2014-2015 Season Preview: 25 must-watch non-conference games

3 Comments
source:
Kentucky beat Louisville twice last season (AP Photo)

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

The college basketball offseason is brutal, longer than any other major sport. But practice is already underway, meaning actual college basketball games are officially right around the corner. This year’s non-conference slate has everything you could ask for — rivalries, rematches, top-10 clashes, etc. — and many of these games happen within the first five days of the 2014-2015 season.

Here are the 25 best non-conference games. Mark your calendars:

THE TOP 15

1. Kansas vs. Kentucky (Champions Classic in Indianapolis) – Nov. 18

The Jayhawks and Wildcats meet in the nightcap of the 2014 Champions Classic just four days after the college basketball season begins. Kentucky returns Willie Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson, Alex Poythress and the Harrison twins and add four more McDonald’s All Americans to that roster. Kansas, however, also brings in a highly-touted quartet that will join returners Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis. Bill Self and John Calipari have both won their national championships at the expense of the other.

2. Duke vs. Wisconsin (ACC/Big Ten Challenge) – Dec. 3

The ACC/Big Ten Challenge’s top game will pit two top-5 teams against one another as the Blue Devils head to the Kohl Center in Madison to take on the Badgers. Not only does this matchup two conference favorites, it provides the best individual matchup of the season, with the senior Frank Kaminsky going up against the nation’s top freshman Jahlil Okafor.

3. Kentucky vs. Louisville – Dec. 27

Kentucky took both games from Louisville last season, including a five-point win in the Sweet 16. Luckily, the Cardinals get the Wildcats at home this season with great matchups on the floor. Terry Rozier and Chris Jones up against the Harrison twins and Tyler Ulis while Montrezl Harrell battles the massive UK frontline. The nation’s best rivalry rarely disappoints.

4. Arizona vs. Gonzaga – Dec. 6

Despite losing two starters, Arizona has plenty of NBA talent in its starting five. Gonzaga will field one of the best rosters in program history, with starters Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell and Przemek Karnowski and transfers Byron Wesley and Kyle Wiltjer. The last time these two teams met was March in the Round of 64. Arizona cruised to a 84-61 win.

source: Getty Images
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson tries to dunk on Gonzaga (Getty Images)

5. North Carolina vs. Kentucky – Dec. 13

One ACC contender wasn’t enough for John Calipari, as his Cats welcome the Tar Heels to Rupp Arena. The 2011 meeting was an instant classic and while the two blue bloods took a break from play in 2012, the non-conference tilt is back on for a second straight season after UNC topped UK in last year. 

6. Texas vs. Kentucky – Dec. 5

The SEC/Big 12 Challenge one-upped its ACC-Big Ten counterpart with two incredible games on Friday, Dec. 5. One of those games? Kentucky hosting Texas. The Longhorns are coming off a rejuvenated season and will pose a front court of Jonathan Holmes, Cameron Ridley and five-star freshman Myles Turner ready to do battle with Kentucky’s deep frontline.

7. Florida vs. Kansas – Dec. 5

In the nightcap of that SEC/Big 12 Challenge double-header, Florida and Kansas meet once again in the regular season, only this time in Allen Fieldhouse. Last season, the Gators used a 67-61 win to kick-off a 30-game winning streak that brought them to the Final Four. This game will include some new faces (Cliff Alexander, Kelly Oubre, etc.) and players in bigger roles (Kasey Hill, Chris Walker).

8. Duke vs. UConn – Dec. 18

UConn won its fourth national championship in 15 years this past April with Duke playing a role in two of those titles. In 1999, the Huskies defeated Duke in the national championship game. Five years later, the Huskies downed the Blue Devils in the Final Four. When they meet on Dec. 18 in Izod Center, it’ll mark the 10th time they’ve played. Duke hopes it’s a lot like the last meeting (2009) when it won a 68-59 contest. Both fanbases travel well.

9. UConn vs. Florida – Jan. 3

source: AP
AP photo

In the last 22 games of the 2013-2014 season, Florida had just two losses, both against UConn. Shabazz Napier’s buzzer-beater in Storrs stole a victory from the Gators. Four months later, Florida became part of UConn’s unlikely national championship run. Billy Donovan gets Kevin Ollie’s team in Gainesville to kick off the 2015.

10. Utah vs. San Diego State Nov. 18

The 24-hour tip-off marathon picks back up in the early evening with one of those games being Utah at San Diego State. The Utes have high hopes this season with the return of Delon Wright. The Aztecs exceeded expectations last season and could repeat that with Dwayne Poole is a host of young talented guards.

