By Andrew Kahn
College basketball fans were treated to some great non-conference matchups to start the season: Duke-Kansas, Carolina-Kentucky, Louisville-Kentucky, to name three. Now it’s time for league play. Here are 10 of the best games, listed chronologically, to watch this season.
Note: All stats and records reflect games played through Tuesday, Dec. 27.
Villanova at Butler, Jan. 4
The Wildcats are currently No. 1 in the country and haven’t lost since March 12, in the Big East championship. They visit Hinkle on the heels of a trip to Creighton, and neither game will be easy. Butler has already beaten Arizona and Indiana on neutral courts. Nova’s Josh Hart, a senior, and Butler junior Kelan Martin are having monster seasons.
Kansas at West Virginia, Jan. 24
Kansas has won 12 straight Big 12 regular season championships, but has lost three straight in Morgantown. “Press Virginia” is in full effect this season: The Mountaineers are forcing turnovers on a ridiculous 35 percent of opponents’ possessions, easily the best rate in the country. The Jayhawks have one of the best backcourts in the country in senior Frank Mason III and junior Devonte’ Graham.
Kentucky at Florida, Feb. 4
It’s Kentucky and everyone else in the SEC, but Florida probably has the best shot among league teams at beating the Wildcats this season (keep in mind South Carolina doesn’t get UK at home). The Gators have not passed their bigger tests so far this season but they have balanced scoring—five players average between 9 and 14 points—and have kept opponents from running. If they can force Kentucky into a half-court game, they’ll have a chance.
Indiana at Wisconsin, Feb. 5
The Badgers, Boilermakers, and Hoosiers have separated themselves atop the Big Ten in the nonconference (and are currently 14 through 16 in the polls). Indiana and Wisconsin played a one-point game and overtime game in two meetings last year. As is the case for all the games on this list, expect the home crowd to be rocking.
Louisville at Virginia, Feb. 6
The 15-team ACC is chock-full of exciting matchups, and this one certainly qualifies. Neither game between the Cards and Cavs figures to be high scoring—they are ranked 1 and 2 in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency—but there’s plenty of talent on the court.
North Carolina at Duke, Feb. 9
Hard to imagine this matchup ever not being on a list like this. The game at Cameron gets the edge because of the atmosphere, though the treatment Grayson Allen receives on the road, assuming his suspension is lifted, is worth watching.
Oregon at UCLA, Feb. 9
Oregon’s two losses are not bad (at Baylor; Georgetown in Maui) and Dillon Brooks missed the Baylor game and came off the bench for just 13 minutes against Georgetown, his first game back after having offseason foot surgery. If you’ve forgotten about the Ducks, you’ll be reminded of them by the time they play the Bruins for the second time.
Gonzaga at Saint Mary’s, Feb. 11
Saint Mary’s swept the regular season series last year but lost in the West Coast Conference tournament finals and didn’t make the NCAA Tournament. The Gaels can score with anyone, and the Zags have the talent to break through to the Final Four for the first time in program history.
Kansas at Baylor, Feb. 18
Baylor climbed to fourth in the country on the strength of several impressive nonconference wins. The Bears, like West Virginia, could pose a threat to Kansas’ Big 12 title streak. Kansas has won eight straight in this matchup, including three head-to-head victories in each of the past two seasons.
Indiana at Purdue, Feb. 28
These two teams play in Bloomington on Feb. 9, but your viewing schedule is already booked that night. This in-state rivalry should not be overlooked, and a meeting this late in the season could have Big Ten title implications.
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local. He writes about college basketball and other sports at andrewjkahn.com and covers the Michigan basketball team for UMHoops.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn