College basketball kicks off the 2015-16 season on Friday night with a plethora of ranked teams, including North Carolina and Kentucky, in action. In fact, 24 of the 25 teams ranked in the AP poll will be in action tonight, and there are also a few ranked teams slated with games on Saturday and Sunday.
The Associated Press’ preseason No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels opens its season against the Temple Owls at 7 p.m (ET) in Annapolis, Maryland, for the Veterans Classic. The Tar Heels, who are tied for the top spot in the USA Today Coaches Poll, will be without star point guard Marcus Paige against the Owls. The ACC preseason co- player of the year will at least miss the Tar Heels first five games after breaking his right hand during practice, according to the Washington Post.
North Carolina returns nine of its top 10 scorers from a season ago, including NBA prospects Kennedy Meeks and Justin Jackson. Meeks is a force in the middle, as the junior stands six-foot-10 and weighs 255 pounds. Jackson, a six-foot-eight sophomore small forward, came on strong at the end of last season, scoring in double figures in 11 of his last 12 games. Nate Britt, Isaiah Hicks, Theo Pinson, Brice Johnson, and Joel Berry II also return for the Tar Heels, who sit atop of the AP preseason poll for a record ninth time, noted the Daily Freeman.
In the meanwhile, Kentucky – ranked No. 2 in the AP poll – hosts Albany. The Wildcats lost seven players from their 2014 Final Four team, but they still have plenty of talent with the influx of newcomers. Top NBA prospects Jamal Murray and Skal Labissiere lead John Calipari’s 2015 six-member recruiting class that also includes Isaiah Briscoe and seven-foot Australian Isaac Humphries. Sophomore point guard Tyler Ulis and junior forward Marcus Lee lead an underrated group of returnees. Senior forward Alex Poythress returns from a torn ACL that limited him to eight games last year.
Kentucky opens the season with three games in five days, culminating with an intriguing matchup against No. 5 Duke on November 17. But first, the Wildcats have to deal with a veteran-laden Albany squad that has been to the NCAA Tournament the last three years. The Wildcats will then host New Jersey Institute of Technology on Saturday.
“We have a whole new team and these guys are looking at us and saying, `They’re no different than us,” Calipari said Thursday of Albany.
He also noted that NJIT beat Michigan on the road last season.
“It’s two really hard games and then you flow into Duke, which is another monster game for us.”
The two best games on Friday’s docket may be No. 7 Iowa State, under new coach Steve Prohm, against Colorado in Ames, Iowa, and No. 9 Gonzaga against Pittsburgh.
Iowa State with preseason All-American selection Georges Niang will look to dethrone Kansas in the Big-12 this year. Niang isn’t a lone ranger for Iowa State, as the Cyclones also have Naz Mitrou-Long, Jameel McKay, Abdel Nadel, and junior point guard Monte Morris. The game against Colorado is being played in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Colorado will look to bounce back from a disappointing 2014-15 campaign, where the Buffaloes finished with a 16-18 record. ESPN reports last season was Colorado’s first losing season under sixth-year coach Thad Boyle. Six-foot-10 senior forward Josh Scott leads the way for the Buffaloes
Gonzaga and Pittsburgh are over in Okinawa, Japan, for the Armed Forces Classic. The game will be televised by ESPN at 7 p.m. The Zags have one of the best frontcourts in the nation with preseason All-American Kyle Wiltjer as well as Domantas Sabonis and Przemek Karnowski. Gonzaga needs to settle its backcourt issues.
Forward Jamel Artis and Michael Young lead a Panthers team that went 19-15 last year.
No. 8 Oklahoma is the only team not playing Friday. The Sooners opens their season on November 17 at Memphis. Click here for complete listings of Top 25 games today.
[Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images]