It’s difficult to top Duke-Kentucky on the opening night of the season, but that’s not the No. 1 game of the 2021-22 season, and it won’t cost you nearly as much money as the March 5 matchup in Durham.
Here are the top games I’d dip into my wallet to watch this season.
1. North Carolina at Duke, March 5 – It’ll be the swan song at Cameron for Mike Krzyzewski, and it comes, of course, against rival North Carolina. The atmosphere in this one will be insane. Coach K announced he will retire after this season, and his final home game is against the Tar Heels in the ACC regular-season finale. I can’t wait to see what the resale market looks like for this matchup.
2. Duke vs. Kentucky, Nov. 9 in New York – This is Coach K vs. John Calipari for one final time in the Champions Classic, basically opening the college hoops season. Both come off disappointing campaigns, and both will have a chance to get some early momentum this year. It’ll also feature two of the top frosh in the country: Duke’s Paolo Banchero and Kentucky’s TyTy Washington.
3. Gonzaga vs. Duke, Nov. 26 in Las Vegas – Two of the best programs, and arguably the two best freshmen, go up against one another at T-Mobile Arena. The Zags have long and skilled 7-footer Chet Holmgren, while Duke will rely heavily on big, strong and athletic forward Paolo Banchero.
4. Gonzaga vs. UCLA, Nov. 23 in Las Vegas – A rematch of the Final Four matchup in which Jalen Suggs hit the memorable game-winning shot, and both are contenders to cut down the nets this year.
5. Texas at Gonzaga, Nov. 13 – New Longhorns coach Chris Beard takes his team to Spokane and will face Drew Timme, Chet Holmgren and the top-ranked Zags. It’s a chance for Texas and all of Beard’s transfers to show they are for real.
6. Villanova at UCLA, Nov. 12 – A matchup of two top-five teams out at Pauley Pavilion. Villanova brought back a pair of fifth-year guys in Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels, while UCLA will be led by March Madness star Johnny Juzang.
7. Texas at Texas Tech, Feb. 1 – This is one you need to be in Lubbock for to truly appreciate the atmosphere. It won’t exactly be a heartwarming homecoming for Chris Beard. Sure, he led the Red Raiders to a national title game appearance and an Elite Eight, but the fans in Lubbock still can’t come to grips with why he’d leave for UT. In fact, they strongly dislike Beard now. This is his first appearance back in Lubbock, and it’ll be interesting to see the reception he receives from the fan base. I don’t expect a lot of pleasantries.
8. Kentucky at Kansas, Jan. 29 – It’s Kentucky vs. Kansas in the Big 12/SEC Challenge at Allen Fieldhouse. Need I say more?
9. Louisville at Kentucky, Dec. 22 – No, neither team is considered “elite” this season, but it’s still Louisville vs. Kentucky. They hate each other, and both have some pressure on them coming off sub-par seasons a year ago.
10. Michigan at Illinois, Jan. 14 – It’s not just a matchup of two of the best bigs in the country (Hunter Dickinson vs. Kofi Cockburn), but also a showdown between two of the top teams in the nation.
11. Purdue at Illinois, Jan. 17 – The duo of Trevion Williams and Zach Edey against Kofi Cockburn will be a heavyweight bout. So will the overall matchup between two programs that could cut down the nets this season.
12. Villanova at Baylor, Dec. 12 – I watched these two teams a couple years ago in the championship game at the Myrtle Beach Invitational, and it was one of the best games I saw all season. This will be a chance to see two of the four teams who have claimed national titles in the last five years.
13. Purdue vs. North Carolina, Nov. 20 at Mohegan Sun – This is one heck of an opening-round matchup in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off. The Boilermakers are loaded, but new Tar Heels coach Hubert Davis brought back enough players and also added some key transfers — especially up front with Dawson Garcia and Brady Manek.
14. Alabama at Memphis, Dec. 14 – Nate Oats has another talented team in Tuscaloosa, and he’ll go up against Penny Hardaway’s group, which added Emoni Bates and Jalen Duren, two of the top frosh in the country.
15. Michigan at Michigan State, Jan. 29 – The two teams have split the last couple of years, but this matchup of in-state rivals is always entertaining. It’s Juwan Howard vs. Tom Izzo, with this one being played in East Lansing.
16. Baylor at Kansas, Feb. 5 – Scott Drew goes into Lawrence and hopes to pull out a rare win in Allen Fieldhouse.
17. Texas at Kansas, March 5 – This one could decide the Big 12’s regular-season champion. Texas will bring its transfer-laden group to Lawrence, while Bill Self returns a ton from last year’s Jayhawks team. The key could be the point guard matchup between Marcus Carr and Remy Martin. The first matchup between the two teams comes Feb. 7 in Austin.
