The college basketball season is creeping closer and closer. We only have about a month-an-a-half left, and the anticipation is killing me.
Thankfully, we're close enough to the start of the season that schools have released their schedules, and we get to take a look at what to expect this season. The Missouri Valley Conference in particular interests me as a Creighton fan, and to get my basketball fix I decided to breakdown the Valley non-conference schedule and pick out the best games on the slate.
I picked the top 15 games and broke them down into three categories: Taking on the Big Boys for games againt the best teams in the country, Mid-Major clashes for some of the best match-ups between mid-major teams and Best of the rest for, well, the best of the remaining games.
Make the jump to see which games you need to see come basketball season.
Taking on the Big Boys
1) Creighton vs. Wisconsin, Nov. 23, Las Vegas Invitational
This is my pick for the best non-conference game in the conference this year. The Badgers are coming off of a trip to the Sweet 16 in last year's NCAA Tournament and will be ranked in the preseason top 25. Creighton should be ranked as well after making it to the third round of the tournament and returning all but one rotation player including All-American Doug McDermott.
This game will be an intriguing clash of contrasting styles as the Jays love to get out and run and can really light up the scoreboard, while Bo Ryan's Badgers win with their stifling defense and love keeping games in the 50s and 60s. Which style will win out? On top of that, it's a true neutral site game in Vegas.
2) Illinois State @ Louisville, Dec. 1
Illinois State is the favorite for number two in the Valley, and the Redbirds will get their shot to prove themselves against the best of the best in the Louisville Cardinals. Louisville is going to be in the preseason top five and are loaded with talent, led by point guard Peyton Siva.
Illinois State's Jackie Carmichael is one of the best players in the Valley and he's going to get the chance to prove himself against the very talented Cardinals front line of Chane Behanan and Gorgui Deng.
I'm not expecting Illinois State to pull off the upset, but hopefully they can represent the Valley well.
3) UNI vs. Louisville Nov 22, Battle for Atlantis in Bahamas
Northern Iowa, another possible top three Valley team, will also get their shot against Louisville down in the Bahamas. There are some interesting match-ups in this game, like the Panthers' Anthony James against Siva and stretch four Jake Koch against Behanan.
4) Indiana State @ UCLA, Nov. 9
Indiana State is completely outclassed in this game, but UCLA is bringing in the top recruiting class in the country and watching their freshman studs should be pretty entertaining. Assuming they are declared eligible, that is. It will be interesting to see how Sycamores star point guard Jake Odum plays against that kind of talent.
5) Bradley vs. Michigan, Dec 1
This is going to be even worse than the ISU-UCLA game and will likely reflect very poorly on the Valley. But Michigan is a really good team with a lot of talent coming back and they should be fun to watch, if nothing else.
1) Wichita State @ VCU, Nov. 13
These two teams squared off in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season and VCU pulled off the upset to end Wichita State's season. Wichita State will get a chance to avenge that loss early in the season this year.
However, this game will be a little different. VCU lost big-time player Bradford Burgess to graduation but return pretty much everyone else. Wichita State, on the other hand, returns only one significant contributor in big man Carl Hall. This will be the first real test of the season for the WSU newcomers, and our first real look at top 100 freshman guard Fred VanVleet. Are they rebuilding, or did they just reload? We should know the answer to that question at the end of this game.
2) Evansville vs. Murray State, Dec. 8
Murray State was one of the biggest stories in college basketball last year as the Racers nearly went undefeated in the regular season, finished with a 31-2 record overall and advanced to the third round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Racers return second-team all-American guard Isaiah Canaan for his senior season after the electric guard scored 19.2 points per game in 2011-12.
The Purple Aces feature their own high-scoring guard in senior Colt Ryan who put up 20.2 points per game last season.
This game is worth watching just to see these two go back and forth. I'd set the over/under for points between the two of them at 55 and would feel very comfortable in taking the over.
3) UNI vs. St. Mary's, Dec. 22
This is a match-up between two mid-major teams that have been able to maintain success over the last few years. St. Mary's is looking to extend their streak of winning 25 or more games, while Northern Iowa is looking to get back to the top of the MVC standings and into the Big Dance for the first time since the Panthers upset top-seeded Kansas on the miraculous 3-pointer by Ali Farokhmanesh.
The Gaels are led by reigning WCC Player of the Year point guard Matthew Dellavedova. Dellavedova is the team's all-time assists leader and also knows how to put the ball in the bucket. He'll be a tough match-up for James. If The Panthers really want to get back to the tournament, a win against St. Mary's would look pretty good on their resume.
4) UNI @ UNLV, Dec. 19 (MWC/MVC Challenge)
The UNLV Runnin' Rebels feature stud forward Mike Moser and will be a tough match-up for the Panthers of UNI. This is the final year of the Mountain West/ Missouri Valley Challenge, and it would be great for the Valley if UNI can get a win here.
5) Illinois State @ Drexel, Nov. 15
The Drexel Dragons are a strong mid-major team that was on the cusp of earning an at-large bid to the tournament last year. They return almost everybody and are looking to finish what they started last year. A win against a good Illinois State team would certainly help their resume.
Best of the Rest
1) Creighton @ California, Dec. 15
California is a good Pac-12 team coming off of a first round loss in the NCAA Tournament. The Golden Bears lost Pac-12 player and defensive player of the year Jorge Gutierrez to graduation, but return plenty including leading scorer Allen Crabbe. This is a chance for Creighton to get a solid win over a big six conference foe and add to their resume.
2) Evansville @ Notre Dame, Nov. 22
Notre Dame's star guard Tim Abromaitis was denied a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA, but the Irish do return a double-figure scorer an talented player in Jerian Grant among others. This is another chance for the MVC to get a nice win over a solid big six conference foe.
3) Evansville @ Butler, Dec. 22
Butler has been the standard bearer for mid-major basketball the last few years under head coach Brad Stevens. However, after back-back appearances in the national championship game the Bulldogs failed to even make the tournament last year. They are looking to get back on the national stage and return their top two scorers from last season. The Purple Aces, meanwhile, are looking to extend their winning streak against the Bulldogs to three games after knocking off Butler in overtime each of the last two seasons.
4) Creighton vs. St. Joe's, Dec. 1
This is a revenge game for the Jays as the Hawks took the first round of the Lannon rivalry series (Fr. Timothy Lannon, S.J. was the president at St. Joe's before taking the same position at Creighton last year). Among the returners for St. Joe's are shot-blocking stud C.J. Aiken and senior guard Carl Jones who lit Creighton up last season.
5) Creighton vs. North Texas, Nov. 9
This probably isn't going to be a great game as Creighton should handle North Texas without too much trouble. However, it does feature a great match-up as both teams are led by stud power forwards with completely different styles. Most people are familiar with All-American Doug McDermott at this point, but Tony Mitchell Jr. is a very talented player in his own right and will likely be a NBA lottery pick. They played together on the Team USA U19 squad and should be pretty familiar with each other's games. They said on Twitter that it should be a good game, so who am I to disagree?