as Mouphtaou Yarou, JayVaughn Pinkston, Dominic Cheek and James Bell could all star against La Salle (ESPN3, 7 p.m. ET). The Wildcats are an unknown in the Big East, and this game will at least give us a taste of what we may see.

17. Is Kevin Jones ready to be a star? For two seasons, West Virginia's Bob Huggins has been waiting for Jones to emerge. He scored 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds in a season-opening seven-point win over Oral Roberts. Kent State will hardly be a walk for the Mountaineers (ESPN, 10 a.m. ET). Darryl Bryant can offset Jones' production, but the offense will likely flow through Jones as he adapts to being the front man for the Mountaineers.

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Gib Arnold
Douglas C. Pizac/US PresswireGib Arnold's Warriors look to make a good first impression against Cal State-Northridge.

18. How ready is Hawaii to make a run at Utah State? Gib Arnold has gone through a complete roster makeover and coached the Warriors to an impressive 19-13 record in his first season in Honolulu. Utah State beat BYU to open the season while one of the WAC favorites, Nevada, was flat at home in losing to Missouri State. Hawaii has a real shot to make a move in its final season in the WAC before heading to the Big West. Establishing an identity in a new conference is always key and ensuring that Cal State-Northridge (ESPN, 4 a.m. ET) is well aware of what it is in for when it visits the Stan Sheriff Center would do wonders for a first impression.

19. What will Morehead State and College of Charleston look like after losing their stars? This game could be one of the more competitive because of who both teams lost, rather than who they gained. Morehead State no longer has Kenneth Faried, while Charleston is without Andrew Goudelock. The Eagles made the NCAA tournament last season, defeating Louisville and then falling to Richmond. The Cougars reached the NIT quarterfinals before losing to eventual champ Wichita State. Regardless of how these teams look (ESPN, 8 a.m. ET) on Tuesday, you can expect them both to be factors in their respective conferences by February.

20. What are the chances Virginia Tech doesn't end up in New York for the NIT semifinals? We'll find out Tuesday night. The Hokies will likely play George Mason, assuming the Patriots beat Florida International and Virginia Tech knocks off Monmouth on Monday. Mason beat Rhode Island by two in overtime in its opener, and while it is a more depleted roster than expected when Paul Hewitt took the job, this is still a formidable squad. Virginia Tech used balanced scoring to beat East Tennessee State by 11 in its opener, but hitting 5-of-18 on 3s was an indicator that the perimeter shooting may not be the Hokies' strong suit.

Other notable names to watch: Does Tu Holloway have a monster game for Xavier against IPFW (7 p.m. ET)? Will Cincinnati's Yancy Gates dominate against Jacksonville State (7 p.m. ET)? How will Harvard fare as the hunted team on the road, even against a rebuilding Holy Cross squad (7 p.m. ET)? How will Dayton's Archie Miller fare in his road debut as head coach at Miami-Ohio (7 p.m. ET)? Will Mike Scott be a double-double performer for Virginia against Winthrop (7 p.m. ET)? Will LSU avoid plunging into irrelevance by winning at Coastal Carolina (7 p.m. ET)? Will Butler avoid a shaky 0-2 start by winning at home against Chattanooga (7 p.m. ET)? Will Saint Louis prove to be the team projected as an A-10 contender and win games it should -- even on the road at Southern Illinois (8 p.m. ET)? Will Missouri State continue to win on the road and take down Arkansas State (8 p.m. ET)? How impressive will Royce White be for Iowa State against Drake (9 p.m. ET)? How will Wyoming play for new coach Larry Shyatt against Northern Colorado (9 p.m.)? Will Arizona State start its climb toward respectability by winning a game at home versus Pepperdine (8:30 p.m. ET)? Will Utah State follow up its BYU win by beating rival Weber State (9 p.m.) on the road?

Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

LAS VEGAS -- For a few stretches Thursday night, Northern Iowa had found its stroke like it was March of 2010 yet again, taking down a team of higher stature.

Last March, UNLV and top-ranked Kansas fell victim to the Panthers, before Michigan State clipped them in the Sweet 16. The daring 3-point shot by Ali Farokhmanesh that was one of the shots of the NCAA tournament to ice a win over Kansas, the play of Jordan Eglseder and Adam Koch inside and out were memories that will live in Panther lore.

But the Panthers are quickly proving that this is no longer just the team Ben Jacobson built on the heels of Greg McDermott's initial startup.

