Now that the calendar has flipped to 2023 and conference play is underway, the college basketball season is full steam ahead. Almost every night, there will be a chance for a top team to make another strong statement, a potential bubble team to add a big win to its résumé (or avoid a bad loss) and a struggling team to pull off a shocker. In the past five days alone, we've seen all three previously undefeated teams -- UConn, Purdue and New Mexico -- go down to unranked opponents.
So, what upsets could be lurking? Which games could mold conference championship races? Which ones are just going to be flat-out fun? In chronological order, here are 10 games that stand out.
No. 7 Alabama at No. 13 Arkansas (Jan. 11)
Buckle up and prepare for one heck of a ride when the Crimson Tide roll into Fayetteville for a date with the Razorbacks in one week. Both teams like to run, can score in bunches and are very good defensively; Arkansas ranks fifth in Kenpom's defensive efficiency metric and Alabama 13th.
So, yes, this game features two awesome teams, but the amount of NBA talent puts it over the top. Even if projected lottery pick Nick Smith Jr. (knee management) is out, the Razorbacks have Anthony Black, Jordan Walsh and Ricky Council IV, all of whom come in the top 45 of Kyle Boone's 2023 NBA Draft Big Board. But the top prospect in this one is Alabama's Brandon Miller, who is third on the Big Board and leads all true freshmen this season with 19.2 points per game. If Smith Jr. is out, these teams also meet Feb. 25 in Tuscaloosa.
No. 3 Kansas at Kansas State (Jan. 17)
With its 116-point offensive explosion in a win at Texas on Tuesday, Kansas State officially has our attention. The Wildcats are on a seven-game winning streak and 2-0 in conference play, with their other Big 12 win coming in overtime against a good West Virginia team. Jerome Tang has engineered a magnificent turnaround in his first year; the Wildcats already have 13 wins this season after 14 all of last season.
The Wildcats have a strong one-two punch in a pair of fifth-years: Guard Markquis Nowell and forward Keyontae Johnson, who collapsed on the court in late 2020 but has made an inspiring comeback. Kansas, of course, is no slouch with a handful of high-quality wins. The Jayhawks rank in the top dozen in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and they are 6-0 in games decided by six points or fewer. They combine championship experience (Jalen Wilson, Dajuan Harris) with exciting freshman Gradey Dick. This could be the best and most consequential Sunflower Showdown in a long time in front of what will be a rocking Bramlage Coliseum. The Jayhawks have won 15 of the last 16 meetings.
No. 10 UCLA at No. 5 Arizona (Jan. 21)
There's a chance for the Bruins or Wildcats to get the inside track on the Pac-12 regular-season race when they meet at the McKale Center later this month. There's also a chance for revenge for the Bruins after Arizona beat them in the conference tournament championship last season
There are plenty of familiar faces. For UCLA, Jaime Jaquez Jr. has double-digit points in all 15 games this season. He and Arizona big men Oumar Ballo and Azuolas Tubelis are the only Pac-12 players averaging 17 points and six rebounds this season. At guard, Tyger Campbell is knocking on the top-five of UCLA's all-time assist leaderboard, and his matchup with the fiery Kerr Kriisa will be a fun one. One added treat: Arizona has won 27 straight home games, the third-longest active streak in Division I. It could be up to 30 straight by the time this game tips off.
No. 18 Xavier at No. 4 UConn (Jan. 25)
After the Musketeers ended the Huskies' perfect start to the season, UConn gets a chance for revenge at home. Xavier ranks in the top 10 nationally in offensive efficiency and leads all major-conference teams in 3-point shooting percentage (40.4%), and it's the only major-conference team with four players averaging at least 14 points.
UConn, of course, has its eyes on a Final Four run. Potential national player of the year Adama Sanogo leads a Huskies team that ranks top-10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. He has plenty of help around him as UConn is one of the country's deepest teams.
