The college basketball season seems like another lifetime away. But this doesn’t mean fans can’t get excited about some non-conference matchups on the horizon.
Now that the offseason is in full swing, non-conference schedules are starting to form piece by piece, tweet by tweet. Assuming the 2020-21 season happens, there are already several intriguing non-conference matchups finalized.
Here are seven non-conference games that should be good because of either the teams involved, entertaining player matchups or interesting storylines within the games. For simplicity’s sake, games from multi-team events aren’t included because not all brackets are set.
Austin Peay vs. Western Kentucky
Terry Taylor and Jordyn Adams versus Taveion Hollingsworth and Josh Anderson? Sign us up.
Does it matter that the Hilltoppers beat the Governors by 22 last season? Absolutely not.
Too many mid-major stars will take the floor for this one to be boring. Both Taylor and Adams, plus Western Kentucky star Charles Bassey, have tested the NBA Draft waters before. Anderson and Hollingsworth make up one of the most electrifying, athletic backcourts in the sport. Several of these players will score at least 20 points that night, as it’s bound to be a high-scoring affair.
Duquesne vs. Belmont
Well, this is a nice change of pace. After several sub-300 non-conference schedules, per KenPom, Duquesne will play a legitimate postseason team in Belmont.
As it stands, the defending Ohio Valley Conference champions will be the Dukes’ toughest home opponent in the Keith Dambrot era. Like the Dukes, the Bruins bring back most of their starters from last year, including leading scorer Adam Kunkel, skilled forward Nick Muszynski and leading rebounder Grayson Murphy.
Although it’s a fool’s errand to project postseason resumes — especially in May when most schedules and rosters are far from finalized, and especially the midst of a pandemic that could shut down sports again — this game could have some tournament resume-related ramifications. Duquesne will have plenty of opportunities to bolster its resume with Saint Louis, Dayton and Richmond in conference play, but a win over Belmont should look good.
As for Belmont, this is another installment of what looks like a tough schedule Casey Alexander has put together. The Bruins also play at Western Kentucky and are in an absolutely loaded Orlando Invitational field. For an OVC team’s schedule, playing teams like Duquesne won’t hurt.
Pepperdine at Colorado
The quality of this matchup hinges on whether or not point guards Colbey Ross (Pepperdine) and McKinley Wright IV (Colorado) withdraw from the NBA Draft. Should both players return, this opening-night matchup will not only pit two excellent point guards against each other, but also serve as a revenge game of sorts for Ross.
While playing at Eaglecrest High School in nearby Aurora, Ross “received minimal interest” from Colorado and Colorado State, all despite being a two-time Gatorade state Player of the Year award winner and a state champion. Instead, Ross chose Pepperdine and the rest is history.
To their credit, the Waves return four of their five starters, including three all-WCC award winners Kessler Edwards, Sedrick Altman and the aforementioned Ross, from a season ago. Pepperdine was excruciatingly close to beating Pac-12 teams last year — hanging with USC for 38 minutes, blowing a big halftime lead against Cal and Nico Mannion’s game-winning layup come to mind — so winning this game would get a heavy monkey off the team’s back. Throw in the possibility of Late Night Bill Walton waxing poetic about Malibu and Southern California, and this game only gets better.
UC San Diego vs. California
Believe it or not, Big West newcomer UC San Diego will host a Power 5 school to kick off its Division I era. Yes, that Power 5 school happens to be a California team that went 14-18 last season, but the fact that this game is happening is special nonetheless.
Hosting a D1 school for a Division I home opener, much less a Pac-12 school, is an anomaly. To put this in perspective, Merrimack, North Alabama, Cal Baptist, Incarnate Word and Grand Canyon (the five newest members of Division I) played non-D1 schools for their D1 home openers.
Once the ball tips, the Tritons’ group of four D1 transfers and junior sharpshooter Tyrell Roberts (19.2 PPG, 46.3 3FG%, 2020 CCAA MVP) square off against Matt Bradley, Stony Brook transfer Makale Foreman and Penn transfer Ryan Betley, all of whom averaged double-figures in their last seasons. Sure, this appears to be a David vs. Goliath matchup, but Goliath will play in front of a hostile crowd this time.
Loyola at DePaul
Once upon a time, this was a real rivalry game. Back when DePaul regularly made the NCAA Tournament, the Red Line Rivalry pitted these Chicago basketball teams together on a near-annual basis. Finally, after going dormant for eight years, the series is back.
So much has changed since these teams last played in 2012. Although both Loyola and DePaul were in the early goings of two sub-.500 seasons last time they met, each team has taken different trajectories since. Oliver Purnell is out at DePaul, and Dave Leito is in. Loyola head coach Porter Moser is still there, but the Ramblers finally rose above .500 and broke out onto the national scene with a Final Four run in 2018. The Blue Demons, meanwhile, made a run to the 2019 CBI Championship before losing to South Florida. At home.
Next season, Loyola could be even better than the Final Four team. DePaul might not have many options outside of Charlie Moore and Monmouth transfer Ray Salnave. However, in the off chance Valparaiso transfer Javon Freeman-Liberty earns a waiver from the NCAA, having a former Missouri Valley player square off against the team he helped beat in the 2020 MVC Tournament only sweetens the deal.
Tarleton State at Texas A&M
All eyes will be on Tarleton State this season, as the Texans made arguably the most controversial hire in Billy Gillispie — the former UTEP, Texas A&M, Kentucky and Texas Tech coach who made all the wrong headlines for allegations of player mistreatment, altercations and a DUI charge. Nevertheless, Gillispie’s reputation as a program rebuilder, recruiter and his history of coaching in Texas brought him to Tarleton State, a first-year member of the Western Athletic Conference starting in the 2020-21 season.
One might call this a stop along Gillispie’s redemption tour, of sorts. Gillispie amassed a 70-26 record in three years at Texas A&M before taking the Kentucky job in the summer of 2007. While this isn’t Gillespie’s first time in College Station since he left — he played against Texas A&M while coaching Texas Tech in the 2011-12 season — a return to his most successful coaching years is noteworthy. The fact that this game came about because of current A&M head coach Buzz Williams, Gillispie’s former assistant, only thickens the plot.
Gonzaga vs. Texas Tech
This game will be hard to top.
This is a nationally televised Elite Eight rematch on a neutral floor between two programs that recently made the national championship game. There’s Mark Few. There’s former Little Rock (and UNLV) coach Chris Beard. Depending on how the NCAA decides to dole out its waivers, there’s a slim chance VCU Ram Marcus Santos-Silva will be there too, albeit in red and black. So many players, coaches and storylines from the mid-major basketball world converge in this game, which, to our chagrin, will be played in the cavernous Talking Stick Resort Arena during winter break instead of at one of these schools. Oh well.
At worst, this will be a defensive slog-fest that amounts to a Quad. 1 win for one of these teams. At best, it will be an exorcism for the Spokane residents who still have nightmares of Tariq Owens
or the refs that didn’t rule him out-of-bounds.
Sure, 14 of the 16 players that suited up for the 2019 Elite Eight matchup have either graduated or transferred. But this matchup between two elite coaches and a plethora of talented (mostly Gonzaga) freshmen should deliver. Gonzaga will be the clear favorite once again, but Chris Beard’s team was the underdog last time too.