We are fewer than five months away from college basketball season, and with it, another thrilling non-conference slate. Unlike in college football, elite-level hoops teams actually play each other without the fear of one or two games destroying their postseason chances. It’s fun, it’s fast, and it’ll be here before you know it.
Last season gave us some great mid-major games, including Gonzaga’s statement victories over Florida and Arizona, UT Arlington shocking Texas and Saint Mary’s on the road, Fort Wayne’s stunning upset over Indiana, and UConn dropping a pair of home games to Wagner and Northeastern (sorry Russ). Whether you’re looking for top-tier mid-major programs going head-to-head or some potential upsets over Power 5 teams, this year’s non-conference schedule has you covered. Here are the games that could cause some early season fireworks.
Gonzaga vs. Villanova
These two teams had the potential to meet in the 2017 Final Four, but Villanova didn’t hold up its end of the bargain. The Bulldogs and Wildcats will square off Dec. 5 at Madison Square Garden as a part of the annual Jimmy V Classic. This will be a great early season test for a Gonzaga team that has to replace four of its five leading scorers from last season in Nigel Williams-Goss, Przemek Karnowski, Jordan Matthews and Zach Collins.
Rhode Island vs. Providence
Providence has won its last seven matchups against its cross-state rival dating back to 2010, but three of the last four wins have come by three points or less. The Friars edged out URI 63-60 last season in Providence. The Rams return a ton of talent from last season, including E.C. Matthews and Jared Terrell, so this feels like the year that URI could finally break the Friars’ streak. This game will be held Dec. 2 at the Ryan Center in Kingsport.
George Washington vs. Princeton
Princeton will look to build off of one of its best seasons in recent memory with an early statement win. The Tigers went a perfect 16-0 in Ivy League play last year before coming up just short against Notre Dame in the First Round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament. On the other side, GW will look for someone to step up following the departure of Tyler Cavanaugh. This is the first game of a home-and-home series between the two schools, with the second taking place in New Jersey in 2018.
This game is also fun because it’s in Washington, D.C. which, coincidentally, is where I live. If you also live in D.C., we should all go to this game and hang out.
Western Kentucky at Wisconsin
In case you haven’t heard, Western Kentucky is going to be pretty good this year. Rick Stansbury was able to recruit a pair of ESPN 100 prospects as well as Kansas graduate transfer Dwight Coleby to join a Hilltoppers squad that, according to KenPom, was the 232nd best team in the country last season. So grab your bags and watch these young men travel north to Madison to take on Greg Gard and the Badgers.
Western Kentucky vs. Belmont
Belmont obliterated WKU 90-69 last season in Nashville, but, as I mentioned earlier, this years’ Hilltoppers look just a little bit different. This could be a big-time early season road win for the Bruins if they are able to walk out of E.A. Diddle Arena with a victory.
Florida Gulf Coast at Middle Tennessee/Middle Tennessee at Florida Gulf Coast
If there’s one thing we know about FGCU coach Joe Dooley, it’s that he isn’t afraid to schedule anyone in the non-conference. He’s also not afraid to schedule anyone TWICE in the non-conference. The Eagles and Blue Raiders will square off Nov. 21 in Murfreesboro and again on Dec. 2 in Fort Meyers.
Florida Gulf Coast at UT Arlington
The Mavericks will look to avenge one of their most embarrassing losses from last season. UTA led by as many as 15 in the second half before FGCU ripped off a 36-10 run that sealed an 85-72 victory. The Mavs were a perfect 13-0 at home during the regular season last year and will get a chance to settle the score in Arlington on Dec. 9.
Rhode Island vs. Florida Gulf Coast
I wasn’t kidding when I said Dooley will schedule anybody. This is the first game of a home-and-home series. The second will be in Fort Meyers in 2019.
BYU vs. Alabama
BYU was a picture of inconsistency last season. The Cougars had great wins against Gonzaga, Princeton, Colorado, and Cal State Bakersfield, but also brutal loses against Pepperdine, San Diego, Utah Valley, and Santa Clara. Most expect BYU to be better this year despite losing leading scorer Eric Mika to the NBA Draft. This game will take place in Brooklyn on Nov. 24 as a part of the Barclay’s Center Classic.
Other noteworthy games:
Richmond vs. Vermont
Rhode Island vs. College of Charleston
Davidson at Virginia
Louisiana Tech at Texas
Nevada vs. Illinois State
Nevada at Texas Tech
Cal State Bakersfield at UCLA
Northern Iowa vs. UNLV