No. 6 Texas at No. 8 Tennessee (Jan. 28)
In a nice mini respite from conference play, we get the final SEC/Big 12 challenge on Jan. 28, and the crown jewel of the 10 games is Texas at Tennessee. Both of these teams are deep and talented, and an intriguing backcourt battle between the Longhorns' Marcus Carr and Tyrese Hunter and the Volunteers' Zakai Zeigler and Santiago Vescovi will go a long way in determining the outcome. And, of course, we have the storyline of Rick Barnes facing his former program. Last year, Texas held off a late Tennessee comeback for a 52-51 win in Austin. By the way, Kansas vs. Kentucky and Arkansas vs. Baylor will also be plenty of fun. We're looking forward to this day just in general.
No. 9 Gonzaga at Saint Mary's (Feb. 4)
Since 2010-11, no team has more wins against Gonzaga than Saint Mary's (eight). When the Bulldogs visit the Gaels one month from now, a ninth is on the table. Gonzaga boasts the nation's third-best offensive efficiency and plays at one of the faster paces in Division I, while Saint Mary's has a top-10 defense and plays at one of the slowest paces in the country. The Gaels held Drew Timme to just six points in their win over then-No. 1 Gonzaga last year.
No. 8 Tennessee at Kentucky (Feb. 18)
This border battle highlights the mid-February slate, and right now, Tennessee is far and away the better team. The Volunteers have the guard play, versatile depth and experience befitting one of the nation's top-ranked teams.
It's not quite the same story for Kentucky. The Wildcats have suffered losses to Michigan State, Gonzaga, UCLA and Missouri, and their up-and-down offense will have to be firing on all cylinders against the SEC's best defense. Not all is lost for Kentucky, of course. Oscar Tshiebwe remains a double-double machine -- he has three straight and eight on the season -- and star freshman Cason Wallace is coming into his own. If the Wildcats are still struggling entering this matchup, this offers a chance to right the ship. If they've figured things out, this could be one of the best games of the season.
No. 15 Indiana at No. 1 Purdue (Feb. 25)
The second meeting between Hoosier State rivals -- they also play Feb. 4 -- could have significant Big Ten regular-season title implications. Purdue is coming off its first loss of the season at home against Rutgers, but the Boilermakers rarely lose at Mackey Arena, and especially not against Indiana. The Hoosiers haven't won in West Lafayette since 2013.
Both teams revolve around their outstanding big men. Zach Edey is averaging 21.7 points, 13.4 rebounds and 2.2 blocks this season, numbers no major-conference player has averaged this millennium. Trayce Jackson-Davis, meanwhile, isn't far behind with 16.4 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.7 blocks. Last year, both games came down to the final seconds.
No. 16 Duke at North Carolina (March 4)
You'd be hard-pressed to not include this matchup at least once, no matter the year. The Blue Devils and Tar Heels have split their last 40 meetings, 20-20, with Duke outscoring North Carolina by a mere five points over that span.
North Carolina holds all bragging rights currently after crushing Duke in Mike Krzyzewski's final home game and then beating the Blue Devils again in an instant-classic Final Four game. This year's first matchup takes place Feb. 4 at Cameron Indoor Stadium, but Duke-North Carolina in the regular-season finale is tough to top. Jeremy Roach vs. Caleb Love pits of two of the ACC's best guards against one another, and Duke's deep front line vs. Armando Bacot will be a great battle down low.
No. 2 Houston at Memphis (March 5)
There's a good chance Houston enters its final game of the season still with a single loss (against Alabama) on the season. Memphis could certainly double that number. Penny Hardaway's bunch beat the Cougars in last season's regular-season finale and took things down to the wire two seasons ago. Led by Kendric Davis, Memphis boasts an explosive, fast-paced offense, but it will certainly be challenged by Houston's defense, which leads the country allowing just 50.9 points per game. Expect a fun battle between Davis and Marcus Sasser.