Top five conference games in each major college basketball league this season
We look at the 'Major 7' leagues and give you the best of what's to come in conference play in 2017-18
Every major conference has released its in-league schedule, which mans much of college basketball's slate has now been established for the 2017-18 season. We're getting close!
A new set of storylines awaits. So let's look at the Major 7 conferences (ACC, AAC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC) and pluck some of the best matchups -- or at least what set up to be the best right now. Of course some of these are going to change, but that won't stop us from putting on the binoculars and gazing into the distance at what's coming.
No team is listed more than three times, in an effort to spread the love -- but also because these leagues do have good competition to spread around. Also, no matchup was listed twice. So, while Xavier-Villanova's home-and-home certainly qualifies as two of the top five games in the Big East this season, it's only listed once.
Here are 35 of the best intra-conference games of college basketball's 2017-18 season.
The ACC's going to have a boatload of great games, and this one is highlighted by UNC point guard Joel Berry II and Notre Dame combo forward Bonzie Colson -- the two preseason veteran favorites for ACC Player of the Year. In addition to that, Berry will play straight up against Notre Dame's Matt Farrell, who should develop into one of the nation's strongest senior point guards. Good test for UNC.
Duke's schedule starts out easy in the ACC, so this is the first true test. Miami is a dark-horse choice to win the league, but it should be? As in: Miami stands to have the best combination of talent and returning contributors. Bruce Brown isn't a national name in the sport yet, but that probably changes by the time these two tip in mid-January. Should be a terrific game, one that helps decide the top of the standings.
Goes without saying. Duke should have the edge in the frontcourt with Marvin Bagley III, Marques Bolden and Wendell Carter. UNC lost Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks, so the Tar Heels are green as can be down low. They only have three players 6-foot-10 or taller, and all are freshmen (one a walk-on). Luke Maye is the only quasi-big-man presence returning.
Everyone will be shooting for the reigning national champions on the road in conference play, but this spot is especially trying. Middle of February -- the dog days of the college calendar -- against a very good team on its home court and looking for No. 1 or No. 2 seed status. Will be a great matchup in guard play. Deng Adel is Louisville's star-in-waiting.
If the Cards can beat UNC four days prior, then manage an upset in Cameron here, you've got to think that would put Louisville in good position for a No. 1 seed heading into March. If both teams play to their potential, this will be a game between two top-10 teams.
The American gets its league slate off with a sneaky-good game early. SMU is hard to peg, but should be a top-six team in the league. UCF, which made the final four of the NIT last season, gets a road test early. Johnny Dawkins' team is the sleeper pick to win the AAC, and with 7-foot-6 Tacko Fall making big strides by the year, the Knights have a realistic shot of making their first Big Dance since 2005.
The Shockers enter their first season as rent-paying conference members by traveling up to Storrs to face a talented but still very much developing UConn club. At this point, will Wichita State still be considered a top-10 team? Because that's how the Shockers will enter the season. And as for UConn, will it avoid the injuries that torpedoed its season last year? This is potentially the most consequential game on the AAC calendar because a road win could further validate Wichita State -- but UConn might wind up desperately needing this kind of W on its resumé.
AAC members are going to discover that the Round House in Wichita will have claim to being the toughest road environment in the conference (yes, even competing with Gampel Pavilion on its best nights). A veteran Shockers team, that brings back all its starters from last season, will attempt to do what it's managed a couple of times under Gregg Marshall: go undefeated at home in league play.
Don't sleep on the Bearcats, who have developed a competent offense to nearly match their always-rugged D. Cincy and Connecticut have had some interesting battles since they became conference competitors a few years back. If both are firmly in the NCAA Tournament chase come early February, this will be a must-watch game.
For the regular-season championship? Hey, it could be. By this point on the calendar, Wichita State is certainly going to be feeling the effects, and differences of playing in the Missouri Valley vs. playing in the American. A win here for the Shockers would likely be worth a seed line come Selection Sunday.
Because Texas brings in a five-star center prospect named Mo Bamba (and what a name he has), the Longhorns are expected to have a bounce-back campaign in a big way. UT was 11-22 last season, and it's also got Andrew Jones back at shooting guard. Jones flirted with going to the NBA Draft. It would be big for UT morale if it could hold off the Big 12 favorites in the season-opener.
