Must-see college hoops games in November and December

Purdue center Zach Edey (15) is back to carry the Boilermakers against a rugged schedule, which includes a return date with Gonzaga in November. Mandatory Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

College basketball arrives in full force with more than 180 Division I games scheduled for opening night, Monday, Nov. 6.

A few preseason “scrimmages” with high-profile matchups, headlined by the Oct. 29 return of Bill Self to Illinois with No. 1 Kansas in a Maui fundraiser, are worth monitoring from a get-to-know-you sense.

There are no games matching ranked teams head-to-head out of the gate, but feverish hoops fanatics won’t have to wait long for a bunch of headliners.

Here are five men’s college basketball games you need to see in November:

–Kentucky vs. Kansas, Nov. 14 (Champions Classic in Chicago)
Kansas is No. 1 and every year, Kentucky strolls into the Champions Classic bluebloods reunion with a fresh crop of newbies capable of cutting down nets. The No. 16 Wildcats missed the mark last year, and with key bigs injured out of the gate, we’re hoping UK is close to full strength to face Michigan transfer Hunter Dickinson. How deep was the Jayhawks’ need for a dominant paint presence? Twelve of 16 players on the preseason roster are guards.

–Duke vs. Michigan State, Nov. 14 (Champions Classic in Chicago)
Duke is ranked behind only Kansas in the preseason poll and Michigan State checked in at No. 4 behind Purdue. Jon Scheyer pulled more top-ranked recruits to Durham in his second season at Duke and early returns on the likes of point guard Caleb Foster plus returning ACC Rookie of the Year Kyle Filipowski signal bright days ahead. The Blue Devils went 27-9 in their first full year without Coach K since 1979-80. Michigan State has experience and Tom Izzo on the bench, a great place to start for a returning Sweet Sixteen squad. How the Spartans utilize sophomores Jaxon Kohler or Carson Cooper will be critical, but we’re most excited to see freshman guard Jeremy Fears paired with Tyson Walker, Jaden Akins and A.J. Hoggard.

–Saint Mary’s vs. San Diego State, Nov. 17 (Continental Tire Main Event in Las Vegas)
Las Vegas is the landing spot for the two teams in the initial Top 25 poll this season without power conference credentials. The so-called mid-majors do have major resumes. No. 17 San Diego State was the national runner-up in the 2023 NCAA Tournament and No. 23 Saint Mary’s is viewed as the power team in the WCC — not Gonzaga — this season. Worth noting, San Diego State visits Gonzaga on Dec. 29.

–Purdue vs. Gonzaga, Nov. 20 (Maui Invitational first round)
Purdue is No. 3 in the preseason poll on the energy of Player of the Year Zach Edey’s return and the Boilermakers are geared up to put another NCAA Tournament disappointment behind them. Gonzaga (ranked 11th) was second in the nation in scoring last season with 86.2 points per game but are these Bulldogs ready for a stern test in Hawaii without Drew Timme or considerable experience atop the rotation? The winner gets a new-look Syracuse team with stellar scoring potential.

–Marquette vs. UCLA, Nov. 20 (Maui Invitational first round)
Make plans to be up late on Nov. 20 for Marquette-UCLA. The Golden Eagles are ranked fifth to start the season after emerging as a Big East surprise under Shaka Smart. UCLA lost leadership and grit in four-year standout Jaime Jaquez Jr. but these Bruins eschewed the transfer portal rebuild for a reset featuring seven freshmen and a front line featuring 7-foot-3 Aday Mara and 6-10 sophomore Adem Bona.

–What’s next (month) on the marquee?
There are numerous marquee matchups to catch in December, when some of the freshman-laden clubs or top programs with new coaches — looking at you, Syracuse and Notre Dame — are ready to be tested on a grand stage.

Here are a few of the games we’ll be checking on this holiday season:

No. 3 Purdue vs. No. 24 Alabama, Dec. 9 (Toronto)

No. 9 Tennessee vs. No. 25 Illinois, Dec. 9 (Toronto)

No. 22 Villanova vs. UCLA, Dec. 9 (Philadelphia)

No. 20 Baylor vs. No. 4 Michigan State, Dec. 16 (Detroit)

No. 3 Purdue vs. No. 12 Arizona, Dec. 16 (Indianapolis)

No. 10 Florida Atlantic vs. No. 12 Arizona, Dec. 23 (Las Vegas)

–Field Level Media

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