Getty Images

Top 30 Non-Conference Games

1 Comment

The dreadfully long college basketball offseason is almost over. The top non-conference game shouldn’t come as any surprise, as it’s a top-5 matchup five days into the 2015-16 season. Most of the marquee out-of-conference games are spread out through the months of November and December, but several must-see games can also be seen in January and February.

Here are the 30 must-see non-conference games. Mark your calendars:

THE TOP 15

1. Duke vs. Kentucky – Champions Classic in Chicago – Nov. 17 (7:30 p.m.)

Two preseason top-5 five teams with a Hall of Fame coach on each sideline should be enough to get you to tune in.

Duke cut down the nets to the program’s fifth national title, while Kentucky fell two games short of a perfect season. Coach K and Cal continue the revolving door of talent at each of their programs, as seven five-star recruits (four to Duke, three to UK) replace the seven first round picks the Blue Devils and Wildcats combined for this past June.

There are important returning pieces on each side, as well. Kentucky floor general Tyler Ulis, who logged the fourth most minutes on the team despite not starting in a single game last season, and Duke guard Grayson Allen, who had 16 points in the national championship game, are both expected to have breakout sophomore seasons.

Kentucky and Duke are 1-1 against each other in the Champions Classic, which began in 2011.

2. Maryland vs. North Carolina – Dec. 1 (9:30 p.m.)

The two former conference opponents square off in the most-anticipated game of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge on Dec. 1 in Chapel Hill. Maryland and North Carolina have both been slotted No. 1 in various preseason polls heading into this year.

Maryland’s returning starters, Melo Trimble and Jake Layman, are joined by transfers Robert Carter Jr. and Rasheed Sulaimon, and five-star center Diamond Stone. The Tar Heels return nine of its top 10 players from a season ago, including senior point guard Marcus Paige.

North Carolina has owned the rivalry since 2011, winning eight straight over the Terps.

3. Kentucky vs. Kansas – Jan. 30 (TBD)

The Big 12/SEC Challenge moves to the second half of the season, creating a late-January clash between Kentucky and Kansas inside Allen Fieldhouse. There’s plenty of basketball to be played between now and Jan. 30, but these two teams, pegged as national title contenders, will be in midseason form when they meet up in Lawrence.

Last year, Kentucky put a 32-point beatdown on Kansas when the two sides met in the Champions Classic.

4. Louisville vs. Kentucky – Dec. 26 (TBD)

There’s no better way for the Cardinals and Wildcats to each end their non-conference schedules.

Skal Labissiere, Jamal Murray, Isaiah Briscoe, Damion Lee, Trey Lewis and Donovan Mitchell are some of the new faces to the rivalry, but expect similar results when they meet up in Rupp. The last six meetings, dating back to 2011, have all been decided by eight points or fewer. Kentucky has won five of those six.

MORE: 2015-16 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

5. Villanova vs. Virginia – Dec. 19 (TBD)

The first game of a home-and-home series will feature a pair of preseason top-10 teams. For Villanova, the two-time Big East regular season champion, this is probably the best game on its non-conference schedule. For Virginia, the two-time ACC regular season champion, this falls in the middle of three tough out-of-conference games, with a 2k Classic contest against West Virginia on Dec. 8 and a matchup against Cal on Dec. 22.

6. Oklahoma vs. Villanova – in Honolulu – Dec. 7 (TBD)

Perimeter play will be key in a neutral site game in Hawaii. Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard going up against Jalen Brunson, Josh Hart and co-Big East Player of the Year Ryan Arcidiacono.

7. Georgetown vs. Maryland – Nov. 17 (9 p.m.)

The Gavitt Tipoff Games brings the Hoyas and Terrapins back together in College Park. These two teams have played only twice since 2001, the last being a neutral site game at the Old Spice Classic in 2008. Before that, the two matched up in the 2001 NCAA Tournament. More importantly, this is the first time since Georgetown and Maryland will play each other locally since 1993.

This game is in primetime, which is good. However, it’s squeezed in between the Champions Classic, which is bad.

