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.
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.
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.
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