As a UConn men’s basketball beat writer for my third season with the program, it was truly exciting to see the reveal of this year’s slate of games. When you combine such an exciting roster of new talent with some of the matchups on this schedule, it’s enough to get any college basketball fan excited for what’s to come. That’s why it’s a great idea to talk about my personal top 5 games I’m looking forward to not only covering this season, but also some games in general that need to be seen. It’s almost an impossible feat with the level of competition on this schedule, but it’s a challenge that I’ll be looking to take on in today’s Rod Wave.
5) Dec. 5 against the University of North Carolina at Madison Square Garden (Jimmy V Classic)
Whenever UConn plays games at MSG, it’s guaranteed to be an exciting atmosphere. To have an opponent like North Carolina slated to play Connecticut in UConn’s non-conference slate is not only going to be exciting for fans, but also a great challenge for this roster. While this won’t be the first time on their schedule that they head to the Garden, it’s certainly going to be one of their most competitive.
This Tarheels roster is going to be hungry to redeem themselves after last season’s disappointing turn of events that saw the program miss the NCAA Tournament after being ranked as the preseason no. 1. I’m expecting a physical basketball game, especially in the paint as two of the top big men in the country go head to head in Donovan Clingan and Armando Bacot. If that’s not much-watch basketball, I don’t know what else is.
4) Jan. 17 against the Creighton Blue Jays
Similar to my no. 5 pick, I’m expecting another fantastic big man matchup in this one. Instead of the likes of Adama Sanogo putting his skills to the test against one of the top centers in college basketball in Ryan Kalkbrenner, it will be Clingan who will have to show out in one of the toughest challenges in another exhilarating Big East season. That’s all without mentioning Trey Alexander and Baylor Scheirmann both returning to give this Huskies roster some trouble. Even with the departures of Arthur Kaluma and Ryan Nembhard via the transfer portal, electrifying doesn’t begin to describe where I see this matchup going.
To top it all off, students will be back on campus for this one, so expect an insane atmosphere in Storrs or Hartford if it’s at the XL Center. However, if you think that atmosphere could get even better, my no. 3 pick will certainly do the trick.
3) Jan. 31 against Providence
There are some absolutely fantastic matchups on this Big East schedule for the Huskies, but it’s hard to top the energy that occurs when the Friars come to town. It’s a true modern day Big East rivalry that both fanbases always look forward to and with the Huskies now having the chance to set the tone of this season’s rivalry on Jan. 31, it’s easily a top three matchup of UConn’s season and my personal favorite of their Big East schedule.
Coach Ed Cooley may have transitioned to Georgetown and Kim English certainly will have a difficult test with a new look roster that’s lost Noah Locke, Ed Croswell and Jared Bynum. But you can’t count Providence out with players like Bryce Hopkins still on the roster after a resurgent season and Devin Carter who is easily one of the best defenders in all of college basketball. With new players like Garwey Dual expected to have a major role in the Friars’ season, it will be interesting to see how the program contends with a Connecticut roster that is filled to the brim with talent.
2) Dec. 15 at Gonzaga
To tie the team’s non-conference schedule together, UConn will be taking on one of the toughest opponents of their season, the Gonzaga Bulldogs. It’s going to take everything from this Huskies roster and more to get a win in Seattle, especially against Mark Few and Co. Is it true that this team lost some incredible talent in Drew Timme, Julian Strawther and more? That’s correct, but this team has done an incredible job of offsetting those losses with some great players, including the aforementioned Nembhard.
This is going to be especially tough for the Huskies in the frontcourt with players like Graham Ike and Anton Watson looking to challenge Clingan and Alex Karaban for dominance of the game. You can’t forget about Steele Venters either who was an offensive force at Eastern Washington with an average of 15.3 points per game.
With all that being said, the Bulldogs monumental challenge at Climate Pledge Arena would’ve been the toughest challenge of the regular season schedule. However, my clear no. 1 choice is not only my top selection on UConn’s schedule but also one of the top matchups of the year.
1) Dec. 1 at Kansas
I could talk about this matchup for hours, but if I could sum it all up into just one word (if that’s even possible), insanity.
With a headliner of Hunter Dickinson vs. Clingan, it’s easily one of the top big man matchups all season. It is legitimately a clash of giants and it’s going to be the clash that everyone’s watching. Yet, at the same time, this Jayhawks roster is so loaded with talent that it’s impossible to oversee the impact of guards like Nick Timberlake, a top transfer talent in the portal that chose Kansas over UConn. That fact alone adds even more fuel to the fire and it’s going to be a close battle for all 40 minutes of action.
This is also the toughest road test that UConn will have all season before the NCAA Tournament. A win would not only be one of their most impressive all season, but it would show how talented this UConn roster truly is.
Honorable Mentions: Feb. 3rd at St. John’s; Feb. 24 against Villanova; March 9 at Providence