College Basketball. These very simple two words bring to mind many adjectives: passion, enthusiasm, tradition. In recent weeks, it has also brought about words such as scandal, corruption and probation. Here is a positive thought though. The good will always outweigh the bad. Not everyone has a scandal, not everyone deals in corruption and not every school will be on probation…… we hope not anyway.
There are some very bright, passionate and hard working student-athletes out there getting ready to hit the practice floor preparing to do work like they have in previous years. Some for the last time and some for the very first time. They prepare to do work so that they can give us the show we love to watch. From the flatlands in Kansas and Phog Allen Fieldhouse to Cameron Indoor Arena in Durham, the show will be starting soon.
College basketball will be full of great conference rivalry games as always. Duke vs. UNC, Michigan vs Michigan State, Kansas vs. Oklahoma. The list continues on and on. There are some other games though in the early parts of the season that also give notice to all college basketball fans out there. Those would be the hotly contested non-conference games. The games that may not mean a lot in the conference standings but instead mean the world when it comes to seeding and strength of schedule come NCAA Tournament time.
The following will be a look at the Top 5 non-conference games in college basketball for 2017-2018.
Here are the games garnering honorable mention:
10. November 29, 2017 @ 9pm –
Miami Hurricanes at Minnesota Golden Gophers
The Lowdown – Jim Larranaga heads up a Miami team chalk full of great guards from a conference that could be the best in college basketball hands down. Minnesota is headed up by Rick Pitino…… Jr. Coach Richard Pitino has brought back nearly the same team he had last year at Minnesota and they are hungry and looking for more. How good is this game? The game could features teams that make deep runs in the NCAA Tournament in March. Mark it on your calendar.
9. November 29, 2017 @ 9:30pm
Duke Blue Devils at Indiana Hoosiers
The Lowdown – Duke is heading to the Hoosier State. A state where cornfields grow high and the expectations for the state’s high school and college basketball teams grow higher. Coach K heads to the land where he helped his mentor, Bobby Knight, lead Indiana to a 31-1 season in 1974-75 losing to the Kentucky Wildcats in the Elite Eight after being discharged from the Army a year earlier. Duke’s only other visit to Indiana was in 2005-06 where they won 75-67 over a then top 20 Indiana team in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Indiana may have dropped a bit in terms of their aura of power but Duke needs to remember this date….. December 10, 2011. The Hoosiers weren’t the power they had once been. Tom Cream was trying to rebuild the mystique…. and then the Kentucky Wildcats and their phenoms rolled in to Assembly Hall. What happens? An unranked Indiana Hoosier team knocks off the number one team in the nation on a last second shot. The moral of the story? Duke may have Grayson Allen and a great phenom in freshman Marvin Bagley III, but this is college basketball……….and this……………this is Indiana. Case closed.
8. December 5, 2017 @ 6:00pm
Texas Longhorns at Virginia Commonwealth University Rams
The Lowdown – People may look at me as crazy as putting this down as an honorable mention game for college basketball’s best non conference games of the year. You need to remember something though. This isn’t just the Texas Longhorns from Austin, Texas. These are the Texas Longhorns that are coached by Shaka Smart. The Shaka Smart who literally brought Havoc to Richmond, Virginia and served notice to the country that the VCU Rams where a team people would seriously have to deal with come time for the NCAA Tournament……as noted by the teams run to the Final Four during the 2010-11 season. Expect emotion and passion to run high and feelings to be mixed before, during and after the game. Even though he left Richmond for Austin, lets hope Shaka Smart gets the great ovation he deserves for all that he did for VCU while he was there.
7. December 2, 2017 @ 2:00pm
Wichita State Shockers at Baylor Bears
Scott Drew and Gregg Marshall have quietly built teams that win consistently in their abodes that no one pays much attention to. So why would this be a must watch game? The Bears return two strong players in Manu Lecomte and Jo Lual-Acuil and the Shockers? They just return basically their entire team in what could be Marshall’s best team ever in Wichita, Kansas. That’s saying a lot knowing that the team led by Ron Baker could have won a national championship had they not been defeated by the Kentucky Wildcats in what was probably one of the most entertaining college basketball games in the history of the NCAA Tournament. You may not think much of these teams now……but watch…..patiently. If you follow these teams this year you will understand why these two teams have hype.
