We ranked the best conference challenge matchups for this upcoming college basketball season
Now that we know the matchups for the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, the SEC-Big 12 Challenge and the Gavitt Games between the Big Ten and Big East, NCAA.com decided to rank the games from 1-32. We love debate — and true road games! — so get ready to take this list to task, celebrate it or simply keep it handy for next season.
Here's our ranking for the best challenge matchups this upcoming season:
1. Kansas at Kentucky, SEC-Big 12 Challenge, Jan. 26: This was a natural to pair since it wasn’t going to occur in the Champions Classic in November. Kansas and Kentucky are likely top five preseason teams and by late January should be well on their way toward front-runner status in the Big 12 and the SEC, respectively. This game could have No. 1 seed implications.
2. Indiana at Duke, ACC-Big Ten Challenge, Nov. 27: The Hoosiers may not be ready for this game, but Duke will be coming off a brutal slate at the Maui Invitational that could test the Blue Devils. The star power will be on display in the class of 2018 with Indiana’s Romeo Langford going up against Duke’s Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish, the top three players in the class.
3. Michigan at Villanova, Gavitt Games, Nov. 14: Everyone loves a rematch of a national title game. Neither team will look anything like they did in April in San Antonio. Both will need time to develop and reach their potential. But there is still some star power returning with Charles Matthews and Phil Booth back, respectively, for Michigan and Nova.
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4. West Virginia at Tennessee, SEC-Big 12 Challenge, Jan. 26: This will be a frontcourt dream. The Mountaineers have the shot-blocking beast in Sagaba Konate while the Vols have a steady presence inside in Grant Williams. This game may not get the hype it deserves but both programs will compete for a top three finish in their respective leagues.
5. North Carolina at Michigan, ACC-Big Ten Challenge, Nov. 28: The Wolverines will have already gone through the Villanova test before hosting the Tar Heels. This will be a great opportunity for North Carolina freshman stud Nassir Little to see how he handles being a focus of an elite coach’s opposing team’s scout. Both schools won’t have to worry about power-rating points. This is just another great game for both.
6. Virginia at Maryland, ACC-Big Ten Challenge, Nov. 28: The two former ACC rivals will bring the intensity in this matchup. The Cavaliers, ranked No. 3 in the latest Power 36, have proven that their act travels well away from Charlottesville. This will be a monster matchup for the Terps, who will likely need a win like this come selection week in March.
7. Nebraska at Clemson, ACC-Big Ten Challenge, Nov. 26: The Huskers are one of my picks to compete for the Big Ten title. But to erase the pain of not getting into the NCAA tournament they must pick up quality road wins, especially in the non-conference. The Tigers have their backcourt intact and so do the Huskers. This game wasn’t going to be a headline matchup but it will resonate with the committee come March.
8. Marquette at Indiana, Gavitt Games, Nov. 14: The Golden Eagles may be the team most poised to challenge Villanova in the Big East. Marquette’s Markus Howard is arguably the best scorer returning to college outside of Mike Daum from South Dakota State. An Indiana win will help the Hoosiers case, especially with the road game pending at Duke, which will be difficult to get. The Golden Eagles could do wonders for its resume by getting this road win.
9. Kansas State at Texas A&M, SEC-Big 12 Challenge, Jan. 26: The Wildcats return the majority of their team intact from the Elite Eight run. The Aggies did get crushed by the early entry but they are more than capable of retooling and making a case for another bid. Kansas State coach Bruce Weber wanted to get Kentucky in the Challenge, a rematch of the win over UK in the Sweet 16. But the organizers chose the better game for UK against Kansas. KState will need a true non-conference road win to bolster its overall resume/seed come March.
10. Purdue at Florida State, ACC-Big Ten Challenge, Nov. 28: The Boilermakers will be an NCAA tournament team because of Carsen Edwards. Book it. He’s that good. The Seminoles were one of the surprise Elite Eight teams and should capitalize on the momentum. This will be a huge opportunity for Purdue to steal a key true non-conference road win.
