Just about every team has released its non-conference schedule by this point. So now that we know who's playing whom and when those games are going down, I figured: Why not give you a hearty dose of the best out-of-conference matchups on the docket for 2016-17?
That's exactly what's below.
The bonus: We're essentially guaranteed anywhere from 10-15 additional, really good non-conference games that aren't listed here, it's just that those matchups will be determined based on outcomes in Maui, Orlando, the Bahamas, etc. All of the big November tournaments will inevitably give us even more really good head-to-heads. Just check out the Maui Invitational and see how many great ones could fall into place in the semis and finals. But we don't know those yet, so we can't count 'em.
Then there are the non-league fights that don't look extra appealing now, but teams will surprise. We've got up a bundle of quality games already lined up, we just don't know they're there yet. All in all, it should be a pretty loaded and vital first seven weeks of the season.
But here are the ones set in stone, the 50 best non-conference games in college basketball this season. Be sure to bookmark, favorite and share. This (chronological) list will last you into January.
1. Michigan State vs. Arizona, Nov. 11 (Armed Forces Classic): Yeah, this'll do. I think -- or at least hope -- that college hoops has finally figured out how to kick off the first night of its season with some appropriately weighty matchups. Both of these programs will have Final Four aspirations.
2. Kansas vs. Indiana, Nov. 11 (Armed Forces Classic): What a tremendous way to start college basketball's season. You get four of the seven or eight most powerful programs in the sport, right now, squaring off. This one is the nightcap, if you will, to MSU-Zona. Right away, we get a look at five-star KU frosh Josh Jackson. Indiana has plenty coming back, and should have one of the best offenses in the country.
3. Villanova at Purdue, Nov. 14: Love the reigning national champions playing a true road game against a likely NCAA Tournament team within the first week of the season. This is the first of eight Gavitt Tipoff Game tilts (the concept pits Big East teams vs. Big Ten squads). Most importantly, it forces teams into non-conference, true road environments. For Purdue, let's see how good Caleb Swanigan looks out of the gate. He could have a big-time year.
4. San Diego State at Gonzaga, Nov. 14: All things considered, over the past 10 years, these are two of the five best programs on West Coast time (Arizona being the other). Neither plays scaredy-cat scheduling, either. Gonzaga has question marks this year; San Diego State might be able to steal this one early.
5. Oregon at Baylor, Nov. 15: This one is important because it's the only out-of-league road game for Dana Altman's program. The Ducks have enough talent to win a national title, but seeding could play a big part in that, and if OU loses in this spot to a glossy-yet-gritty Baylor squad, it will be a blotch on the resume.
6. Wisconsin at Creighton, Nov. 15: Another Gavitt Tipoff Games entry. Both teams should be in the AP rankings when this game goes down, and if Creighton isn't there, then the collective voters probably dropped the ball. The Bluejays are going to be very good and very entertaining this season. Tough test for Wisconsin here.
7. Duke vs. Kansas, Nov. 15 (Champions Classic): The Champions Classic, every year, offers up two of the 50 best non-con games because these two teams plus the two teams directly below are involved each time. In this case, you've got Kansas, having played in Hawaii against a good IU team five days prior, flying more than 5,000 miles to play the preseason No. 1 team.
8. Kentucky vs. Michigan State, Nov. 15 (Champions Classic):And in this spot, you've got Michigan State mimicking Kansas' travel, only it will be playing the preseason No. 2 team in the country. Duke and Kentucky will be favored to win. Wouldn't it be something if Sparty and KU turned the tables? It's possible.
9. Maryland at Georgetown, Nov. 15: Most thankful for the Gavitt Games because of this matchup, specifically. Inter-school politics and hubris prevented these two geographically natural rivals from playing for years and years. Now we get the rematch; Maryland won last year's contest, 75-71. Hoyas and Turtles should be playing every season.
10. Monmouth at Syracuse, Nov. 18: Heck yeah I've got Monmouth on here. This team brings many of the dudes from a squad that won 28 games last season; defeated UCLA, Notre Dame, USC and Georgetown; and was wrongly snubbed from making the NCAA Tournament. Monmouth's Justin Robinson, a senior, might be the best player on the court in this game. And of course: that glorious bench of goofballs. What will the Hawks' scrubs come up with this year?
11. Rhode Island vs. Cincinnati, Nov. 19 (Hall of Fame Tipoff): This one will be played at Connecticut-based casino Mohegan Sun. I was high on URI last year, then injuries wiped out its season. With everyone healthy and a fairly deep roster, I think the Rams will wind up in the 5-to-8-seed range by the time we get to Selection Sunday. Cincinnati's Troy Caupain is one of the nation's most overlooked players.
