March Madness correspondent Andy Katz is excited for the upcoming men’s basketball season and he has pored through the non-conference slate to pick out the matchups that you can’t miss this fall and winter.
Here are Katz’s top 20 non-conference matchups for the 2021-22 season.
1. Gonzaga vs. UCLA, Nov. 23 (Las Vegas): This is a rematch of the epic national semifinal game. Both teams have a legit claim on the No. 1 ranking early in the season.
2. Duke vs. Kentucky, Nov. 9 Champions Classic (NYC): Coach K’s last season opener comes against rival Kentucky and John Calipari at the Garden. Yes, please!
3. Villanova at UCLA, Nov. 12: The Bruins are playing a national non-conference schedule and Jay Wright didn’t hesitate to test his fellow contender with a true road game early in the season.
4. Texas at Gonzaga, Nov. 13: The Longhorns have the transfers in place to make a Final Four run and this game at The Kennel will challenge his group as much as any game this season.
5. Gonzaga vs. Duke, Nov. 26 (Las Vegas): Chet Holmgren versus Paolo Banchero. NBA personnel will flock to this matchup.
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6. Alabama at Memphis, Dec. 14: The Tide is an SEC contender at the outset, while no team had a better late recruiting surge than the Tigers after landing Emoni Bates and Jalen Duren.
7. Kentucky at Kansas, Jan. 29: Sahvir Wheeler and Remy Martin will be opposite each other as two of the highest-profile playmaker transfers in the country.
8. Duke at Ohio State, Nov. 30 (ACC/Big Ten Challenge): This could be the best matchup in the top early season series between the two conferences.
9. Gonzaga vs. Alabama, Dec. 4 (Seattle): The Zags will have been mightily tested by the time this game comes. Props to Nate Oats for challenging the Tide with this road game to the state of Washington.
10. Villanova vs. Syracuse (Jimmy V Classic), Dec. 7 (NYC): The Orange has been a slow starter lately but knocking off ‘Nova would give Syracuse the necessary push it needs early in the season.
11. Kentucky vs. Ohio State (CBS Sports Classic), Dec. 18 (Las Vegas): The regional rivals are going to be two of the better teams in the country and by mid-December, they should be hitting their stride.
12. Villanova at Baylor, Dec. 12: Love this matchup in the Big East/Big 12 Challenge — a rematch of the Bears’ toughest test en route to their national title last April.
13. Virginia at Houston, Nov. 16: Tony Bennett’s squad won’t be as experienced as in past years but this will be a major test. Expect both teams to make it difficult to score.
14. Michigan State vs. Kansas (Champions Classic), Nov. 9 (NYC): Kansas will likely be the higher-ranked team, but this is the Spartans’ chance to make an opening statement that could carry them for weeks.
15. Purdue vs. North Carolina (Hall of Fame Classic), Nov. 20 (Mohegan Sun): The Boilermakers are my pick to win the Big Ten but they’ve got to prove it in the non-conference against Hubert Davis’ Tar Heels.
16. Michigan at North Carolina (ACC/Big Ten Challenge), Dec. 1: Hunter Dickinson and Armando Bacot will provide one of the best big-versus-big matchups early in the season.
17. Ohio State at Xavier (Gavitt Games), Nov. 18: This game may not get the necessary hype it deserves. But the Buckeyes don’t play true road games in the state often. The Cintas Center will be rocking for this one. Xavier is a Big East contender to finish in the top three.
18. Louisville at Kentucky, Dec. 22: The much-maligned Cards can prove they are an ACC contender, not a pretender, with an upset in the best non-conference rivalry in the sport.
19. UCLA vs. North Carolina (CBS Sports Classic), Dec. 18 (Las Vegas): Two iconic brands. The Tar Heels may need this one more in mid-December.
20. Memphis vs. Tennessee, Dec. 18 (Nashville): The Tigers are trying to be the team of record in the state. If Memphis is going to live up to the hype then winning this game would be a good start.