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Jeff Eisenberg

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

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Our week-long Big Ten preview continues with a look at the conference's 15 most intriguing matchups next season.

1. Michigan State at Duke, Dec. 1

Comment: The Big Ten-ACC challenge delivers one of the 2010-11 season's marquee regular season games. Defending national champion Duke has been anointed the consensus favorite to repeat, but Michigan State returns everyone but Raymar Morgan and Chris Allen from a Final Four team.

2. Purdue at Virginia Tech, Dec. 1

Comment: It will be loud and hostile in Blacksburg when likely top-five Purdue visits for a marquee Big Ten-ACC challenge game. This is by far the Boilermakers' most challenging game until Big Ten play, so they'll want to make a strong showing.

3. Ohio State at Florida, Nov. 16

Comment: For two programs who rarely meet, Ohio State and Florida have a lot of history. A Buckeyes win would help ease some of the sting of the Gators beating them in the BCS title game in Jan. 2007 and again in college basketball's national title game a few months later.

4. North Carolina at Illinois, Nov. 30

Comment: Illinois and North Carolina both entered last season with high expectations but crashed and burned and missed the NCAA tournament. This rematch of the 2005 national title game is a good early chance for both programs to show the progress that they've made.

5. Michigan State vs. Syracuse (New York City), Dec. 7

Comment: Tom Izzo has traditionally played one of the nation's toughest schedules every year, but this year's is one of his toughest. This matchup with Big East contender Syracuse comes during a month-long strethc in which the Spartans face Duke and Texas and play in the loaded Maui Invitational.

6. Wisconsin at Marquette, Dec. 6

Comment: One of the nation's most rabid in-state inter-conference rivalries will have plenty on the line as usual this season. Both Wisconsin and Marquette are fringe contenders in their respective conferences who could use a big early victory to boost them heading into the meat of the schedule.

7. Illinois vs. Missouri (St. Louis), Dec. 22

Comment: The basketball version of the "Arch Rivalry" may not get the attention of Louisville-Kentucky, but this matchup is always bitterly contested. This year should be no exception with both the Tigers and Illini looking like potential top 25 teams and fringe conference title contenders.

8. Michigan State at Maui Invitational, Nov. 22-24

Comment: The Spartans drew Chaminade in the opening round, but the rest of the challenge will stiffen in a hurry. Either Wichita State or Connecticut await in the semifinals and Kentucky or Washington loom as potential title game opponents.

9. Indiana at Kentucky, Dec. 11

Comment: A good showing in this nationally televised matchup would go a long way toward proving that Indiana's rebuilding process is making progress. The Hoosiers are expected to be better with a healthy Maurice Creek and a more experienced supporting cast, but this will be a good measuring stick for their postseason hopes.

10. Purdue at West Virginia, Jan. 16

Comment: A trip to Morgantown is never a cakewalk, but doing it in the midst of Big Ten play is especially challenging. Even with DaSean Butler and Devin Ebanks having moved on to the NBA, West Virginia is an NCAA tournament caliber team capable of a top-four Big East finish.

11. Minnesota at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, Nov 18-21

Comment: If Minnesota wants to emerge from the shadow of its more high-profile Big Ten peers, then this tournament is the ideal opportunity. Among the opponents the Gophers could face are North Carolina in the semifinals and West Virginia and Vanderbilt in the title game.

12. Illinois at Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, Nov. 20, 21

Comment: The Illini return plenty of talent and brought in a high-quality recruiting class again this season. They'll have a chance to show they're an improved team right away with a semifinal matchup against youthful Texas and a potential title game showdown against Big East favorite Pittsburgh.

13. Michigan at the Legends Classic, Nov. 26-27

Comment: Michigan crumbled amid high expectations last year, so this is the Wolverines' chance to show they're better than people think a year later. Up first for Michigan is Syracuse, followed by either UTEP or Georgia Tech.

14. Creighton at Northwestern, Nov. 28

Comment: This is the sort of game that Northwestern has to consistently win to make its first-ever NCAA tournament appearance. Creighton isn't a powerhouse, but the Blue Jays are a Missouri Valley Conference contender that is certainly capable of beating the Wildcats on an off night.

15. Purdue at Southern Illinois, Nov. 26

Comment: Purdue coach Matt Painter coached the Salukis when they were a perennial Missouri Valley contender earlier this decade. Now Painter's new team must beat his old one to set up a potentially intriguing title game against Richmond the following night.

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