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Big 12 Preview: Ranking the 15 best non-conference games

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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The Dagger's week-long Big 12 preview continues with a look at the conference's 15 most intriguing non-conference matchups next season.

1. Kansas vs. Kentucky, Nov. 15

Comment: It won't take long to find out how Kansas is adjusting to the loss of four starters from last season's Elite Eight squad. Up second on the schedule is a nationally televised matchup at Madison Square Garden against Kentucky, the No. 2 team in the nation behind only North Carolina in most preseason polls.

More from The Dagger's Big 12 Preview

MONDAY: Big 12 projections and storylines to watch
TUESDAY: Iowa State's Royce White aims to capitalize on second chance.
WEDNESDAY: Ex-Oklahoma guard Michael Neal projects the league
THURSDAY: Ranking the 15 best non-league Big 12 games
FRIDAY: Q&A with Baylor point guard Pierre Jackson

2. Ohio State at Kansas, Dec. 10

Comment: The Buckeyes and Jayhawks entered the NCAA tournament last March as favorites to meet for the national championship, but neither one managed to even make it to Houston. Eight months later they'll square off in Lawrence in what should be a stiff test to Kansas' run of home-court dominance.

3. Texas A&M vs. Florida, Dec. 29

Comment: From the late December date to tropical Miami location, this matchup between football schools with formidable basketball programs may have the feel of a bowl game. Texas A&M didn't challenge itself much with its cupcake-heavy non-conference schedule this season, but this veritable road game against guard-heavy Florida will be a difficult game for the Aggies to win.

4. Texas at UCLA, Dec. 3

Comment: The last time Texas visited Pauley Pavilion in Dec. 2007, it held Kevin Love in check and handed a Final Four-bound UCLA team its first loss of the season. The stakes won't be as high this season, but this matchup still represents an early chance to see if the oft-questioned Texas frontcourt can hold its own against UCLA's enviable collection of quality big men.

5. Kansas at Maui Invitational, Nov. 21-23

Comment: There aren't any pushovers besides Chaminade at this year's loaded Maui Invitational, but Kansas still caught a break with its side of the draw. An opening-round matchup with Georgetown followed by a likely semifinal against UCLA is a forgiving path to the title game considering that Duke, Memphis and Michigan are all on the other side of the bracket.

6. West Virginia vs. Kansas State, Dec. 8

Comment: In a game that's rich with storylines, Bob Huggins' Mountaineers will travel to Wichita to face his former team, Kansas State, coached by Huggins' former assistant Frank Martin. It would be even better to see Huggins return to Cincinnati to get a well-deserved ovation from Bearcats fans, but this is a nice consolation prize.

7. Baylor at BYU, Dec. 17

Comment: With all due respect to a quirky road game at Northwestern two weeks earlier, this matchup at BYU will be Big 12 contending Baylor's first true test of the season. The post-Jimmer Cougars won't be a juggernaut, but the deafening Mariott Center has a well-deserved reputation for making life difficult on opposing teams. {YSP:MORE}

8. Texas at North Carolina, Dec. 21

Comment: Beating the No. 1 team in the nation on its home floor would have been a difficult for Texas even if first-round draft picks Tristan Thompson, Jordan Hamilton and Cory Joseph returned to school. Without any of them back in burnt orange this winter, pencil this in as a loss.

9. Iowa State at Michigan, Dec. 3

Comment: Iowa State's non-conference schedule doesn't afford it many chances to prove itself against NCAA tournament caliber teams, so this matchup with Michigan will be one of the Cyclones' few litmus tests before Big 12 play. A win on the road against a potential top 25 opponent would go a long way toward elevating Iowa State from potential Big 12 sleeper to full-fledged conference contender.

10. Baylor vs. Mississippi State, Dec. 28

Comment: Two talented teams who underachieved and missed the NCAA tournament a year ago will try to show their ready for the start of conference play the following week. This is a neutral-court game in Dallas, but Baylor should have a home-court advantage playing less than a two-hour drive from its campus.

11. Illinois vs. Missouri, Dec. 12

Comment: The basketball version of the "Arch Rivalry" figures to be bitterly contested once again next December. Big 12 contender Missouri will be seeking its third straight victory over an Illinois team that lost Demetri McCamey, Mike Tisdale and Jereme Richmond off last year's team but probably will have better chemistry.

12. Texas A&M vs. Mississippi State, Nov. 17

Comment: Since the Aggies' tepid non-league schedule doesn't afford them many chances at marquee victories, it's imperative they win this 2K Sports Classic semifinal at Madison Square Garden. Not only would Mississippi State qualify as a quality win, it's also huge for Texas A&M's RPI because the winner will likely get Pac-12 contender Arizona and the loser will likely face rebuilding St. John's.

13. Oklahoma State vs. Preseason NIT, Nov. 15-25

Comment: To give the nation its first chance to see prized freshman Le'Bryan Nash in a big game environment, the Cowboys need only to dispatch of Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Oral Roberts or Texas-San Antonio. Stanford, Virginia Tech and Syracuse are the three other host schools in the Preseason NIT this year, so that means an all-Orange title game with Jim Boeheim's team would be the most compelling matchup.

14. Alabama vs. Kansas State, Dec. 17

Comment: Is Kansas State a viable NCAA tournament threat despite losing Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly from last year's underachieving team? A pseudo-neutral court game against improved Alabama in mid-December won't answer that question definitively, but it should provide some clues.

15A. Missouri at Old Dominion, Dec. 30

Comment: Missouri's greatest weakness has been its inability to rebound in recent years. Old Dominion's biggest strength traditionally has been its prowess on the offensive glass. Will home-court advantage and that edge on the glass be enough to propel the perennial Colonial Athletic Association contender to a big victory over the Tigers?

15B. Missouri at Missouri Southern, Oct. 30

Comment: Why did one of Missouri's exhibition games against a non-Division I team need to make this list? Because sometimes it's not the action on the court that makes a game noteworthy. The NCAA granted Missouri a waiver to schedule this matchup in order to benefit victims of the tornado that ravaged the town of Joplin this past spring.

More conference previews from the Dagger:

ACC: Lessons from the pros keep North Carolina humble and hungry, ACC projections and storylines to watch, Ex-Wake Forest star Ish Smith scouts the league, Ranking the 15 best non-league ACC games, Q&A with Florida State junior Michael Snaer

Atlantic 10: Temple's Micheal Eric hopes to seize his chance, A-10 projections and storylines to watch, Ex-Xavier star Byron Larkin scouts the league, Ranking the 15 best non-league A-10 games, Q&A with St. Louis guard Kwamain Mitchell

Big Ten: How Zack Novak became Michigan's emotional leader; Big Ten projections and storylines to watch ; Ex-Ohio State star Jim Jackson scouts the league; Ranking the 15 best non-league Big Ten games; Q&A with Michigan State forward Delvon Roe

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