By Jon Rothstein
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STONY BROOK AT INDIANA
The first game of a pivotal season in Bloomington might be against the best mid-major program in America that no one is talking about. Steve Pikiell and Stony Brook might not be getting the recognition of an Iona or a Creighton but they’re good enough to compete with Indiana on the road. Friday night will mark the highly anticipated debut of Hoosiers freshman big man Cody Zeller but the real question for Indiana remains who on the perimeter will shoulder the scoring load left behind by the injured Maurice Creek. Our money is on either Will Sheehey or Victor Oladipo, who will both need to be in double figures to hold off the best team in the America East Conference.
PREDICTION: INDIANA 69, STONY BROOK 64
LIU AT HOFSTRA
The first game of the post Charles Jenkins era for Hofstra is against one of the nation’s highest scoring teams. Jim Ferry’s Blackbirds return the bulk of their core from last year’s team that lost to North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament and should hit the ground running in Hempstead. Keep an eye on LIU’s southpaw power forward Jamal Olasewere, who could make a push for NEC Player of the Year honors as well as Blackbirds point guard Jason Brickman, who will be opposed by Pride floor general Steve Mejia, who will be making his first appearance for Hofstra after transferring from Rhode Island.
PREDICTION: LIU 79, HOFSTRA 69
NORTH CAROLINA VS. MICHIGAN STATE
The first ever game played on an aircraft carrier could resemble the regular season game these two programs had in December of 2008 at Ford Field — a rout. Tom Izzo loves the chemistry of this group but it’s too much to ask of them to trade blows with the Tarheels, who should get a big boost from freshman forward James Michael-McAdoo – a player could have the same type of role for this team that Marvin Williams had in 2005 for North Carolina when the Tarheels won a National Championship.
PREDICTION: NORTH CAROLINA 87, MICHIGAN STATE 68
OREGON AT VANDERBILT
Two of the sport’s best tacticians matched up against each other in the first week of the season? Sounds delicious. Dana Altman and Kevin Stallings are both two of the more respected X’s and O’s coaches in college basketball and both come into this season with high expectations. The Ducks are trying to integrate a slew of new pieces while Vanderbilt is trying to get through the first month of the season without big man Festus Ezeli, who is out with a knee injury. Look for the Commodores to ride their outside shooting in this one, led by sniper John Jenkins, who could be the best player in the country that no is discussing among the nation’s elite. Regardless of the outcome, this should feel like an NCAA Tournament game from the opening tip.
PREDICTION: VANDERBILT 78, OREGON 74
BELMONT AT DUKE
All coaches will tell you the same three words when it comes to Belmont — do not schedule. Rick Byrd’s team will be on the biggest of stages at Cameron Indoor Stadium and have the experience to push the Blue Devils for the better part of 40 minutes. Still, even if this Duke squad doesn’t yet resemble vintage form, they are still Duke, and that ought to count for something.
PREDICTION: DUKE 81, BELMONT 72