11. SMU vs. Gonzaga – Nov. 17

SMU missed out on the NCAA tournament last season due to a weak out-of-conference schedule. Larry Brown beefed up that portion of the schedule this year with Gonzaga — a team with top 10 talent — as an early test. This is still an interesting game, but would have been much higher on the list had Emmauel Mudiay enrolled.

12. Duke vs. Michigan State – Nov. 18

The Blue Devils have four big-time recruits including Okafor and Tyus Jones. Michigan State lost three starters and will rely on Branden Dawson, Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice. It’s tough to compete with the headliner of the Champions Classic, but this is as good of an opening act as you’ll see.

13. Virginia vs. VCU – Dec. 6

Last season, VCU entered Charlottlesville as the No. 14 team in the nation and left with a 59-56 victory over the Cavaliers. The Rams host the Cavs in early December this time around. At that point in the season both teams could be in the top-15 or even top-10. VCU will be battle-tested by Dec. 6 with games against MAC-favorite Toledo and Villanova beforehand. The Wahoos will have the talented perimeter of Malcolm Brogdon, London Perrantes and Anthony Gill to go head-to-head with Havoc.

14. Syracuse vs. Villanova – Dec. 20

An original Big East Conference game is always a must-see event. The Orange also have St. John’s on the schedule, but traveling to Philadelphia to take on ranked Villanova program is the better of the two. This will be the second time these two former league rivals go toe-to-toe since the conference dismantled, as the Orange pulled away with a 78-62 victory at home in what ended up being a top-10 matchup.

15. Wichita State vs. Memphis (in Sioux Falls, South Dakota) – Nov. 14

How do you make a mid-November game in Sioux Falls, South Dakota interesting? Invite a team that hasn’t lost a regular season game since March 2013 and bring in a perennial top-25. Sure, Memphis is going through a rebuilding mode with an entire new back court, but the Tigers have inside presence with Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols that could give the Shockers trouble. Cleanthony Early is now a Knick, but Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker are both All American candidates.

TEN MORE TIMES YOU’LL NEED TO SET YOUR DVR

  • 16. Kentucky vs. UCLA – (CBS Sports Classic in Chicago) Dec. 20: Two blue-bloods square off in the United Center.
  • 17. Texas vs. UConn – Nov. 30: Ryan Boatright vs. Isaiah Taylor will be fun.
  • 18. Arizona vs. Michigan – Dec. 13: Sean Miller’s defensive mastery vs. John Beilein’s offensive ingenuity.
  • 19. Arizona vs. UNLV – Dec. 23: The Runnin’ Rebels have a ton of young talent on their roster.
  • 20. Syracuse vs. Michigan (ACC/Big Ten Challenge) – Dec. 2: Syracuse have PG questions while Michigan has an unproven front line.
  • 21. Ohio State vs. North Carolina (CBS Sports Classic in Chicago) – Dec. 20: Are the Buckeyes truly a top 15-caliber team?
  • 22. Minnesota vs. Louisville (U.S. Air Station in Puerto Rico) – Nov. 14: Big Pitino vs. Little Pitino.
  • 23. Green Bay vs. Georgia State – Dec. 4/27: Arguably the nation’s two-best mid-majors. Keifer Sykes vs. Ryan Harrow and R.J. Hunter. And yeah, these two teams meet twice.
  • 24. Oklahoma vs. UCLA – Nov. 26: Oklahoma has a chance to win the Big 12 is Tashawn Thomas gets eligible.
  • 25. Wichita State vs. Utah  Dec. 3: Utah is one of the best teams you’re not paying attention to right now.

POTENTIAL IN-SEASON TOURNAMENT GAMES WE’RE HOPING TO SEE

  • Battle 4 Atlantis: North Carolina vs. Wisconsin
  • Maui Invitational: San Diego State vs. Arizona
  • 2k Classic: Texas vs. Syracuse
  • Orlando Classic: Kansas vs. Michigan State
  • Legends Classic: Michigan vs. VCU
  • Puerto Rico Tip-Off: UConn vs. West Virginia

ACC coaches back idea of all D-I teams in 2021 NCAA tourney

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
2 Comments

RALEIGH, N.C. — Atlantic Coast Conference men’s basketball coaches are pushing the idea of having next year’s NCAA Tournament include all eligible teams in Division I.

