The 33 best non-conference games in college basketball in 2019-2020

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We went through the non-conference schedule for every college basketball program in the country and picked out the best 33 games that will be played between the start of the season on November 5th and the beginning of league play around the New Year.

We are doing this a bit differently that we have in the past.

Instead of ranking each of the 33 games, we are going to list them in chronological order. We’re actually doing you a favor. Just bookmark this page and throughout the month of November, periodically come back and check to see when and were the best games to watch that day will be.

So.

Before we get into it.

You’re welcome.

And now without further ado …

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11/5: CHAMPIONS CLASSIC (New York City): No. 1 MICHIGAN STATE vs. No. 2 KENTUCKY, No. 3 KANSAS vs. No. 6 DUKE

There’s a very real chance that when the AP Preseason Top 25 poll is released that it will feature these four teams as the top four teams in the country.

And on the opening night of the season, we will get all four of them in the same building at the same time.

You cannot write scripts better than this.

Personally, I am much more excited to see Michigan State take on Kentucky. For starters, those are the two best teams in the country, for my money, and both of them have enough returning from last season that this should be a fairly high level basketball game. I’m also salivating thinking about watching the matchup between NBC Sports Preseason Player of the Year Cassius Winston trying to operate against the best defensive player in college basketball in Ashton Hagans.

That means that the opening act will likely end up being the battle of the blue bloods – Kansas vs. Duke. I love Kansas this year. With Udoka Azubuike healthy, Ochai Agbaji ready for a breakout season and Devon Dotson running the show, the Jayhawks have a chance to win the national title in a season where they are going to have the looming NCAA sanctions hanging over their heads. As a fan of the messy drama, I want to see that happen. Duke, on the other hand, is going to look completely different from the team we saw last season, but with Tre Jones leading another crop of talented freshmen, they will be right back in the mix.

In other words … LFGGGGGG!!!!!!!

11/6: CINCINNATI at No. 25 OHIO STATE

I love that Chris Holtmann made it a point to play some of his in-state rivals. I love that we get the Bearcats facing off with the Buckeyes. And I will love it even more if this game ends up being more entertaining that last season’s 64-56 barnburner.

11/8: No. 20 BAYLOR vs. WASHINGTON (Anchorage)

Baylor is one of the more underrated teams in college basketball this season. I have them at No. 20 and that might be one of the lower rankings you’ll see this month. Washington, on the other hand, is one of the favorites to win the Pac-12, pairing two top ten recruits – Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels – with a handful of intriguing returnees.

11/8: No. 22 AUBURN vs. DAVIDSON (Annapolis)

Davidson is a borderline top 25 and will compete with VCU and Dayton for the Atlantic 10 title. Auburn, on the other hand, is going to be very good once again. This game, on the first Friday of the season, will be a great chance for us to get a feel for just how good both of these teams are.

MORE: NBC Sports Preseason Top 25All-Americans

11/10: FLORIDA STATE at No. 7 FLORIDA

I love Florida this season. They are a very legitimate national title contender with Kerry Blackshear in the fold, and we will get a chance to see them play against a talented and very athletic Florida State team. In-state rivalries in the first week of the season may not be pretty, but it will be intense.

11/12: No. 21 MEMPHIS at No. 12 OREGON

No team in the country has had a better summer and fall than Oregon. They’ve added highly-regarded grad transfers and talented freshmen in the last three months to make Duck fans forget about the fact that they lost so much to the NBA draft. Meanwhile, Memphis is starting five freshmen, including a pair of lottery picks, and has a head coach that has his own line of Nike shoes.

11/13: No. 5 VILLANOVA at No. 25 OHIO STATE

The headline game of the first night of the Gavitt Games. I have them ranked fifth and 25th, but I have a feeling when the AP poll is released later this month that both will be somewhere in the teens. As good as both of these teams will be – and I do think they will be good – the most intriguing part of this matchup will be watching Jay Wright match wits with Chris Holtmann.

