College basketball preview: 5 nonconference games to watch

Kansas, Michigan State, Duke and Kentucky kick off a great slate of nonconference games Nov. 6 at the State Farm Champions Classic, but this year there are plenty of big games before teams get into conference play.

Gonzaga plays big contests against Washington and Virginia Tech, Michigan has a rematch of the national championship game with Villanova, while Mississippi State and Clemson play a month into the season.

But let’s start with one in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and highlight other monster matchups happening in November and December.

No. 24 Purdue at No. 17 Florida State

Date: Nov. 28
Location: Donald L. Tucker Center (Tallahassee, Fla.)
Time: 8 p.m. ET

Two teams coming off great finishes in the NCAA Tournament in 2018 will match up in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge at the end of November. This game will feature two of the best shot-blockers in all of college basketball as Purdue sophomore Matt Haarms and Florida State big man Christ Koumadje will be planted in the paint to meet two good offenses.

Purdue senior Carsen Edwards was named a preseason All-American and will have to deal with an intense defense from the Seminoles. Florida State has a balanced attack as it returns its top two leading scorers from last season (Phil Cofer and Terance Mann).

Florida vs. No. 13 West Virginia

Date : Dec. 4
Location:  Madison Square Garden (New York)
Time: 9 p.m. ET

Florida may be unranked now, but with just one game against a ranked opponent before its matchup with West Virginia in December, the Gators could very well be creeping up the rankings, especially if they upset Florida State in their season opener.

The Gators return three of their top five leading scorers including senior Jalen Hudson, who made 2.3 3-pointers per game last season while averaging 15.5 points. 

West Virginia lost both Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles Jr., but returns the dynamic and frightening Sagaba Konate in the middle and can throw player after player at teams in one of the most unrelenting defensive attacks in all of college basketball.

No. 3 Gonzaga vs. No. 6 Tennessee

Date: Dec. 9
Location: Talking Stick Resort Arena (Phoenix, Ariz.)
Time: 3 p.m. ET

An old power vs. a new one will face off in the Jerry Colangelo Classic in Phoenix, Ariz. in December. Both of these teams return tons of talent as Gonzaga brings back four of its top five scorers and Tennessee returns all five.

Gonzaga went out in the NCAA Tournament a little earlier than it would have liked in 2018 and Tennessee fell to Loyola-Chicago in the second round. 

Josh Perkins leads a talented Gonzaga team, while Rui Hachimura really showed the type of player he could be in the tournament. The Volunteers have their eyes on the SEC Championship and a win over Gonzaga in December could give them the push they need heading into conference play.

No. 9 Villanova at No. 1 Kansas

Date: Dec. 15
Location: Allen Fieldhouse (Lawrence, Kan.)
Time: 12 p.m. ET

The defending national champion Wildcats head into one of the toughest home court advantages in college basketball in Allen Fieldhouse in December. And they will do so with almost an entirely new team.

Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo and Omari Spellman all left for the NBA, and the Wildcats will have to make some serious adjustments to start the year. However, this will be the season for senior Eric Paschall to shine as he is the team’s top returning scorer.

It will take more than Paschall to beat the Jayhawks, though, as Kansas is 77-6 at home over the last five years. Add that to a roster featuring big man Udoka Azubuike, guard LaGerald Vick and five-star recruits Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson, and the Jayhawks will be an incredibly tough out, especially midway through December at home.

No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 8 North Carolina

Date: Dec. 22
Location:  United Center (Chicago, Ill.)
Time: 5:15 p.m. ET

Two of the best freshmen recruiting classes will face off nearly two months into the season, which should give everyone a good idea of what these two teams are.

Both teams lost their leading scorers and most of their veteran talent from a year ago, but Kentucky brought in four more five-star recruits highlighted by EJ Montgomery and Ashton Hagans. North Carolina will feature Nassir Little and Coby White, who boast five-star ratings, as well. Kentucky also added star Stanford transfer Reid Travis.

North Carolina may have the advantage in this game as it returns Luke Maye, who carried over his performance in the National Championship two years ago into a solid season last year for the Tar Heels.

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