12. Saint Mary's at Dayton, Nov. 19: Saint Mary's is the best team nobody's paying attention to. All five starters are back, and this game is a big one because Randy Bennett has been allergic to scheduling road games against top-50 opponents for much of his time in Moraga. Now he'll go in and get another qualify Archie Miller squad. Important game for SMC. Good test for UD.
13. Oregon vs. Georgetown, Nov. 21 (Maui quarterfinals): We don't have a lot of naturally nice quarterfinal tilts in these big November tournaments because said tournaments are built to give us the most compelling possible games in the semis and finals. But Ducks vs. Hoyas is a top-50 non-con game for me because I want to see GU's Jesse Govan go up against Oregon's solid front line.
14. San Diego State vs. Cal, Nov. 21: This game is going down in Sacramento. Cal will probably be a much better team in February than it shows in November, but this one will be a needed test. SDSU will fight anyone, and Cuonzo Martin is going to appreciate that his team will get this kind of boxing match less than two weeks into the season.
15. George Washington at Georgia, Nov. 21: This game would not have made the list if I compiled it three weeks ago. But the fact is, GW is now in an unusual situation. It fired its head coach less than two months before the start of the season because of allegation after allegation of inappropriate behavior and/or verbal abuse. Now the team's youngest assistant coach is the interim: Maurice Joseph. And remember, GW has a stud in Tyler Cavanaugh. So how will the team look in November? Georgia's going to be a good test. Intriguing game here, intriguing season for the Colonials.
16. VCU vs. Baylor, Nov. 23 (Battle 4 Atlantis quarterfinals): Another rare enticing quarterfinal matchup in a major November event. This is the only game on this list featuring VCU, which is maintaining its speed -- so far -- in the post-Shaka era. Will Wade still has experience with this group. The guy to watch at Baylor is Johnathan Motley, who I expect to put up impressive numbers in this his junior season.
17. Rhode Island at Valpo, Nov. 29: Credit Dan Hurley for scheduling this game. Valpo will again be on the short list of the best mid-major teams in college hoops this season. Alec Peters bypassed going pro and even still stayed true to the school after Bryce Drew took the Vandy job. A win here would be a huge boost to URI's dossier down the road, while a Valpo loss might well take it out of at-large consideration.
18. Syracuse at Wisconsin, Nov. 29 (Big Ten/ACC Challenge): The made-for-TV league-vs.-league events are good for giving college hoops much-needed true-road-environment tilts. Here we have Syracuse, which seldom plays outside New York state borders prior to Christmas, going into Madison. Cuse will be worth the watch because grad transfer Andrew White should factor in immediately. SU freshman Matthew Moyer is someone I'm eager to watch develop.
19. Michigan State at Duke, Nov. 29 (Big Ten/ACC Challenge): Miles Bridges, Cassius Winston and Josh Langford -- all freshmen, all highly touted -- get their third huge game of the month. Yes, Michigan State has to play Arizona, Kentucky and Duke in the first 15 days of its season. Bless Tom Izzo. The man was just inducted into the Hall of Fame, and he's taking on one of his toughest non-conference schedules ever. As for Duke, I wonder if Harry Giles will be fully healthy by this point. Giles has undergone two major knee surgeries in the past three years, and yet he's so good he's still comfortably in the conversation to be next year's No. 1 pick.
20. UNC at Indiana, Nov. 30 (Big Ten/ACC Challenge): Let's get this one into the high 80s. Indiana -- which might not have Collin Hartman for this one? -- can run and score with UNC. Critical guys returning for the Heels: Theo Pinson, Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks and Justin Jackson, to name a few. Would not shock me if UNC is a little wobbly in the first few weeks of the season.
21. Ohio State at Virginia, Nov. 30 (Big Ten/ACC Challenge): I'm a believer that Ohio State is going to be a much stronger team this season. Virginia should win this, but OSU will have the athletes to challenge. I'd like to see the defense show up, and I think it will. Virginia loses Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill, Mike Tobey and Evan Nolte.
22. Purdue at Louisville, Nov. 30 (Big/Ten ACC Challenge): Louisville's Donovan Mitchell is a prime breakout-player candidate. Purdue's issue last season was its lack of reliability in the backcourt. This could get out of hand for Matt Painter's team, but this is Louisville's first intriguing game of the season. I have some doubts if this is a top 25 team. A win here is necessary to proving that early on.
23. UCLA at Kentucky, Dec. 3: Over/under first-round NBA picks on the floor in this game is set at 4.5. Lonzo Ball with UCLA ... what I want to know is how Steve Alford is going to run the offense with him and with his son, Bryce. UCLA was just bad last season, but expect a big turnaround. There's a lot of talent there, and it's the most exciting Bruins roster, in my view, in more than seven years.
