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The Top 25 Non-Conference Games

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Beginning in September and running up until November 10th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2017-2018 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

While much of the nation doesn’t start paying attention to college basketball until after the Super Bowl, there are plenty of must-see matchups that happen starting in November, when some of the country’s best programs square off in non-conference matchups. From holiday tournaments to neutral-site spectacles to on-campus clashes, the 2017-18 season has some great non-league offerings.

1. Duke vs. Michigan State – Champions Classic (Chicago) – Nov. 14 (7 p.m.): The Champions Classic never fails to deliver, and this season it’s giving the country the top-two teams in NBC Sports’ preseason Top 25 squaring off in the first week of the season. This game has it all, from national title contenders to a National Player of the Year favorite (Miles Bridges) to a potential No. 1 2018 NBA Draft pick (Marvin Bagley III) to everyone’s favorite villain (Grayson Allen). This is as can’t miss as can’t miss gets.

2. Kentucky vs. Kansas – Champions Classic (Chicago) – Nov. 14 (9:30 p.m.): Another pair of top-five teams will clash in the nightcap at the United Center when the Wildcats and Jayhawks tangle. It’ll also be the country’s first chance to evaluate what figure to be immensely talented but somewhat mysterious rosters. Kentucky surely has the players, though the fit, once again mostly who shoots it, questionable. Kansas is just downright weird. There will be a whole season to play after this game, but it should provide a hint to how good – or flawed – both of these Final Four hopefuls are.

MORE: 2017-18 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

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3. PK80 (Portland) – Nov. 23-26: The 80th birthday present Nike founder Phil Knight is throwing himself might be the most anticipated tournament (non-Big Dance division) in the sport’s history. It features 13 of the sport’s biggest brands. Plus Portland and Portland State. And DePaul, courtesy of Georgetown’s ducking real competition in Patrick Ewing’s debut season. The field may not be as strong as hoped when it was announced last year, but it’s still going to provide awesome matchups that are so rare in non-conference hoops. Spend your Thanksgiving in Portland. You won’t be disappointed.

4. UCLA vs. Kentucky (New Orleans) – Dec. 23 (4 p.m.): Christmas comes early in New Orleans with a replay of two of the more anticipated/enjoyed games of 2016-17. Both teams have overturned their rosters since the Ball vs. Fox Family War of Words, but both will probably be ranked in the top-15 come late December and two of college basketball’s most storied programs squaring off is always appointment television. The only downside here is that with the storied gyms of Pauley Pavilion and Rupp Arena at their disposal, the two powerhouse programs instead are playing at Smoothie King Center. Remember, this is all about the student-athlete.

5. Kentucky at West Virginia – SEC/Big 12 Challenge – Jan. 27 (4:30 or 7 p.m.): The schedule of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge is kind of silly, plopping it right in the middle of the conference season (though less so than the Big Ten’s schedule gymnastics), but getting John Calipari vs. Bob Huggins is fantastic, no matter when it happens. Given that it’s happening on-campus in Morgantown between two teams that could be ranked in the top-10 at the time, it’s reason to celebrate.

6.. Louisville at Kentucky – Dec. 29 (1 p.m.): Two top-10 teams, two bitter in-state rivals and one on-campus game. Good on these two programs, and lucky for us.

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7. Seton Hall at Louisville – Billy Minardi Classic – Dec. 3 (4 p.m.): Everyone will know going into the season how strong the Cardinals are, but Seton Hall may be a bit overlooked, even if they open the year as a top-20 team. The Pirates have a really fun group that includes Angel Delgado, Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodriguez. They’re going to make some noise in the Big East, and they’ll have a chance to announce their intentions in early December.

8. Cincinnati vs. Florida – Never Forget Tribute Classic (Newark, N.J.) – Dec. 9 : The Bearcats return a ton from a 30-win team and the Gators’ roster is mainly unchanged after last year’s Elite 8 run. Two veteran teams with major aspirations will be taking the floor with their eyes on maybe moving a seed-line with a resume-boosting win.