11/13: No. 19 LSU at No. 24 VCU

The smartest thing that VCU does is put into their head coach contracts that they require any coach that leaves to return to play them in a home-and-home. This is that game. Will Wade returns home to face his old program. The Rams return everyone from one of the best defenses in college hoops, while LSU should be better than you think after the drama they have dealt with in the past six months.

11/14: No. 1 MICHIGAN STATE at No. 13 SETON HALL

This is one of the games that I have circled on my calender. Seton Hall is going to be better than anyone realizes with Myles Powell back in the fold, while Michigan State is Michigan State. Getting this game in Newark as part of the Gavitt Games is a coup for Kevin Willard’s program.

11/16: No. 23 TENNESSEE vs. WASHINGTON (Toronto)

The Vols lost quite a bit during the offseason, but they do bring back Lamonte Turner and add a talented freshman in Josiah James. This will be another chance for us to see Washington’s star freshmen – Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels – face-off with elite competition before the start of conference play.

11/28: No. 21 MEMPHIS vs. N.C. STATE (Brooklyn)

For all of the people that live in New York City and want to get a chance to see the potential No. 1 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft play while he is still in college, this is going to be your chance. James Wiseman, Penny Hardaway and the Tigers are heading to BKNY.

11/29: No. 15 UTAH STATE at No. 17 SAINT MARY’S

These are the two best teams in the mid-major ranks this season and will feature arguably the two best players in the mid-major ranks in Jordan Ford and Sam Merrill. Dear Basketball Gods, please make sure this game is on TV.

12/3: No. 6 DUKE at No. 1 MICHIGAN STATE

The latest iteration of the Baby Blue Devils will be getting their first true road test as they make the trek up to East Lansing to take on the best team in college basketball. Once again, we have an absolutely marquee point guard matchup, as Cassius Winston will be squaring off with Tre Jones.

12/4: No. 10 VIRGINIA at PURDUE

A rematch of what may be the single-best college basketball game in recent memory, last year’s Elite Eight battle between the Cavaliers and the Boilermakers. So many of the relevant players are off to the NBA, but with Matt Painter and Tony Bennett back, this should be just as much fun.

12/4: No. 25 OHIO STATE at No. 14 NORTH CAROLINA

Another terrific matchup in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, as the Buckeyes head to Chapel Hill to take on North Carolina. This will be the first real chance for America to get a taste of just how good Cole Anthony is going to be.

12/7: No. 16 ARIZONA at No. 20 BAYLOR

This will be one of the first real chances that we all get to see Arizona play this season. The Wildcats are back among the nation’s elite, as they landed two of the best guards in the country. Baylor is the exact opposite, as they are a veteran roster filled with guys that were overlooked coming out of high school. This should be fun.

12/7: CINCINNATI at No. 18 XAVIER

The Crosstown Shootout, baby! The most underrated rivalry in all of sports. The good news is that both of these teams have a shot to win their respective league titles this season. Jarron Cumberland is one of the most underrated players in the country, point-blank-period.

12/8: No. 8 GONZAGA at WASHINGTON

Another criminally-underrated rivalry. I love that the Zags and U-Dub play annually these days. It is great for the sport, especially when it features one of the most intriguing frontcourt battles that we will see this season. Washington’s star freshmen against the likes of Killian Tillie and Filip Petrusev.

12/8: DAYTON vs. No. 17 SAINT MARY’S

Davidson and VCU are the favorites in the Atlantic 10, but the Flyers – with four high-major transfers joining the program – have a chance to win the league. Saint Mary’s is also a threat in the WCC behind the talent of point guard Jordan Ford.

12/10: JIMMY V CLASSIC: No. 4 LOUISVILLE vs. No. 11 TEXAS TECH (New York City)

I’m all in on Louisville this season, assuming that Fresh Kimble and David Johnson, when he gets healthy, will be able to thrive in the point guard role. Texas Tech’s path to greatness is more difficult to predict, but I worship at the altar of Chris Beard and have no doubt that he will find a way to make yet another rebuilt roster work. Last year, it was a trip to New York City and a game against Duke that put the Red Raiders on the map.

