The wait is finally over. We are nearly a week away from the start of college basketball, and with it, the reigning national champion UConn Huskies begin their campaign on Nov. 6 against Northern Arizona. Connecticut is expected to win this matchup easily, however, the Huskies’ have a loaded non-conference schedule this year, facing many nationally ranked opponents away from Storrs. There are three matchups in particular that college basketball fans should look forward to this year, and we delve into them in this article.
December 1 away at Kansas
This will be UConn’s toughest out-of-conference matchup all year, as the Kansas Jayhawks come into the season ranked No. 1 nationally, and for good reason. Despite losing seven players to the transfer portal and two to the NBA draft, the Jayhawks are ready to compete. They made their mark on the portal, arguably improving their lineup from last season. Head coach Bill Self landed arguably the best player to hit the transfer portal: Hunter Dickinson. Many experts have projected the 7-foot-2 center as the 2024 National Player of the Year, and for good reason. Dickinson tore up the college basketball scene last year, averaging nearly 19 points and nine rebounds per game, on an absurd 56% from the field. Not only can the Virginia-native score in the paint, but he has shown the ability to shoot the three-ball, owning an excellent 42.1% three-point percentage, albeit on 57 tries. Dickinson is not the only weapon UConn will need to look out for. Kevin McCullar Jr. and K.J. Adams Jr. are two double-digit scorers returning for Kansas. Self and Co. also recruited shooting guard Elmarko Jackson, who comes in as a possible lottery pick that has not yet reached his full potential. This comes a little less than a month into UConn’s season, but even so, pulling out a win here would do tremendous things for the program. Winning on the road at Kansas would legitimize Connecticut’s case for a repeat, and if they beat the Jayhawks, teams would have even more reason to fear the Huskies.
December 5th UNC Jimmy V Classic at MSG
Not only are we treated to a marquee matchup of UConn vs. the University of North Carolina, but the rich history of the Jimmy V Classic is something all college basketball fans should be excited about. The Classic is an annual game held by ESPN to raise money for cancer research, in honor of former coach and player Jim Valvano, who passed away from adenocarcinoma, a form of cancer. UNC comes in as the No. 19 ranked team, which is below Kansas, but a test nonetheless for Dan Hurley and Co.. This matchup is all the more interesting considering how the Tar Heels’ 2022-2023 campaign went. It was a season riddled with drama, as they entered the top-ranked squad. However, they didn’t even make the tournament, a tremendous disappointment. Despite last year’s woes, there is belief that head coach Hubert Davis can guide this team to success. All-American big man Armando Bacot has opted to use his extra year of eligibility due to COVID-19, and he is a player to look out for, averaging nearly 16 points and 10 boards per game on 55.4% shooting. Bacot is the leader of this UNC team, and the Tar Heels rely on him to produce at a high level. This will be one of many tests for projected lottery pick Donovan Clingan. How will the 7-foot-2 sophomore perform against a seasoned center on a big stage at the ‘World’s Most Famous Arena’? With all these storylines and more, this is a game that every UConn fan should have circled on their calendar.
December 15th away vs. Gonzaga (Seattle Tip-Off)
UConn’s Dec. 15 matchup against Gonzaga is yet another tough one that should excite for all 40 minutes. The Bulldogs come in as the No. 11 team in the country, and it’s a rematch of last year’s Elite 8 showdown where the Huskies whooped the Bulldogs 82-54. To avenge their loss, Gonzaga would like nothing more than to flip the script and send the Huskies packing. The most exciting part of this game is how different both of these teams are from when they met nearly eight months ago. Similar to UConn, Gonzaga lost three starters: Drew Timme, Julian Strawther and Rasir Bolton. The Bulldogs also lost sixth man Malachi Smith. Despite this, Gonzaga made a splash this summer recruiting-wise, acquiring three transfers and two freshmen, including guard Ryan Nembhard, who is a familiar foe for the Huskies, coming from Creighton. The Bulldogs also brought in last year’s Big Sky Player of the Year, Steele Venters, who will undoubtedly take his matchup against the reigning champions as an opportunity to showcase his skills for the basketball community to see. This contest should be more competitive than last year’s and will serve as yet another potential resume-builder against a top-ranked opponent.