24. Xavier at Baylor, Dec. 3: Chris Mack doesn't run from a tough schedule. Xavier's entering this season with the most expectation in program history. It's not like the Musketeers to start a campaign as a top 10 team, but that's what's going to happen. Baylor, you'll notice, will have a lot of chances for good wins. No reason to think Scott Drew fails to get BU to the NCAAs for the sixth time in the past eight seasons.
25. Arizona vs. Gonzaga, Dec. 3 (Hall of Fame game): This is part of a multi-city, sort of nebulous Hall of Fame-sponsored event. Just so happens this matchup is the best of them all. This is being played at Staples Center. When watching Arizona, Lauri Markkanen is a name to track. Tall Finnish player who can finish inside and out. Ray Smith is also ready to go. Wildcats are stacked.
26. West Virginia at Virginia, Dec. 3: I bet you forgot WVU was a No. 3 seed last season. It got Lumberjack-ed by Stephen F. Austin in the first round of the NCAAs. WVU won't be No. 3-seed good this season, but a single digit in the NCAAs is to be expected. Virginia has the fortune of bringing in Memphis transfer Austin Nichols, who might be a top-10 player in the ACC this season. Should be UVa's star.
27. Oklahoma at Wisconsin, Dec. 3: Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig are going to battle each other for Big Ten Player of the Year (and they'll have plenty of challengers from around the league). Oklahoma isn't entirely depleted even though Buddy Hield's gone. Jordan Woodard is back, will lead the team in scoring, and Khadeem Lattin is going to be a Third Team All-Big 12 guy.
28. UConn vs. Syracuse, Dec. 5: Madison Square Garden is the ONLY viable option for these teams, since a home-and-home isn't scheduled. I fully plan on being in the building on this Monday night. UConn's combo of Jalen Adams and Rodney Purvis should be a lot of fun. Syracuse has got guy after guy in the frontcourt. Paschal Chukwu, a Providence transfer, can grow into a real piece, and Tyler Lydon's probably going to play for the Orange one more season, then head to the NBA.
29. Texas at Michigan, Dec. 6: Michigan will probably need this one. Texas has some question marks, but I trust what Shaka Smart is going to do with the raw talent he has in Austin. Michigan ... I don't know. I listed this game because I think it will be an interesting clash of styles, and in the end, I think Michigan gets back to the NCAA Tournament -- thanks to winning critical out-of-league tilts like this opportunity.
30. Washington at Gonzaga, Dec. 7: Now that we're back on Gonzaga, let's acknowledge how great it is that Przemek Karnowski is back on the court. He endured terrible back issues last season, and really, it was no sure thing he was ever going to fully be back to this point. He's key to Gonzaga's chances at winning the WCC again. Why include this game? I had to get Washington in here somewhere, because if a guy in the conversation for the No. 1 overall pick is going on the road inside state borders against a legit foe, that's a challenge you want to see him face. Markelle Fultz, give it your best.
31. Iowa State at Iowa, Dec. 8: Don't know how good Iowa's going to be, and Iowa State's success is going to be on the shoulders of Monte Morris. But this game is such an intense rivalry. Has to be listed.
32. Cincinnati at Butler, Dec. 10: Parrish and I are going to start compiling out our list of the top 101 players in the country soon enough, and I'm going to insist Kelan Martin is in the top 40. I think he'll be outstanding for Butler this season. But above him on that list will be Troy Caupain, who should push the Bearcats to a seventh straight Big Dance showing.
33. Wichita State vs. Oklahoma, Dec. 10: The Shockers play the Sooners at the OKC Thunder's digs. Wichita State will have Landry Shamet running the offense and MVC superstar in the making Markis McDuffie on the wing. This is a game I think WSU will wind up needing to feel decent, down the road, with its at-large chances. We'll be almost a month into the season at this point, and I don't know what Oklahoma is going to be at that point.
34. Florida at Florida State, Dec. 11: The Gators need one more year before making the jump back into the polls. Florida State has the talent now, this season, to be a surprise team. Home game here, huge opportunity. Don't come up short and fall to your rivals. Jonathan Isaac is a five-star big man for FSU, a guy who will be one-and-done if he fits in Leonard Hamilton's system and does what he's physically capable of doing against big-boy competition.
35. Middle Tennessee at Belmont, Dec. 14: Not every game has to be two major-conference teams clashing skulls. Middle Tennessee was the 15 seed that shocked Michigan State in the first round last year. Belmont, always fun and usually among the best mid-majors year in and year out, has under-the-radar efficiency aficionado Evan Bradds. Great mid-major game here. BracketBusters-esque.
