The Dagger's two-day Big 12 preview continues with a look at the conference's 15 most intriguing non-conference matchups next season.
1. Kansas vs. Michigan State, Nov. 13 (Atlanta)
Comment: It will be overshadowed a bit by the Duke-Kentucky matchup in the second half of the Champions Classic doubleheader, but this showdown between Kansas and Michigan State certainly won't be lacking for star power. The Spartans return most of their top players besides Draymond Green from last year's Sweet 16 team. The Jayhawks bring back three starters from last year's national runner-ups and add promising newcomers Perry Ellis and Ben McLemore.
2. Baylor at Kentucky, Dec. 1
Comment: The last time Baylor met Kentucky, the Bears fell behind by 20 points at halftime en route to an 82-70 Elite Eight loss last March. Good news for the Bears: Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist have moved onto the NBA. Bad news for the Bears: A handful of very talented freshmen have arrived at Kentucky to replace them.
3. Kansas at Ohio State, Dec. 22
Comment: The rematch of last year's national semifinal won by the Jayhawks will feature a pair of potential top 10 teams. Point guard Aaron Craft and high-scoring DeShaun Thomas return to lead an Ohio State team that surely will be eager for revenge on its home floor. The Buckeyes will have to do a better job against Travis Releford, whose 15 points and eight rebounds were key to the Jayhawks' come-from-behind win last March.
4. North Carolina at Texas, Dec. 19
Comment: On a Texas schedule loaded with marquee opponents and challenging games, this visit from the Tar Heels is probably the most intriguing. Four NBA first-round picks have moved on from Chapel Hill, but North Carolina will reload around forward James Michael-McAdoo, sharpshooter Reggie Bullock and freshman point guard Marcus Paige.
5. Texas vs. UCLA, Dec. 8 (Houston)
Comment: Texas has had UCLA's number lately, upsetting the Bruins' most recent Final Four team in Dec. 2007 and following that with victories in Dec. 2008 and last year. This year's matchup may depend on eligibility decisions the NCAA makes regarding Longhorns sophomore Myck Kabongo and UCLA freshmen Kyle Anderson and Shabazz Muhammad.
6. Kansas State vs. NIT Season Tip-Off, Nov. 12-23
Comment: Before the Wildcats can even think of testing themselves against the likes of Michigan and Pittsburgh at Madison Square Garden, a potentially challenging game looms in the Little Apple. If the Wildcats win their opener on Nov. 12, their likely quarterfinal opponent the following day is North Texas, which boasts a talented roster headlined by potential lottery pick Tony Mitchell.
7. Gonzaga at Oklahoma State, Dec. 31
Comment: How capable is Oklahoma State of contending in the Big 12? This New Year's Eve matchup should provide some answers. Gonzaga is loaded this year with Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell in the backcourt and one of the West's deepest frontcourts headlined by senior Elias Harris.
8. Baylor at Gonzaga, Dec. 28
Comment: One of the keys to this showdown will be whether Gonzaga can defend Pierre Jackson off the dribble. Very few teams go into Spokane and win at the Kennel, but Jackson's ability to get in the lane and create for himself and his teammates could give the Bears hope of a marquee road win.
9. Kansas State vs. Florida, Dec. 22 (Kansas City)
Comment: Bruce Weber inherited a fair amount of talent when Frank Martin left for South Carolina, including all-Big 12 wing Rodney McGruder and standout big man Jordan Henriquez. This matchup with a Florida team with Final Four aspirations is the Wildcats' best chance for a signature win before league play begins.
10. West Virginia vs. Michigan, Dec. 15 (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
Comment: Michigan coach John Beilein will face his former team when the Wolverines and Mountaineers square off in Brooklyn. West Virginia will rely on transfers to help fill the void left by the graduation of stars Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant. Michigan will lean on a talented freshman class to complement returning stars Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr.
11. Baylor at Charleston Classic Nov. 15-18
Comment: Assuming it wins its opener against rebuilding Boston College, Baylor likely will be challenged in its next two games. Colorado would be the Bears' most likely semifinal opponent if the Buffs can get by Dayton, while Murray State and St. John's loom in the other half of the bracket.
12. Texas at Maui Invitational, Nov. 19-21
Comment: In its two most recent Maui Invitational appearances, Texas finished third in both 2004 and 2008. The Longhorns will try to improve on that performance next month in a strong field that also includes North Carolina, Marquette and Butler.
13. Iowa State at Iowa, Dec. 4
Comment: The days of this rivalry not being especially relevant in basketball appear to be over as a result of the job Fred Hoiberg and Fran McCaffery have done. Will either the Cyclones or the Hawkeyes contend in their respective leagues this year? Probably not. Will both be competitive and perhaps even sneak into NCAA tournament consideration? Don't bet against it.
14. Oklahoma at Old Spice Classic, Nov. 22-25
Comment: Since Oklahoma's non-conference schedule isn't exactly loaded with elite opponents, the Sooners really need to get in the winner's bracket in Orlando and perhaps spring an upset. Oklahoma opens against UTEP and will likely face Gonzaga in the second round. West Virginia and Davidson loom in the other half of the bracket.
15. Arizona at Texas Tech, Dec. 1
Comment: Believe it or not, Texas Tech doesn't play a single non-league road game, meaning it will not leave Lubbock until a Jan. 5 road game at TCU and not leaving the state until Jan. 16 at Oklahoma. At least former coach Billy Gillispie included a few quality opponents in that slate, including this matchup against a highly touted Arizona team that should be favored to win the Pac-12.
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