9. Villanova vs. Gonzaga (New York) – Dec. 5 (7 p.m.): Some of the biggest names from last season’s rosters are gone from both of these teams, but the programs remain two of the best in the country and this year’s teams will be no slouches. The Josh Perkins/Jalen Brunson matchup is worth tuning into all by itself.

10. Miami at Minnesota – Big Ten/ACC Challenge – Nov. 29 (9 p.m.): This may not look like a top-10 game at first blush, but both the Hurricanes and Gophers are going to have serious teams this year. Jim Larranaga’s squad is going to have guards galore while Richard Pitino brings back nearly everyone from last year’s squad, by far the best he’s had in Minneapolis. This easily could be a matchup of top-10 teams.

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11. Cincinnati at UCLA – Dec. 16 (3:30 p.m.): Both the Bearcats and Bruins have solid non-conference schedules this season, and this matchup will be among the best for both.

12. Cincinnati at Xavier – Dec. 2 (Noon): The Crosstown Shootout is a must-see every year, and with the Bearcats and Musketeers set to be top-20 teams, this year’s no different.

13. Alabama at Arizona – Dec. 9 : There will be a ton of talent on display in Tucson with DeAndre Ayton, Allonzo Trier and Rawle Atkins on the Wildcats’ side and freshman Collin Sexton for the Crimson Tide.

14. Notre Dame at Michigan State – ACC/Big Ten Challenge – Nov. 30 (7 p.m.): Michigan State’s Miles Bridges is one of the sport’s highest-flyers while Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson gets his while barely ever leaving the floor. Having them on the same court at the same time offers great contrast – and probably a lot of buckets.

15. Virginia Tech at Kentucky – Dec. 16 (2 p.m.): Zach LeDay and Seth Allen are gone, but Buzz Williams’ team should still have enough to give Kentucky trouble in Rupp Arena.

16. Texas at VCU – Dec. 5 (6 p.m.): Shaka Smart returns to Richmond just over two years after leaving the Rams for the Longhorns in what is sure to be an emotional trip. Plus, it’s a chance to watch Mo Bamba, who very well could be a top-five draft pick come June.

17. Indiana at Louisville – Dec. 9 (2 p.m.): The Hoosiers may not be a national contender this year, but it’s Archie Miller’s first foray into the Indiana/Kentucky hoops battles, even if it’s not with his program’s traditional southern rival.

Glen Johnston, Texas A&M Athletics

18. Texas A&M vs. West Virginia – Armed Forces Classic (Ramstein-Miesenbach, German) – Nov. 10 (6 p.m.): The Mountaineers and Aggies tip off the hoops season overseas at the Ramstein Air Base with Robert Williams leading the way for the Aggies.

19. Wichita State at Baylor – Dec. 2 (2 p.m.): Gregg Marshall might have his best team ever with the Shockers with everyone back from last year’s squad that finished in the KenPom top-10 despite just getting a 10-seed in the NCAA tournament. The Bears lost Johnathan Motley, but with Manu Lecomte and Jo Lual-Acuil back, Scott Drew should have Baylor in the top-25

20. Missouri vs. Illinois (St. Louis) – Dec. 23: This is one of probably two high-profile non-conference games for Michael Porter, Jr. to showcase his potential top-pick talent, plus it pits Mizzou’s Jeremiah Tilmon against the program he initially committed to before defecting to the Tigers ahead of Brad Underwood’s first year in Champaign.

21. Butler at Maryland – Gavitt Games – Nov. 15 (8:30 p.m.): Another first-week gem that has the Bulldogs heading to College Park to face Justin Jackson and the Terps.

22. Duke at Indiana – ACC/Big Ten Challenge – Nov. 29 (9:30 p.m.): The Blue Devils visit Assembly Hall for just the second time ever and the first since the 2005-06 season.

23. Arizona vs. Texas A&M (Phoenix) – Dec. 5 (10 p.m.): DeAndre Ayton vs. Robert Williams. That should be fun.

24. Baylor at Florida – SEC/Big 12 Challenge – Jan. 27 : The SEC/BIg 12 Challenge is stocked with awesome matchups, but this one has a chance to be a good one.