Times are changing in the Big 12 thanks to Jamie Dixon altering the course of TCU basketball. The Horned Frogs are coming off an NIT championship (don't downplay the feat) and bring back much of their production from 2016-17. Coaches expect this group to be top-four in the conference. A fascinating home test early against a Kansas team that will be led by senior Devonte' Graham.
WVU got the Jayhawks in Morgantown last season. Here's why this game's so good outside of the obviousness that it's the top two projected teams in the league: WVU's press against Kansas' smallest lineup under Bill Self. The Jayhawks are liable to go with a four-guard look for much of this season (Graham, Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman, senior Svi Mykhailiuk, and Lagerald Vick). It might be the antidote for WVU's frenzied press, which defeated KU 85-69 on its home floor last season.
The Mountaineers, who forced the most turnovers per possession in college basketball last season, might well need to beat Kansas at home, then go on the road and take out TCU a week later if they're to wrangle a regular-season title. Jevon Carter, who could be the preseason POY pick in the league, is back for his senior season. TCU was swept by WVU in 2016-17.
Baylor lost Johnathan Motley to the NBA, so there's some wait-and-see with the Bears. But the reality is, the Bears weren't expected to be a top-25 club heading into last season, then got off to a 20-1 start and turned into one of the most surprising squads in college hoops. Manu Lecomte returns, and Jake Lindsey will spike in production. This intra-Texas battle could wind up being significant in terms of the bubble.
Butler has a new coach, LaVall Jordan, and he gets no gimmie to start his Big East tenure. But at least it's a home game. Jordan takes over for Chris Holtmann, who was lured away to the Ohio State job after Thad Matta's unexpected firing in early June. The Bulldogs bring back two vital pieces in senior Kelan Martin and sophomore Kamar Baldwin. Martin's production and usage, in particular, could be different from how he was utilized under Holtmann.
Seton Hall hasn't received a lot of offseason attention, but the Pirates have expectations of being a top-three team in the league. Also in that group? Xavier. The Musketeers will travel to New Jersey and will meet up with Angel Delgado, who led college basketball in double-doubles last season. This game features Delgado and X's Trevon Bluiett, two players who have the support and skillset to wind up as First, Second or Third Team All-Americans come season's end.
Providence lost two of its three games vs. the Bluejays last season, but the Friars should be able to hold court here. Kyron Cartwright will lead the offense, and Rodney Bullock returns for his senior season. Creighton's got a potential 22-point-per-game guy in Marcus Foster, plus the ever-valuable two-way player in Khyri Thomas. This is a terrific matchup, and both teams, at their best, can be single digit seeds in the NCAAs.
The big one here. Villanova has owned the Big East since the league went to a 10-team alignment, but Xavier's been consistently punching up and will have J.P. Macura and Kaiser Gates set up for big seasons in support of Bluiett. Nova boasts Jalen Brunson, who will be in strong consideration for CBS Sports' preseason All-America team. Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo, Eric Paschall, Phil Booth and Omari Spellman (sat last year) are back for Nova. That team is loaded, which is saying something after losing Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins.
Pirates and Friars had six points decide their two games, which split, last season. Plus, one needed overtime. The Big East sent seven of its 10 teams to the NCAAs last season, definitively landing the conference as the third-best in college hoops (behind the Big 12 and ACC). If the league is to come close to repeating the feat, a game like this will be more about two teams fighting to stay on the 5, 6 or 7 line than being close to the bubble.
Some new spice in the Big Ten. This should be fun! Two programs that have not been traditional powers, but both of which are expected to flirt with 25 wins this in 2017-18. Minnesota was a No. 5 seed in last season's NCAA Tournament and brings back most of its roster. The Gophers won 24 games last season. The program has been around for 122 years and never had back-to-back seasons of 24 wins or more.
Maryland's an intriguing team with a strong sophomore class; its growth will be a plot line to track throughout the Big Ten's schedule. The Terps have future pros on this roster (Kevin Huerter and Justin Jackson could well leave for the NBA after this season). Holding serve at home against a likely top 10 team in Michigan State would be massive.
