College hoops season is just days away, but admit it, you not be not fully caught up and ready. It’s OK, with the NFL, College Football Playoff rankings and, uh, other distractions, it’s easy to see why you might have forgotten.
Still, that’s why we’re here, as FOXSports.com has been rolling out plenty of preview content all week and month long. On Tuesday we hit the players you need to know, and tomorrow we’ll release our full list of teams projected to make the NCAA Tournament.
But today, it’s time to talk games. Here are 25 you absolutely have to watch this season.
Michigan State vs. Arizona: Nov. 11 (Armed Forces Classic, Hawaii)
It only seems appropriate that the first game on this list will literally be one of the first games of the season. This one tips off at 7:00 p.m. ET on Friday and will feature some unfamiliar faces at a few very familiar schools.
You know Michigan State and Tom Izzo, but with four of last year’s top five scorers gone, get to know new stars Miles Bridges and Josh Langford. And you know Arizona and Sean Miller. But with forward Ray Smith suffering a career-ending injury last week, and with two other player’s statuses uncertain (guard Allonzo Trier and forward Chance Comanche), you’re going to have no choice but to get know three of the Wildcats' star freshmen, too: forward Lauri Markkanen and guards Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons.
Kansas vs. Indiana: Nov. 11 (Armed Forces Classic, Hawaii)
The nightcap in Hawaii will give us our first look at a Kansas team many are picking to win the national title, against the reigning Big Ten champion Indiana Hoosiers. How will the Hoosiers’ move on to life without Yogi Ferrell? How will star freshman Josh Jackson fit in with veterans Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham. We will start to get an answer on opening night.
Wisconsin vs. Creighton: Nov. 15 (Gavitt Games, FS1)
Lost in the hoopla of a wild opening week is a sneaky good matchup in the Gavitt Games. This will be our first look at Big East dark horse Creighton – featuring star guard Maurice Watson Jr. and transfer Marcus Foster – as well as our first good look at the Badgers, a Top 10 team, fresh off a Sweet 16 berth.
With the transition from Bo Ryan to Greg Gard complete, how will Wisconsin handle the transition from plucky underdogs to a team many (myself included) believe is the Big 10 favorite?
NC State at Duke: Jan. 23
I’ve written it 100 times this preseason and I’ll continue to write it until people start paying attention: America, you need to pay attention to NC State freshman Dennis Smith Jr. The potential Top 5 draft pick was good enough to play at any school in the country, including Duke. Instead, he chose a different path and ended up at NC State. Let’s see how he handles facing one of the most talented teams in the country – and one he nearly attended – in the two schools' only regular-season meeting.
Todd Burandt/adidasTodd Burandt
Oregon at Baylor: Nov. 15
The Ducks’ out-of-conference schedule is light, but this will provide us the rare chance to see what Oregon – a Top 5 preseason team – looks like without its star player Dillon Brooks, who will miss the beginning of the year with a foot injury.
Oregon will be fine in the long term. But in the short term let’s see how others – like guard Tyler Dorsey and center Chris Boucher – handle increased roles.
Texas at Iowa State: Jan. 7
The Longhorns won’t face a ranked team in non-conference play, meaning their first big test might not come until after the new year. This will be a challenge for Shaka Smart’s club, and a fun matchup between the young and exciting Longhorns (led by freshmen Jarrett Allen and Andrew Jones) against a veteran Cyclones team, led by seniors Monte Morris and Naz Mitrou-Long.
Washington at UCLA: March 1
Sure, it’s a little too early to talk the end of the season and long-term NBA Draft prospects, but we have no choice with this game. It will feature a matchup between two of the projected Top 10 picks in next year’s draft, UCLA’s Lonzo Ball vs. Washington’s Markelle Fultz in what will likely be one of their final few games. Enjoy these guys while you can, college hoops’ fans. They won’t be around for long.
Michigan State vs. Kentucky: Nov. 15 (Champions Classic)
The first half of the Champions Classic (we’ll get to the nightcap later) features two of college basketball’s youngest but most dynamic teams. I already mentioned Michigan State, but what about John Calipari’s club? We know the Wildcats have talent, but we also know that ho-hum, 93-point exhibition win over Asbury probably wasn’t the best barometer of how good they can be. This game will definitely tell us something about the Wildcats.
Adam Hunger-USA TODAY SportsAdam Hunger
Louisville vs. Indiana: Dec. 31 (Indianapolis)
I’m still holding out hope that we’ll one day get Indiana and Kentucky playing on a neutral court in Indy. But for the time being, the Hoosiers vs. the Wildcats' biggest rivals – and a quality Top 15 team in their own right – is perfectly fine by me.
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports
UConn vs. Syracuse: Dec. 5 (Madison Square Garden)
To quote those old Chris Farley SNL sketches: Remember when these two used to play at the Garden virtually every year in the Big East Tournament (sometimes even going to six overtimes in the process)? And remember how awesome it was? Yeah, it’ll be great to have it back.
Georgetown at Syracuse: Dec.17
Same with Georgetown’s trip to the Carrier Dome to play Syracuse two weeks later.
Getty ImagesRich Barnes
North Carolina at Indiana: Nov. 30 (ACC-Big Ten Challenge)
It's a matchup between two of college basketball’s blue-blood programs and a rematch of last year’s Sweet 16 matchup. Will the Hoosiers put up a better showing than they did in the NCAA Tournament last March, when they lost by 25 points?
