The first week of the new college hoops campaign featured four bluebloods at Madison Square Garden and drama at Memphis after the NCAA ruled No. 1 recruit James Wiseman ineligible.
As we transition into Week 2, we cannot forget about the underrated matchups that will give us valuable insight before most of the early-season tournaments tip off.
Our weekly ESPN viewers’ guide for the next seven days includes at least one national championship contender and two evenly matched games in Toronto.
1. Monmouth Hawks at No. 3 Kansas Jayhawks (Friday, 8 p.m. ET, Big 12 Now on ESPN )
Despite 28 turnovers and a loss to Duke in the Champions Classic last week, Kansas remains one of the favorites to cut down the nets in April.
Monmouth doesn’t figure to be an overly challenging opponent for KU, but this will be an opportunity for the Jayhawks to further work out their kinks, especially offensively. Bill Self’s unit needs to find a way to create better spacing for players like speedy point guard Devon Dotson, veteran Marcus Garrett and emerging star Ochai Agbaji to attack off the bounce. Are they better off trying more small-ball lineups with Garrett or Agbaji at the four? Are they capable of making more plays in transition so they don’t have to rely on big man Udoka Azubuike in the halfcourt?
This game gives us a chance to see how Kansas is progressing before the loaded Maui Invitational.
2. Washington Huskies vs. Tennessee Volunteers (James Naismith Classic in Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario) (Saturday, 5 p.m. ET)
After defeating Baylor in the Armed Forces Classic, this will offer another early season chance for Washington’s freshmen to impress against a quality opponent. Isaiah Stewart (No. 3 in ESPN 100) and Jaden McDaniels (No. 7 in ESPN 100) should be two of the more productive youngsters in the Pac-12 while being flanked by potential breakout candidate Nahziah Carter and former Kentucky point guard Quade Green.
Meanwhile, this stands as Tennessee’s first true test of the post-Grant Williams/Admiral Schofield era. The Vols have plenty of experience with Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden back, but have other players, like Yves Pons and John Fulkerson, that are stepping into much larger roles.
This is a matchup between two Power 5 teams with NCAA tournament aspirations, so expect a battle down the stretch.
3. No. 24 Auburn Tigers at South Alabama Jaguars (Tuesday, 8 p.m. ET)
You almost never see a Top 25-type Power 5 team travel for a true road game against a mid-major opponent. And it’s even rarer to see it from a program coming off a Final Four appearance.
Auburn is doing just that as it faces a roster that is unknown nationally but should not be taken lightly. South Alabama — picked first in Sun Belt preseason poll — has five players who have averaged at least 13.6 points at some point in their college careers, including senior Josh Ajayi and Cal transfer Don Coleman.
Bruce Pearl’s team is cut out to counter the Jaguars with athleticism, size and NCAA tournament experience. The Tigers don’t have the consistency at point guard they had last year with Jared Harper or the shooting they featured with Bryce Brown, but with five seniors and a frontcourt led by Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy, this will be unlike most matchups USA coach Richie Riley has prepared for.
4. Harvard Crimson vs. Buffalo Bulls (James Naismith Classic in Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario) (Saturday, 2:30 p.m. ET)
Despite surprising losses this past week, Harvard (which fell to Northeastern on Friday) and Buffalo (which lost to Dartmouth the same night) remain two of the best mid-majors in the country.
The Crimson’s upside takes a hit with Bryce Aiken and Seth Towns battling injuries, but the roster still includes Chris Lewis and four-star recruit Chris Ledlum. Tommy Amaker’s squad is the favorite in an underrated Ivy League because of its elite discipline.
In upstate New York, the Bulls continue their transition from Nate Oats (Alabama) to Jim Whitesell. It will be particularly interesting here to see how sophomore Jeenathan Williams bounces back from his 2-of-6 shooting performance vs. Dartmouth. The long, talented wing is possibly Buffalo’s most important player, and his emergence would give the Bulls a different dimension and another option offensively.
5. Vanderbilt Commodores at Richmond Spiders (Thursday, 7 p.m. ET)
Welcome to the Jerry Stackhouse era.
