12 nonconference men's basketball games that could impact the bracket in March

ByESPN ESPN logo
Sunday, November 6, 2022
ESPN

College basketball is played in three chapters. There is the nonconference season, then conference play and finally, the postseason.

Because of those stages and the five-plus months they're spread across, a team that starts strong might not finish that way. And the same is true for teams that might need more time to grow before they peak later in the year. That's why some matchups in the beginning of the season are so interesting.

They're a great way to kick off the 2022-23 season, but they're also more of a measuring stick than definitive proof about where a team will end up on Selection Sunday.

Above all, it's a great appetizer for what we might see in March. Let's take a look at some of the top nonconference matchups in men's college basketball over the next three months.

Michigan State Spartans vs. Gonzaga Bulldogs

Nov. 11, USS Abraham Lincoln, San Diego, 6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

They're playing on an active nuclear-powered aircraft carrier docked at the San Diego Naval Air Station. On Veterans Day. Coaches Tom Izzo and Mark Few have well-earned reputations of playing "anybody, anywhere," and this matchup certainly lives up to that. Throw in experienced rosters cranky about early NCAA tournament exits and we can likely expect late-season intensity. That's good enough for me. -- Lunardi

Duke Blue Devils vs. Kansas Jayhawks

Champions Classic, Nov. 15, Indianapolis, 9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

Due to Bill Self's four-game suspension, the Jayhawks will be coached by Norm Roberts for this one. Still, it's the defending national champion versus Duke's first new head coach in 42 years. No. 5 Kansas is young, but Jalen Wilson and Dajuan Harris Jr.return. Speaking of youth, Jon Scheyer has the nation's No. 1 recruiting class in Dereck Lively II, Dariq Whitehead, Tyrese Proctor and Kyle Filipowski. Here's hoping Whitehead is healthy for the No. 7 Blue Devils by the time they get to Indy. -- Gasaway

Virginia Cavaliers vs. Baylor Bears

Nov. 18, Las Vegas, 7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2

I am high on both squads this season. Each has Final Four upside, in my view, and this early-season encounter is an excellent chance to prove it. Scott Drew and Tony Bennett are also Hall of Fame coaches-in-waiting who would otherwise never face each other. Plus, the second game of this doubleheader (UCLA vs. Illinois) is no slacker. -- Lunardi

Kentucky Wildcats vs. Gonzaga Bulldogs

Nov. 20, Spokane, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

This game has everything. Two preseason top five-teams. Oscar Tshiebwe vs. Drew Timme. A little tinge of drama, with the game being played off-campus at Spokane Arena instead of The Kennel on campus. If that's not enough, Gonzaga point guard Nolan Hickman, a former McDonald's All-American, was once committed to Kentucky. For my money, this is the most intriguing nonconference game on the schedule. -- Borzello

Houston Cougars vs. Oregon Ducks

Nov. 20, Eugene, 9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

Both Dana Altman and Kelvin Sampson have led their teams to the Final Four in recent years, but they're both searching for a national championship. Sampson seems to have the edge here with Marcus Sasser, an AP first-team All-American, Tramon Mark and five-star recruit Jarace Walker anchoring this team. A matchup against standout Will Richardson and Co., however, will be an important barometer for the Cougars. -- Medcalf

Saint Joseph's Hawks vs. Pennsylvania Quakers

Nov. 30, Philadelphia, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+

This is the second matchup of an old-fashioned Philadelphia Big 5 doubleheader (La Salle takes on Temple in the opener). I learned to love the game in the Palestra, the great old barn on Penn's campus in West Philly, and haven't been there since before the pandemic. And there haven't been four city schools in the building in nearly four years. It won't matter if none of the teams are NCAA tournament-caliber. I'm more than OK with a little nostalgia. -- Lunardi

North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Indiana Hoosiers

Nov. 30, Bloomington, 9:15 p.m. ET, ESPN

Not only will this be the first true road game for the preseason No. 1 Tar Heels (they play Portland in Portland on Nov. 24, but it's not the Pilots' home court), it's also a chance for Indiana to show whether it deserves to be considered the preseason favorite in the Big Ten. We won't get too many individual matchups better than Armando Bacot banging inside against Trayce Jackson-Davis, either. -- Borzello

UCLA Bruins vs. Stanford Cardinal

Dec. 1, Stanford, 10:30 pm ET, ESPN2

Men's college basketball fans at Maples Pavilion haven't had an NCAA tournament team to support since 2014. Now, the Cardinal faithful believe 2023 could finally be their year. No. 8 UCLA will provide Stanford with a measure of just how realistic its hopes are in quite possibly the earliest must-watch conference game of the season nationally. -- Gasaway

Arizona Wildcats vs. Indiana Hoosiers

Dec. 10, Las Vegas, 7:30 p.m. ET, Fox

This is a fun matchup in December that will tell us, early in the season, if both teams can live up to the hype. But they're also facing questions. Who is Arizona after losing three players who were among the top 33 NBA draft picks, including lottery pickBennedict Mathurin? Is Indiana the best team in the Big Ten? A few weeks before league play gets hectic, the Hoosiers will have another chance to prove they're the team to beat in the Big Ten. -- Medcalf

Dayton Flyers vs. Wyoming Cowboys

Dec. 17, Chicago, 8 p.m. ET, CBSSN

Both are among the top-five mid-major outfits in the country, and the outcome of this game will be referenced constantly in the lead-up to Selection Sunday. Dayton big man DaRon Holmes II is a future pro, battling with Wyoming's Graham Ike on the interior. Meanwhile, each team's primary playmaker -- Dayton's Malachi Smith and Wyoming's Hunter Maldonado -- are highly effective in different ways. -- Borzello

Tennessee Volunteers vs. Arizona Wildcats

Dec. 17, Tucson, 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2

The No. 11 Volunteers are my pick to win the SEC and the No. 17 Wildcats are aiming for back-to-back Pac-12 titles. Rick Barnes and his group will be tested in a true road game two time zones away from home. Also note that Dec. 17 will be nonconference festivus: In addition to the Dayton-Wyoming tilt correctly tagged by Borzello, we'll see Gonzaga vs. Alabama in Birmingham, UCLA vs. Kentucky at Madison Square Garden, Indiana vs. Kansas and Houston vs. Virginia. -- Gasaway

Kansas Jayhawks vs. Kentucky Wildcats

Jan. 28, Lexington, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

Who knows what the national landscape will look like in late January? But it's safe to assume this SEC/Big 12 Challenge game will have Selection Sunday implications. Kansas lost a lot of talent following last year's national title run, but don't feel sorry for Wilson and Co. The Jayhawks are still capable of a deep run. And Kentucky boasts potentially the second player to win the Wooden Award back-to-back. These late January nonconference battles are fun and they're good for the sport. -- Medcalf

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