College basketball leaders are busy trying to figure out what the nonconference portion of the 2020-21 season could look like in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. It’s an unenviable task with too many variables to count.
So instead of trying to solve that problem, our panel of writers resolved this week to take on another college basketball scheduling task. For this week’s dribble handoff, we are deciding which non-conference matchups not currently on the schedule we would most like to see.
Some obvious meetings that could generate excitement for the sport go unscheduled for many reasons. One of those reasons is the bad blood that exists between coaches and their former programs. Such instances comprise three of our staff’s four picks. Perhaps college basketball leaders will take note and create a bubble for nonconference games that includes some grudge matches. They could call it a “grubble.”
Here are the four best games not scheduled we would like to see.
Oklahoma State vs. Illinois
My favorite type of non-league games are the ones that have storylines beyond the actual game — which is why I’d add Illinois at Oklahoma State to the 2020-21 schedule, if I could. Granted, it wouldn’t be the same in the middle of a pandemic because OSU fans wouldn’t be allowed to pack Gallagher-Iba Arena to say hello to their former coach. But it would still be Brad Underwood returning to the place where he coached for one season before surprisingly bouncing to Illinois in March 2017 (after Illini athletic director Josh Whitman recognized an aggressive pursuit, and big contract, could get a deal done), and that would be fun.
Additionally, on its own merit, the game would actually be interesting because it would feature two possible First Team All-American guards in Cade Cunningham (Oklahoma State) and Ayo Dosunmu (Illinois). It would be on NBA scouts’ radars, I promise. And if Underwood were to win it in the process of establishing his Illini as a Big Ten power and true contender to make the 2021 Final Four, while Oklahoma State remains banned from the 2021 NCAA Tournament because of violations committed by a former assistant (Lamont Evans) Underwood brought to Oklahoma State’s campus, well, that sure would be something to see. — Gary Parrish
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Duke vs. Gonzaga
My No. 1 choice for next season would be Gonzaga-Baylor, but since that has technically been agreed to — schedule allowing — I’ll sidestep that. It’s a great thing for college basketball that the head coaches at arguably the two best teams in the 2020-21 preseason were willing to do that. OK, so my game is one that not only we don’t have for next season, but one we probably won’t ever have in terms of an on-campus environment: Gonzaga vs. Duke. Gonzaga has reached a level where it can schedule a home-and-home with just about anyone … except Duke. (And maybe Kentucky.) Wouldn’t it be great to see Duke play in Gonzaga’s barn? Or vice-versa?
These schools have met three times before in the regular season, with all of those times being in tournament or made-for-TV settings. Gonzaga beating Duke in the 2018 Maui title game was one of the best games of the 2018-19 season.Prior to that, Duke beat Gonzaga twice, in 2006 and 2009, at Madison Square Garden. I’d love to see this young, talented Duke team (who’s the best player: sophomore Wendell Moore Jr, sophomore Matthew Hurt, freshman Jalen Johnson or someone else?) play against a veteran, sharpshooting Gonzaga squad. It’d be fascinating. I’m not convinced Duke will be top-10 good, but a game against Gonzaga would give us a real barometer to that. — Matt Norlander
Louisville vs. Iona
We all know Rick Pitino, a coaching legend at Kentucky and Louisville, is now entering his first season at Iona, and wants to face off against Kentucky and coach John Calipari. He even said so on record earlier this spring in an interview on the Dan Patrick Show.
“I would love to schedule Kentucky in (Madison Square) Garden in the Jimmy V Classic,” he said. “I think that would be a great draw and would be exciting to see. I hope John Calipari would entertain that.”
But Pitino is adamant he does not, at all, want to schedule a game against Louisville. No way, no how. Here’s how quickly he shot down that possibility in the same interview:
So of course this is exactly what I want to happen. No, this is what I need to happen. It’d be cathartic.
Pitino and UL ended their relationship on rocky terms which led to a battle in courts on the money left on his contract at the time of his firing in 2017. The two sides aren’t on good footing. But who wouldn’t want to see Iona and Louisville? Nevermind the fact that the Cards would probably cruise, and that Iona would be outmatched in talent by a wide margin. Seeing Pitino face off against Louisville — knowing the long back story and the tension still lingering — would be worth the price of admission alone. — Kyle Boone
Memphis vs. Kentucky
I’ll never forget attending the Memphis vs. Murray State game in 2011 when the public address announcer at FedExForum announced “John Calipari” as the coach of “your Memphis Tigers.” It was a bizarre mistake. Calipari was in his third season at Kentucky by then, and the disdain for him was palpable in Memphis as the Tigers tried to find their footing under his successor, Josh Pastner. But the moment made me wonder what it would be like if Calipari was actually back in the building to coach against the Tigers.
When Calipari left Memphis, he took a recruiting class that included John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins with him, and there was an open NCAA investigation into Derrick Rose’s standardized test score at the time. That investigation didn’t go well for the Tigers, and neither did the first season after Calipari’s departure. With the lean roster he left behind, Memphis missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years and still hasn’t regained the dominance it enjoyed during his tenure.
Seeing Kentucky play at Memphis would be wildly entertaining. Maybe he would he be booed mercilessly. Or perhaps the wounds have healed enough that the school would play some tribute video commemorating the program’s accomplishments under Calipari and it would turn into a cathartic experience. Probably not. But whatever happened, it would be fun to watch. — David Cobb