Northern Iowa has a program, and the pieces are in play for the Panthers to be in the thick of the Missouri Valley Conference race and once again potential NCAA tournament pests.

With Koch watching in the stands at the Orleans Arena, the Panthers won the Las Vegas Classic on Thursday with a 66-60 win over New Mexico. Koch's brother Jake, a sophomore, made a 3-pointer and got to the line nine times, making all nine. Junior Johnny Moran made a few crushing 3s, but the new Farokhmanesh on this squad is sophomore Anthony James, who made three 3s, finished with 23 points and had an answer every time the Lobos pushed back.

The two returning starters from Northern Iowa's most memorable team -- Kwadzo Ahelegbe and Lucas O'Rear -- are still the role players they've been, and they had their moments.

But this team's moxie will come from making 3s offensively and, of course, locking up teams defensively.

Northern Iowa enters Monday's Valley opener against Missouri State as a real threat, with the Bears and favorite Wichita State, to win the conference title. Sure, scoring 39 points in a loss to Iowa was a lowlight this season. Falling by two at Milwaukee and losing by 22 at Syracuse in the opener wasn't a stunner. But beating Iowa State at home, TCU on the road and then coming to Las Vegas and sweeping Indiana and New Mexico shows this younger team has a chance to develop into an NCAA team with a run in the Valley once again.

"These guys are now feeling like it's their team," Jacobson said. "I think our guys are at a point right now where they expect to win when they walk out there, regardless of who they are playing against."

Jacobson, like Butler's Brad Stevens, was a hot name in March but decided to stay put. He did so because he loves what he has helped build and wanted to see it come to fruition. So far, it appears there's a carryover.

• New Mexico hasn't had the pub of San Diego State, BYU or UNLV so far in the Mountain West. And there is a reason. Last season's Mountain West regular-season champs took some offseason hits with Ramon Martinez finishing his eligibility and Darington Hobson declaring abruptly for the NBA draft.

And of course the Lobos' schedule so far this season hasn't been comparable. There is hope that this squad can be a real contender in the MWC and for an NCAA bid, but there is also concern once again for a key interior player.

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Steve Alford
Marc Sanchez/Icon SMISteve Alford has his New Mexico Lobos off to a 10-2 start.

Emmanuel Negedu, who had a defibrillator put in his chest after he collapsed during a workout at Tennessee, is officially "under the weather," Lobos officials said. Negedu said after the loss to Northern Iowa that he would be back. But New Mexico coach Steve Alford said Negedu would meet with doctors Monday.

Negedu wasn't cleared to play at Tennessee or at Indiana, his first choice after he decided to leave the Vols. So far this season Negedu had played in 10 games, averaging 4.7 points and 5.4 rebounds off the bench. He didn't play against Colorado or Northern Iowa.

Sources within the New Mexico program said they won't ever chance anything with Negedu if he's not feeling well and will proceed with caution. On the court, Negedu's absence does hurt the Lobos, especially with UCLA transfer Drew Gordon still largely ineffective due to a knee injury.

Gordon, who has played in three games, is averaging nine points and four rebounds but was 3-of-10 against the Panthers. UNM has a developing MWC star inside in A.J. Hardeman, who knows the role of putback specialist and post option quite well. Hardeman scored 16 points and grabbed seven boards in the loss. And Alex Kirk is a serviceable big man, but the Lobos are thin in the post when foul trouble exists (Hardeman and Gordon fouled out) without Negedu. They also need his rebounding.

"I'm feeling good, but I'm rusty as all get out," Gordon said. "It's tough coming back here and everyone is in full swing. My touch is a little off and I'm not crashing the glass as I'd like. I'm hesitant with the knee. I've got to progress better."

The Lobos have a stud in Vinnie Johnson-like guard Dairese Gary, but he can over-penetrate (six turnovers) and tries to do too much sometimes. The good news for the Lobos is that freshman Kendall Williams has the look of being a headliner for the Lobos. He's second on the team in scoring at a dozen a game, plays with confidence and can get his own shot. If Phillip McDonald can be more consistent on 3s (30.2 percent), the Lobos have a shot to be a factor in the MWC race.

But you'll know more about this team if UNM can survive two winnable road games at Texas Tech (Wednesday) and at Dayton on New Year's Day.

