As we enter the fourth year of the Big East as we know it, things have changed a bit. No longer is the conference frowned upon or considered a shell of itself (with the exception of an occasional Twitter egg).
As such, nonconference scheduling has really started to be taken up a notch as well. Between the Gavitt Games, Feast Week, and other various events, it seems like more and more teams are on board with adding Big East teams to their nonconference schedule.
It’s nice to see, really. One of the best things about college basketball is when two high-caliber “power conference” teams square off. Sure, it’s usually early in the season when neither team is at their best yet, but it’s still a fun and unique way to get people excited. Obviously it’s more fun to watch Big East teams play teams from, say, the ACC or Big 12 than a team from the MEAC.
With that in mind, we put together our list of the dream nonconference opponent for every Big East team. We tried to avoid matchups that have recently happened, or are set to happen in the future, which made things a bit difficult for schools like Georgetown or DePaul, but just roll with it. It’s meant to be fun.
I’ll admit it, prior to opening the question to the masses on our Twitter account, the opponent most picked for Butler wasn’t really even on my radar.
if we aren't talking Butler v. Duke, I don't wanna talk— Marisa Miller (@marisanmiller) July 12, 2017
A rematch of one of the greatest National Championship Games of all time? Count me in. Bonus points for doing it on-campus at two of college basketball’s best venues.
I would have probably said Notre Dame for Butler, just because they’re local, they can’t play in the Crossroads Classic, and their NCAA Tournament game a couple years back was sooooo good.
Ohio State is another good one for Butler, given the events of the past month, but there’s already a non-zero chance that happens given how contracts are structured. There’s a possibility that Chris Holtmann’s buyout included a home-and-home clause with his new and old schools. Shaka Smart’s did.
There are a ton of interesting options for Butler. They’re a solid program with an elite venue, and doing a home-and-home with similar programs with elite venues would be pretty cool.
Creighton’s series with Gonzaga partially inspired this post, in general. A matchup between the undisputed top mid-major team and a team that had a lot of success prior to moving to the Big East, where it has had even more success? Sounds like a blast.
Since that’s off the table now, my dream opponent for Creighton would have to be their old Missouri Valley nemeses, the Wichita State Shockers.
It’s kind of surprising this hasn’t happened yet, to be honest. We’ve seen Creighton face other Valley teams in their time in the Big East, and Wichita is always looking for a challenging nonconference schedule.
Hopefully it happens sooner or later.
This one has gotten incredibly tough based on the events of the last few years. DePaul started a series with Northwestern that’ll continue through the next couple seasons, is playing Illinois in the Gavitt Games (for the first time since 1960!) and will face Notre Dame to open Wintrust Arena. Those are DePaul’s three biggest nonconference rivals, historically.
So, now what? DePaul faces South Florida where Blue Demon legend Rod Strickland is an assistant coach? Meh.
DePaul faces Dan Muller’s Illinois State Redbirds, who have suddenly become the state’s best college basketball program? Eh.
DePaul faces Louisville in a battle for Mike Rutherford’s love and support? Probably not.
DePaul faces Virginia, Dave Leitao’s old school? Absolutely not. No one should ever have to willingly watch Virginia play basketball. Gross.
I guess Wisconsin is a suitable opponent. DePaul is 6-1 against them all-time, they’re a local school, and most Illinois residents have a rivalry with at least one team from Wisconsin anyway, so why not add another?
Another tough one! They’ve played Maryland, Syracuse, and Connecticut recently.
So, where do we go from here? Houston? Patrick Ewing is back in the fold and was the Hoyas’ main man when they beat Houston for the title in 1984.
The problem is, neither team is what it used to be.
Pittsburgh could be fun, I guess. Georgetown and the Panthers played a bunch back in the day, with both being in the Big East. The Hoyas lead the all-time series 41-36 and they haven’t played since Pitt’s departure.
