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The Dagger

The 25 most intriguing non-conference games of the 2013-14 season

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Thanks to its daunting schedule, Kansas appears four times on this list (Getty Images)

Our 2013-14 season preview continues with the Dagger's look at the 25 most intriguing non-conference games. Check back every morning for the next six weeks for more college hoops preview content.

1. Louisville at Kentucky, Dec. 28: College basketball’s most hostile rivalry pits a Kentucky team loaded with NBA prospects against a Louisville team that returns all but two rotation players from last season’s national championship run. Whichever team wins this game will probably begin conference play as the favorites to cut down the nets in Dallas next April.

2. Duke vs. Kansas, Nov. 12 (Chicago): This half of the Champion’s Classic gets a slim nod over Kentucky-Michigan State only because it serves as the nation’s first chance to watch Andrew Wiggins play in college. The endlessly hyped Kansas freshman will lead a youthful Kansas squad against a Duke team that will be unveiling a top prospect of its own in former Sports Illustrated cover boy Jabari Parker.

3. Kentucky vs. Michigan State, Nov. 12 (Chicago): How good is this year’s Champion’s Classic? A possible No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup may not be the more anticipated matchup. Kentucky has incredible upside this season, but will the freshman-heavy Wildcats have jelled quickly enough to topple a Michigan State team returning everyone but Derrick Nix from a Sweet 16 team?

4. Michigan at Duke, Dec. 3: If the Wolverines and Blue Devils had to go until 2013 without meeting in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, at least it's a marquee matchup that ought to be worth the wait. Both teams should begin the season in the top 10 with Michigan returning three starters from a team that reached the national title game and Duke boasting one of the nation's best perimeter units.

5. Kentucky at North Carolina, Dec. 14: The last time these blue bloods met, Anthony Davis swatted away a John Henson shot in the final seconds to preserve a narrow victory for the Wildcats in Dec. 2011. The series is back after a one-year hiatus, but does North Carolina have the firepower to get revenge? Only if James Michael McAdoo develops after a disappointing sophomore year and one or more of the young frontcourt players emerges alongside him.

6. Arizona at Michigan, Dec. 14: By the time these two Final Four contenders meet in mid-December, we should have a better idea what to expect from two freshmen who are critical to both teams’ respective hopes. Derrick Walton is the likely heir apparent to Trey Burke at point guard for Michigan, while Aaron Gordon is a decorated prospect who will be expected to contribute immediately at both forward spots for Arizona.

7. Memphis at Oklahoma State, Nov. 19: There won’t be many better backcourt battles all season than the one waged in Stillwater two weeks into the season. Oklahoma State features future lottery pick Marcus Smart and underrated Markel Brown, with sweet-shooting Phil Forte coming off the bench. Memphis has a quartet of outstanding guards in Michael Dixon Jr., Geron Johnson, Chris Crawford and Joe Jackson.

[Pat Forde: Kentucky avoiding 40-0 talk despite immensely talented freshman class]

8. North Carolina at Michigan State, Dec. 4: This is ACC-Big Ten Challege matchup is North Carolina’s sixth game of the season, which means you have to assume P.J. Hairston’s season-opening suspension will have been lifted. If so, we’ll potentially be treated to a terrific wing matchup between the high-scoring Hairston and Big Ten player of the year candidate Gary Harris.

9. Kansas at Florida, Dec. 10: No power-conference program plays a tougher schedule than Kansas this season, but it’s Florida who will be in the midst of the more difficult stretch when these two potential top 10 teams meet. The visit from the Jayhawks is preceded by a road game at UConn and followed by a date with Memphis in New York City. Good luck, Gators.

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Yogi Ferrell and Indiana get another crack at Syracuse this season (Getty Images)

10. Indiana at Syracuse, Dec. 3: Syracuse’s first-ever ACC-Big Ten Challenge game pits the Orange against an opponent out for vengeance. Guard Yogi Ferrell and forward Will Sheehey will lead the Hoosiers in the rematch of their crushing 61-50 loss to Syracuse in the 2013 Sweet 16. Indiana will need to devise a better game plan against the two-three zone to have any chance of winning on the road.

