With the opening weekend of college football kicking off on Saturday, that means it is about 70 days from college hoops. That gives us plenty of time at The Game Haus to narrow down our top five must-see non-conference games this season in college basketball. After much consideration, here are five games you can’t miss this year:
Louisville at Kentucky, December 28
The annual rivalry game ranks as one of the best non-conference games each season, but especially this year. The Cards and Cats find themselves both ranked in the top 10 of many preseason polls. Chris Mack returns potential ACC Player of the Year in Jordan Nwora, as well as a top-five recruiting class. Kentucky will be young once again, but return Sophomores in Ashton Hagans and E.J. Montgomery. Calipari has had Louisville’s number since he arrived in Lexington in 2009, posting a 9-2 record against the Cards. Rupp Arena will be sold out and ready to rock as it hosts maybe the biggest game of the season.
Duke at Michigan State, December 3
It won’t be the first time the two Hall of Fame coaches in Izzo and Coach K have squared off against one another. The Spartans nearly return everyone from their Final Four squad a year ago, as stars Cassius Winston and Josh Langford will be back in East Lansing.
For Duke, it’s recruit and reload per usual; however, this year’s team may have a few more question marks than in recent memory. Of course, losing Zion, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish certainly hurts, but Tre Jones will be back running the point and the Blue Devils are also bringing in yet another trio of five-star recruits. This matchup in December could be a potential rematch in the Elite Eight/Final Four in March.
Memphis vs Oregon (Portland), November 12
While the first year under newly titled head coach Penny Hardaway went as expected, next season’s expectations are sky-high. James Wiseman, the number one recruit in the ESPN100, headlines the top-ranked class in the country heading to Memphis this season. The Tigers will be extremely young and inexperienced, but will be one of the most talked-about and entertaining teams to watch this season. Oregon should provide a stiff test to a young Memphis team, as the Ducks bring back floor general Payton Pritchard. Expect this to be an up-and-down, offensive-minded game in Portland. With both the Pac 12 and American conferences being down in recent years, a quality win against a Power Five opponent would help each team’s tournament hopes significantly.
Maryland at Seton Hall, December 21
Expectations are high in College Park this season as the Terrapins have their sights set on a Big Ten title and Final Four run. Maryland returns Jalen Smith, Anthony Cowan and Aaron Wiggins after falling in the Round of 32 to LSU in the NCAA Tournament a year ago.
Kevin Willard has brought a lot of optimism in Newark, as well, with Myles Powell returning for his senior season. The Pirates return a lot of pieces from a team that fell to 10 seed Wofford in the first round of the big dance last season. The winner of this game will have a quality quadrant-1 win to add to their resume, as both teams figure to be ranked in the Top 25 all year long. The first to 50 wins as both squads possess stellar, relentless defenses. The Pirates upset the Terrapins in College Park 78-74 last year.
Baylor at Florida, January 25
The annual SEC/Big 12 Challenge is highlighted by two teams who will compete for their respective conference titles. The Gators received a commitment from the most sought-after graduate transfer in Kerry Blackshear Jr. from Virginia Tech. Blackshear, along with Andrew Nembhard and the addition of two McDonald’s All-Americans, gives Mike White a talented group that can compete with Kentucky in the SEC. Baylor’s Tristan Clarke returns after missing the last 20 games of the year last season, and Scott Drew adds two high-caliber transfers in Macio Teague and Davion Mitchell. Whoever wins this contest will have a quality win to build off of heading into the meat of conference play.