Five early non-conference games to watch in college basketball
The 2017-18 college basketball tips off Friday, and USA TODAY Sports continues a series that examines the most intriguing story lines.
Today, five early-season non-conference games to watch.
Duke vs. Michigan State, Nov. 14 (Champion’s Classic — Chicago)
It’s not every day the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the coaches poll go head-to-head. Heck, the top two teams often don’t even meet in the NCAA tournament. Alas, here we are with a not-so-boring matchup. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski might actually have too much talent on this roster, but that’s a good problem to have. If senior preseason All-American Grayson Allen can replicate his sophomore season production — instead of his junior campaign — look out. The odds of doing that happening are enhanced thanks to the luxury of a legitimate point guard this season in freshman Trevon Duval. But the guy who is the most intriguing for Duke is 6-10 freshman Marvin Bagley, who will be a matchup nightmare all year long and must-watch against the Spartans. Coach K will have to mesh the young and old talent together, whereas coach Tom Izzo has a more seasoned roster thanks to the return of his core guys. Miles Bridges is a player of the year front-runner, and this early-season matchup will be a chance for him to make a statement.
Kansas vs. Kentucky, Nov. 14 (Champion’s Classic — Chicago)
The fact that this is a matinee consolation illustrates how big-time that Duke-Michigan State showdown is. But this one has the potential to be just as good, if not better. Coach Bill Self has the No. 3 team in the country despite losing national player of the year Frank Mason, and that’s because Devonte Graham has the skill set to replicate Mason’s staggering campaign. Look for Graham, running the point now, to shine in a new role, and for Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman to bust out of the gate strong, too. As for John Calipari’s freshmen-laden roster (why wouldn’t it be freshmen-laden?), we might see some growing pains with the team chemistry. But it’s also a look at some of the best freshmen in the land. Hamidou Diallo, a 6-6 guard with jump-out-of-the-gym athleticism, should lead the highlight reels in this game.
Title game for Battle for Atlantis tourney, Nov. 24 (Bahamas)
With ample talent-loaded teams in this tournament, we could be looking at an Arizona vs. Villanova final, which would be an incredibly enticing matchup between the fifth-ranked and sixth-ranked teams in the coaches poll. Sean Miller’s Wildcats, led by Allonzo Trier, might be his best chance at a Final Four to date. And the Jalen Brunson-led Wildcats will have that signature Jay Wright flavor to make them once again title caliber.
Title game for Phil Knight Invitational — Motion Bracket, Nov. 26 (Portland)
If the best teams meet each other in this stacked tournament, we’d be looking at a Duke vs. Florida title game (the seventh-ranked Gators’ KeVaughn Allen vs. Duke’s guards would be fantastic). But that’s not entirely likely, considering the rest of the field. Butler, Texas, Stanford, Ohio State and Gonzaga will look to play spoiler. Either way, we’re looking at an epic game come Nov. 26. As a whole, there’s enough top-tier teams in the PK80 Invitational to house a mini NCAA tournament.
Seton Hall at Louisville, Dec. 3
The 23rd-ranked Pirates should shoot up in their rankings thanks to four returning starters, including Angel Delgado, in what figures to be a season that vaults the program back into the national equation. No. 13 Louisville, meanwhile, might be trending the other way. Not because the roster isn’t strong, but in large part due to the FBI scandal that cost Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino his job. Either way, these are two relatively underrated teams that could make more noise than expected in 2017-18 based on their talented rosters.