11. Wisconsin at Xavier, Gavitt Games, Nov. 13: The last two matchups in the NCAA tournament and last season in Madison were filled with drama, either with a late-game shot (Bronson Koenig) or some heated exchanges (J.P. Macura and the Badger fans). Travis Steele moves over one seat after Chris Mack left for Louisville. So, Steele knows all too well about this sudden rivalry. The Badgers should be healthy with Kobe King, D’Mitrik Trice and Brad Davison challenging the Musketeers backcourt. This is the type of road game the Badgers couldn’t win last season. They need to in 2018-19.
12. Seton Hall at Nebraska, Gavitt Games, Nov. 14: The Huskers whiffed in last season’s event at St. John’s. Now comes a gritty Seton Hall that will push the Huskers. Sure, the Pirates are retooling a bit due to senior departures, but this team plays hard and will defend. The Huskers should win, and really must win a game like this at home. The reason it makes the first dozen is that it will loom in importance for Nebraska’s chances to ensure a bid.
13. St. John’s at Rutgers, Gavitt Games, Nov. 16: The Red Storm will actually come into this game with high expectations. St. John’s Shamorie Ponds will enter the Big East as the preseason favorite for player of the year. The Scarlet Knights showed tremendous passion for playing in the Big Ten tournament last March at Madison Square Garden. That must carry over to next season. But the Red Storm is the team with the better chance to get a bid. Winning games like this will definitely help the cause.
14. Florida at TCU, SEC-Big 12 Challenge, Jan. 26: The Gators may need this game more than TCU. The Horned Frogs will have plenty of opportunities for high-level wins in the Big 12. The SEC will have plenty, too, but winning on the road in the Big 12 can be a bit more dicey. A road win like this for the Gators would do wonders for its profile. Look for this to be a game won on the wings/perimeter.
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15. Virginia Tech at Penn State, ACC-Big Ten Challenge, Nov. 27: This is another hidden gem among this list. The Hokies have their best team under Buzz Williams. Penn State still has plenty of pop to make a run toward a bid despite the departure of Tony Carr. This edition of the Hokies has proven they can win on the road (see at Virginia last season). Penn State could do itself a favor by putting this W on the shelf for the season.
16. Minnesota at Boston College, ACC-Big Ten Challenge, Nov. 26: The Eagles did lose Jerome Robinson but still have Ky Bowman and have proven they can win a big-time home game early in the season (see Duke last December). The Gophers expect to be healthy and compete for a top four finish in the Big Ten. Getting a road win at BC would do wonders for their confidence. This game will also come after a neutral-court tournament in Vancouver against Texas A&M and then possibly Washington.
17. Arkansas at Texas Tech, SEC-Big 12 Challenge, Jan. 26: Daniel Gafford is set to have a monster season for the Hogs. Jarrett Culver could be the next star at Texas Tech. Both of these teams received consideration for the first Power 36 of the season. By the time this game is played, the Hogs and Red Raiders should be on their way to proving they belong in NCAA consideration. The winner will get a resume boost.
18. Michigan State at Louisville, ACC-Big Ten Challenge, Nov. 27: The rebuilding at Louisville lowered the expectations a bit on this matchup, but there’s no reason to believe it won’t deliver. Michigan State will be more experienced, especially at the point. And winning a true road game this early will be the catalyst the Spartans need. A Louisville upset could catapult Chris Mack’s crew toward a possible surprising ACC season.
19. Alabama at Baylor, SEC-Big 12 Challenge, Jan. 26: Expect this game to be played at a high-level pace. The Tide will have found their go-to player by this game while the Bears should have their zone working quite well. This game feels like a bubble game or a First Four matchup. And the ramifications of the result should be felt into March.
20. Syracuse at Ohio State, ACC-Big Ten Challenge, Nov. 28: Tyus Battle’s 11th-hour decision to return to the Orange means the entire starting five is back from a surprising Sweet 16 run from the First Four. The Buckeyes are now in a retooling mode after sensational first season under Chris Holtmann. Syracuse’s zone should be in March mode since the team returns. Getting a true non-conference road win at any time is a huge get.
21. NC State at Wisconsin, ACC-Big Ten Challenge, Nov. 27: The Wolfpack proved they could hang with anyone under Kevin Keatts in his first season with the Wolfpack. But yet again this is the type of game the Badgers should/must win in the non-conference. And if the Badgers aren’t able to get out of Xavier with a win, then this game will grow in importance.