Duke would be fun, just because they’re Duke. Georgetown faced them a couple years ago, it was fun.
They play their biggest rival (Wisconsin) every season, so that’s helpful.
As a result, though, Marquette Twitter’s responses were quite interesting for this one.
A few folks said Virginia Tech, which makes sense given how things ended with Buzz Williams and his departure to Blacksburg.
Others said Notre Dame, which, uh, there are reasons for that too.
Four years later and there’s still some bad blood. Plus, who likes Notre Dame in the first place?
Brewtown Andy also suggested Kentucky due to... similar reasons.
So, yeah. A lot of good options for Marquette.
Providence wants UConn. This one was a bit of a no-brainer, backed up by numerous people on the Twitter account.
It makes sense, both were in the Big East. There’s geographic proximity. The Friars beating the Huskies for Kris Dunn and Makai Ashton-Langford likely only adds fuel to the fire.
The Friars are playing Houston at Mohegan Sun this year, so maybe UConn will take notice and they could set something up at the same venue next year.
It’s hard to think of too many other options for the Friars, because they already play a ton of local teams. Maybe if Billy Donovan ever goes back to coaching college basketball they could do a home-and-home with his team.
I think the answer to this might have been Louisville prior to this year, but this is happening!
It’ll be a lot of fun given the Willards’ connection to Rick Pitino. Plus, it’s pretty good for Seton Hall’s RPI.
As such, a ton of Seton Hall fans suggested the Michigan Wolverines. That would be fun and it makes a ton of sense. In addition to playing in the 1989 National Championship, the Pirates and Wolverines have both been pretty good for the majority of this decade.
With the Gavitt Games being a thing for five more seasons, it’s not crazy to think that this could happen down the road.
This is a bit of a tough one, too. They play Duke again this year. They play a bunch of old Big East teams. Playing at Madison Square Garden makes them an attractive opponent.
Syracuse is afraid of the Red Storm after taking three straight losses to them, the last of which was a 33-point bludgeoning at the Carrier Dome.
Maybe renewing the rivalry with ‘Cuse is the dream situation for the Red Storm. Think about it: three straight wins, plus it’s a big game, especially for New York recruits who want to stay in New York. This sort of thing sticks with them. Plus, there’s the former Big East factor, of course. Nothing brings everyone together like a common enemy, and Syracuse (especially Jim Boeheim’s natural curmudgeon demeanor) certainly fits that bill.
Here’s where things get real fun. Over the past few years the Wildcats have faced a litany of awesome nonconference opponents, to the point where it seems like nothing is too crazy.
They play Gonzaga this year at Madison Square Garden, which will be a blast. They play UConn for the next few years, which should also be fun.
The answer almost defaults to another blueblood school like Duke or Kentucky. Maybe even Kansas, who Nova faced in one of the best games of the 2016 NCAA Tournament. With the talent Villanova brings in on an annual basis, there’s really no incorrect answer here. Take a school who has been good for the last 20 years (or longer), and that’s your answer for Villanova.
We close with another team on the rise who never shies away from a challenging nonconference schedule.
Initially, I thought Ohio State was a natural fit for the Musketeers. They’re THE state’s flagship college basketball program.
But, are they? I don’t think it’s possible to argue that Xavier has passed them in recent years. Maybe Chris Holtmann changes things and also calls up his old conference pal Chris Mack and sets something up, but Xavier might need to start dreaming bigger.
Enter the Kentucky Wildcats.
Xavier always makes a point to play a bunch of local schools, Kentucky always makes a point to have 3-4 high-caliber noncon games per season. A home-and-home here seems like a natural fit for both sides. Cintas Center and Rupp Arena are two of college basketball’s best venues, and the fans would pack the place in either situation.
Some also suggested Arizona, but after last year’s Elite Eight, the Musketeers kind of got the last laugh, didn’t they? Plus, Arizona is in Maui in 2018-19, as are the Musketeers.