We got together once again to talk about Big East hoops! In this edition of BECB Asks, we’re asking: What’s the biggest nonconference game of the season for the Big East?
Christopher Novak: It almost has to be UCLA-Villanova. Just based solely off preseason projections, no matchup outside of UCLA-Gonzaga has the kind of magnitude of this matchup presents. The two teams are the preseason favorites to win their respective conferences, they each start in the Top 10 of KenPom’s preseason rankings, and have some of the best talents in the nation going head to head. Add in the fact that it’s an on-campus matchup and not some lame neutral site game? UCLA-Nova takes the cake for me.
Chris Thedinga: I’ll take a game a bit under the radar; St. John’s vs. Kansas on December 3rd. The Red Storm are not seeing as much preseason love as they deserve when looking at this year’s starting five. SJU has the athleticism and length to match up well with Kansas and I could see Posh Alexander giving Arizona State transfer Remy Martin a fit. Kansas comes in at number three in the KenPom preseason rankings, while St. John’s finds itself at 51. Although these two basketball powers haven’t met for 20 years, the Jayhawks were taken to the wire at home in last year’s non-con matchup against Creighton. This one is being played at UBS Arena in New York and it could be a game that puts the Red Storm back in the spotlight heading into conference play.
Andrew Padyk: I’ll make a fun pick for a game that might fly under the radar but could be well worth the watch just as the noncon games come to a close. I’m talking about UConn’s meeting with the St. Bonaventure Bonnies on December 11th at the Prudential Center. This is an interesting albeit tricky final noncon test for the Huskies as they are squaring off against a Bonnies team whose accolades so far for this season are ranked 23rd in the preseason AP Poll, 30th in the KenPom preseason rankings, reigning dual A-10 champions, and returning all five starters for their senior season looking to kickstart where they left off last year as one of the best defensive units in the country. In a roundabout way, UConn potentially drew the short straw against the mid-major darling for this season. That’s not to say that UConn won’t be up to the test as they themselves are riding into this year preseason ranked 24th in the AP Poll, 21st on KenPom, and might be the best Big East team outside of the Villanova tier. Not to mention that Dan Hurley will deploy a Houston-esque (Houston-lite) style of defense in what should be an interesting game of lock pick as both teams try to figure each other out. In all this should be a fun game to close out the noncon schedule for this season.
Matt St. Jean: The pick here is obvious: Villanova taking on the hottest team from last year’s March Madness on the road. Obviously, I’m talking about Villanova at Baylor. The defending NCAA champions play host to Jay Wright and the Wildcats in mid-December, the last game of Villanova’s out of conference schedule. By that point, the team should be well over any offseason rust and functioning like a Fortune 500 company. While Villanova also travels to UCLA, Baylor has been the better and more consistent program over the past decade. Baylor is also ranked higher than UCLA in the preseason KenPom rankings. You can talk about history all you want, but I’ll take the present. Villanova at Baylor is a must-watch game and is by far the most interesting game in the Big East during the non-conference slate.
Bonus: UConn vs Auburn the day before Thanksgiving. This neutral court battle is between two teams just two spots apart in the AP Preseason Poll. If you’re looking for some holiday Big East action, this is your pick.
Tom Giustino: There are a lot of great options, but I mean, it has to be Villanova vs UCLA, right? A top 5 matchup after just one regular-season tune-up game for each team. I also see a lot of people questioning if the hype behind both UCLA and Villanova is real which should make this matchup even better. Both teams have something to prove early on. UCLA returns a final four team and adds Rutgers transfer, Myles Johnson. Villanova returns 4 starters and, without Collin Gillespie, was the only team to make Baylor, the eventual champs, sweat in the entire NCAA tournament. Yes, they lose Robinson-Earl, but Villanova has a great balance of returning experience and talented youth.
Some additional noteworthy games include: Villanova-Baylor, UConn-Auburn, St. John’s-Kansas, and basically Seton Hall’s entire non-con slate
Tommy Godin: When you think of the Big East’s most notable non-conference matchup this year, you immediately think of Villanova taking on UCLA (or even Baylor, despite the Bears losing four of their starters). But I am going to have a little fun with my pick and go outside of the box, by picking not just one matchup but two, in the form of the 2021 Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic. The Tip-Off Tournament features four teams; Villanova, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Purdue. Villanova is guaranteed to play Tennessee on November 20th in the first game of the tournament, then, depending on the result of the game, will face either North Carolina or Purdue in either the championship or consolation game the day after. Despite being played in November, this field is stacked. All four teams appeared on the first AP Top-25 poll of the year with Villanova being the highest seeded team at four, followed closely by Purdue at seven, and rounded out with Tennessee and North Carolina at 18 & 19, respectively. This tournament will be a great test for Jay Wright’s Wildcats early in the season, as well as appointment television for any combination of these blockbuster matchups.
Robert O’Neill: For the sake of being different I will go with one that hasn’t been said. I think Xavier vs. Ohio State. The teams haven’t played in the regular season since 1935, and it feels like it should be the start of an annual series, although it probably won’t be. The Buckeyes come into the year #17 in the AP Poll, while Xavier received votes, so a win would probably bump the Musketeers into the top 25. Even more, I’m interested in seeing how Paul Scruggs closes out his college career. Scruggs is on the preseason watch list for the Bob Cousy Award, and it feels like an early-season meeting against a talented and experienced Ohio State squad could be a good test to see what we should expect out of him this season.