25. South Dakota State at Kansas – Nov. 17 (8 p.m.): The Jackrabbits’ Mike Daum is a potential All-American. He’s got a chance to build some November hype at Allen Fieldhouse.

Minnesota’s Amir Coffey out for the season with shoulder injury

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Minnesota sophomore Amir Coffey will miss the rest of his sophomore season with a season-ending shoulder injury, according to a release from the school.

The 6-foot-8 Coffey was one of the Big Ten’s most productive freshman last season but he wasn’t able to stay consistently healthy during the 2017-18 campaign. Coffey put up solid numbers when he was able to play, averaging 14.0 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game, but he missed 10 total games with the injury.

Coffey has been out for the last five games, and with Minnesota’s postseason hopes plummeting during an eight-game losing streak, the decision to hold him out was probably best for his long-term health.

Barford leads dominant Arkansas past No. 21 Texas A&M, 94-75

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Daniel Gafford capped off the most difficult stretch of his young Southeastern Conference career with a disappointing and foul-plagued performance the last time Arkansas faced Texas A&M.

The standout Razorbacks forward remembered that game all too well, and it showed as he added yet another dominating effort to his remarkable freshman season on Saturday.

Gafford scored 18 points on 7-of-8 shooting to lead Arkansas (19-8, 8-6 SEC) to its fourth straight win, 94-75 over the No. 21 Aggies. It was the fifth straight game in double figures for Gafford, who is shooting 70.7 percent (29 of 41) since the 80-66 loss to Texas A&M on Jan. 30.

The 6-foot-11 freshman was on a mission to atone for that loss, and it showed as he hit his first five shots and punctuated the dominating win with a late dunk.

“Playing them here, in my mind I had to play smarter and more physical,” Gafford said. “Because in my mind, I was ready for them. I was ready for Tyler Davis, I was ready for pretty much all the big men because pretty much I got punked when we went up to Texas A&M, and I didn’t want that to happen tonight.”

Gafford had plenty of help from his teammates, with Jaylen Barford scoring 14 of his 21 points in the second half and adding five rebounds and five assists for the surging Razorbacks.

Also, Daryl Macon finished with 20 points for an Arkansas team that’s won seven of its last nine. It was the eighth time in the last nine games Macon has scored 20 or more. C.J. Jones had 13 points off the bench.

Robert Williams had 20 points and 14 rebounds to lead Texas A&M (17-10, 6-8), which lost its second straight after entering the rankings this week. The 6-foot-10 sophomore also had three blocks and finished 10 of 13 from the field.

Admon Gilder also scored 20 points for the Aggies, while Davis added 15 points and T.J. Starks had 12. However, Texas A&M was unable to slow down an Arkansas team that shot 49.3 percent (35 of 71) from the field and hit 10 of 23 3-pointers.

“There’s not many teams going to come in here and beat Arkansas when they shoot the ball like they did today,” Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. “I thought they shot the ball extremely well and made some tough shots.”

REBOUNDING RAZORBACKS

Texas A&M entered the game 3rd nationally and tops in the SEC in rebounding with an average of 41.9 per game. The Aggies also outrebounded Arkansas 45-30 in their win last month, but the Razorbacks turned the tables on Saturday — finishing with a 45-33 edge on the glass.

Freshman Darious Hall followed up his career-best 11-rebound effort in a win over Mississippi earlier in the week with seven rebounds in only 17 minutes on Saturday, and Gafford and senior Trey Thompson had six rebounds apiece.

“This is a team that beat us by 15 at their place, and they’re one of the better rebounding teams in the country with all that size,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “Somehow we found the energy. We found the players that were really engaged and going to get those rebounds.”

BIG PICTURE

Texas A&M: The last time the Aggies won in Fayetteville was March 1, 1986, when both teams were members of the Southwest Conference and Arkansas still played in Barnhill Arena. They led only once on Saturday, a 4-2 advantage that disappeared quickly after the Razorbacks went on an 11-0 run. Texas A&M was 0 of 7 on 3-pointers while trailing 43-32 at halftime, and it just avoided matching its season low for 3-pointers — finishing 4 of 17 as a team.