11. UCLA vs. Duke, Dec. 19 (New York City): Questions about UCLA’s point guard play are all that’s keeping the Bruins from a top 15 preseason ranking. By this showdown against Duke, we’ll have a better idea whether 6-foot-8 Kyle Anderson can orchestrate the offense and distribute for his teammates or whether that responsibility will fall to freshman combo guards Zach Lavine and Bryce Alford.

12. Kansas at Colorado, Dec. 7: It wasn’t long ago that Kansas fans would outnumber those from Colorado when the Jayhawks made their annual Big 12 visit to Boulder to pummel the bottom-feeding Buffaloes. That won’t be the case in December when Kansas returns as a non-conference opponent. Not only is Spencer Dinwiddie-led Colorado an NCAA tournament contender, the Buffs have also sold out the entire season at the Coors Event Center.

13. Indiana vs. Notre Dame, Dec. 14 (Indianapolis): Bragging rights in one of the most basketball-crazed states in the nation will be on the line when Indiana and Notre Dame meet in the marquee game of this year’s Crossroads Classic. Notre Dame’s backcourt of Jerian Grant, Eric Atkins and promising freshman Demetrius Jackson is one of the best in the nation, but it will be tested by a young but talented Hoosiers team that will have jelled some by mid-December.

14. Gonzaga at Memphis, Feb. 8: Does this year’s Gonzaga team have what it takes to win in March? This mid-February visit to backcourt-rich Memphis should be a good barometer. Gonzaga has a strong backcourt of its own led by Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr., but the Zags need either Sam Dower or Przemek Karnowski to have a breakout year, frontcourt depth to emerge behind them and someone to replace all the little things Mike Hart did so well.

15. Marquette at Wisconsin, Dec. 7: The 120th matchup between these in-state rivals pits a Marquette team with a deep, experienced frontcourt but an unproven guard corps against a Wisconsin team in exactly the opposite position. Marquette has won two straight including a 60-50 victory last year in Milwaukee, but the Badgers lead the overall series 64-55.

16. New Mexico vs. Kansas, Dec. 14 (Kansas City): Even though Kansas will have the superior talent and the crowd on its side, New Mexico’s edge in experience gives it a real shot in this game. Whereas the Jayhawks will use a freshman-heavy rotation, the Lobos return four of five starters from last year’s Mountain West championship team including league player of the year Kendall Williams and standout big man Alex Kirk.

17. Cincinnati vs. Xavier, Dec. 14: Xavier is still recovering from the spate of transfers it endured during the 2012 offseason and Cincinnati figures to be good but not great, however, the intensity of this rivalry still makes it must-see theater. It also helps that the game will feature two of the nation’s better guards in Cincinnati senior Sean Kilpatrick and Xavier sophomore Semaj Christon.

18. Ohio State at Marquette, Nov. 16: One year after their matchup aboard the USS Yorktown was canceled due to inclement weather, Marquette and Ohio State will try their luck on land. Both teams reached the Elite Eight last year but will have to replace their leading scorer, Vander Blue for the Golden Eagles and Deshaun Thomas for the Buckeyes.

19. Memphis vs. Florida, Dec. 17 (New York): At the end of a four-game gauntlet that begins with games against Florida State, UConn and Kansas, Florida will travel to New York to meet another formidable opponent. Memphis has as deep a backcourt as anyone in the nation, but the key for the Tigers will be whether they can match up with Florida’s stable of talented big men, especially since McDonald’s All-American Chris Walker may rejoin the Gators for this game.

20. Wichita State at Saint Louis, Dec. 1: This may be the best matchup of the season of teams from outside power conferences. Saint Louis lost only point guard Kwamain Mitchell and forward Cody Ellis off a team that swept the Atlantic 10 regular season and tournament titles last season. Wichita State returns many of the stars of its stunning Final Four run including forward Cleanthony Early and guards Ron Baker, Tekele Cotton and Fred VanVleet.

21. VCU at Virginia, Nov. 12: It’s a shame Virginia hasn’t agreed to schedule VCU in previous seasons, but at least the first meeting between the two programs in 15 years comes at high-water marks for both. Juvonte Reddic and Treveon Graham lead perhaps the most talented team of Shaka Smart’s tenure, while Joe Harris highlights a Virginia roster capable of making the NCAA tournament and perhaps even contending for an ACC title.

