The college basketball season has finally arrived. The excitement that has been building can finally become a reality. The biggest games during the non-conference portion of the season often come from early-season tournaments and showcases. The Veterans Classic, hosted by the Naval Academy, is entering its sixth year of existence. This year’s first matchup pits 24th ranked Auburn versus Davidson. The second matchup is between East Carolina and the host Midshipmen.
(24) Auburn vs. Davidson
Players to Watch
Auburn has a pair of big men in Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley who will have high expectations to be the leaders for the Tigers this season. Purifoy did not play much after serving a nine-game suspension to start last season. However, he averaged 11.5 points and 4.7 rebounds per game in 2017-18, and coach Bruce Pearl hopes he can find that form again. Wiley looked good for Auburn during non-conference play last year before suffering a leg injury that limited his playing time. Pearl will rely on these seniors to be leaders and own the paint for the Tigers this year.
Davidson has the reigning Atlantic 10 Player of the Year in Jon Axel Gudmundsson. The Icelandic native averaged 16.9 points and 7.3 points per game last season on his way to being named the conference’s top player. The honorable mention All-American played for the Icelandic national team over the summer, improving his game even more according to coach Bob McKillop. Gudmundsson will be the leader for the Wildcats and their go-to man in clutch situations.
Matchup to Watch
The biggest matchup to watch in this game will be how the guards of the two teams go at each other. Davidson’s guards have a substantial size advantage over Auburn’s, and they’ll look to capitalize on that. As a team that relies heavily on the three-ball, Davidson should get clear shots due to that size advantage. It will also give them an advantage on the boards. In a game that should be a nail biter, second-chance opportunities on offense may decide this Veterans Classic matchup.
Auburn had a miraculous run to their first Final Four appearance in school history. It will be interesting to see if they will have a hangover from their tournament run. For Davidson, they are out to prove that they are a legitimate contender on the national stage this season. This will be their first opportunity to show the country what they are capable of.
This game has all the appearances of a tale of two teams. Auburn may be taking a step back from last year, while Davidson is looking to ascend to the next level of contenders. The Wildcats’ core nucleus uses its experience and hunger to pick up their first big win of the season 67-63.
Navy vs. East Carolina
Players to Watch
Navy only has one senior on the roster this season in Evan Wieck. The 6-8 center is the lone returning starter and was the leading offensive rebounder in the Patriot League last season. While he only averaged 8.8 points and 5.5 rebounds per game a year ago, he finished conference play strong. Coach Ed DeChellis is optimistic that Wieck will carry that momentum into this year for the Midshipmen. He could create lots of second chances in this game.
East Carolina spent last season working on a total rebuild during coach Joe Dooley’s first season in Greenville. He discovered he had an offensive star in Jayden Gardner. The rising sophomore made the AAC All-Rookie team while averaging 16.3 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. He also scored in double figures for 26 of the Pirates’ 30 games a season ago. Dooley will rely on the young forward to be the catalyst again for East Carolina heading into the new year.
Matchup to Watch
The one thing that the service academies always struggle to recruit is size. Meanwhile, part of Dooley’s rebrand of Pirates basketball was to bring in size to compete with the rest of the AAC. East Carolina has three young incoming freshmen who measure in at seven feet or more. They are expected to mix into the rotation, which may give Navy some fits.
One major advantage that Navy has is that they are hosting the Veterans Classic. While that homecourt advantage doesn’t guarantee a victory, it is certainly helpful to play in front of the home crowd. Meanwhile, East Carolina has a different aura around the program for the first time in almost five years. There are expectations that this team should be more competitive this season. The change in culture can be an automatic boost to players who feel as though they have something to prove.
Generally speaking, both teams have low expectations coming into this season based on preseason voting. Navy is young while East Carolina continues to rebuild its program. With both teams largely inexperienced, this game is going to come down to coaching. Ed DeChellis always seems to get the most out of his guys, and he’ll get just enough from them in front of the home crowd. Navy wins this one 70-64.