Arkansas: The win starts a difficult five-game stretch to end the regular season for Arkansas, which entered Saturday 32nd in the NCAA’s RPI ratings. Beginning with the 18th-rated Aggies, the Razorbacks face teams all 31st or higher in the ratings during the five games — including Kentucky, Alabama, Auburn and Missouri. They started the stretch in dominating fashion on Saturday, a key victory for a team hoping to reach the NCAA Tournament for a third time in four seasons this year.

UP NEXT

Texas A&M returns home to face Mississippi State on Tuesday.

The Razorbacks host Kentucky on Tuesday.

Kentucky beats Alabama 81-71 behind Washington’s 16 points

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Four straight losses were enough for Kentucky.

PJ Washington scored 16 points, Kevin Knox added 13, and Kentucky beat Alabama 81-71 on Saturday to end a four-game slide.

“They played desperately,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “We gave away some games this year and we have to start taking games away from people, which means desperation.”

The Wildcats (18-9, 7-7 Southeastern Conference) displayed a sense of urgency against the Crimson Tide, especially in the rebounding department. The Wildcats held a commanding 44-27 edge on the glass and grabbed 20 offensive boards, resulting in 20 second-chance points for the hosts.

“They were desperate and they had a lot of energy,” Alabama coach Avery Johnson said.

Quade Green scored 12 points, Jarred Vanderbilt scored a career-high 11 off the bench with nine rebounds, and Nick Richards added 10 points for the Wildcats.

Vanderbilt played a key role down the stretch for the Wildcats and finished with nine rebounds.

“We came together the last five minutes,” Vanderbilt said. “We made some key plays down the stretch, took care of the ball and we just executed.”

For Kentucky, which hadn’t won since an 83-81 overtime win over Vanderbilt on Jan. 30, fending off the Crimson Tide (17-10, 8-6) wasn’t an easy task. The Wildcats have won six straight over Alabama, including 11 of the past 12 games.

“It felt like we were back to normal and back to where we needed to be,” Washington said. “We just need to keep building from here.”

Alabama, the top defensive team in the conference, forced eight ties and 15 lead changes until the Wildcats gained control midway through the second half to avoid a fifth straight loss. Kentucky led for the final eight minutes.

Knox, Kentucky’s leading scorer, sat out 14 minutes of the first half because of foul trouble, but picked up the scoring load with all of his 13 points in the second half. Knox connected on first field-goal 7/8- a 3-pointer with 13:22 remaining — to ignite the Wildcats’ stagnant offense and spark the team’s impressive finish.

Kentucky led 39-34 at the break amid four ties and 11 lead changes. The Wildcats got most of their scoring off the bench in the opening half with Green and Washington combining for 15 points. Green paved the way with nine and made four of five field goals.

“They just outworked us,” Alabama forward Donata Hall said. “They were a hungry team.”

Hall led Alabama with 16 points, John Petty had 13, Colin Sexton 12 and Alex Reese 10.

BIG PICTURE

Kentucky: The Wildcats, who have lost three straight road games (Missouri, Texas A&M and Auburn), will attempt to end the slide Tuesday at Arkansas, which lost just one of its first 14 games at home this season. Kentucky, five games behind conference leader Auburn, is out of contention for a fourth consecutive regular-season title, although a top-four finish isn’t out of question.

Alabama: The Crimson Tide, 5-1 against ranked teams this season, including a 76-71 win over No. 10 Auburn on Jan. 17 in Tuscaloosa, will attempt a sweep of the Tigers Wednesday. Alabama will attempt to lock up one of four top spots and a bye during the final two weeks of the regular season. Alabama coach Avery Johnson fell to 0-6 in games against Kentucky.

PELPHREY RETURNS

Former Kentucky forward John Pelphrey, an assistant coach at Alabama, made his return to Rupp Arena. Pelphrey, a former Mr. Basketball at Paintsville High School in 1987, played for the Wildcats from 1988-92 and was a member of the “Unforgettables” squad that lost to Duke in the 1992 East Region finals.