22. Oregon vs. Georgetown, Nov. 8 (South Korea): An Army base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, will serve as the unusual venue for this season-opening clash. The backdrop won’t be the only thing that makes this one worth watching either as Oregon boasts one of the quickest and deepest backcourts in the nation and Georgetown has a dynamic guard trio of its own featuring Markel Starks, Jabril Trawick and D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera.

23. Arizona at San Diego State, Nov. 14: Arizona will find out quickly if it has the poise and toughness to win in a hostile environment because Viejas Arena promises to be off-the-charts loud with a top 10 team in town. San Diego State should be one of the nation’s premier defensive teams next season, but the key to the Aztecs’ season will be whether Tulane transfer Josh Davis can help replace the scoring lost by the departure of Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley.

24. Villanova at Syracuse, Dec. 28: If Syracuse couldn’t fit longtime rivals Georgetown or UConn into its schedule this season, at least this matchup with Villanova keeps some old-school Big East flavor on its schedule. This is a good series for both teams because the Orange have enjoyed success recruiting Philadelphia and the Wildcats have often found players in New York.

25. Harvard at UConn, Jan. 8: The return of Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry makes this the deepest, most talented Harvard team in history, but just how good are the Crimson? This road test at UConn is the best chance for Tommy Amaker’s team to prove itself, along with a road date at Colorado in November and a matchup with improving Boston College on Jan. 1.

Honorable mention: VCU vs. Florida State, Nov. 21 (Puerto Rico); Maryland at Ohio State, Dec. 4; UConn vs. Boston College, Nov. 21 (2K Sports Classic); Wisconsin at Virginia, Dec. 4; Ohio State vs. Notre Dame, Dec. 21 (New York City); Nebraska at Creighton, Dec. 8; Michigan State vs. Georgetown, Feb. 1 (New York City); Iowa at Iowa State, Dec. 13; Boise State at Kentucky, Dec. 10; Tennessee vs. Wichita State, Dec. 14 (Wichita); UConn at Washington, Dec. 22

Five potential games that would make this list if they happen:

1. Arizona vs. Duke (NIT Season Tip-Off title game): The rest of the NIT field is lackluster enough that it would be a big surprise if this top 10 clash didn’t happen. Neither Arizona nor Duke drew any particularly dangerous foes in their pods, and Alabama and Rutgers are the other two host schools.

2. Louisville vs. North Carolina (Hall of Fame Tip-Off title game): Unless either Richmond or Fairfield spring a massive semifinal upset, this massive matchup figures to happen. The defending national champions against a North Carolina team with the firepower to topple them assuming P.J. Hairston is in uniform? Yes, please.

3. Michigan vs. VCU (Puerto Rico Shootout semifinal): Michigan embarrassed VCU in the NCAA tournament a year ago. All the Rams have to do to get a shot at revenge is avoid an upset loss to Florida State in the quarterfinals. The winner of this potential semifinal would probably meet Georgetown in a quality title game, but it’s the matchup between the Rams and Wolverines that holds the most intrigue.

4. Gonzaga vs. Syracuse (Maui Invitational title game): This isn’t a vintage Maui field, but the title game could be very intriguing if Syracuse navigates its way through the top half of the bracket and either Gonzaga or Baylor survive the bottom half. The biggest test for the Orange is probably a Cal team they eliminated in the round of 32 of the NCAA tournament last year. For Gonzaga and Baylor, it’s each-other in a potential semifinal.

5. Marquette vs. Creighton (Wooden Legacy title game): Since the Wooden Legacy field was set prior to Creighton’s move to the Big East, it is now the only tournament that could pit title favorites from the same league in its championship game. Along with Georgetown, Marquette and Creighton are the two leading contenders to capture the inaugural title in the new Big East.

Five games that aren’t scheduled but should be: 1. Kansas-Missouri, 2. Gonzaga-Washington, 3. Maryland-Georgetown, 4. Kentucky-Indiana 5. Ohio State-Cincinnati

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