It cranks up in earnest on Friday when 19 of the top 25 teams in the preseason AP poll hit the courts.
The Wisconsin Badgers are among those ranked squads in the big push out of the chute Friday to get the season underway, traveling to Sioux Falls, SD for a neutral court matchup with the St. John's Red Storm. The 7 PM (ET) tip-off on Heritage Court at Sanford Pentagon will be televised by the BIG10 Network, and should be one of the more evenly-matched contests of the opening weekend.
NCAAB odds for the tilt started at Wisconsin -4.5 at most shops, and that number is down to an even 4 at some places now. A total has yet to be released, so keep an eye on SBR's live college basketball odds to catch that later today.
Divergent Styles Collide In Season Opener
Granted, 99% of the time Wisconsin is on the floor, you are going to find contrary styles of play between the two teams. Bo Ryan's methodical, patient strategy is well known and considered boring by many. But while the entertainment value of watching the Badgers play hoops can be argued, the results cannot with 20+ win seasons in 10 of the last 11.
The misconception with the Badgers is they always wants to slow the tempo. Opponents get burned if lulled into that thinking, as Wisconsin will look to score in transition, especially by putting up a quick 3-pointer if all five defenders aren't back and ready to play that phase of the game.
Steve Lavin has implemented various styles over the years, and last season's was more reliant on inside shooting than outside. The Red Storm might not be a prototypical run-&-gun type, but they're not afraid to get into an up-tempo mode and against the Badgers, they could look like a run-&-gun group at times.
One of the biggest statistical contrasts from a year ago can be found in the number of attempts each team made from behind the arc. The Badgers cut loose with nearly 800 bombs, 13th in the country and second only to Illinois in the Big Ten. St. John's came in near the bottom of the country with less than 450 shots from long-range, second fewest in the Big East.
Storm Brings Back Most Of Squad; Badgers Lose Big Men
It's a brand new Big East this season after the conference experienced several defections of storied programs while adding a few mid-majors with recent high-profile accomplishments. With Lavin returning an experienced roster ad his top five scorers, the Red Storm might be among the favorites, but that's not the case. St. John's is a 10/1 choice on the college basketball futures to win the regular season title, right in the middle of the 10-team pack that is paced by Georgetown (2/1), Marquette (5/2) and Creighton (5/2) at the top of that list.
The frontcourt has the makings for a dominant trio with Chris Obekpa in the middle flanked by Sir'Dominic Pointer and JaKarr Sampson. There's an experienced backcourt duo with D'Angelo Harrison and Phil Greene IV, plus Rysheed Jordan who could be the top freshman in the Big East come March.
Meanwhile up in Madison, Wisconsin is picked fifth in the Big Ten with 13/2 odds to head into the conference tourney with the No. 1 seed. Michigan State (7/4) is once again at the top of the Big Ten futures, trailed by Ohio State (5/2), Michigan (7/2) and Indiana 5/1).
Ryan watched two of his big men leave as Jared Berggren and Ryan Evans bid UW adieu, and they will be missed. The good news is Ben Brust, last year's leading scorer, is back along with senior Josh Gasser who missed all of 2012-13 with a knee injury. It's a very experienced backcourt with Brust and Gasser joined by Traevon Jackson plus incoming frosh Bronson Koenig, so attention in the early games will turn more to the post where Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky have to pick up for the losses of Evans and Berggren.
As much as I hate to do it, I'm going against the Badgers in this one and wouldn't be surprised to see St. John's pull off the mild upset outright. My free college basketball pick is on the Red Storm.
My pick: St. John's +4 at Bet365