8. Kansas vs. Michigan State – Champions Classic in Chicago – Nov. 17 (10 p.m.)

The 24-hour tipoff marathon ends with the nightcap from the Champions Classic in Chicago.

The Jayhawks and the Spartans played in the non-conference last season with KU defeating Sparty, 61-56, in the championship game of the Orlando Classic. Perry Ellis had 17 points and nine rebounds, while Denzel Valentine finished with 14 points. Both All-American candidates are back, hoping to avoid a second straight loss in the Champions Classic.

9. Arizona vs. Gonzaga – Dec. 5 (TBD)

This game did not disappoint last December, as Arizona held on to a 66-63 overtime win over the Bulldogs. Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer return for the Zags to form of the nation’s top frontlines. For Arizona, whose only returning starter is Kaleb Tarczewski, a trip to Spokane is the only true road game of its non-conference slate.

Getty Images
Getty Images

10. Indiana vs. Duke – Dec. 2 (9:15 p.m.)

One of the final games of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge will be between two of the most storied programs in college basketball history, as Indiana travels to Durham to take on the reigning national champion. This is the third time — first since 2006 — that these two teams have meet in the annual conference series. Duke won both previous matchups.

11. Cal vs. Virginia – Dec. 22 (9 p.m.)

The two-time ACC champions will host Cal, one of the contenders in the Pac-12, just days before the holiday break. Cal has jumped into the national conversation after landing Ivan Rabb and Jaylen Brown and returning conference player of the year favorite Tyrone Wallace. Justin Anderson left for the NBA, but Tony Bennett still has Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill, Mike Tobey and London Perrantes.

12. Gonzaga vs. SMU – Feb. 13 (10 p.m.)

The Mustangs look to return the favor after the Zags handed them a 16-point loss last November. SMU hosts Gonzaga in the rematch in mid-February. Not a bad time to score a quality non-conference win.

13. UConn vs. Michigan – Nov. 25 (9:30 p.m.)

The Huskies and Wolverines both missed the NCAA tournament last season. Both teams have an opportunity to land multiple marquee wins in late November as part of another loaded Battle 4 Atlantis field. UConn and Michigan meet in the quarterfinals in the Bahamas.

14. Louisville vs. Michigan State – Dec. 2 (7:15 p.m.)

A rematch of the last year’s overtime thriller in the Elite Eight. This Big Ten/ACC battle features two of the best wings in the country in Michigan State senior Denzel Valentine and Louisville graduate transfer Damion Lee. Oh yeah, two pretty good coaches are on the sidelines, too.

15. Maryland vs. UConn – Jimmy V Classic in New York – Dec. 8 (9 p.m.)

The Terps and the Huskies headline the Jimmy V Classic doubleheader at Madison Square Garden. Maryland’s Melo Trimble and Rasheed Sulaimon take on the UConn perimeter of Sterling Gibbs, Daniel Hamilton and Rodney Purvis. The opening game of the night is between Virginia and West Virginia.