UCLA at Kentucky: Dec. 3
Another matchup between two of college basketball’s truly great blue-blood programs, and one that is quickly turning into a fascinating rivalry. After Kentucky blew the doors off of the Bruins two years ago in Chicago, UCLA rebounded by knocking off the Wildcats at Pauley Pavilion last December.
In 2016-2017, we’ll get a matchup between two of the sport’s most talented rosters, including a matchup of projected lottery pick point guards De’Aaron Fox at Kentucky, and UCLA’s Lonzo Ball. As Terrell Owens once said, “Get ya popcorn ready!”
Arizona vs. Gonzaga: Dec. 3 (Los Angeles)
On the same day as UCLA-Kentucky (but on a different coast), Arizona and Gonzaga will get together in a matchup of two of the West Coast’s most consistent programs over the past couple decades. It will also be one of the first chances college basketball gets to see the new look ‘Zags, which feature high-profile transfers Nigel Williams-Goss, Jordan Mathews and Jonathan Williams.
Getty ImagesGetty Images
Duke at Virginia: Feb. 15
This is the only regular-season matchup between one of the ACC’s newest superpowers (Virginia) and one of its oldest ones (Duke). Considering that both these teams enter the season ranked in the Top 10, don’t be surprised if they meet again in the ACC Tournament. Or late in the NCAA Tournament.
Kentucky at Louisville: Dec 21
Sadly, this one won’t be played on its usual last Saturday of the year timeslot (since the last Saturday is New Year’s Eve), but whenever the sport’s two most-hated rivals get together, something incredible always happens.
Barring something catastrophic – like all of Lawrence being stricken with typhoid fever – a 13th straight Big 12 title seems inevitable for Kansas in a down year for the Big 12. Therefore, this one won’t be so much for the conference supremacy as for sheer entertainment value.
But if you do want to get to Allen Fieldhouse this year to see an entertaining game, you can do a lot worse than checking out Morris and the Cyclones against another vintage Bill Self-coached club.
Virginia at Villanova: Jan. 29
Why is the defending national champion playing an out-of-conference game against one of the best teams in the ACC at the end of January? I have no idea. But I’m not complaining, either.
Kentucky vs. North Carolina: Dec. 17 (CBS Sports Classic, Las Vegas)
The SEC won’t likely provide Kentucky with many marquee games this season, but thankfully John Calipari took it upon himself to load the Wildcats’ schedule with everyone from Michigan State to Louisville and UCLA (see above) to Kansas and, yes, even North Carolina.
Although this game will be played many miles from either team’s campus (which, coincidentally, makes it easier for certain, unnamed West Coast-based sportswriters to attend), doesn’t “Carolina vs. Kentucky” just sound big? It is, and this will be must-see TV.
UCLA at Oregon: Dec. 28
God bless the Pac-12 schedule makers for giving us a must-see game in the Pac-12 opener for both schools. Considering I picked both UCLA and Oregon to make the Final Four in my appearance on “The Sidelines” podcast earlier this week, I obviously expect big things from both teams.
Will this be the first of three matchups between these teams (if they meet in the Pac-12 Tournament)? Or four (if they meet in the NCAA’s?). College basketball fans sure hope there are several more.
Duke at North Carolina: March 4
You knew at least one of the Duke-Carolina games would make this list, right? As good as this rivalry always is, it could have extra high stakes this year. UNC is the defending ACC champion and has more than enough talent to win another title in 2017. Duke is the preseason No. 1 team in the country.
There is going to be plenty on the line when these two get together in Chapel Hill -- very likely an ACC regular-season title.
Villanova at Xavier: Feb. 11
Villanova lost just five games on its way to the national title last year, and one was at the Cintas Center. So that’s reason enough to watch this one.
Want more? How about the fact that these will both likely be Top 10 teams when they meet? And that it’s the second matchup of the season, after playing at Villanova earlier in the season? And that it could ultimately decide the Big East regular-season title? This will be a good one. Might as well just go ahead and mark your calendar now.
Duke vs. Kansas: Nov. 15 (Champions Classic, Madison Square Garden)
The nightcap of the Champions Classic might not only be the game of the regular season, but also a Final Four or national championship preview. The one bummer is that we won’t see anything close to a fully healthy Duke team, with star freshmen Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden all nursing various injuries, and at least a few of them (if not all) not projected to play.
Wisconsin at Michigan State: Feb. 26
This doesn’t look like much on paper, until you realize that it’s the only regular-season matchup between the two proverbial favorites in the Big Ten. The fact that it’s going to be played on the second-to-last weekend of the regular season means that it very well could decide the regular-season conference title.
Kansas at Kentucky: Jan. 28
Why does this one get the edge over Kansas-Duke, Kentucky-North Carolina or any other out-of-conference game? This one won’t be played on a neutral court (even if places like Madison Square Garden are great), but in one of the most hallowed, true home court venues in all of college basketball at Rupp Arena.
Therefore, you get two of the sport’s winningest programs, in a matchup between two of the game’s best coaches and true Top 5 teams and national championship contenders. This is the game of the year, and the one game -- if I could get a ticket to just one -- that I would attend.