"We just won eight in a row, and we're learning," Alford said. "We had a bad second half against Cal [a 89-64 loss] and a bad start here [down 13 in the first half against UNI]. But I'm pleased. We beat a Colorado team from start to finish. I'm happy with our start. We'll have plenty of chances [in the MWC]."

• Colorado has had an odd season so far. The Buffaloes, a trendy pick to be a top-six finisher in their final year in the Big 12, lost at Georgia by nine, at San Francisco by two in overtime and by 16 at Harvard. Yet Colorado -- which boasts two players of intrigue for NBA draft personnel in Cory Higgins and Alec Burks -- blew out Oregon State in a game in which it looked like it could take on anyone. The win over Colorado State in overtime, the 13-point home loss to the Lobos and a nine-point win over Indiana continue to show the inconsistency.

So what's it going to be for this squad?

"I feel good; I know we've been up and down, but we established a team effort," Higgins said. "We were too many individuals, but now we're together and I'm encouraged we're heading in the right direction. We haven't lost sight of our goal."

Higgins said it took a while for the Buffaloes to get used to coach Tad Boyle after playing for Jeff Bzdelik last season.

"We're finally on the same page," Higgins said. "We've got a way to go, but we're aggressive now."

The Buffs don't have enough for an at-large profile unless they win a number of key games against the Big 12 elite. You'll know early in the conference season with a three-game stretch of Missouri (Jan. 8), at Kansas State (Jan. 12) and Oklahoma State (Jan. 15).

"We kept our poise and made plays when our backs were against the wall," Boyle said. "The challenge for us is consistency. We need Cory and Marcus [Relphorde] to play well and Alec to play well. We can't have nights when those two or three guys don't play well for us to be good."

Boyle said the win over Indiana stabilizes the Buffaloes and gives them the momentum needed heading into the Big 12.

College basketball starts with a heavy dose of weekend games, before ESPN's 24-hour Tip-Off Marathon offers up a slew of must-see affairs Tuesday. But before looking forward, there must be some housecleaning done on a few issues. So here are my first impressions from a sprinkling of games this week:

Pe'Shon HowardAP Photo/Rob CarrPe'Shon Howard made quite a first impression for Maryland this week.

Name to remember: Maryland freshman point guard Pe'Shon Howard

The offseason question for the Terps was who would replace Greivis Vasquez's leadership, moxie and overall late-game magic. The answer came rather quickly toward the end of the College of Charleston game. Howard made not just one, but two big-time shots to beat the Cougars. The second was all Howard, taking the ball down court and hitting a fall-back dagger of a jumper to win the game at the last second. I loved Maryland coach Gary Williams' stunned face as the buzzer sounded. He was obviously relieved, but also had to be thrilled that he had found a player who shares Vasquez's drive to do something special when the game matters most. Howard was an efficient 8-of-11 (2-of-7 at the line, though) in two games this week, scoring 19 points, dishing out 12 assists and snagging five steals.

Illinois can score: The Fighting Illini have been offensively challenged in recent years (who can forget the 38-33 loss to Penn State in '09?). But in two games this week -- albeit against poor competition -- Illinois averaged 81.5 points a game. That bodes well for a team that has plenty of talent that can push the basketball (expect games against North Carolina and at Gonzaga to be high-scoring affairs).

Texas has another stud freshman: Forward Tristan Thompson averaged 14.5 points in two games, but was even more impressive with a 17-point, seven-rebound, three-steal performance in a win over Louisiana Tech on Wednesday.

Pitt will rely on its veteran backcourt to win big: The Panthers played without injured forward Nasir Robinson in the first two games, and the consistency and production of the frontcourt is still an unknown. But Pittsburgh has two players in Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker who have matured into leaders, reliable scorers and money players in the final few minutes. Jamie Dixon can rely on these two to take over a game when needed. They carry themselves as mature young adults, ready to take the baton of leading Pitt to a possible Final Four.

Still-unresolved situations:

• Baylor coach Scott Drew said in a text message Thursday night that there had been no movement on reinstating senior guard LaceDarius Dunn for Friday's opener against Grambling State. The Bears can get by without Dunn for some time since the schedule is soft until Arizona State on Dec. 2 and Gonzaga in Dallas on Dec. 18.