AP
AP

15 MORE TIMES YOU’LL NEED TO SET YOUR DVR

  • UC Irvine vs. UCF – Nov. 18 (7 p.m.): UC Irvine’s 7-foot-6 center Mamadou N’Diaye vs. UCF’s 7-foot-6 freshman Tacko Fall.
  • Xavier vs. Michigan – Nov. 20 (9 p.m.): The final game of the first-ever Gavitt Tipoff Games pits two potential top-20 teams against one another.
  • Wisconsin vs. Oklahoma – Nov. 29 (2:30 p.m.): The Sooners looking to avenge a loss in last season’s Battle 4 Atlantis championship game.
  • Kentucky vs. UCLA – Dec. 3 (TBD): The Bruins’ December schedule also includes games against Gonzaga and North Carolina, but they begin the month hosting Kentucky. Can’t go worse than last year’s meeting, right?
  • Syracuse vs. Georgetown – Dec. 5 (TBD): The two Big East foes restart the rivalry in the Nation’s Capital. The Orange and Hoyas will meet once a year for the next four seasons.
  • Vanderbilt vs. Baylor – Dec. 6 (TBD): The first game of a home-and-home series. The Bears defeated the Commodores, 66-63, last year.
  • Virginia vs. West Virginia – Jimmy V Classic in New York – Dec. 8 (7 p.m.): Mountaineers’ Press Virginia vs. Tony’ Bennett’s Pack-Line Defense.
  • Marquette vs. Wisconsin – Dec. 12 (1:30 p.m): Hopefully, the Golden Eagles and Badgers don’t combine for 87 points like last year.
  • North Carolina vs. Texas – Dec. 12 (5:15 p.m.): Texas fans likely won’t have a bowl game to look forward to in mid-December. But this Saturday matinee matchup with the Tar Heels should provide plenty of action.
  • Wichita State vs. Utah – Dec. 12 (TBD): The Shockers will look to take advantage with the senior guard tandem of Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet. The Utes will counter with Jakob Poeltl, one of the top centers in the country.
  • Indiana vs. Notre Dame – Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis – Dec. 19 (2 p.m.): Demetrius Jackson vs. Yogi Ferrell in the opening game of the Crossroads Classic in Indy. Butler vs. Purdue isn’t a bad nightcap.
  • Vanderbilt vs. Purdue – Dec. 22 (8 p.m.): A battle of the big men between the top-25 caliber teams. Damian Jones is one of the nation’s top centers. The Boilermakers one of the top front courts with Isaac Haas, A.J. Hammons and Caleb Swanigan.
  • Kansas vs. San Diego State – Dec. 22 (TBD): The Jayhawks travel to one of the toughest places to play. Only one team left Viejas Arena with a win last season.
  • Oklahoma vs. LSU – Jan. 30 (TBD): Buddy Hield, the reigning Big 12 Player of the Year, leads the Sooners into Baton Rouge to face Ben Simmons, the potential No. 1 overall pick, and the Tigers.
  • Iowa State vs. Texas A&M – Jan. 30 (TBD): A 2016 clash between the Cyclones and the Aggies will be one of the final games of the Big 12/SEC Challenge.

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

  • Battle 4 Atlantis: UConn vs. Syracuse (semifinals)
  • Maui Invitational: Indiana vs. Kansas
  • 2k Classic: Wisconsin vs. Duke
  • AdvoCare Invitational: Wichita State vs. Notre Dame; Dayton vs. Xavier
  • Hall of Fame Tip-Off: Florida vs. Purdue
  • Wooden Legacy: Arizona vs. Michigan State

Miami lands Florida grad-transfer Keith Stone

Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Keith Stone is leaving the SEC but not the state of Florida.

The former Gator will finish his career at Miami as a graduate transfer, he announced Monday via social media.

The 6-foot-8 Stone is from Deerfield, Fla., less than an hour’s ride from Miami Beach. He averaged 6.1 points and 3.9 rebounds per game last season before tearing his ACL in January. With Dewan Hernandez, Ebuka Izundu, and Anthony Lawrence all gone from the Canes, Stone could be in line for a major role right from the jump if his knee gets back to full strength.

Miami went 14-18 last season to finish under .500 for the first time in Jim Larranaga’s eight seasons, and it was just the second time the Canes failed to win at least 20 games.

Kyle Guy says he’s staying in the draft, will not return to Virginia

Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kyle Guy is off to the professional ranks.

The Virginia junior had already declared for the NBA draft, but announced Monday that he plans to stay in the draft and not return to the Cavaliers next season, as he would be allowed to under NCAA rules.

“I am officially keeping my name in the draft. I know it’s the right step after much prayer and thought with my family,” Guy wrote on social media.

Players retain the option to return to school up until the end of next month, but Guy’s announcement makes it clear he has no intention of utilizing that avenue as he plows ahead toward a professional career after being named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player as Virginia won its first-ever national championship earlier this month in Minneapolis.