22. Iowa State at Ole Miss, SEC-Big 12 Challenge, Jan. 26: Ole Miss should be comfortable in the Kermit Davis era by the time this game arrives. Iowa State should be in the middle of making a run toward the top four in the Big 12. Lindell Wigginton will be a known commodity and competing for all-Big 12 honors. But the Cyclones’ resume may need a little seasoning with a true road win.
23. Vanderbilt at Oklahoma, SEC-Big 12 Challenge, Jan. 26: The Commodores are due for a revival with a heralded recruiting class (Simisola Shittu, Darius Garland and Aaron Nesmith). The Sooners will have found their go-to scorer by late January. If the Commodores are going to make a serious bid run then this is the type of game that could do wonders for the team's profile.
24. Illinois at Notre Dame, ACC-Big Ten Challenge, Nov. 27: The Illini should be in sync with the way Brad Underwood wants to play to start next season. The Irish did lose Bonzi Colson and Matt Farrell but there is rarely a major dip. This could be a momentum shift game, especially for the Illini, which will have conference games on tap the ensuring weekend.
25. Texas at Georgia, SEC-Big 12 Challenge, Jan. 26: The Longhorns have enough returning talent even without Mo Bamba to be an NCAA tournament team and one that will be in the thick of the race for a top five finish in the Big 12. Georgia is under reconstruction with first-year coach Tom Crean. But what I love about this matchup in late January is Crean will have the Bulldogs amped up for this one. Plan on this being a potential swing game for the Bulldogs in their season or a much-needed true road win for the Longhorns.
26. South Carolina at Oklahoma State, SEC-Big 12 Challenge, Jan. 26: The Gamecocks have Chris Silva back and Frank Martin is determined to ensure South Carolina is relevant again this season after missing the NCAA tournament. Getting a true non-conference road win in late January would be a big help in that regard. But the Cowboys, who had a strong case for the NCAA tournament last March, continue to show great progress under Mike Boynton. This game will likely come at a critical time for the Cowboys’ case.
27. Ohio State at Creighton, Gavitt Games, Nov. 15: These two NCAA tournament teams will be debuting their new go-to scorers and late-game shot makers. We should know a lot more about both squads after this early matchup. The Bluejays faithful should be thrilled with the brand names coming into Omaha next season. Creighton hosts Gonzaga in a non-conference game, too.
28. Rutgers at Miami, ACC-Big Ten Challenge, Nov. 28: The Hurricanes should be an NCAA team and an upper echelon ACC squad. The Scarlet Knights are hoping they can build off the MSG euphoria from the Big Ten tournament. How Rutgers handles the St. John’s game two weeks earlier could determine how Rutgers will fare in Coral Gables.
29. Georgetown at Illinois, Gavitt Games, Nov. 13: This is a huge get for the Illini for the home slate. Georgetown and Patrick Ewing still carry plenty of cache. Both teams are searching for some sort of momentum. Playing this one early should give it to one of them. The two head coaches tried to establish their team’s identity in year one. Ewing and Brad Underwood are the right fit for each institution.
30. Penn State at DePaul, Gavitt Games, Nov. 15: The Blue Demons have to start to make a move at some point. Beating Penn State early in the season would certainly send a message. But the Nittany Lions will probably play on the edge next season, needing every road win they can get. This would be a great start.
31. Georgia Tech at Northwestern, ACC-Big Ten Challenge, Nov. 28: The Wildcats have a chance for a reset after a disappointing second half of the season, a campaign interrupted by injuries. The Yellow Jackets are devoid of their top players from last season. Northwestern should win this game to re-establish itself as a difficult team to beat at home, especially in a rebuilt, refurbished Welsh-Ryan.
32. Pitt at Iowa, ACC-Big Ten Challenge, Nov. 27: The Panthers are in a complete overhaul under first-year coach Jeff Capel. Iowa should be a challenger for a bid out of the Big Ten with the return of Tyler Cook. This is a game that shouldn’t be a question for the Hawkeyes. They cannot afford to lose this one.