• Kansas coach Bill Self said in a text Thursday night that he was hopeful there will soon be a resolution on the eligibility of point guard Josh Selby. But it didn't sound promising for the immediate future: Friday's game against Longwood and Monday against Valparaiso. Kansas starts the meat of its nonconference schedule with a rugged seven-game stretch -- Ohio, Arizona, UCLA, Memphis in New York, Colorado State, USC and at California. All of those teams, save perhaps Cal, should be in postseason contention. But the game against the defending Pac-10 champion is in Berkeley, which still makes it a difficult stop.

• Minnesota coach Tubby Smith suspended Devoe Joseph for a violation of team rules. The Gophers open against Wofford and then play Siena on Monday before going to Puerto Rico for three games, starting with Western Kentucky. Joseph is one of the better scorers for the Gophers, but this Minnesota team can take at least one suspension (unlike last season's team). In discussing this with the Minnesota staff Thursday night, I got the sense Joseph will be back sooner rather than later as long as he adheres to Smith's rules.

And now a glimpse at the weekend ahead:

Best games

No. 21 Georgetown at Old Dominion, Friday, 7 p.m. ET: The Monarchs are a CAA cofavorite, while Georgetown is a top-five Big East team. The Hoyas, who have lost two of their past three against the Monarchs, will be entering a rocking arena and will have to play well to win. This should have a February feel to it. Clearly, an ODU win will have more shelf life than a Georgetown road win. And the Hoyas have already started the season with one setback, as the school announced Friday that freshman center Moses Ayegba has to sit out the first nine games because someone who wasn't an immediate family member paid for his plane ticket to come to the United States before he enrolled in high school.

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Johnny Moran
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezFresh off charming America in March, Johnny Moran and his UNI teammates open Friday at Syracuse.

Northern Iowa at No. 13 Syracuse, Friday, 7 ET (ESPN3): Don't be fooled into thinking this is the same Panthers team that upset Kansas. It's not. The Panthers lost too much of that squad to be looked at as a major threat to win at the Carrier Dome. But they will test the Orange zone. How well Kris Joseph emerges as the go-to guy and the impact of Fab Melo along the backline will be interesting developments to track.

Seton Hall at No. 22 Temple, Friday, 7:30 ET: The Pirates have been flying under the radar during all the Big East preseason talk, but still have enough talent to be a major player in the league's muddled middle. Meanwhile, Temple is the Atlantic 10 favorite and the one school at the top of the conference that has had no drama in the offseason. But a loss here at home could start the questions for Fran Dunphy's group.

Sneaky game to watch

Southern Miss at South Florida, Friday, 7 ET: The Golden Eagles project themselves as a real threat to take down Memphis in Conference USA. The Bulls are rebuilding a bit after losing Dominique Jones to the NBA. But USF is still a Big East team that won 20 games last season, so a road win here by Larry Eustachy's crew will go a long way toward earning credibility.

Notable debuts

East Tennessee State at No. 10 Kentucky, Friday, 7 ET (ESPN3): How well Brandon Knight plays at the point, Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones play on the wing and Eloy Vargas plays inside will all be interesting subplots for an Enes Kanter-less Kentucky squad. Don't forget that ETSU has gone to the NCAA tournament in each of the past two years. An upset is highly unlikely, but a young UK team had all sorts of problems with teams like Miami (Ohio) and Sam Houston State early this past season.

North Carolina A&T at No. 5 Ohio State, Friday, 7 ET (ESPN3): The Buckeyes' new stud forward, Jared Sullinger, is being billed as the possible Big Ten player/freshman of the year. Let's see if he lives up to the early-season hype.

Lipscomb at No. 9 North Carolina, Friday, 7 ET: The Tar Heels will be major players if freshman Harrison Barnes is a stud. This is our first look at America's No. 1 recruit, his fellow stud freshmen and a motivated group of UNC returnees.

Chattanooga at No. 20 Tennessee, Friday, 9 ET: The Vols have been the center of controversy this offseason due to the admitted NCAA violations by head coach Bruce Pearl and his staff. Then Tennessee lost an exhibition game to Indianapolis this week and had the critics howling. But the focus can, at least for now, return to the court and the expectations around Tobias Harris in his first game.

Detroit at New Mexico, Saturday, 9:30 ET: The Titans start the season at the refurbished Pit and get to unveil the hyped Ray McCallum Jr. The Lobos will play Tennessee transfer Emmanuel Negedu, who had to have a defibrillator put in his chest after he nearly died in 2009.

