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College basketball: Top five games to watch in opening week

Diamond Miller and Maryland are ready to compete in the Big Ten tournament. (Greg Fiume/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

The 2022-23 college basketball season will hit the ground running.

The first games tip off Monday, and the opening week features several marquee matchups — including a must-watch battle between No. 1 South Carolina and No. 17 Maryland. Just Women’s Sports has five games you won’t want to miss.

Monday, Nov. 7: No. 21 Creighton vs. No. 23 South Dakota State

Kick off the week with a mid-major matchup between two experienced top-25 squads.

Creighton burst onto the scene during last year’s NCAA tournament when Lauren Jensen’s 19 points and go-ahead 3-pointer knocked out No. 2 seed Iowa in the second round. The Blue Jays made a run to the Elite Eight as a tournament darling. Meanwhile, South Dakota State narrowly missed March Madness but went on to win the NIT, topping Seton Hall in the championship.

Rising juniors Lauren Jensen, Morgan Maly, Molly Mogensen and Emma Ronsiek were Creighton’s top four scorers last season, and now they have high-level experience to go with their offensive prowess. Expect the same style of play they showed in 2021-22, with everyone on the floor shooting 3-pointers – 41% of the Bluejays’ point production came from long range last year.

South Dakota State is in a similar position, returning four of its starters (who also happen to be their top four scorers). After winning the NIT, the Jackrabbits are hungry to prove themselves — and to earn a March Madness bid. Starting the season with a win over No. 21 Creighton would put them on the right path.

Tuesday, Nov. 8: No. 5 Tennessee vs. No. 14 Ohio State

There’s no easing into the season, as Tuesday boasts another top-25 matchup. Tennessee and Ohio State were both Sweet 16 teams last year, and though their seasons technically ended the same way, they were viewed through different lenses.

Injuries and inconsistency kept the Vols from reaching their full potential, while the Buckeyes made a surprise splash, winning the Big Ten regular season and reaching the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2017. Tennessee will look to redeem itself this year, while Ohio State’s goal is to prove it has staying power.

Vols fans are rejoicing at the return of leading scorer (16.2) and rebounder (9.4) Jordan Horston, who was injured during the NCAA tournament. Tuesday’s contest will also give the Tennessee faithful their first non-exhibition look at top transfers Rickea Jackson and Jasmine Powell.

The Buckeyes will once again be led by guard duo Jacy Sheldon and Taylor Mikesell, who return for their senior seasons. The two combined to score just under half of Ohio State’s total points last season, averaging 19.7 and 18.6 points per game, respectively. The Buckeyes should also expect a jump from 6-4 forward Rebeka Mikulasikova, who provides a post presence for the team, averaging 9.4 points and 5.0 rebounds per contest last season.

Ohio State seeks to prove it has staying power in the 2022-23 season. (Adam Cairns/USA TODAY Sports)

Wednesday, Nov. 9: No. 12 North Carolina vs. Jackson State

I’m still thinking about Jackson State’s near 15-over-2-seed upset of LSU in last season’s NCAA tournament. It marked what I anticipate to be the beginning of Jackson State’s rise on the national level. And the way the Tigers play against No. 12 North Carolina on Wednesday will give us an idea of just how quickly the JSU program will reach that potential.

As for UNC, the Tar Heels have their own potential to live up to, with an NCAA tournament run that ended with a close contest against eventual champion South Carolina – the Gamecocks ended up winning 69-61 in the Sweet 16.

Last season, Jackson State coach Tomekia Reed scheduled a tough slate of non conference opponents, and it paid off. When conference play came around, the Tigers cruised to an 18-0 SWAC record and a conference tournament title to earn their March Madness bid. This season is no different. After taking on UNC, the Tigers play teams like Texas, UCLA and Oregon State.

UNC will once again be led by Deja Kelly and Alyssa Utsby, one of the top guard duos in the country. Now juniors, Kelly (16.5 points per game) and Utsby (12.9) have experience to go with their talent. Third leading scorer Kennedy Todd-Williams also returns for the Tar Heels.

Friday, Nov. 11: No. 1 South Carolina vs. No. 17 Maryland

Any time the defending national champs are playing, it’s must-see TV.

The Gamecocks are starting the season with a challenge in No. 17 Maryland, a team that looks very different to last season. The Terrapins both won and lost in the transfer market, losing top players in Ashley Owusu and Angel Reese but gaining several replacement players, headlined by Abby Meyers (Princeton) and Lavender Briggs (Florida). Meanwhile, South Carolina looks virtually the same as it did during last season’s title run, meaning a repeat is possible.

South Carolina will be anchored once again by reigning POY and DPOY Aliyah Boston. Three other starters also return, with Destanni Henderson the only departure – she was drafted by the Indiana Fever. Sophomore guards Raven Johnson and Bree Hall should be able to contribute in her place. And as good as Henderson is, don’t expect the Gamecocks to miss her too much. There’s plenty of talent to fill the gap.

Maryland is full of new faces this season, but expect a familiar one to lead the charge. After an impressive sophomore season where she averaged 17.3 points and 5.8 rebounds per game, Diamond Miller was plagued by injuries in 2021-22, and never reached full strength. Now, she’s back to her true form and ready to anchor this Terrapins squad.

Friday, Nov. 11: No. 24 Princeton vs. Villanova

Princeton is another team that made waves in last year’s NCAA tournament, upsetting No. 6 Kentucky in the first round before falling 56-55  to No. 3 Indiana. The Tigers were solid all season, going 14-0 in Ivy League play. They are expected to win their conference again this season.

Villanova, on the other hand, is a team that’s likely feeling a bit slighted by not appearing in the AP Top 25. The Wildcats are receiving votes, though, and a win over Princeton would quickly get them into the rankings.

The Tigers lost top scorer Meyers to the transfer portal, but their No. 2 and 3 scorers return in Julia Cunningham and Kaitlyn Chen. Chen in particular is someone to get excited about. Her athleticism and shot-creating ability are more akin to a Power Five player than an Ivy Leaguer.

As for Villanova, everyone knows the name Maddy Siegrist by now. The senior forward was second in the country last season in scoring, averaging 25.3 points per game. Her creativity scoring the ball is key for the Wildcats, as opponents – starting with Princeton – will make it their mission to slow down the senior.