Last year, we had a strong slate of games to highlight in the first three days of the college basketball schedule. That is not the case this year, but after some cajoling, we're going ahead with the season debut of the Big East Big Five.
For those of you not familiar with the idea: Each week, we highlight the five best games on the Big East schedule to help y'all keep an eye on how the conference as a whole is doing. Sometimes the choices are obvious, sometimes they're not, and sometimes a game gets shoehorned in because they have a nice KenPom ranking.
Let's get to it!
Friday, November 14: #12 Villanova kind of at Lehigh (7pm Central, Fox Sports 2) - Let me explain. This game is being played at PPL Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania, so officially, it's a neutral site game. But Allentown is a neighboring city to Bethlehem, PA, which is where Lehigh is located. The arena's only a 17 minute drive away from Lehigh's campus. It's not like Nova's hauling all over the country with their one hour drive, but it's still in Lehigh's backyard. This will be the first college basketball game played at PPL Center, which is the regular home for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms of the American Hockey League. The building seats 9,000 for Phantoms games, so it should be a pretty fun atmosphere for a college basketball game.
Friday, November 14: DePaul vs Illinois-Chicago (9pm Central, Fox Sports 2) - Look, I said that the slate of games wasn't very strong across the first three days of the season, and since we're adhering to the same "week" that the Associated Press poll does (aka Monday-Sunday), sometimes we have to stretch for reasons. For example, this game. No, it's not a fantastic marquee game, or a great challenge for DePaul, either. UIC is #286 in the KenPom preseason rankings, and the Flames were picked to finish dead last in the Horizon League preseason poll. So why this game? Because at 81%, it's the lowest probability of victory that KenPom.com assigned to any Big East team this weekend. DePaul can not afford to lose this game.
Saturday, November 15: Georgetown vs St. Francis Brooklyn (11am Central, Fox Sports Regional) - St. Francis is one of three top 200 KenPom teams that Big East teams are facing this weekend, but they were picked to win the NEC this season. When picking out non-conference teams to play, going with "expected favorites to win bottom third leagues" is a pretty solid way to go. Word of warning: The Terriers beat Miami (as in The U) in their season lidlifter a year ago.
Saturday, November 15: Providence vs Albany (6pm Central, Fox Sports 2) - The Great Danes have a KenPom.com preseason ranking of #150, which is the best ranking of any Big East opponent this weekend. Albany won the America East tournament last season and won a First Four game before keeping things relatively interesting against Florida in the NCAA tournament.
Sunday, November 16: Seton Hall vs Mercer (11am Central, Fox Sports Regional) - Bold choice to start the season, Pirates. The last time we saw the Bears, they were losing to Tennessee in the NCAA tournament. But the last time we remember seeing the Bears, this happened:
Yeah, they beat Duke. Mercer moved from the Atlantic Sun to the Southern Conference in the offseason, and I'm sure they'd like to start 2014-15 off with a bang, even if most of the contributors on last year's team were seniors, including Kevin Canevari, featured above.