It’s hard to believe, but the 2020-21 college basketball season is less than 2 weeks away, and we still don’t know the full extent of team schedules, especially on the non-conference front. If you’ve been struggling to keep up with who’s playing who, you’re not alone… the D1 Docket has a nice spreadsheet they’ve been keeping up-to-date though, with games and schedules as they’ve been announced. I suggest keeping this spreadsheet bookmarked until hoops tip off again on November 25th.
To get us all excited about the (abbreviated) non-conference slate we have coming up, I thought I’d rank what should be the best OOC games for the A-10. Quality OOC opponents are difficult to come by to begin with, and in a season with so many unknowns and fewer games overall, that remains the case. From what we know, these are the games / potential games that I think could be the best from a competitive and opportunistic standpoint. Notice, I don’t include games like Saint Joseph’s vs. Kansas on this list because, even though it’s a great opportunity against a top tier opponent, I don’t expect that game to be all that competitive.
1. Richmond @ Kentucky
I think this game is the best realistic opportunity the A-10 has at a significant non-league win. Why? Because playing in Rupp Arena is nearly impossible when it’s packed to the brim, but this season, that won’t be the case. The Spiders, with one of their best rosters in the last decade, have a chance to take down a top 10 team on the road late in November, though it’ll feel more like a neutral site game. UR recently lost Nick Sherod to a season-ending injury, one that really stings for a team that doesn’t have too much depth outside of its starting 5. Regardless, Richmond brings back Jacob Gilyard, Grant Golden, Blake Francis and others to a team that won 24 games last year. And while Kentucky reloads with talented freshmen and a few star-powered transfers (shoutout Jacob Toppin), UR will certainly be the more experienced team. With likely 4 seniors in the starting lineup, Richmond will hope to utilize the “been there, done that” mentality to beat a talented Kentucky team on its own court.
2. Davidson vs. Texas / Others
The “Maui” Invitational this season presents ample opportunities for Davidson to snag a significant non-league win in Asheville. It’s opening game against Texas may be its most difficult test of the entire season. Texas is a top 25 team that ranks 9th in Kenpom’s preseason polls, meaning the ‘Cats will have their work cut out for them when they take the court in a few weeks. Kellan Grady will need to be sharp to start the season; without JAG in the mix, Grady is expected to lead the team in scoring and realistically could put up 20+ PPG, similar to Jack Gibbs his senior year with Davidson. All eyes will be on freshman Sam Mennenga who could be one of the Wildcats’ best big men since Peyton Aldridge, and he’ll be forced to grow up quickly, likely seeing significant playing time during Davidson’s 3-game stretch in Asheville. The Wildcats could get Indiana or Providence, both Kenpom top 75 teams, and if it plays well could even see a strong UNC team in the championship round.
3. Rhode Island vs. Seton Hall
The last time these two teams met, it ended pretty well for the Rams’ who beat the Pirates thanks to a game-winning jumper from Jared Terrell in a classic early season battle back in 2017. The Rams will be grateful to keep this one on their schedule, as it’s a solid matchup against a top 50 team on their own floor. Fatts Russell will be leading the way for the Rams as they enter the season looking to bounce back from a disappointing last couple of weeks in February and March. With a plethora of incoming transfers cleared to play, you’ll see a very different URI team than the one that was on the floor just a few months ago. Langevine, Dowtin, Martin, and Toppin are gone, among others, and while some may think of this as a “rebuilding season” for Rhode Island, I think the Rams have a chance to finish top 3 in an interesting A-10 this year.
4. Richmond @ West Virginia
This presents another really good opportunity for the Spiders; props to them for scheduling a really good OOC slate in a year where it was very difficult to do so. The Mountaineers are a top 20 team heading into 2020-21, and while the Spiders will be the clear underdog on the road in Morgantown, these guys are used to playing in true road games against tougher opponents. Last season, the Spiders pulled off big road wins over Duquesne, Rhode Island, and Davidson among others, and it beat Wisconsin on a neutral site early in the season which turned out to be a great non-conference win. If Richmond wants to solidify itself as an NCAA Tournament team in 2020-21, which I think it’s very capable of doing, winning a game like this would go a long way.
5. VCU @ Tennessee
VCU will start the season with arguably its toughest game all year. The Rams and Volunteers met last year down in Niceville, Florida where the Rams lost on a heartbreaking buzzer-beater three. This year, they’ll be hoping for revenge when they visit Knoxville to face what should be an even better Tennessee team. A surprising loss in the offseason of Marcus Santos-Silva really hurt VCU’s prospects this year, but they’ll return freshman Bones Hyland who really exploded as a dominant shooter and scorer in the latter part of the 2019-20 season. Hyland will need to come out swinging if he and the Rams want to go into Tennessee and pull off a win, but VCU’s at-large hopes this year would get an enormous boost from a win like this.