Tricky road starts

San Diego State at Long Beach State, Saturday, 7 ET: The MWC favorites begin a five-game road swing to start the season that will take them next to Spokane and then to Oxford, Ohio. Long Beach State is a Big West title contender and a heck of an opening challenge for a team with the highest expectations in SDSU history.

Florida State at UNC Greensboro, Sunday, 3:30 ET: The Seminoles, who fancy themselves to be a possible second-place finisher in the ACC, are going out of their way to challenge themselves this season with interesting road games. Florida State also goes to FIU on Nov. 18 and Loyola Marymount on Dec. 18 before opening up the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu with a true road game against host Hawaii on Dec. 22.

Assuming his grades are reported as expected, UTEP will add enigmatic center Derrick Caracter to its lineup Sunday against New Mexico State. (Update: As announced Saturday, Caracter will indeed make his debut with the Miners this weekend.)

UTEP coach Tony Barbee doesn't expect a hitch in getting Caracter into the Miners' rotation. He backloaded their nonconference schedule knowing the team would be without Caracter early in the season.

The Miners, a trendy pick to push Tulsa and Memphis and win Conference USA, are 5-0 with a glut of nonconference games remaining against Ole Miss in Southaven, Miss. (Dec. 16), Oklahoma in Oklahoma City (Dec. 21), at Texas Tech (Jan. 3) and against BYU (Jan. 9). Their C-USA schedule begins SMU on Jan. 6.

"I tried to play the fewest amount of games I could prior to Dec. 13," Barbee said. "If I could have played two games, I would have, but there weren't enough dates after it. I had to play some home games."

According to Barbee, Caracter has been a model citizen since his arrival in El Paso after transferring from Louisville because of differences with Cardinals coach Rick Pitino about weight and work. Barbee said Caracter, who was hyped as the "next great thing" since he was 14 years old and attending school in New Jersey, has been a loyal foot soldier on the scout team.

But don't for a second think that Caracter is the only reason UTEP should be watched throughout the season.

The Miners, who lost to Oregon State in a decisive third game of the College Basketball Invitational in April, have one of the better-balanced scoring rosters.

UTEP has five players averaging double figures -- guards Randy Culpepper, Julyan Stone and Christian Polk and forwards Arnett Moultrie and Jeremy Williams.

"I told Derrick that he wasn't coming here to be the savior or that this would be a one-man show," Barbee said. "This is a team that we've built here. This is our fourth year, and we're where we want to be. We talked about being balanced, and we are. Derrick will make us better, but he doesn't become our team."

The Miners relied heavily on Stefon Jackson early in Barbee's tenure. But although Culpepper and Stone don't have similar star power, they're much more of a complementary pair. Moultrie is a developing talent who will thrive even more with Caracter next to him. The Miners should have the best shot-blocking tandem in the league with this pair, even more so than true center Jerome Jordan of Tulsa, who wouldn't have as meaty a mate next to him as Moultrie will with Caracter.

Barbee talked about how high this team can go once he has everyone eligible. Still, the Miners may not have as much room for error in Conference USA, which should be extremely competitive. Building a résumé with wins now will only help, and unlike a lot of other potential NCAA teams, the Miners have purposely gotten off to a quiet start. Once Caracter is eligible, the higher-profile games will start rolling in, and we'll have a more accurate picture of the possibility of UTEP being a true team to watch for the next three months.

• Florida's loss meant there were 15 remaining unbeaten teams this season. It's still so early and it doesn't mean that much -- yet.

But still, which is the most surprising unblemished team?

Texas Tech.

The Red Raiders' overtime win over Washington is still one of the more surprising results this season.

New Mexico probably would finish second in this group. The Lobos play Texas A&M on Saturday in Houston.

Which of the one-loss teams has been one of the most overlooked?

Saint Mary's.

If the Gaels had beaten Vanderbilt instead of losing by a deuce, they might've been one of the more-talked-about teams. Omar Samhan has been stellar so far, and so has the guard play. The Gaels got overshadowed by Gonzaga and Portland in November, but check who is atop the West Coast Conference standings in overall record in mid-December.

Of schools outside the power six leagues, which one-loss teams should you keep tabs on? Northern Colorado at 8-1 is now a favorite to win the Big Sky, and a battle is brewing in the Missouri Valley among undefeated Missouri State (8-0), Illinois State (7-0), Wichita State (8-1) and preseason favorite Northern Iowa (6-1).

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