The Commodores surprisingly fired Bryce Drew this offseason before bringing in the 19-year NBA veteran Stackhouse. Aaron Nesmith and Saben Lee are back to lead Vandy through the transition, and expectations are lower without Darius Garland and Simi Shittu.
Vandy’s first rigorous trial of the season comes on the road against the No. 6 team in the A-10 preseason coaches’ poll. Richmond returns double-double machine Grant Golden (17.2 PPG in 2018-19) and three other double-figure scorers.
This matchup will be a chance to check on a first-year coach’s impact, while also getting a pulse check on a rising Atlantic 10 squad.
6. Texas State Bobcats at No. 16 Baylor Bears (Friday, 9 p.m. ET, Big 12 Now on ESPN )
Butler is having a special start to his sophomore campaign. The guard dropped 30 points in the opener against Central Arkansas before leading the Bears with 18 points vs. Washington. His ability to knock down 3s and create his own shot helps space the floor for others and takes pressure off bigs Tristan Clark and Freddie Gillespie.
Texas State was only selected to finish fourth in the Sun Belt preseason poll, but Pearson is averaging 16.5 points this season after improving every year of his collegiate career thus far. If Texas State is going to avoid a blowout, Pearson will have to have a career evening.
7. Jacksonville State Gamecocks at No. 25 VCU Rams (Sunday, noon ET)
Jacksonville State lost its opener to SMU, but still could pose a challenge to a VCU squad that struggled to put away North Texas. The Gamecocks were picked to finish fourth in the OVC preseason coaches’ poll, despite losing four of their top five scorers. JSU re-upped the roster with the additions of juco import Kanye Henry and Xavier transfer Elias Harden, and still maintain experience with eight seniors or juniors.
On the other side, this offers another chance to watch an exciting VCU program. The Rams’ aggressive defensive style and willingness to convert turnovers into points is entertaining to watch, particularly when it includes the scoring abilities of Marcus Evans and De’Riante Jenkins.
Will VCU’s stinginess and home-court advantage provide enough of a lift?
8. UNC Wilmington Seahawks at Davidson Wildcats (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET)
If you’re looking for a dynamic guard duo to watch, Davidson is the perfect team for you. Last year’s Atlantic 10 Player of the Year Jon Axel Gudmundsson and veteran Kellan Grady may not receive a lot of national recognition, but the Wildcats’ pair is as good a combination as there is in college hoops.
Gudmundsson, a senior from Iceland, is a stat stuffer with the ability to impact the game in numerous different ways while maintaining his efficiency offensively. Grady is more of pure scorer, as he can attack off the bounce and keep the defense honest with his long-range shot.
UNC Wilmington is projected to finish near the bottom of the CAA, but any chance to watch these two A-10 talents must not be overlooked.
9. Temple Owls at La Salle Explorers (Saturday, 2 p.m. ET)
This Big 5 matchup from Tom Gola Arena features two teams that rely heavily on their backcourts and are in different states of transition after recent head-coaching changes.
Everything Temple does goes through the three-headed trio of do-it-all junior Nate Pierre-Louis, dynamic scorer Quinton Rose and the underrated Alani Moore II. Ex-Temple star and NBA guard Aaron McKie — who played many years with Allen Iverson in Philadelphia — relies on that group after taking over following Fran Dunphy’s retirement.
La Salle’s offensive production will flow through David Beatty and Saul Phiri, as the Explorers continue to transform in the post-John Giannini era. The coach was fired after the 2017-18 season before the Explorers hired Ashley Howard, who is now in his second year.
10. Northeastern Huskies at UMass Minutemen (Tuesday, 7 p.m. ET)
Jordan Roland can flat-out score for Northeastern. The George Washington transfer scored 81 points in his first two games, but there’s another player who is worthy of our attention in this game — UMass freshman Tre Mitchell.
The four-star center was ranked No. 74 in ESPN 100 and chose to stay close to home despite offers from numerous Power-5 programs. While Mitchell will face plenty of quality big men in the Atlantic 10, this is the first true opportunity to judge how he’s adjusting to the speed of the collegiate game.
With skill, shooting potential and solid post moves, Mitchell can develop into an Atlantic 10 star while attempting to bring the Minutemen back to a national spotlight that has mostly eluded them this century.