Even though it’s still August, that does not mean it is too early to begin analyzing the approaching college basketball season.
This year could be one for the history books, as power will be distributed throughout the nation, rather than being centered around one or two dominant favorites. Perennial dynasties will clash with rising powerhouses, old rivalries will be restored with new fire, and incredible incoming talent will give their teams a much needed boost.
With such a distribution of power, the non-conference schedule will be a grueling, and thrilling battle with major implications come Selection Sunday.
The slate of exciting non-conference games is quite vast this year. However, there are 15 games that cannot be afford to be missed. In this article, we will break down games 15-11 along with a few honorable mentions as well. (Because let’s be honest, narrowing a list of this magnitude to only fifteen games would have been down right impossible.)
Oregon State vs. Tulsa (Portland, Oregon): For those who want to see two conference sleepers battle it out in the Moda Center, this game is for you. The Beavers return all but one player from last year, including all conference point guard Gary Payton II. Tulsa brings every significant player from last year, including five senior starters. Don’t overlook this game, simply because it lacks a big name draw. By the end of this season, both teams should be well known in their respective conferences.
Baylor at Texas A&M: If this were only a few years ago, we would’ve had the pleasure to watch this matchup play out twice during the season. However it is 2015, so we must appreciate the one non-conference match up between possibly the two best teams in Texas this season. Rico Gathers will lead the Bears again, following their early exit from the NCAA Tournament last season. Texas A&M, on the other hand, returns their top three scorers along with the sixth best recruiting class in the country. Not only will this game most likely give us the King of College Basketball for Texas, but it will also reveal if Texas A&M’s young big men are ready for the SEC by trying to stop the monster that is Rico Gathers.
Wisconsin at Oklahoma: Even though Wisconsin loses Sam Dekker, Frank Kaminsky, Duje Dukan, and more, Bo Ryan’s Badgers should field a solid team during his farewell season. The Badgers return Nigel Hayes, and Bronson Koenig. This year, they’ll have to look to Zak Showalter, Ethan Happ, and the incoming freshman for production in order to fill the void left by last year’s graduating class. Oklahoma, meanwhile, will hardly skip a beat from last year as they bring back top scorers Buddy Hield, and Isaiah Cousins. The matchup between Hayes and Koenig versus Hield and Cousins is the main draw of the game. Will the younger, more athletic Badgers be able to overcome Oklahoma’s veteran experience?
Louisville at Kentucky: Normally, this game is at the top of the list of non-conference games to watch. However with the incredibly packed schedule, this game finds itself in the honorable mentions. Kentucky, not surprisingly, has fully reloaded from last year with another stellar recruiting class. The Wildcats also return Tyler Ulis, Marcus Lee, and Alex Poythress; three excellent offensive pieces. Combined, they make a very dangerous squad. Louisville, on the other hand, is in a slightly awkward and vulnerable position this season. After losing their top four scorers, the Cardinals will have to rely on two transfer seniors to lead the way, Damion Lee, and Trey Lewis. Lee is one of the best scorers in the country, and two years ago almost led Drexel over a top five Arizona team. Lewis is another strong scorer from Cleveland State, who’ll help lead the Cardinals. Louisville also returns Quentin Snider, Chinanu Onuaku, and Mangok Mathiang, who’ll help back up the the two seniors. Just as last year, the Battle for the Bluegrass revolves around seniors versus freshmen. However, this year it seems that Louisville has a slight edge in guard play, while UK has the advantage underneath the rim.
#15. Butler at Purdue: Caleb Swanigan looks to be the final piece for Purdue that will put them over this season. With seniors, and top two scorers in A.J. Hammons, and Rapheal Davis returning this season, the Boilermakers should have more than a full head of steam. The frontcourt combo of Hammons and Swanigan will be a thing of beauty to watch, and a nightmare to defend. With the seven foot Hammons averaging 11.9 points per game last season, he will attract more attention from the defense, leaving Swanigan full range to dominate. With such an inside presence, Davis and the rest of the guards will have endless room to work. However, Butler won’t back down that easily. They return their top three scorers, Kellen Dunham, Roosevelt Jones, and Andrew Chrabascz, respectively. The backcourt trio will put the Purdue guards to the test. However, in losing their best two defensive players, Butler may be at a disadvantage on the inside. Still, the guards versus big men battle will be fun to watch nonetheless.
#14. Texas A&M at Iowa State: No Fred Hoiberg? No problem. As hard as it was for the Cyclones to see him leave this summer, they shouldn’t miss a beat. Since Iowa State was able to retain Georges Niang, and Monte Morris, along with some key role players, ISU will be in full force come this season. The inside out game between Niang and Morris will be quite the test for Texas A&M. However, with this matchup coming midseason, A&M should have plenty of experience to take on the challenge. Furthermore, the freshmen centers will be tested once again, this time with Georges Niang. While less tenacious on the boards, he more than makes up for it with his scoring abilities. Another exciting matchup to watch will be Danuel House take on Monte Morris. Both are excellent shooters from deep. It will be battle of who can outshoot the other.
#13. Utah at Wichita State: One of the best backcourts in the country will take on one of the best big men in the country, as Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet will try to outdo the giant Jakob Poeltl. Furthermore, Baker and VanVleet will also be tasked with containing Utah’s Jordan Loveridge and Brandon Taylor. However with this being the two’s final season, the experienced seniors should be ready to pull all the stops necessary to give the Utes a run for their money, and to make one final, and hopefully most successful, tournament run for the Shockers.
#12. Indiana at Notre Dame: While Notre Dame may not be the force they were last season, however that doesn’t mean they can be overlooked. The Fighting Irish return starters Zach Auguste, and Demetrius Jackson, who both averaged double digits for ND last year. On the other side of the ball, Indiana brings back nearly all of their key pieces from last season. Yogi Ferrell, James Blackmon Jr, and Troy Williams look to lead the way for the Hoosiers. IU also adds McDonald’s All-American center Thomas Bryant. The matchup between Auguste and Indiana’s bigs are the main draw to this game. Indiana’s lackluster defense may struggle to contain the explosive Auguste. If the Hoosiers want to compete Yogi Ferrell will have to carry the team on both ends of the floor. However, the ultimate push will come from each team’s lesser known players, like IU’s deadly shooter Nick Zeisloft, or Notre Dame’s often overlooked guard Steve Vasturia.
#11. Arizona at Gonzaga: For the first time in quite a while, Gonzaga may have the upper hand in the matchup. They return star forward Kyle Wiltjer, along with big men Domantas Sabonis, and Przemek Karnowski. That front court might just be the scariest power three in college basketball currently. However, that by no means makes them a runaway favorite. Arizona managed to bring back Kaleb Tarczewski, who has the potential to be the best center in the country this season. The Wildcats also bring veterans Elliott Pitts, and Gabe York back for another season of endless three pointers. U of A also adds a top ten recruiting class highlighted by point guard Allonzo Trier. Tarczewski will have to pull off a superhuman effort in order to hold off Gonzaga’s nearly unstoppable front court. It might just be possible for the seven foot senior, but he will need all the help he can get from support cast. The determining factor of the game will be the backcourt play. Whichever team has the better guard play will be the squad that exits the floor that night victorious.
As we reach the Top 10, this concludes part one of the Top 15 Non-Conference Games for the 2015-16 Season. Return tomorrow for the second and final installment of this series. I apologize for stopping right before we get to the heart of the action, however that much college basketball hype could cause sensory overload.
But, here is a little teaser of what to expect tomorrow: Duke vs. Utah, Kansas vs. Kentucky, Virginia vs. Cal, and seven more games that cannot be missed.