The 6-foot-2 guard averaged 15.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game in Virginia’s slow-paced offense while shooting 49.5 percent from 3-point range. Right now, Guy’s draft ceiling would appear to be in the second round with going undrafted a possibility as well. If he does make it at the next level, it’s pretty clear it’ll be the 3-point shooting that gets and keeps him there in a league that covets that skill now more than ever.

For Virginia, Guy’s decision simply crystalizes what was likely the reality already – they’re going to have a completely remade roster, which certainly isn’t uncommon for national championship winners. There’s a reason no one since Florida in 2006 and 2007 has repeated as champions. With Guy gone and Ty Jerome, De’Andre Hunter and Mamadi Diakite all having declared, Tony Bennett and Co. could be looking at more modest expectations following the greatest season in program history.

Duke adds to 2019 class with top-30 guard Cassius Stanley

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
Leave a comment

Duke’s already monster 2019 class got even stronger Monday.

Cassius Stanley, a four-star guard from California, pledged to the Blue Devils to give them their fifth recruit rated in the top-35 nationally in the class.

“I’ll be joining the brotherhood. Go Duke,” Stanley said in his announcement video posted to social media.

“He wants to come in and start or contribute as a starter on a highly competitive team,” Jerome Stanley, Cassius’ father, told 247Sports. “He’s used to winning and he plans to come in there and win. He doesn’t plan to be a project, he wants to step on the floor immediately and help them win.”

Stanley’s commitment only further reinforces how strong Duke is on the recruiting trail as it now has five-stars Vernon Carey, Matthew Hurt and Wendell Moore signed along with top-40 Boogie Ellis of San Diego.

The Blue Devils may have lost their high-profile trio of Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish, but with these major additions along with Tre Jones, Marques Bolden and Alex O’Connell slated to return, they’ll be looking at another top-10 (and maybe higher) preseason ranking after a disappointing Elite Eight departure from the NCAA tournament last month.

Udoka Azubuike returning to Kansas for senior season

Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Injuries have robbed Kansas center Udoka Azubuike of nearly two full seasons of college basketball. They also likely played a major part on while he’ll be back for his fourth year on campus.

The 7-footer will return to Lawrence and the Jayhawks for his senior season rather than declare for the NBA draft, the school announced Monday.

“We’re all very excited about Udoka making the decision not to enter the draft,” Kansas coach Bill Self said in a statement released by the school. “Unfortunately for him, injury is the reason as he still cannot participate (at) what would be the NBA combine or workouts for the NBA teams. We really anticipated that this would be the year he would enter the draft but that was also based on him having an injury-free year.”

Azubuike was averaging 13.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while shooting 70.5 percent from the field before a wrist injury cut his season short in January after just nine games. He also played just 11 games as a freshman due to injury.

In his lone full healthy season, Azubuike averaged 13 points and 7 rebounds per game as he made 77 percent of his shots from the field, making him nearly an unstoppable force for teams across the Big 12. His return makes Kansas, the 10th-ranked team in our preseason Top 25, an even stronger favorite to regain its Big 12 crown after Texas Tech and Kansas State shared the league title last year to deprive Kansas of its spot atop the league for the first time in 14 years as it battled injuries, suspensions and lackluster play.

The 21 most important ‘stay-or-go’ NBA draft early entry decisions

AP Photo/Corey Perrine
1 Comment

This single most important and influential decision when if came to this year’s NBA draft belonged to Cassius Winston.

The Grand Maester of the Michigan State offense, Winston put together an All-American season as he led Michigan State to the 2019 Big Ten regular season title, tournament title and a trip to the Final Four. Over the weekend, the 6-foot point guard announced that he will be returning to school for his senior season, immediately ensuring that the Spartans will be the No. 1 team in the NBC Sports preseason top 25 and locking them in as favorites to win next year’s national title.

But he is far from the only important decision that is left to be made in this year’s NBA draft process. At 11:59 p.m. on April 21st, the deadline to declare for the NBA draft came and went. The players who put there name into the mix — more than 130 that we know of — will have until May 29th to pull their names out of the draft.

