As hard as it is to believe - college basketball is back, starting with tonight's Champions Classic.
And from there, it pretty much doesn't stop until the first week in April when we crown a national champion.
Still, with so many games, especially in these first few weeks of the season, it's sometimes hard to keep track of all the big ones.
Well, that's why we're here to help. Mark your calendars - here are all the big games in the first month of the season:
(Note, we decided to *only* do the first month otherwise, this article literally could've gone on forever)
Tuesday, November 9th: Kansas vs. Michigan State (Champion's Classic - Madison Square Garden, New York, NY)
The Champions Classic is always the first big must see college basketball event of the season and in 2021 that is no different. Kansas should be one of the five best teams in college basketball and bring back a great mix of talent and experience including returners Ochai Agbagi and David McCormack plus Arizona State transfer Remy Martin, who averaged 19 points per game each of the last two seasons.
Michigan State is outside the Top 25 to start the season but add freshman five-star guard Max Christie and a really nice mix of experienced rotation players from last year’s team including Joey Hauser and Malik Hall.
Tuesday, November 9th: Kentucky vs. Duke (Champion's Classic - Madison Square Garden, New York, NY)
Whenever these two teams there is always that big game feel and this will be no different. Two of the best freshmen in college hoops will be featured in this one including TyTy Washington of Kentucky and Paolo Banchero of Duke. Coach K’s last ride will start off with a bang in this one.
Friday, November 12th: Villanova at UCLA
Villanova has started to recruit on the West Coast and playing this game will do nothing but help, as this will be a fascinating battle between two of the most experienced teams in college basketball. UCLA literally returns everyone from last year's Final Four run, while the Wildcats return four starters from last year's Big East champion, that made the Sweet 16. The style contrast of a Jay Wright offense vs a Mick Cronin defense will be a matchup to watch.
Saturday, November 13th: Texas at Gonzaga
A heavyweight clash between two of the more talented teams in the sport as this will be the first BIG game of the Chris Beard era at Texas. Both Beard and Mark Few are known for having no fear at all for scheduling big games during the non-conference slate and Texas heading west to Spokane is no different. The battles between Texas' loaded front court of transfers including Timmy Allen, Tre Mitchell and Christian Bishop (as well as Dylan Disu, who is still coming back from injury) facing off against the dynamic duo of Drew Timme and Chet Holmgren will be must see TV.
Texas guard Marcus Carr joined the Aaron Torres Podcast earlier this fall to discuss the potential of this loaded, Longhorn team.
Sunday, November 14th: Florida State at Florida
An in state rival between two foes that have had some success in the basketball ranks in recent years. The Noles’ bring in transfer Caleb Mills from Houston, a bucket getter at guard who combined with the depth of Florida State makes this look like a typical Leonard Hamilton team that is filled with all the depth and size. This will be a big one for Gators coach Mike White who is a career 0-6 vs Leonard Hamilton and Florida State.
Tuesday, November 16th: Virginia at Houston
As soon as you see these two teams will be playing each other the word "defense" will immediately come to mind. A battle between two defenses who always get the job done but in completely different ways. Virginia and their pack line defense dove deep into the transfer portal by bringing in Armaan Franklin (Indiana) & Jadlen Gardner (East Carolina). Houston’s physical in your face defense was able to get Kelvin Sampson and the Cougs all the way to the Final Four last spring, and sophomore forward Tramon Mark will be ready to take the next step alongside star Marcus Sasser.
Tuesday, November 16th: Seton Hall at Michigan (Gavitt Games)
The Wolverines should be one of the most noteworthy teams in college basketball for this upcoming season based on the return of National Player of the Year candidate Hunter Dickinson and the presence of third year coach Juwan Howard. Seton Hall should be an intriguing test early for the Wolverines, thanks to their length and shooting provided by Syracuse transfer Kadary Richmond and seniors Myles Cale and Jared Rhoden. This is a very competitive experience and coaching matchup.
Thursday, November 18th: Ohio State at Xavier
Xavier is one of the most polarizing teams going into the 2021-2022 season based on the combination of talent but Travis Steele’s inability to produce results historically based on the talent he’s had. The Musketeers were looking at a tournament berth last year before an end of season collapse after losing four of their final five games. Chris Holtmann’s Buckeyes hope to return to their top form after suffering a heartbreaking first round NCAA Tournament loss to Oral Roberts. EJ Liddell will return and will surely be one of the premier players in the sport.
