College basketball: 7 early non-conference games we can't wait to see
The start of the college basketball season is almost here.
Teams began official practice in the past week, and opening night, Friday, Nov. 11, is close enough to begin pondering the tasty nonconference matchups in the early portion of the schedule.
Here are seven nonconference matchups that are certain appointment television:
Indiana at Kansas | Nov. 11 at 9 p.m.
Opening night starts with two powerhouse programs meeting in Honolulu. Kansas was 33-5 last season - its seventh 30-win season in the last 10. The Jayhawks, who are seeking their 13th consecutive Big 12 title under Bill Self, welcome talented freshman Josh Jackson, a 6-7 small forward with elite athleticism and rebounding ability. There’s also another Naismith Trophy candidate on the court: Thomas Bryant, Indiana’s 6-10 center, returns for his sophomore season after shooting 68 percent and averaging 11.3 points per game last season. The Hoosiers were 27-8 in 2015-16 and reached the Sweet 16. They welcome back James Blackmon, a 6-4 guard who averaged 15.8 points in 13 games prior to a season-ending injury.
Villanova at Purdue | Nov. 14 at 7 p.m.
Give the defending national champions respect for scheduling a road game against a stellar opponent early. The Wildcats have designs on a repeat because versatile forward Josh Hart and national title game hero Kris Jenkins return on the wing. The development of point guard Jalen Brunson will be a critical point to track for the Wildcats, who were 33-5 last season. Purdue returns giants Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas to form one of the nation’s strongest frontcourts. Coach Matt Painter also welcomes Spike Albrecht, a scrappy guard who made the Final Four All-Tournament team for Michigan in 2013.
San Diego State at Gonzaga | Nov. 14 at 11:59 p.m.
The ESPN 24-hour college basketball marathon has become a special annual tradition in the first week of the season. It’s fitting for two traditionally-strong programs from the West Coast to start the party for East Coast night owls who crave hoops. The Aztecs are consistently one of the nation’s best defensive teams under coach Steve Fisher, ranking fourth in adjusted efficiency last season. Gonzaga point guard Josh Perkins started all 36 games as a freshman (10.1 ppg, 4.1 apg) and coach Mark Few can rely on 7-1, 300-pound center Przemek Karnowski inside. A back injury ended the 1,000-point scorer’s 2015-16 campaign after five games.
Oregon at Baylor | Nov. 15 at 12:30 p.m.
A day-glo eruption in high-definition, there’s substance to complement style in this matchup. The Ducks return four starters, including versatile forward Dillon Brooks, from an Elite 8 squad. Oregon is a legitimate national championship contender and relies on point guard Casey Benson, who led the nation with a 4.88 assist-turnover ratio last season. Baylor must replace first-round draft pick Taurean Price, but coach Scott Drew is never caught shorthanded in the talent department. Expect long, rangy 6-10 forward Jonathan Motley to fill the scoring and rebounding void. He shot 61 percent from the field last year and had a 114.0 offensive rating.
Michigan State vs. Kentucky | Nov. 15 at 7 p.m.
College basketball fans should also be grateful for the Champions Classic, which moves to Madison Square Garden this year and offers an early peek at programs that could likely meet in the Final Four in April. Coach Tom Izzo and the Spartans always enjoy a challenging early schedule, which should help blend a talented freshman class led by small forward Mikal Bridges with a steady cast of veterans. There’s enough talent to offset the loss of Denzel Valentine. The Wildcats are loaded again. Good luck finding a backcourt with more talent. De’Andre Fox, Malik Monk and Isaiah Briscoe should flourish in the lane and at the free throw line.
Duke vs. Kansas | Madison Square Garden | Nov. 15 at 9 p.m.
It’s Phoenix or bust for both these programs who meet in the Champions Classic nightcap. Duke, the likely preseason No. 1, might not have freshman forward Harry Giles, who underwent an arthroscopic knee procedure last week. But this season, Coach K has ample depth in the frontcourt. Giles’ absence should mean more minutes for freshman Marques Bolden, a 6-11 center with a soft touch. Kansas will miss elder statesman Perry Ellis and dynamic guard Wayne Selden, but guards Frank Mason and Devonte Graham are smooth operators when the ball is in their hands.
Clemson vs. Davidson | Orlando, Fla. | Nov. 17 at 11 a.m.
Neither of these teams will likely be ranked when they meet on ESPN in the first round of the Tire Pros Invitational at Walt Disney World. Still, it’s a fascinating battle between teams with contrasting styles and one sure to intrigue fans who enjoy motion offense. The Tigers control pace and exert their will on the defensive end. They’ve finished top 70 in adjusted defensive efficiency in each of coach Brad Brownell’s six seasons. Davidson loves to run - and score. Coach Bob McKillop has engineered a top 40 offense for five consecutive years. The game also features two talented seniors who can score. Clemson forward Jaron Blossomgame was an All-ACC first team selection last year, producing 18.7 points per game. Davidson guard Jack Gibbs led the A-10 with 23.5 points per game.