If one could go to any one college basketball game or event they wanted, for every day of the season, without restrictions, without worries about travel…
…it would take professional sports team-level travel accommodations, probably a pro athletes’ disposable income, and a whole lot of sleep on airplanes. As well as an understanding spouse.
Which doesn’t mean one can’t dream. Going into the 2015-16 season, we wanted to highlight what we see as the best game of the day, for every day of the regular season. The games we would go to every day of the season, if we could.
This isn’t churning out a list of the matchups with the highest-ranked teams everyday, the games TV would most like, or the results of some metric spitting out a ranking from a set of numbers. This is our list, and the only metric is where we would want to be that day.
The idea for this is one we’ve pondered for a couple years, and its action was inspired by a column by the terrific Mike Lopresti (longtime USA Today/Gannett columnist) in the October edition of the terrific Basketball Times magazine, who planned his ideal November road trip to start the season. We’re simply taking his idea several months further and looking expressly for quality games and environments.
We’ll go through a month a day, through February-no March, since March is the month for tournaments, and any basketball tournament is a good place to be that month.
November 13: Veterans Classic, Annapolis, Md. North Carolina vs. Temple, Florida at Navy. There are ways to start the college basketball season, and ways not to. While the idea of a single big-splash opening event is overblown (we don’t need to go down a path similar to pro leagues, where two teams start and everyone else sits), there is merit in a single opening day and also a season-opening event that draws people in. We liked the old preseason NIT, but minus that, we’ll take a combination of opening day and the Veterans Classic, where No. 1-ranked North Carolina faces a solid Temple team on a neutral floor, and Florida does something teams like Florida rarely do-plays on the road against a team like Navy. It’s not the old preseason NIT, but in today’s climate, it’ll do. Honorable mention: Pittsburgh vs. Gonzaga in Armed Forces Classic from Japan
Nov. 14: Harvard at Providence. A light day, and you’ll find next to no college hoops on TV with college football still hanging around. This is our first look at All-American Kris Dunn and the Friars. The Crimson is expected to be down this year, but there’s a toughness built into this program that should enable it to compete in a game like this, even as an underdog. Honorable mention: Western Michigan at DePaul
Nov. 15: Iona at Valparaiso. Whoever put these two together for a game deserves a raise. (Answer: this is part of something called the Beaver Showcase hosted by Oregon State, yet this game is not at OSU, which makes zero sense.) This should be a blast. The Crusaders are a trendy sleeper pick-and with everybody back, it’s for good reason-while Iona under Tim Cluess is consistently really good and consistently one of the most entertaining teams to watch in the country. Very close honorable mention: New Mexico at New Mexico State.
Nov. 16: Baylor at Oregon. Whether the polls say it now or not, both will quite likely be in the top 25 for much of this season. And maybe much higher. Feels like both teams are being overlooked just a touch. Honorable mention: Virginia at George Washington.
Nov. 17: Georgetown at Maryland. The Champions Classic will get more hype, but the truth is TV will gladly enable Kentucky, Duke, Kansas and Michigan State to play each other anytime, anywhere they like. On the other hand, the Hoyas and Terrapins is a game fans have been wanting for decades, but hasn’t happened in 22 years. Honorable mention, and for one loaded day we add multiple games in this category: Kentucky vs. Duke, Kansas vs. Michigan State, Wichita State at Tulsa, Valparaiso at Rhode Island, Iona at Oregon State.
Nov. 18: Cincinnati at Bowling Green. A very tricky road test for the Bearcats against a BG team that won 20 games last year and will thoroughly enjoy hosting UC, but is breaking in a new coach for the second straight year. Honorable mention: Akron at Arkansas.
Nov. 19: Boise State at Arizona. The Broncos are one of the favorites in the Mountain West and are the type of team that could shoot its way to a road upset against a young Wildcats team, the type of win that could pay dividends all season. Honorable mention: Temple vs. Minnesota in a Puerto Rico Tip-Off quarterfinal
Nov. 20: Xavier at Michigan. We get a measurement right away of if the Wolverines are as improved as many seem to expect. Honorable mention: 2K Classic with Duke vs. VCU and Wisconsin vs. Georgetown.
Nov. 21: North Carolina at Northern Iowa. Big credit to Roy Williams for scheduling this game on a number of levels. It’s a senior homecoming for Marcus Paige (who unfortunately now will miss it because of injury), and the McLeod Center will tune up the Tar Heels for ACC play far more than any guarantee game. If this were played a year ago, the Panthers would’ve been favored; UNI is reloading this year but is still dangerous because of its defense and how it shoots the 3. Honorable mention: Hall of Fame Tip-Off including an excellent game between Old Dominion vs. Purdue, plus St. Joseph’s vs. Florida.
Nov. 22: 2K Classic final. We don’t encourage these bogus “tournaments” that automatically advance teams to the semifinals-regardless of earlier results-for the sole purpose of TV (the NCAA loophole encouraging these events needed to be closed years ago). A final with most likely Duke against either Georgetown or Wisconsin, though, is undeniably the best game of this day, and extra bonus points for being at Madison Square Garden. Honorable mention: Valparaiso at Oregon
Nov. 23: Maui Invitational quarterfinals. The first day of Maui is still one of the best of any in-season tourney, and unlike so many of these newly hatched tourneys, there is a distinct atmosphere on the island that mixes relaxation with a buzz and intensity. UCLA vs. UNLV in particular is a good one. Honorable mention: NJIT at Providence
Nov. 24: Illinois State vs. Maryland at the Cancun Challenge. The Terrapins will be favored and should win, but ISU will cause some fits defensively and could take this one down to the final minutes. Honorable mention: Maui Invitational semifinals.
Nov. 25: Maui Invitational final. Almost unfailingly, this game always seems to deliver. Honorable mention: Cancun Challenge final with Maryland against Rhode Island most likely.
Nov. 26: Wooden Legacy quarterfinals. The Disney-fied Thanksgiving tourneys have been a bust when it comes to attendance and atmosphere, but they continue to provide programming for a TV network. This event has some very sneaky good games, including UC Irvine vs. Boise State and Evansville against Providence. Honorable mention: Battle4Atlantis semifinals
Nov. 27: Battle4Atlantis final. Wide-open tournament with Connecticut, Gonzaga, Michigan, Syracuse, Texas, Texas A&M and maybe even Washington all capable of making a run and winning it. Honorable mention: Wooden Legacy semifinals
Nov. 28: Great Alaska Shootout final. The godfather of the eight-team early season tourneys and should be respected accordingly. A Loyola (Ill.)/Middle Tennessee State championship game would not be bad in an otherwise middling field on paper. Honorable mention: Emerald Coast Classic final if it matches Iowa State and UAB, otherwise we’ll take Old Dominion at VCU.
Nov. 29: Wooden Legacy final. Most likely matchup is Arizona against Michigan State, but Boise State, Providence or even Evansville or UC Irvine could crash the party. Honorable mention: Wisconsin at Oklahoma
Nov. 30: Illinois State at Kentucky. On a light schedule, this is the best game. Again, the Redbirds don’t scare in situations like this and almost won at Louisville a couple years ago. Honorable mention: Clemson at Minnesota