12/14: No. 8 GONZAGA at No. 16 ARIZONA

I think you can make the argument that these two teams are the two best programs on the west coast right now. I think that it is great that they are facing off, and I look forward to seeing how Sean Miller deals with Gonzaga’s big men and what Mark Few does to combat Arizona’s guards.

12/14: No. 21 MEMPHIS at No. 23 TENNESSEE

Last year, in the Fed Ex Forum, it got so wild in the stands that a Memphis fan got arrested for taking a dump behind a Dippin’ Dots stand. While I hope that the good people of Knoxville can control their bodily functions, I do expect this to be just as intense of a rivalry game.

12/18: No. 14 NORTH CAROLINA at No. 8 GONZAGA

The return game. The Tar Heels picked off the Zags in Chapel Hill last year, and while the relevant players are going to be very different this season, it will be a chance for Mark Few’s club to exact some revenge.

12/17: No. 7 FLORIDA vs. PROVIDENCE (Brooklyn)

We know how good Florida is going to be this season. Providence is not entering the season with anywhere near the same level of hype, but the Friars have some quality pieces that will keep them relevant in the Big East this season. This will be a good gauge game for them to determine just what “relevant in the Big East” truly means.

12/19: No. 9 MARYLAND at No. 13 SETON HALL

Another marquee matchup for Seton Hall in Newark. Believe it or not, this will be Maryland’s toughest non-conference matchup this season. It will be their chance to prove that they are good enough to make a run at Michigan State atop the Big Ten regular standings.

12/21: No. 2 KENTUCKY vs. No. 25 OHIO STATE (Las Vegas)

There are a couple of intriguing storylines here. For starters, Chris Holtmann’s name is one that people like to mention when discussing eventual successors to John Calipari. So that will be fun. But Ohio State will have a real shot to win this game because Kentucky does not have the size inside to deal with Kaleb Wesson.

12/21: No. 3 KANSAS at No. 5 VILLANOVA

A rematch of the 2018 Final Four game that will feature just seven players that saw minutes on that night in Arizona. We know how good Kansas is. This will be a massive test for the Wildcats, who will be looking to prove that Jay Wright can win with teams that are on the younger side.

12/21: No. 7 FLORIDA vs. No. 15 UTAH STATE (Sunrise, FL)

This will be a critical game for the Aggies is they are going to build a resume that is strong enough to earn an at-large bid. Technically, it will be a neutral site game, but Utah State will be the team flying across the country to play.

12/28: No. 4 LOUISVILLE at No. 2 KENTUCKY

Do I really need to explain this? The most intense rivalry in college sports and both teams are ranked in the top five. Like I said earlier … LFGGGGG!!!!!!

1/25: No. 2 KENTUCKY at No. 11 TEXAS TECH

The reigning national runners-up face off with the team that checks in at No. 2 in the NBC Sports top 25. I would have preferred to see Kentucky and Kansas go up against each other in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge again, but this will do just fine.

1/25: No. 23 TENNESSEE at No. 3 KANSAS

When these two played in the Barclays Center last season, it was a battle of top five teams featuring a pair of All-Americans that went to overtime. Those All-Americans are gone, but the intrigue will still be there if the Vols are as good as advertised.

1/25: No. 20 BAYLOR at No. 7 FLORIDA

An underrated Baylor team heads to Gainesville to play an underrated Florida team in a non-conference battle that’s taking place in the heart of league play. Everyone’s a winner!

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.

Dream’s McDonald returning to Arizona to coach under Barnes

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Atlanta Dream guard Aari McDonald is returning to Arizona to work under coach Adia Barnes.

The school announced that McDonald will serve as director of recruiting operations while continuing to fulfill her WNBA commitments. She will oversee all recruiting logistics, assist with on-campus visits, manage recruit information and social media content at Arizona.

McDonald was one of the best players in Arizona history after transferring from Washington as a sophomore. She was an All-American and the Pac-12 player of the year in 2020-21, leading the Wildcats to the national championship game, which they lost to Stanford.

McDonald broke Barnes’ single-season scoring record and had the highest career scoring average in school history before being selected by the Dream with the third overall pick of the 2021 WNBA draft.