36. North Carolina-Kentucky, Dec. 17 (CBS Sports Classic): This year's CBS Sports Classic is being held at Las Vegas' new, shiny T-Mobile Arena. UNC-Kentucky is a great early Christmas present. No telling which team will "need" this one more. But when the Heels and Cats play, you're just glad to see two of the five best programs in the sport face off. For Kentucky, I want to see if De'Aron Fox is an immediate factor. He's a tall, smart point guard. I think he can be one of the four best Calipari's ever coached (and I'd list Tyler Ulis in the top three now).
37. UCLA vs. Ohio State, Dec. 17 (CBS Sports Classic): With Ohio State here, let's see if Kam Williams can handle the Bruins' athleticism. Let's see if Keita Bates-Diop (great athlete) has rounded out his game enough to where he can take it against Isaach Hamilton. Let's see if Marc Loving winds up being the most important player on the floor.
38. Arizona vs. Texas A&M, Dec. 17: The Aggies will not have Arizona's talent, but they'll have plenty of shooting (D.J. Hogg should have a big year), and they'll have the baddest dude on the floor in Tyler Davis. Davis is so dominating, it wouldn't shock me if he leads the nation in offensive rebounding.
39. Indiana vs. Butler, Dec. 17 (Crossroads Classic): IU's OG Anunoby is a player who should have plenty of chances to give commentators a reason to drop Victor Oladipo comparisons. Butler guy who I like a lot: Tyler Wideman.
40. Georgetown at Syracuse, Dec. 17: Syracuse's true rival returns to the Carrier Dome. Thank you to both of these schools for reviving this series. Georgetown will have a tough test here, but I wouldn't put it past the Hoyas to pull off a mini stunner here. Syracuse fans are very hopeful about this team's overall chances this season. That Final Four run last year was unpredictable, to say the least. Longtime Orange fans know that Boeheim's had some problems in years past with too much expectation. But he said this is his most talented team in a long time.
41. Princeton at Monmouth, Dec. 20: Monmouth with two showings here -- and it's because this New Jersey battle is going to feature two teams that I expect to win their leagues and then be threats to take a game in the NCAA Tournament. Princeton hasn't ruled the Ivy in a while, but this Tigers team should be the best in that league this season. Tough road game here. Truthfully, I'd put this game in my top 20 most anticipated. The atmosphere should be good, and Princeton won't get its due even after this one's final, I'm guessing.
42. Virginia at Cal, Dec. 21:The Hoos travel across the country and give the Golden Bears an opportunity they'll have to take advantage of. Ivan Rabb, a sophomore, is back for Cal. He'll maintain his projection as a lottery pick if his shooting improves and he adds sufficient weight. I expect both to happen.
43. Kentucky at Louisville, Dec. 21: On the list every year. UK going on the road here always makes it interesting. Another Wildcat to know: Edrice "Bam" Adebayo. Media-friendly, a get-it guy. Athletic, powerful, coachable, seemingly has the whole package.
44. Louisville vs. Indiana, Dec. 31: Rick Pitino wraps up his non-conference schedule by doing something John Calipari refuses to do now: play Indiana. The Cardinals will be hard-pressed to win this game -- if both teams are healthy -- but it's going to be a smash of styles, and I love it. Expect Louisville to be a press-heavy team this year and IU has the personnel to exploit that.
45. UConn at Georgetown, Jan. 14: It's still weird to know these two aren't league foes anymore. I think UConn will be a top 25 team for almost the entire season. Georgetown, which needs a big year in a big way, gets a chance to make noise outside of its league schedule in the middle of January.
46. Xavier at Cincinnati, Jan. 26: When the team predicted to be better has to go on the road in a big rivalry game, those are the best rivalry games of all. Edmond Sumner, who nobody, not even Xavier's coaches, thought would be this good this fast, is on track to be a first-round draft pick.
47. Texas A&M at West Virginia, Jan. 28 (SEC-Big 12 Challenge): Not a sexy matchup, but look at the calendar. This will be a fun weekend for this Challenge, and we'll be at the point where this kind of game will have direct seeding implications.
48. Texas at Georgia, Jan. 28 (SEC-Big 12 Challenge): If the Longhorns have struggles, this is where they can try to take it back. Georgia's been a top-four SEC team basically throughout Mark Fox's career. People forget that, but watch it happen again this season. Bulldogs just need a star to help them pop nationally -- and huge home-win opportunities, like this one.
49. Kansas at Kentucky, Jan. 28 (SEC-Big 12 Challenge): Game speaks for itself. This is a rematch of last year's game at Phog Allen. It went OT. It was loud. I was there. It was an instant classic.
50. Virginia at Villanova, Jan. 29: Villanova has a schedule challenging enough, worthy of being attached to a national champion. Here, it gets to host one of the most consistent programs in the toughest conference in the country. Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson, Josh Hart, Phil Booth ... Nova's going to be really good again. Also: Jay Wright vs. Tony Bennett in a battle of the suits. Wright wins against everyone, but Bennett is a worthy adversary!