Friday and Sunday, November 19th and 21st: Roman Main Event
Participants: Arizona, Michigan, UNLV, Wichita State
One of the first major MTE's tips off on the second Friday of the season, with four darn good teams heading to Vegas. This will be an interesting first look at what the Arizona Wildcats look like under Tommy Lloyd, and of course, Michigan is the reigning Big Ten champs. Wichita is coming off an NCAA Tournament run and has one of the most underappreciated players in college basketball, in guard Tyson Etienne.
Saturday, November 20th: Villanova vs. Tennessee (Hall of Fame Tip-Off - Mohegan Sun, Uncasville, CT)
Tennessee is another team that returns a lot of talent and brings in some more on the side, but one question remains. What does Rick Barnes have up his sleeve after a disappointing ending to 2020? The Vols lose NBA talents Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson but bring in elite talents, including freshman Kennedy Chandler and Brandon Huntley-Hatfield, plus transfer Justin
Powell. Villanova’s guards and experience will surely come in handy but can Tennessee match it
Saturday, November 20th: North Carolina vs. Purdue (Hall of Fame Tip-Off - Mohegan Sun, Uncasville, CT)
Many in college basketball are optomistic for the start of the Hubert Davis era at North Carolina, and it's thanks to a loaded team that is especially intriguing because of its guards Caleb Love and RJ Davis. This will be the first major test going up against a Purdue team led by the mammoth size of returning big men Trevion Williams and Zach Edey. What style North Carolina will play this season with the additions of transfers Brady Manek (Oklahoma) and Dawson Garcia (Marquette) will be key.
The winners of Villanova vs. Tennessee and North Carolina vs. Purdue will play the following day, while the losers will play in the consolation game as well.
Monday-Wednesday, November 22nd-24th: Maui Invitational (Las Vegas)
Participants: Butler, Chaminade, Houston, Notre Dame, Oregon, St. Marys, Texas A & M, Wisconsin
Unfortunately, this classic event will be taking place in Vegas this year opposed to Hawaii, but the field should still provide us with a pretty entertaining show. Oregon and Houston lead this field as two programs that have been winning on a consistent basis as of late and that shouldn’t stop anytime soon. The Ducks bring in a dynamic group of newcomers including Syracuse breakout transfer Quincy Guerrier, De'Vion Harmon (Oklahoma), Jacob Young (Rutgers) and freshman Nathan Bittle. Houston is projected to finish right along with Memphis at the top of the AAC while the rest of this field will find themselves competing for an NCAA Tournament berth throughout the season. It is a big year for Notre Dame who does return a lot of talent but has failed to make each of the last 3 NCAA Tournaments.
Monday-Tuesday, November 22nd-23rd: Hall of Fame Classic (Kansas City)
Participants: Arkansas, Cincinnati, Illinois, Kansas State
For the college hoops junkies, this will be one of the more intriguing MTE's (multi-team events) of the first month, as it will be our first good look at two programs who could make deep runs in March. First, there are the new look Arkansas Razorbacks, which return Devo Davis, JD Notae and Jaylin Williams (among others) off last year's Elite Eight team, while also blending in a slew of transfers. It will also be our first real look at Illinois with star Kofi Cockburn, who must sit out the first three games of the season. Let's hope both the Razorbacks and Illini win, so we get a matchup of them in the title game.
Tuesday, November 23rd: Gonzaga vs. UCLA (Las Vegas)
Speaking of Vegas, we get a rematch two days before Thanksgiving in the T-Mobile Center of last year's iconic Final Four clash. And in the fall of 2021, this has "Game of the Year" potential. The way the 2021 UCLA Bruins were playing throughout the month of March was good enough to win a National Championship in most years. However, they ran into a Gonzaga team that was undefeated at the time and we know what happened after that when Jalen Suggs hit the shot for the ages and the rest is history. The Bruins will be in for some sweet revenge in this one, as they welcome back every key piece off last year's Final Four team, while the Zags will again be led by Timme and Holmgren.
Wednesday-Friday November 24-26: Battle 4 Atlantis
Participants: Arizona State, Auburn, Loyola Chicago, Michigan State, Syracuse, Connecticut, Virginia Commonwealth, and Baylor
It's an absolutely loaded field in the 10 year anniversary of one of the best non-conference holiday tournaments there is. Baylor is the defending 2021 National Champions, and are led by returning key pieces like Matthew Mayer, Adam Flager and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua plus with newcomers James Akinjo and LJ Cryer. Scott Drew and Baylor should be right back in business.
