College Basketball is right around the corner. After last year’s tournament produced a lot of excitement, this season can’t come soon enough. The year will start off with the non-conference schedule, which features some great matchups. Which ones are the best? To answer, here is college basketball: 10 best non-conference games.
Note: Early season tournaments will not be included and have great first round matchups and potential for more later on. Non-conference events that feature no tournament bracket will be included in this list though.
10. Nevada Wolfpack at Loyola-Chicago Ramblers, Nov. 27
The first game on this list features a rematch of the Sweet 16 last season and two programs from smaller conferences who have the potential to do some damage again this year.
Nevada is in the top 10 of everyone’s rankings with a lot of returning talent. They lose guard Kendall Stephens, but add a McDonald’s All-American in Jordan Brown. Brown will pair with the Martin twins, Jordan Caroline and Lindsey Drew to form a formidable team.
While Loyola was left out of the AP poll, the Ramblers return a lot from last year’s team. Star guards Clayton Custer and Marques Townes will be back along with center Cameron Krutwig. The Ramblers were able to recruit well and added forward Franklin Agunanne, who should help them reach their second straight NCAA Tournament.
9. Indiana Hoosiers at Duke Blue Devils, Nov. 27
At the end of the first month of the college basketball season, the Duke Blue Devils will host the Indiana Hoosiers at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Duke has a talented recruiting class going up against an Indiana team that should be much improved this season.
Duke enters the season with the number one recruiting class that includes talented wings in Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish. While they are a little thin on the inside and at guard, with the talent they have they should be able to figure it all out.
Archie Miller led Indiana to a 16-15 record last season in his first year as head coach. He has Juwan Morgan returning, a forward who averaged 16.9 points per game. Morgan will be joined by five-star recruit Romeo Langford, a guard with athleticism and range.
The Blue Devils will likely be favored in this one, but any time two historic programs go up against each other with some great recruits on the team, it is worth the watch.
8. North Carolina Tar Heels at Michigan Wolverines, Nov. 28
This game features a rematch of the 1993 National Championship Game that is remembered as the game where Chris Weber called a timeout when Michigan didn’t have any left. North Carolina has enough returning talent to make some noise, while Michigan is finding new pieces to fuel another NCAA Tournament run.
This season, North Carolina will be one of the nation’s best with All-American Luke Maye on the roster. He’ll man the inside, while Seventh Woods, Kenny Williams and Cameron Johnson man a very talented backcourt. Forward Nassir Little will also join the fold as a great athlete. North Carolina has a chance to go deep in March.
Michigan loses Moritz Wagner as their big and their leader in guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur Rahkman, but returns some good players from their team that went to the National Championship Game a year ago. Zavier Simpson, Charles Matthews and Jordan Poole all have potential to lead the team from the guard positions. Inside players will need to prove themselves, but John Beilein will be able to figure it out.
7. Villanova Wildcats at Kansas Jayhawks, Dec. 15
Two championships in the last three years for Villanova puts them among college basketball’s greatest programs. They will face off with a more storied program at Phog Allen Field House this December. Kansas should start to gel at this point of the season with their many different parts, while Villanova players should be comfortable in their new roles from last season.
Gone are Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Omari Spellman and Donte DiVincenzo, so the Wildcats have some work to do. They return a lot of role players including Collin Gillespie, Phil Booth and Eric Paschall. All will be asked to take on leadership roles and will have the burden of scoring more.
Kansas is the top-ranked team in the AP poll. They are relying on transfers, returning players and recruits in order to live up to that ranking. K.J. and Dedric Lawson will join the fray after transferring last year from Memphis. Lagerald Vick and Udoka Azubuike both have plenty of experience to lead the team. New recruit Quentin Grimes will be asked to stretch the floor.
While the Jayhawks should be able to take the Wildcats, but they have a tough schedule of games and will likely slip up at some point during the non-conference season.
6. Tennessee Volunteers at Gonzaga Bulldogs (in Phoenix, AZ), Dec. 9
This game features two teams in the top 10 of the preseason AP poll, who both have Final Four hopes.