Here are 21 decisions that will have the biggest impact on the 2019-2020 college basketball season.

(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

KERRY BLACKSHEAR

Blackshear might be the single-most influential player in all of college basketball, but to figure out where he is going to have influence, the 6-foot-10, 250 pound forward has a couple of decisions to make. For starters, he has declared for the NBA draft, and given that he is 22 years old and more or less fully developed as a player, now may be the best time for him to make the jump to the professional ranks. If he does decide to return to school, he’s going to have to decide where to play: He’s a redshirt junior and a graduate transfer, which means that the Virginia Tech big man may end up being a former Virginia Tech big man. Every school in college basketball will want to get involved. We’ll see where he ends up.

IGNAS BRAZDEIKIS and JORDAN POOLE, Michigan

Michigan essentially had two players on their roster last season that you could trust to be threats on the offensive end of the floor night in and night out: Poole and Brazdeikis. Now it looks like there is a real chance that both of them to could end following Charles Matthews lead and remain in the NBA draft despite the fact that neither look like they will be a first round pick.

That’s a major concern for John Beilein, because with Zavier Simpson, Jon Teske and Isaiah Livers all back, Michigan will have a case to be the preseason No. 1 team in the country if both Iggy and Swaggy Poole return. If both end up gone, the Wolverines may never break 60 points in a game next year.

DEVON DOTSON, QUENTIN GRIMES and UDOKA AZUBUIKE, Kansas

This one is tricky because we have yet to get official word on whether or not Azubuike has actually declared for the draft*; he did last season and ultimately opted to return to school. Of the three, I think Dotson is probably the most important, as the Jayhawks don’t have anyone nearly as good as he is at the point. If Azubuike opts to enter the draft, Bill Self does still have David McCormack on his roster, who will be an adequate replacement. Grimes is the x-factor here. A former top ten recruit, I think he’s probably the most likely to keep his name in the draft this year even if it’s as a second round pick. I’m not sure if that’s necessarily the best plan of action — I do think there is still a chance that he could come back to Kansas and play his way into the first round with a big sophomore year — but I get it. If he’s gone, the Jayhawks do have some perimeter pieces that will be able to fill the void in Ochai Agbaji and Marcus Garrett.

With all three back, we’re talking about Kansas as the surefire best team in the Big 12 and potentially as a top five team. If they’re all gone, then it is going to be a long, long season in Lawrence.

*(Since this posting, Azubuike has announced that he is returning to school.)

Grant Williams (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

GRANT WILLIAMS and JORDAN BONE, Tennessee

This may sound counterintuitive, but I think that it is true: Bone is the more likely of the two to leave school this year, but Williams would have a much bigger impact on the Tennessee program if he opts to return. Bone was a bit inconsistent as a junior, but when he was at his best, he was the best guard in the SEC. Losing that hurts, but the truth is that with Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden and Josiah James in the mix, there is enough backcourt talent in Knoxville to withstand his departure.

I’m not sure that is true with Williams. Tennessee does have some big bodies on their roster, but Williams would be in the conversation with Cassius Winston for preseason National Player of the Year if he opts to come back to Tennessee for another run at a national title. And with Williams back, they would very much be in that conversation. As it stands, Tennessee is No. 22 in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

A source close to the situation told NBC Sports that they think there’s a “50-50” chance that Williams is back.

KYLE GUY and MAMADI DIAKITE, Virginia

I fully expect that both Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter will remain in the NBA draft for good. That leaves Guy and Diakite as the players who are up in the air. Everyone should know about Guy by now. The reigning Final Four MOP, Guy led Virginia in scoring last season and is one of the best shooters in all of college basketball. For a program that lacks perimeter depth, Guy’s return would obviously be enormous.

But Diakite’s return is just as impactful. He’s such a monster on the defensive end of the floor, and I’m not sure people realize just how good he is. His offensive game is coming along, but the value is that he would be a perfect pairing next to Jay Huff if Virginia wants to play big and that he is versatile enough to defend on the perimeter if needed when Virginia plays small. It’s not a coincidence that the most productive six-game stretch of Diakite’s career came during the run to the NCAA title, when he averaged 10.5 points, 8.2 boards and 2.7 blocks.