UP NEXT

Kentucky is at Arkansas Tuesday.

Alabama visits No. 10 Auburn Wednesday.

No. 3 Villanova continues reign of dominance over No. 4 Xavier, winning 95-79

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Villanova is not a perfect basketball team.

They have their flaws. Their depth in an issue. Their defense is a bigger issue. Their health seems to be working itself out, but with a rotation that has been as shallow as six guys at time, they are never more than one sprained ankle away from being put in a spot where their starters play too many minutes.

And despite all of that, one thing remains true about this group: They are always capable of putting together a shooting performance that leaves you wondering how in the world they ever lost a game to begin with.

That’s precisely what happened on Saturday in Cincinnati, as the No. 3 Wildcats — having lost two of their last three games to fall a game out of first place in the Big East — went into the Cintas Center and truck-sticked No. 4 Xavier, 95-79. It’s a result we all probably should have seen coming. Villanova has, after all, won four straight Big East regular season titles, and they weren’t about to lay down and let the Musketeers take control of their league. Especially since it’s Xavier. In the 11 games since Xavier and Villanova became conference foes, the Wildcats are now 10-1 with an average winning margin of 17.6 points.

Mikal Bridges led the way, scoring 16 of his 25 points in a first half where he buried four of Villanova’s 11 threes. Their lead ballooned as high as 21 points, and they took a 51-37 lead into halftime. Xavier made their run in the second half, getting as close as 62-59 before Donte DiVincenzo, who finished with 21 points, nine assists and nine boards, helped to spark a surge that put the game away.

The difference-maker here was Villanova’s shooting. They were 11-for-19 from three in the first half. They shot 16-for-34 for the game. In losses to St. John’s and Providence in the last two weeks, the Wildcats struggled from beyond the arc. They were 8-for-33 against St. John’s, just 2-for-17 in the second half, and they shot 3-for-19 from distance at Providence during the week.

And it is also worth noting that they got some terrific play from two of their young, unproven freshman who combined to score 11 straight points during a five-minute second half stretch. Dhamir Cosby-Rountree had two critical buckets as Villanova pulled away late midway through the second half, when he was on the floor for Eric Paschall, who had picked up four fouls. And Collin Gillispie followed that up by banging home a three and scoring on a tough finger-roll over Sean O’Mara that helped hold Xavier at bay. All told, Cosby-Rountree finished with four points, three boards and a block while Gillispie chipped in with 10 points of his own.

Perhaps most impressive in all of this was that Villanova put together this kind of a performance on an afternoon where Jalen Brunson struggled to get into his normal rhythm. He finished with 11 points and eight assists, but shot just 5-for-12 from the floor and 1-for-6 from three. For a player that is having a historically-great season from an efficiency perspective, those are surprising numbers.

What it all adds up to is this: The Wildcats are not yet ready to relinquish control over the Big East regular season title. Xavier is still technically in first place by a half-game — they’re 12-3 while Villanova is 11-3 — but for all intents and purposes, they’re tied. Xavier’s schedule down the stretch is much easier than what Villanova has remaining. Xavier has road trips to Georgetown and DePaul left while Villanova still has to go to Creighton and Seton Hall.

That story is still left to be told.

But the simple fact of the matter is that Xavier had a chance to take a two-game lead on Villanova with two weeks left in the regular season and they couldn’t get the job done.

And if they slip up again in their final three games, they may be left wondering ‘what if?’ all over again.

Duke’s Marvin Bagley III to miss third straight game with knee issue

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Duke announced on Saturday afternoon that star freshman Marvin Bagley III will miss his third straight game with what they have dubbed a mild knee sprain.

Bagley suffered the injury in the first half at North Carolina, and while he played the rest of that game, he sat out wins over Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech.

Both of those games came in Cameron Indoor Stadium. On Sunday, they’ll be playing on the road against a shorthanded No. 11 Clemson program.

In Bagley’s absence, Marques Bolden, Javin DeLaurier and Alex O’Connell have played more minutes while Grayson Allen has seemingly rediscovered his confidence. He’s averaging 24 points and six assists in the last two games.