The Hoosiers have some mystery to them. Who will be the leader? How will this team resemble Archie Miller's prior teams at Dayton? Purdue figures to be a stronger team this season, but winning in Assembly Hall could be a tough ask if Indiana's able to grow into a respectable, tough ball club by this point.
The Boilermakers have the roster that's capable of challenging MSU for being the Big Ten's best, but it's not going to be easy. If these two wind up as the best in the conference, this is the game of the season on the league's schedule. Miles Bridges and Co. taking on a balanced Purdue team that, if it were fighting with MSU for the top of the Big Ten, could enter the No. 1 seed convo with a road win here. Keep an eye out for Purdue's Carsen Edwards, who is set up to make a huge leap in production.
Possible gut-check game for NU. The Wildcats are coming off a program record 24 wins last season. Excluding 2016-17, the most combined wins in back-to-back years in school history is 40, when the 2009-10/2010-11 teams won 20 games apiece. Northwestern needs to barely break .500 this season to set a new mark. A home chance here against MSU could be worth a seed line come Selection Sunday.
The Ducks are particularly intriguing because, after making a Final Four run, Tyler Dorsey, Dillon Brooks and Jordan Bell all declared for the NBA. Sophomore Payton Pritchard is the breakout-player pick. Two transfers -- New Mexico's Elijah Brown and Illinois State's Mikyle McIntosh -- will be asked to produce in big ways. For USC, a preseason top 10 team, this will be a good mid-January barometer.
The surge of good competition and a rivalry renewed in Los Angeles will be a current that cuts through the college hoops season. USC is projected as the better team -- arguably a top-three squad in pure talent. UCLA gets this gam on its home floor. Will they be battling for the top of the league standings at this point? If so, UCLA freshman point guard Jaylen Hands will have done a great job in replacing Lonzo Ball.
Arizona dodged having to travel to the LA-area schools this season, so the Wildcats' only chance for two probable top 30-type victories will come in Tucson. Arizona's the preseason pick to win the league, and in fact could wind up as the best team in college basketball. Sean Miller brings in his highest-ranked recruit ever, center DeAndre Ayton.
As of now, this is the most anticipated game on the Pac-12 slate. USC will throw Chimezie Metu and Bennie Boatwright and Ayton, while Jordan McLaughlin, Elijah Stewart and De'Anthony Melton will take on Arizona's Allonzo Trier, Rawle Alkins and Parker Jackson-Cartwright. High-level game. Would be good for the Pac-12 if these two could manage to meet again less than a month later in the league tournament.
Unless Stanford takes a big-time leap, this will probably be Arizona's toughest road game of 2017-18. A win here, so late into the season, could mean a near-clinch of the Pac-12 title -- and perhaps put Oregon in a tough spot. In speaking with coaches around the conference, there's a wide sentiment. The Ducks could finish anywhere from third to seventh.
The best rivalry in the SEC. The Gators are ranked 10th heading into the season here at CBS Sports, and here's your friendly reminder that this team did reach the Elite Eight in March. Kentucky's never been younger than the roster that will be put on the floor in 2017-18.
Missouri brings in skyscraper-high expectations due to Michael Porter Jr., Johntay Porter and Jeremiah Tillmon coming aboard. If this team, now coached by Cuonzo Martin, can pull together a couple of five game-plus winning streaks and be near the 20-win mark by the time we get to this game, it will be the most anticipated matchup on the SEC schedule this season.
Texas A&M has a claim to the most underrated, talented team heading into the season. Robert Williams simply has to play like himself and he'll be a lottery pick in June. D.J. Hogg could be headed for a breakout year, and Tyler Davis has already proven himself to be a top-10 rebounder in the country. So with all that size and talent, and a home floor, the Aggies will be ready to give Kentucky all it can handle.
No, we're not going to give you all UK games in this section. Here, you get A&M on the road against Mizzou, and it's an important stretch for the Tigers. Between this game and the Kentucky one 10 days prior, it might be the stretch that defines the Tigers' chances to getting into the NCAAs.
Bama could be incredibly fun this season. Collin Sexton is a blast of dynamite at point guard, and he's not the only really good freshman joining Avery Johnson's team. John Petty will team up with Sexton in the backcourt. A freshman face in the frontcourt by the name of Galin Smith should be earning serious minutes in time for this game, too.
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