18. Kansas vs. Michigan State, Nov. 9 in New York – The Spartans are somewhat of a mystery, and this will be the first chance to see Northeastern transfer Tyson Walker and freshman Max Christie against a veteran KU team. This is also the first big game of the season.
19. Memphis vs. Tennessee, Dec. 18 in Nashville – There’s been some quality trash-talking between Penny Hardaway and Rick Barnes, so this year should be interesting since both teams are loaded with talent.
20. Alabama vs. Gonzaga, Dec. 4 in Seattle – The Crimson Tide play a big-time non-conference game in the Zags’ backyard at the Battle in Seattle.
21. UCLA vs. North Carolina, Dec. 18 in Las Vegas – Two of the most successful programs in college basketball square off in the CBS Sports Classic, and both have a chance to be really good this season. The Bruins are contenders to return to the Final Four, while the Tar Heels should be much better under first-year head coach Hubert Davis.
22. Kentucky vs. Ohio State, Dec. 18 in Las Vegas – The two games at T-Mobile Arena in the CBS Sports Classic this year are both intriguing. Kentucky has a chance to get a non-league win against a Buckeyes squad that could contend for the Big Ten title.
23. Michigan at Purdue, Feb. 5 – This might be a battle of the two top teams in the Big Ten. Juwan Howard’s team has a ton of talented freshmen, while Matt Painter brings back just about everyone. And the matchup between Hunter Dickinson and Purdue’s two big men will just add to the intrigue. The teams will also play in Ann Arbor on Jan. 11.
24. Duke at Ohio State, Nov. 30 – We are in for a terrific ACC/Big Ten Challenge matchup in Columbus. It could also be a fun matchup between two of the best forwards in the country: Duke’s Paolo Banchero and Ohio State’s EJ Liddell.
25. Memphis at Houston, Feb. 12 – This is the first meeting between the top two teams in the AAC. The Tigers brought in a ton of talent, while Kelvin Sampson has done an incredible job sustaining success with the Cougars. The two teams play again in the regular-season finale in Memphis.
26. Baylor at Oregon, Dec. 18 – The defending champs head to Eugene for an intriguing non-conference matchup.
27. Oregon at UCLA, Jan. 13 – The Bruins are the clear favorite, but Dana Altman has won the last two Pac-12 titles and adds a trio of transfers that should pose problems for Mick Cronin & Co.
28. Florida State at Purdue, Nov. 30 – Don’t ever count out Leonard Hamilton, even against an experienced Purdue team. FSU is 40-13 over the last three seasons in ACC play.
29. Michigan at North Carolina, Dec. 1 – Another quality contest in this year’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Juwan Howard heads to Chapel Hill to face the Tar Heels.
30. Gonzaga at BYU, Feb. 5 – The Zags’ toughest league game will be in Provo against a veteran squad that has one of the top snipers in the country in Alex Barcello.
31. Baylor at Alabama, Jan. 29 – Scott Drew takes the Bears to Tuscaloosa for a Big 12/SEC Challenge showdown.
32. Kentucky at Arkansas, Feb. 26 – The best SEC atmosphere besides Rupp is in Fayetteville, and these two teams are among the league’s best.
33. Duke at Syracuse, Feb. 26 – Coach K vs. Jim Boeheim for one final time at the Carrier Dome.
34. Villanova at UConn, Feb. 22 – The old Big East matchup is rekindled now that UConn is back in the league, and they are arguably the top two teams in the conference. They will also play Feb. 5 at ‘Nova.
35. Purdue at Indiana, Jan. 20 – Matt Painter will take a veteran Boilermakers squad down the road to Bloomington. This will be an opportunity for new IU coach Mike Woodson to get a huge resume win.
36. St. Bonaventure vs. UConn, Dec. 11 in Newark, N.J. – This one is interesting because it’s an opportunity for one of the top mid-majors, Mark Schmidt’s Bonnies, to make a statement.
37. Virginia at Houston, Nov. 16 – We’ll get a chance to see Tony Bennett’s squad, which has plenty of new faces, in a tough road game against Kelvin Sampson’s Cougars.
38. Villanova vs. Tennessee, Nov. 20 at Mohegan Sun – The Hall of Fame Tip-Off is loaded, with this game actually being the undercard of sorts. ‘Nova is a Final Four contender and the Vols still have no shortage of talent and could battle for the SEC title this year, especially with frosh Kennedy Chandler.
39. Alabama at Kentucky, Feb. 19 – The SEC is loaded this season at the top, but this might be as good of a game as you’ll watch.
40. Alabama at Auburn, Feb. 1 – Bruce Pearl should have the Tigers back in the national picture this season, and the Crimson Tide will still have enough talent to fight for the SEC title. I love this game because of the in-state rivalry.