Numerous league schools and coaches released statements Wednesday after the coaches held their weekly call to discuss the proposal, which was first reported by Stadium. There are 357 Division I programs in the country, with NCAA spokeswoman Meghan Durham saying 346 of those are eligible to play in next year’s tournament.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett said the ACC coaches are “united in strongly pursuing this” in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic that led to the cancellation of last year’s NCAA Tournament days before the field of 68 was set to be revealed. Multiple coaches said creating an everybody-gets-in format would be an incentive for schools as they create the safest conditions possible for returning to play.

“This is not a regular season,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a statement. “It is clearly an irregular season that will require something different. Our sport needs to be agile and creative. Most importantly, an all-inclusive postseason tournament will allow a unique and unprecedented opportunity for every team and every student-athlete to compete for a national championship.”

Durham declined comment specifically on the proposal in an email to The Associated Press on Wednesday. Last month, NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt said the Division I oversight committees for men’s and women’s basketball planned to announce by mid-September plans for whether the season and preseason practice would start on time or require a delay due to the pandemic.

Louisville coach Chris Mack said the proposal would provide flexibility during the season without mandating a number of nonconference or conference games to be played. And the league has already experienced that scheduling challenge with football and other fall sports.

The ACC announced in July that it would have each football team play 10 league games – including the addition of Notre Dame as a football member this year – and one nonconference game to be played in the home state of the member school. Those schedules were released in early August, slightly more than a month before Thursday’s UAB-Miami game kicks off the season.

“This is a time to think differently,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said, adding: “After all these players have been through, what better way to reward them than the opportunity to compete in an unprecedented version of the most exciting event in sports.”

College basketball floats idea of bubbles for safe season

Getty Images
1 Comment

The NBA bubble has held. So has the NHL’s double bubble. The WNBA and MLS, no leaks.

In this unprecedented landscape of sports in a pandemic world, one indisputable fact has emerged: bubbles work.

Thousands of tests, minimal to no positive COVID-19 test results.

So as the NCAA gets set announce its plans for the 2020-21 college basketball season, there are clear precedents and blueprints in place should it decide to go the bubble route.

“It’s certainly viable,” said Mark Starsiak, vice president of sports at Intersport, a Chicago-based sports marketing and media agency, “From a basketball standpoint, I think we can follow those models.”

The college football restart has been scattershot. The season has already started, yet 53 FBS schools have the pads and helmets hanging on hooks while waiting for better pandemic news.

A much more unified plan is in place for the college basketball season.

The NCAA is hoping to start the season in late November/early December, with a vote by the Division I council expected Sept. 16.

A partnership between the Pac-12 and Quidel Corp. to potentially do daily, rapid COVID-19 tests on athletes should help smooth a return to the court.

The question then becomes: What’s the best way to safely play basketball again?

Bubbles may be the answer.

While bubble football would be next to impossible logistically, basketball could fit nicely.

The travel parties are much smaller and college basketball already has plenty of multiple-team events, from holiday and conference tournaments to the NCAA Tournament. Add the effective safety measures of the pro leagues, find suitable sites and bubble basketball could work.

The NCAA is already looking at it, reportedly filing a trademark for the phrase “Battle in the Bubble.” Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont also said there have been preliminary talks for bubble basketball at the Mohegan Sun resort.

“The idea of a bubble would be a really good idea, just to isolate all the teams who want to play against each other in that bubble and keep things safe, keep away from the public and keep us in our own area where we’re able to play the game the right way and safely,” Duke sophomore forward Wendell Moore, Jr. said.

A big key will be finding the right places to bubble.

The NBA has the ideal setup at Disney World, but college basketball might be better suited to follow the NHL’s lead.

Hockey’s two bubbles – Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta – cordoned off areas enclosing the arena and several nearby hotels. All personnel entering are tested and strict protocols are in place for vendors delivering food and packages into the bubbles.

Similar bubbles for college basketball could be set up at smaller resorts, cities with arenas and hotels nearby, or Division II or III schools with arenas not being used during the pandemic.

The NCAA could set up pods of multiple nonconference teams, conference tournaments could be held in similar fashion and so could the NCAA Tournament.

In other words, basketball bubbles could pop up all over the country.

“Maybe do it for maybe a week or two at a time, playing a certain amount of games and getting retested after you come back or something like that,” Memphis coach Penny Hardaway said. “It’s possible, but it’s not going to be easy.”

Pulling off a college basketball bubble, however, comes with a caveat.

NCAA players are considered students, so academics would have to be part of the equation.

Division I players are already accustomed to doing school work on the road and the majority take primarily online classes. To make the bubbles work, socially distant space would have to be carved out for the players to take their classes and study.