Rick Barnes leads Tennessee into this year after a successful campaign last season. They return all five starters, including forward Grant Williams, who won SEC Player of the Year last season. They will challenge Kentucky in the SEC.
Gonzaga might be a mid-major, but they continue to reload. The Bulldogs have three returning starters, including Killian Tillie who averaged 12.9 points per game and 5.9 rebounds per game. Rui Hachimura is a forward to watch out for this season after coming off the bench last season. Guards Josh Perkins and Zach Norvell lead a good backcourt.
5. Michigan State Spartans vs. Kansas Jayhawks (in Indianapolis, IN) Nov. 6
This is the first game in the Champions Classic this season and has two top 10 teams battling it out. While Kansas figures out their rotation of a lot of great talent, Michigan State will have a lot of players in new roles this season.
Michigan State lost Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr., but always have talent on the roster. Guard Cassius Winston is one of the best passers in college basketball. He’ll be in charge of distributing to Joshua Langford, Matt McQuaid and Nick Ward, who all have a lot of experience.
In this game specifically, Kansas will need to get Dedric Lawson going in his first college game in over a year. The forward averaged 17.5 points per game in his two seasons at Memphis. If he gets hot, it’ll take pressure off of Azubuike and Vick. Point guard play could be an issue for this team and they’ll have to shut down Winston in this one.
4. Gonzaga Bulldogs at North Carolina Tar Heels, Dec. 15
Both Gonzaga and North Carolina will be well tested at this point of the season, which should make it a highly competitive game among top 10 teams.
The key matchup to watch in this game will be Maye and Little for UNC against Tillie and Hachimura for Gonzaga. The frontcourt that can be more dominant can win this game. The early edge goes to North Carolina because of Maye’s past success, but Tillie and Hachimura are both great players in their own right.
3. North Carolina Tar Heels at Kentucky Wildcats, Dec. 22
North Carolina and Kentucky play virtually every season, although they didn’t meet up last season, and it usually turns out being a great game. North Carolina has the third most all-time wins in program history, while
Kentucky is loaded with recruits, but also have some experienced players in grad-transfer Reid Travis, Nick Richards, P.J. Washington and Quade Green. Incoming recruits Immanuel Quickley, Ashton Haggans, E.J. Montgomery, Tyler Hero and Keldon Johnson will all have big impacts.
For this matchup, if Kentucky wins it will because of their guards and wings getting damage done. If UNC is able to win, it’ll be because of Maye getting the best of them, something he did in the 2016 NCAA Tournament.
2. Kansas Jayhawks at Kentucky Wildcats, Jan. 26
This game is in the thick of each team’s conference schedule and features the preseason top two teams. The battle between these two teams is a part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge. Kentucky has the most wins in college basketball history and Kansas is right behind them at number two.
The key to this game will be guard play as it often is in college basketball. Kansas has a very deep and talented roster, but point guard play could be an issue. If their point guard play is even average, in comparison to Kentucky, they should be able to take home the victory. The Wildcats have three players in Green, Quickley and Haggans who can play the point, but one will need to take control for Kentucky to beat Kansas.
1. Duke Blue Devils vs. Kentucky Wildcats (in Indianapolis, IN), Nov. 6
This game is the one that people have been waiting for all offseason. It might not feature the two top teams in the preseason polls, but does feature a rivalry and plenty of talent in a possible foreshadowing of the Final Four.
Kentucky and Duke matched up in the 1978 National Championship Game, where Jack “Goose” Givens totaled 41 points in Kentucky’s win. In the 1992 NCAA Regional Finals, Christian Laettner hit a buzzer-beater to send the Blue Devils to the Final Four in one of the best college basketball games ever played. That is the history, now Kentucky and Duke are fighting for the best one and dones year in and year out in a recruiting rivalry that is unmatched in the history of college basketball.
The Blue Devils will win the game if their many talented wing players can keep up with Kentucky’s guards and wings on the defensive end of the floor. They have the length and athleticism to do it, but the Wildcats have some quick guards. Kentucky will win this game if their defense is as good as described. Their guards are capable of forcing turnovers with some great ball-pressure.