Syracuse, Michigan State and UConn are all teams that plan on returning to the NCAA Tournament as expectations are always high. Dan Hurley is entering his fourth year in charge of the Huskies and returns everyone from last year's NCAA Tournament team minus James Bouknight which should provide a much more balanced attack. Loyola Chicago and VCU were two other squads that made the tournament last year but lost a lot including Ramblers Head Coach Porter Moser.
Auburn and Arizona State have a high amount of talent which provides both teams with very high ceilings.
Bruce Pearl told our own Aaron Torres that "We have the best frontcourt in college basketball this year" and it will be on display in an opener against UConn, in one of the better games of any pre-conference tournament this winter.
Thursday-Friday, November 25th-26th: Baha Mar Bahamas Classic
Participants: Louisville, Maryland, Mississippi State, Richmond
A fascinating two-day event in the Bahamas, it features four teams that could all be in the NCAA Tournament this year. For Richmond, it's their best chance to pick up some signature wins out of conference (they open with Maryland, a preseason Top 25 team) and also our first look at the new look Mississippi State Bulldogs with several key transfers (Garrison Brooks, DJ Jeffries, Rocket Watts). It's worth noting that Louisville will also be without Chris Mack here, who is serving a suspension to start the season.
Thursday-Saturday, November 25th-27th: ESPN Events Invitational
Participants: Alabama, Belmont, Dayton, Drake, Iona, Kansas, Miami, North Texas
This event was once known as the Orlando Invitational and will be played at Disney's Wide World of Sports - and honestly has a really interesting assortment of teams. Kansas and Alabama are the headliners, and the Tide won't have an easy matchup in the first round with Rick Pitino's Iona Gaels. If you remember, Iona gave the Tide fits in the NCAA Tournament last year.
Also don't sleep on Drake, which went 26-5 and won an NCAA Tournament game last year, or Belmont, which went a staggering 24-3 and returns all five starters from last season.
Friday. November 26th: Duke vs. Gonzaga (Las Vegas)
Just three days after facing UCLA in Vegas, the Zags return to the court to take on Duke in another highly-anticipated, preseason matchup.
We've already written plenty about both these teams, but the obvious headline here is a matchup between Duke's Paolo Banchero and the Zags' Chet Holmgren, the top two prospects in the high school class of 2021, and potentially the top two picks of the 2022 NBA Draft. With a 10:30 ET tip-off on Black Friday, you now have an easy way to enjoy leftovers over the long holiday weekend.
Tuesday, November 30th: Duke at Ohio State
The premier matchup in the Big 10/ ACC Challenge featuring two heavyweights that should be toward the top of their respective conferences standings in Coach K’s final ride. And you know Chris Holtmann’s squad is always in the mix. Holtmann’s Buckeyes teams have always done a really nice job overachieving and finishing better than projected. The Liddell/ Banchero matchup will be between two of the premier players in the sport.
Tuesday, December 1st: Michigan at North Carolina
In another fantastic game in the BIG 10/ ACC challenge these two squads are both very versatile with many options who can beat you in many ways. From North Carolina’s young core of experienced guards to Michigan's size and depth this one will be a battle of who can survive the physicality of this one. Hunter Dickinson and Armando Bacot battling down low should be the one big thing to watch.
Thursday, December 4th: Gonzaga vs. Alabama (Seattle)
Say this for the Zags: They didn't duck anyone in the out of conference, as we can add Alabama to a list that already includes Texas, UCLA and Duke. The pace in this one should be electric, as we all got a front row seat to what Crimson Tide head coach Nate Oats was able to do in his second season in Tuscaloosa - and things are only getting better. With Alabama led by guards Jahvon Quinerly, Jaden Shackelford and JD Davison, Bama has enough pace and speed to be a threat in this game to one of the best teams in the country.
Saturday, December 11th: Houston at Alabama
Have you ever wondered who would win in a matchup of pure defense vs speed? That is exactly what we will get here in a battle between two Sweet 16 Teams in 2021, including the Cougars who of course, made a Final Four. Alabama's teams under Oats have been able to defend very well to their credit but without Herbert Jones, Can Houston's offense exploit a possible weakness?
Sunday, December 12th Villanova at Baylor
In a rematch of Baylor’s toughest and closest game during their 2020 National Championship run, Jay Wright and Scott Drew’s squads will clash in a game that should feature pure, good, fundamentally sound basketball. Both of these coaches know how to make the proper adjustments and coach offense so expect all of the points.
Follow Zac on Twitter @ZKrull
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