The programs may also have to rethink the size of their traveling parties.

“Discussions about the right amount of tutors or academic staff would need to take place,” said Starsiak, who has operated high-level sports and entertainment events for 15 years. ”

You have to look at, do we need three managers this time around? No, probably not. Do you take two and have a tutor or an academic come with us? Yeah, I think you could. I think there’s a way to kind of combine both things to have some live, in-person resources.”

The NCAA is going to do everything possible to have a basketball season.

The pandemic wiped out the NCAA Tournament last spring and the NCAA collected $270 million in cancellation insurance instead of the $1 billion TV payout it normally gets. A second straight year without March Madness could be devastating.

Bubbles may be the way to go.

‘Father of the Final Four’ Tom Jernestedt dies at 75

Getty Images
5 Comments

INDIANAPOLIS — Tom Jernstedt, a member of the Naismith Hall of Fame for his contributions to college basketball and the NCAA Tournament, has died. He was 75.

The NCAA said Sunday Jernstedt died this weekend.

Nicknamed “Father of the Final Four,” Jernstedt has widely been credited with transforming the NCAA Tournament into the billion-dollar March Madness it has become today.

“A decade after his departure from the NCAA, Tom Jernstedt’s fingertips remain visible during March Madness and the Final Four,” NCAA senior vice president Dan Gavitt said in a statement. “His innovation and superb ability to develop relationships turned a basketball tournament into a three-week phenomenon that became a global event.”

A former back-up quarterback, Jernstedt worked his first Final Four in 1973 and helped push the growth of the NCAA Tournament from 25 teams to the 68, anything-can-happen bonanza held every spring.

Jernstedt helped the NCAA increase its television contract from just over $1 million to more than $10 billion when he left in 2011. He served as president of USA Basketball, was a member of the College Football Selection committee and was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame as a contributor in 2017.

“Tom Jernstedt was a humble and unsung steward of the game,” John L. Doleva, president and CEO of the Basketball Hall of Fame, said in a statement. “Under his direction, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament grew into a phenomenon that brings college basketball fans together on a global scale. He will forever be remembered as the Father of the Final Four and one of the most respected leaders in basketball.”

Jernstedt established himself as a team leader despite being a backup quarterback at Oregon from 1964-66 and went on to serve as the Ducks’ events manager. He joined the NCAA in 1972 and spent 38 years with the organization.

“Tom served as a friend and mentor to countless people in and around collegiate athletics, and I’m proud to be among that vast group of people,” Gavitt said. “His legacy within the NCAA and its membership, and his impact on the sport of college basketball, is eternal. We extend our deepest condolences to Tom’s family.”

Aztecs extend Brian Dutcher’s contract 3 years through 2026

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
4 Comments

SAN DIEGO — San Diego State basketball coach Brian Dutcher has signed a three-year contract extension through the 2025-26 season.

Dutcher signed the deal following one of the most successful seasons in school history. The Aztecs went 30-2, won the Mountain West regular-season title and were expected to be a No. 1 or 2 seed before the NCAA Tournament was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. They opened the season 26-0 and were the nation’s last undefeated team.

“Having spent more than 20 years at San Diego State University I understand what a special place this is,” Dutcher said in a statement Friday. “I am humbled and honored to continue to represent SDSU and Aztec Basketball as its head coach.”

Dutcher is 73-26 in three seasons, the most victories by an Aztecs coach in his first three seasons. He spent 18 seasons as Steve Fisher’s top assistant, including six as associate head coach/head coach in waiting. He took over as head coach after Fisher retired following the 2016-17 season. The Aztecs reached the NCAA Tournament in his first season.

Before that, he spent 10 seasons with Fisher at Michigan. In Dutcher’s first season with the Wolverines, Fisher was promoted to interim head coach on the eve of the NCAA Tournament and won the national championship.

Indiana halts all voluntary workouts

Michelle Pemberton/IndyStar
4 Comments

Indiana has halted all voluntary workouts indefinitely for its men’s basketball, field hockey, men’s soccer and wrestling teams after 14 participants tested positive for the coronavirus this week.

The Hoosiers did not identify which teams recorded the positive tests. The football team, like other Big Ten programs, is not playing this fall. Indiana said 63 positives have been reported from more than 1,400 tests of athletes, coaches and staff since June 8.

“Our athletic program is following strict protocols during these unprecedented times and we strongly support our medical staff as we try and mitigate this issue,” men’s basketball coach Archie Miller said.