6. December 16, 2017 @ 2:00pm
Virginia Tech Hokies at Kentucky Wildcats
Another game where people may look at me with the crazy eyes. Visit a practice at Cassell Coliseum led by Buzz Williams and then tell me if I am crazy. These aren’t your mom and dad’s Hokies. This isn’t going to be a game where Virginia Tech looks to get a good gate by visiting the hallowed sacred basketball grounds of Rupp Arena in Lexington and leaves with a loss. This will be a dogfight. Everywhere that Buzz Williams has coached, he has left the program better. Much of this is due to his blue collar background at the beginning of his career where he was the manager of a team at a small college and wiped the floors with a towel. Calipari began his days at Kansas as a volunteer assistant serving food to the players. Calipari has coached in some great programs and won championships but also left some problems. Buzz Williams is not afraid to let you know who he was and where he began. Williams has not won any championships as yet but his teams have always been contenders and eventually made deep NCAA runs. It is actually very refreshing in these days of scandal and corruption. Williams is a strong personality and passionate in his work but he is humble and grounded. Calipari has been in the NBA and while he cares about his players, he will tell them if you want to go to the NBA come to Kentucky. Calipari makes dreams come true….. Williams is a dream come true. Many people have their own opinions and thoughts on coaching and basketball but if you want to see two very strong personalities in two coaches come out in their team’s play on the court? Be sure to watch this game……….and don’t be surprised if there is a party in Blacksburg afterwards.
THE TOP FIVE NON CONFERENCE GAMES IN COLLEGE BASKETBALL FOR 2017-2018
5. December 29, 2017 @ 1:00pm
Louisville Cardinals at Kentucky Wildcats
The University of Louisville is dealing with some problems that have arisen as of late. They are not the only school dealing with such issues but they are a school with one of the highest profiles in college basketball. One reason is because of their Hall of Fame coach, Rick Pitino. We do not know the whole story. All of that will come out soon enough. This game, though, is one bright spot for the season. Louisville visits Lexington and Rupp Arena. In Lexington, Wildcat fans do not give a red bird’s butt about who is coaching at the “other” Kentucky school. All that matters to Big Blue Nation is that UK wins. This is the joy and the passion that shines bright from the darkness in college basketball. The only thing that would make this game better for the two programs would be if it was for a National Championship and not for state bragging rights. That happened about one step short in 2012 when the Cardinals met the Wildcats in the NCAA Final Four and lost 69-61. Needless to say, if you are a fan of college basketball be sure to tune in and watch this game and the fun that results from it.
4. December 5, 2017 @ 7:00pm
Villanova Wildcats vs. Gonzaga Bulldogs in New York City
On paper this may not seem like much of a game. If you are a college basketball fan though you know that these two programs have been apart of the last two NCAA National Championships in Men’s Basketball. Coach Mark Few has built a powerhouse on the outskirts of Spokane and Villanova? Coach Jay Wright and the Wildcats will more than likely be dedicating this season to the man who also brought a championship to Villanova, Rollie Massimino who died this past August. There will be a lot of emotion and don’t be surprised to see a large throng of people in New York cheer the Wildcats to victory in honor of Coach Massimino. This game will be special to watch.
3. December 23, 2017 @ 4:00pm
UCLA Bruins vs. Kentucky Wildcats in New Orleans
Let’s see how many we can get in 30 seconds ok?
“UCLA always has a Ball of fun in basketball!”
“UCLA could have two Balls this year but one dropped and now they just have one.”