Kyle Guy (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

JORDAN NWORA, Louisville

There are a few Louisville players that have declared for the NBA draft, but for my money, Nwora is the one that matters the most, and it is not close. One of college basketball’s most improved players, Nwora is will be a first-team All-ACC player and a potential All-American if he comes back. He will be the veteran scorer that the Cardinals need as Chris Mack brings in a loaded, six-man recruiting class. With Nwora back, the Cards will be a top ten team.

KILLIAN TILLIE and ZACH NORVELL, Gonzaga

Assuming that Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke are both gone, Tillie becomes the most important player on Gonzaga’s frontcourt if he opts to return to school. And Norvell slides right in as the projected leading scorer. Frankly, with those two and Corey Kispert on the roster, I think the Zags will have more than enough scoring to keep things rolling as their talented six-man recruiting class gets some experience.

The reason they are as low on this list as they are is that I still think there is a ceiling to what Gonzaga can be because of their point guard situation. Right now, they are in a position where they’ll have to decide between freshman Brock Ravet and sophomores Greg Foster Jr. and Joel Ayayi. I would not be surprised if there was a grad transfer that was in the mix here at some point.

ANTHONY COWAN, Maryland

The Terps already got word that they are getting Jalen Smith back for his sophomore season. With the rest of last year’s promising recruiting class in the mix — Aaron Wiggins, Eric Ayala, Ricky Lindo — the only thing they need to ensure that they are a preseason top ten team is their star point guard. Cowan, if he returns, will be in the mix for preseason All-American honors.

MYLES POWELL, Seton Hall

This one isn’t difficult. Seton Hall returns basically everyone from last season if Powell comes back. They should still be relevant in the Big East if he doesn’t, but he was arguably the most dangerous scorer in college basketball this side of Markus Howard last year, and assuming he’s back in the fold, we have the Pirates at No. 12 in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

Myles Powell (Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

PAYTON PRITCHARD and KENNY WOOTEN, Oregon

Assuming that Louis King ends up staying in the draft, Pritchard and Wooten are the two guys that will matter for Oregon next season. They are the two pieces that allow Dana Altman’s system to work the way that it is supposed to work — a high-scoring lead guard and an uber-athletic five that can protect the rim and finish lobs. With both of them back, I think Oregon is a top 10-15 team and the best team in the Pac-12.

E.J. MONTGOMERY, Kentucky

Montgomery is interesting here. He’s super-talented, and he plays a position for Kentucky where the Wildcats are going to really lack some depth this season, but we’ve yet to see him prove that he is anything more than ‘loaded with potential’ at the SEC level. I think Kentucky needs him because they need to keep bodies in their frontcourt, but I’m on a wait-and-see mode before I decide just how much of an impact I think that he is going to make.

CHUMA OKEKE and JARED HARPER, Auburn

I would make the argument that these two were the two most important players on Auburn’s team this past season. If I had to guess, I would say that Okeke is probably gone. He proved just how good he is this past season, and his recovery from the torn ACL he suffered in the NCAA tournament likely won’t be complete until December. If he returns to school, it might end up being a two-year decision, but if he comes back and is fully healthy, he is miles better than Danjel Purifoy, Anfernee McLemore and the other options the Tigers have in their frontcourt.

Harper is a bit more up in the air, and while he was terrific this past season, especially in March, I do think that J’Von McCormick’s emergence has given Bruce Pearl some breathing room. He can do a lot of the things that Harper does, just not quite as well.

NEEMIAS QUETA, Utah State

Utah State is currently the No. 16 team in the NBC Sports preseason top 25, and much of that has to do with the fact that we are assuming Queta ends up returning to school. His size, his ability to protect the rim and how well he finishes makes him extremely valuable in the Mountain West and helps the Aggies matchup with teams from bigger conferences.