The 10 Matchups We Can't Wait to See in the 2013-14 College Basketball Season
Sometime in November, ESPN usually has Dick Vitale on SportsCenter to yell for about two minutes about how excited he is for this college basketball season.
This year you might want to lower the volume when Vitale comes on. Not that he ever fakes it, but the storylines are so good for this upcoming year that there's no reason to manufacture excitement.
We will be treated to a defending national champion with an actual chance to repeat, Kentucky's historic recruiting class, Andrew Wiggins at Kansas, Jabari Parker at Duke, a new Big East, Tom Izzo's most talented team since 2000 and a top-five NBA draft pick (Marcus Smart) actually returning to school to play his sophomore season.
The best part is that the best teams are not shying away from playing one another. The schedules are not yet completed, but there are already better games in November and December than any year in recent memory.
These 10 games, most of which in the nonconference, will be reason to pay attention to college basketball all season.
10. Butler vs. Creighton
No two programs have received a bigger conference upgrade than these two going to the new Big East. This game provides star power—Doug McDermott for Creighton against the coaching of Brad Stevens at Butler. Any time McDermott is getting buckets on television, it's worth watching. And any time Stevens is working his genius on the sideline, it's worth watching.
9. Duke vs. North Carolina
This was almost left off the list, because there is hardly anything about next year's games that separate them from other years. Of course these games are always worth watching, but it's a lot more fun when both are top five teams.
The Tar Heels did have a down year last season and are expected to be a top 15, so the games could be better than they were last year when Duke swept.
8. Kansas at Florida, Dec. 10
The last time these two teams played was in Nov. 2006 in Las Vegas during Florida's second national championship season and a year before Kansas won the title. Watching that game, which KU won 82-80 in overtime, you could tell that both of those teams were special.
Dec. 10 could be a similar experience. The Gators are a known commodity. They have a great mix of experience and some talented young guys. The Jayhawks are a bit of unknown with loads of potential because of Bill Self's freshman class. If this game ends up three-fourths as entertaining as that battle in Vegas, it should be a good one.
7. Michigan at Duke, Dec. 3
This is the best game of this year's ACC-Big Ten Challenge. I'll do ESPN a favor and give it a promo:
"If you like good offense, X's and O's and three-point shooting, tune in. Michigan and Mitch McGary's Wolverines travel to Cameron Indoor to face Coach K's talented guards."
I'm not sure the Blue Devils have enough inside to make a title run, but they should be a ton of fun to watch because of all the perimeter talent that Mike Krzyzewski has assembled. It will be interesting to watch how the Blue Devils can contain a dominant big man in McGary.
This will be a good litmus test for the Wolverines to see if their freshman guards (Zakarie Irvin and Derrick Walton) are good enough for Michigan to contend for a Big Ten title.
Plus, the game will be fun. A lot of fun. Trust me on this one.
6. Arizona at Michigan, Dec. 14
Last year, Michigan reemerged as a national power with its run to the national championship game. Arizona has the talent to have a similar "we're back" season this year.
This game will feature several intriguing matchups. Arizona sophomore-to-be Kaleb Tarczewski should be matched up with Mitch McGary. If it weren't for McGary's tourney run, these would be two sophomore big men with potential to become stars. McGary's already there.
The guy with the most star potential for Arizona is Aaron Gordon, who will play both the 3 and 4 spots and could match up another fellow future lottery pick Glenn Robinson III.
Michigan should plan on a lot of NBA scouts showing up to this one.
5. Oklahoma State vs. Kansas
When Marcus Smart decided to return to Oklahoma State, it had to be tempting for OSU fans to pre-order their 2014 Big 12 champions shirts. Then Andrew Wiggins signed at Kansas.
Now, the Big 12 race could be as entertaining as any conference race in the country, and we get the treat of watching Smart go up against Wiggins at least twice. They play different positions, but both are versatile enough that it would not be surprising to see them guard one another.
The dates are not out yet for these two games, but expect both to be in marquee time slots.
4. Syracuse vs. Duke
The Big East—as we knew it—is dead. Syracuse in the ACC doesn't sound right. And in a perfect world, Duke and Syracuse would not be in the same conference. But this annual meeting of the two winningest coaches in the history of the game is one nice consolation prize that conference realignment created.
The first meeting will offer a nice matchup at small forward with Jabari Parker checking C.J. Fair. And if there's a team equipped with the shooters to light up Syracuse's zone, it's Duke.
3. Kentucky vs. Michigan State, Nov. 12 in Chicago at the Champions Classic
Remember as a kid when you got that calendar before Christmas with chocolates in it? Each day you got to eat one chocolate up until Christmas.
Big Blue Nation should take that concept and apply it to this date. They'll get a look at John Calipari's dream team before Nov. 12, but those glimpses will just be a like a taste of chocolate. Nov. 12 will be the real deal, a chance to see how Calipari's amazing collection of freshmen fair against a title contender built the old fashion way.
This is also the first chance to see if the Spartans have evolved from a really good team to a potentially great one.
2. Kansas vs. Duke, Nov. 12 in Chicago at the Champions Classic
Thank you, Champions Classic. I can't think of a better way to unofficially start the college basketball season. Not only are you giving us Kentucky-Michigan State, but also this will be the first opportunity for most of the country to see Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker.
When is the last time two players playing the same position with that much hype faced each other in college? Chris Webber at Michigan vs. Christian Laettner of Duke? Patrick Ewing of Georgetown vs. Hakeem Olajuwon of Houston?
In 10 years, we'll either realize it was something special that Wiggins and Parker played against each other in college; or one of the two could end up being a bust, so historically the game will be mostly irrelevant. The fact that both these guys have a chance to be really special makes this game clear-the-calendar worthy in November.
1. Louisville at Kentucky, Dec. 28
This game might set a ratings record in the state of Kentucky. As I wrote about last week, these two teams have never played each other when both programs are at such a high.
For the rest of the country, we will be tuning in to watch the two teams that are the most popular picks to win the national title, two fanbases that hate each other and two coaches who are not particularly fond of each other.
The beauty of it, for basketball fans, is this game will be right in the middle of college football bowl season and should steal the spotlight from college football at least for a day.