The Top Ten Blockbuster Non-Conference College Basketball Games


The Associated Press released its preseason college basketball Top 25 poll Monday morning, and it was no surprise to see it topped by Kansas, Kentucky, Gonzaga and Duke, in that order.

Now that the poll is out, we can begin hyping the top games of the non-conference season, which is the second-most-exciting part of college basketball season.

These are all the games played by preseason Top 10 teams against the Top 25.  All times eastern.

No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 10 Michigan State

When and where: 7 p.m., Nov. 6, Indianapolis, Ind.

Bill Self and Tom Izzo have a rivalry that goes back to when Self was still at Illinois. Since Self got to Kansas in 2003, they’ve played each other in a series of high-profile non-conference games and have also taken turns ending each other’s seasons in March.

This is the deepest team Self has had in years, and the Jayhawks will carry a talent advantage into this one — but that doesn’t always matter in these matchups.

No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 4 Duke 

When and where: 9:30 p.m., Nov. 6, Indianapolis, Ind.

Without question, this is the premiere matchup of the first semester of college basketball season. Duke’s Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett get to face second-ranked Kentucky right out the shoot, and we’ll all get a good first look at the biggest question facing Duke this season: Who, exactly, is going to do the 3-point shooting for this team?

No. `19 Michigan at No. 9 Villanova

When and where: 6:30 p.m., Nov. 14, Philadelphia

This is a rematch of the national championship game from last year, and Michigan has a good change of getting Villanova back.

Villanova lost a lot off last year’s national championship team. Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVencenzo and Omari Spellman are all off to the pros, but Phil Booth and Eric Paschall should be ready to step into larger roles, and coach Jay Wright landed a sought-after graduate transfer in Joe Cremo, who came from Albany.

The Wolverines are replacing three starters, but Charles Matthews, who broke out during the NCAA Tournament, is back after testing the NBA waters and Jordan Poole should be ready to take on more of a scoring load too.

No. 10 Michigan State vs. No. 21 UCLA

When and where: 10 p.m., Nov. 22, Las Vegas

Michigan State’s two best players, Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson, are gone. While replacing a pair of lottery picks is not nothing, the Spartans didn’t lose any other major contributors from last year’s 30-5 team.

UCLA expects to compete for a Pac-12 title this year, and a star-studded recruiting class makes that a real possibility. The Bruins are young, though, and this may be a bit early in the year for them to handle a Tom Izzo team.

No. 8 North Carolina at No. 19 Michigan

When and where: 9 p.m., Nov. 28, Ann Arbor, Mich.

North Carolina is Luke Maye’s team now, and after a junior season in which he averaged 17-10, that’s not a bad thing. The Tar Heels also have a nice collection of outside shooters and three ballyhooed freshmen to make this another North Carolina team that should be in the hunt for a Final Four.

This should be an interesting matchup for 7-foot-1 Michigan center John Teske, who replaces Mo Wagner in the Wolverines lineup. He’s more of a traditional center than Wagner, and could give North Carolina trouble at one of its more vulnerable positions.

No. 25 Washington at No. 3 Gonzaga

When and where: 11 p.m., Dec. 5, Spokane, Wash.

There aren’t many teams that will outmatch Gonzaga’s front court this year. Rui Hachimura, Killian Tillie and Brandon Clarke, who sat out last year, are the headliners, but Gonzaga’s front court goes deep, too.

The Bulldogs may be able to pound away at Washington inside, but it bears mentioning the Huskies return all five starters from a team that went 21-13 and won at Kansas last year.

No. 9 Villanova at No. 1 Kansas

When and where: Noon, Dec. 5, Lawrence, Kan.

This will be the biggest and loudest non-conference game at Allen Fieldhouse this year as the Jayhawks look to get back at Villanova for ending KU’s season two of the last three years.

Kansas has the deeper and more talented team this time, and rarely loses these kinds of games at home, but this has all the makings of one of the best games of the year.

No. 3 Gonzaga vs. No. 6 Tennessee

When and where: 3 p.m.,  Dec. 9, Phoenix

Tennessee returns almost everybody, including reigning SEC player of the year Grant Williams, from a 26-9 team that lost to Loyola-Chicago in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The Volunteers should match up well with Gonzaga’s front court thanks to the burly Williams and 6-11 senior Kyle Alexander, a rim protector who averaged 5.3 points and 5.6 rebounds last season.

No. 3 Gonzaga at No. 8 North Carolina

When and where: 7 p.m., Dec. 15, Chapel Hill, N.C.

It’s especially important for Gonzaga to win these games against marquee foes, because there aren’t that many opportunities to do so in the West Coast Conference.

North Carolina will have the most talented player in this game, freshman Nassir Little, but Gonzaga may be able to exploit an advantage in the paint.

No. 2 Kentucky vs No. 8 North Carolina

When and where: 5:15 p.m., Dec. 22, Chicago

Believe it or not, this is one of John Calipari’s deepest rosters at Kentucky, which is really saying something. There are seven five-star prospects and four four-star prospects on this team, including Stanford graduate transfer Reid Travis and P.J. Washington, who returned to Kentucky after considering the NBA.

It’s a blend of young talent and veterans that every college basketball team wants to have, and that not even North Carolina can match.