Ok….bad jokes aside……we still love you Steve. We hope you have a Ball this year! Seriously though, Lonzo Ball was a big loss for the Bruins. Lonzo nearly took the Bruins to the big ball of the year….the NCAA Championship but ran into a Kentucky team that was bent on repaying the Bruins for the loss they handed them in Rupp Arena. So I guess you could say that this is the rubber match. Steve Alford has given UCLA a rebirth of expectations in Pauley Pavilion. The Bruins were a team everyone wanted to have a piece of last year……..most notably because of LaVar Ball. Lonzo Ball proved himself to be the real deal. Now UCLA gets to play with another Ball….LiAngelo. Now whether or not he is the next Lonzo is yet to be decided. Coach Steve Alford has more ammo in the holster than just LiAngelo. Alford was able use his Indiana ties to gain the services of 6’7 Kris Wilkes from Indianapolis, a five star forward who chose UCLA over Indiana and Illinois. And Kentucky, well Calipari just brought in 8 new recruits again….. and sorry….only 6 of them were 5 star not 8. The other two were just 4 star. That must really stink for people in Lexington. I mean come on man! Hamidou Diallo will probably have a breakout year and if he does…… four syllables will ring out….again. N. B. A. Draft.
Speaking of the draft, the Wildcats had five leave for the NBA Draft and three actually graduated. So how long will this hurricane of riches keep going for the Wildcats? I guess until the one and done fad is merely that. Just a fad that fades away. For Kentucky though…. the fad is still the main trend. Let’s hope that all that has been good for the Wildcat program in this day of corruption and scandal in college basketball stays good……..for Wildcat fans….for Big Blue Nation and for college basketball.
And the game? I would say it will be pretty good.
2 (tie). November 14, 2017 @ 9:30pm
Kansas Jayhawks vs. Kentucky Wildcats
The Champions Classic at the United Center, Chicago Illinois
This is a must watch game simply on the names of the teams on the front of the jersey alone. The history and the tradition of the University of Kansas with Phog Allen, Larry Brown and Roy Williams. Now Bill Self is positioning himself as one of the all-time greats in Kansas basketball coaching history. While Kansas may have lost a great player in Frank Mason III due to graduation, the Jayhawks will be looking for their identity early in the year against a team that will be full of freshmen trying to find their identity. Needless to say, it is Kansas vs. Kentucky. Two schools which lead all of college basketball in wins (Kentucky with 2,237 and Kansas second at 2,217) That alone should have the players eager and ready to defend their traditions whole heartedly. It will be an early season matchup that is only 43 days away……but it is a matchup that could be a rematch in March if the chips fall right. Must watch television right here!
2(tie). November 14, 2017 @ 7:00pm
Michigan State Spartans vs. Duke Blue Devils
The Champions Classic at the United Center, Chicago Illinois
This game is the first game of a doubleheader that may should have been the main event. The game features a possible player of the year candidate in Miles Bridges from Michigan State against Grayson Allen and the much much hyped freshman Marvin Bagley III from Duke. Not to mention two Hall of Fame coaches in Tom Izzo and Mike Krzyzewski and you have the makings of one of the best early season matchups for the year in college basketball. How good are these teams? Each of these teams could very easily make a Final Four run come March. Not much else needs to be talked about here. This game will be all about watching. Make sure you do!
And the number one non conference game for the year????
- The Phil Knight 80 Invitational presented by State Farm
So what is so important about Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, turning 80?
For college basketball fans…its not just about a game……….its Phil Knight’s birthday!
Its about games! Lots and lots of games! But not just games with regular teams….. these programs have pedigrees. These teams have history. This is what I call a birthday party for the ages!
During Thanksgiving of this year in November, Phil Knight is throwing himself one heckuva 80th birthday party by hosting the PK80 or as it is called…the Phil Knight Invitational.
The event will be held in Portland, Oregon from November 23 – November 26, 2017 and will host some of the best programs in college basketball:
Butler, UConn, Duke, Florida, Gonzaga, Michigan State, North Carolina, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oregon and Stanford. Oh…and throw in Texas, Arkansas, DePaul, Portland and Portland State and what do you have? The best thing during Thanksgiving since turkey legs and NFL football. March Madness meet November Neuroticism.
If anything else needs to be said….say it on your own time.
In the meantime, let me end this article by saying…..
Happy Birthday to us….Happy Birthday to us……….Phil Knight is my hero……… I hope you live 80 plus!
39 days and counting! Lets Go!