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Pac-12 Preview: Ranking the 15 most intriguing non-league games

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Arizona and Florida will meet in Tucson in one of next season's marquee non-league games (US Presswire)

The Dagger's two-day Pac-12 preview continues with a look at the conference's 15 most intriguing non-conference matchups next season.

1. UCLA at Legends Classic, Nov. 19-20

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Comment: It's going to be difficult for UCLA to get through this two-day event unscathed unless Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson are both eligible. Even if the Bruins were to beat Georgetown in the semifinals, looming in the title game would be a potential showdown with preseason No. 1 Indiana.

2. Florida at Arizona, Dec. 15

Comment: Unlike last year when a narrow loss in Gainesville was viewed as progress for an Arizona program in transition, the Wildcats will not be satisfied with anything short of a victory. It will not be easy even at home, however, because Florida returns guard Kenny Boynton, forward Erik Murphy and center Patric Young from a team that fell a bucket or two shy of the Final Four last March.

3. UCLA vs. San Diego State (Anaheim), Dec. 1

Comment: The Aztecs already beat UCLA for key recruit Dakarai Allen in September. Now they'll have a chance to also secure a win over the Bruins on the court. San Diego State has a good track record against Pac-12 schools the past two years, defeating Cal twice and Arizona and USC once apiece.

4. Stanford at Battle 4 Atlantis, Nov. 22-24

Comment: Is Stanford the mediocre team that faded last season in a weak Pac-12 or the promising group that beat NC State and Colorado State out of conference, challenged Syracuse in Madison Square Garden and stormed to the NIT title? This tournament should provide answers. Stanford, which lost only big man Josh Owens from last year, opens with Missouri and then faces either Louisville or Northern Iowa. Duke and Memphis are on the other side of the bracket.

5. UNLV at Cal, Dec. 9

Comment: The toughest home game on Cal's non-league schedule is this visit from a UNLV team that dismantled the Bears in Las Vegas last season. The good news is this year's game will be in Berkeley. The bad news is the Rebels are far stronger this year thanks to an elite recruiting class that includes USC transfer Bryce Jones and heralded freshmen Katin Reinhardt and Anthony Bennett.

6. Missouri at UCLA, Dec. 28

Comment: In addition to the matchup between two potential top 15 teams loaded with talent, here's something else to watch for: The amount of TV time UCLA director of basketball operations Tyus Edney receives. It was Edney whose coast-to-coast layup enabled UCLA to escape Missouri at the buzzer in the second round of the 1995 NCAA tournament on its way to its lone national title post-John Wooden.

7. Arizona at the Diamond Head Classic, Dec. 22-25

Comment: If Arizona is going to meet preseason expectations and capture the Pac-12 title, this is the type of tournament it needs to win. After opening with East Tennessee State, the Wildcats would likely draw NCAA tournament contender Miami in the semifinals and either improved Ole Miss or formidable San Diego State in the title game.

8. Colorado at Kansas, Dec. 8

Comment: Kansas has won 18 straight meetings against Colorado and boasts a 122-39 record all-time against its former Big 12 rival, but the Jayhawks may not have such an easy time this year. Not only has Tad Boyle led Colorado on a deep NIT run and an NCAA tournament bid in the past two seasons, he also has the Buffs poised for a potential top-five Pac-12 finish again this season.

9. Saint Louis at Washington, Nov. 28

Comment: The biggest reason Washington missed the NCAA tournament last March despite winning the Pac-12 regular season title was the Huskies were utterly dreadful during non-league play. They'll have the chance to avenge the most one-sided loss a few weeks into the new season when Atlantic 10 contender Saint Louis visits Seattle in a game pitting Lorenzo Romar against the school where he used to coach.

10. USC at Maui Invitational, Nov. 19-21

The Trojans will be vastly improved thanks to the return of Jio Fontan and an influx of transfers, but this tournament should be an early indicator of whether USC can crack the upper half of the Pac-12 or merely just be competitive. USC opens with rebuilding Illinois and will likely face Texas in the next round. North Carolina, Butler or Marquette could await on the final day.

11. Oregon at Global Sports Classic, Nov. 23-24

Comment: Can Oregon exceed preseason expectations that have the team slipping into the lower half of the Pac-12 this season? This should provide an early gauge. The Ducks start with a true road game at UNLV before facing either a guard-heavy Cincinnati team or an Iowa State team looking to prove it can match last year's success without Royce White.

12. Stanford at NC State, Dec. 18

Comment: Last year, Stanford beat NC State by rallying from an 11-point deficit thanks to a late 19-3 run aided by cramps that sidelined forward C.J. Leslie. It will be an even more difficult challenge this season since the game is in Raleigh and the Wolfpack have added one of the nation's top recruiting classes.

13. Creighton at Cal, Dec. 15

Comment: In a December matchup with Weber State last season, Jorge Gutierrez held Damian Lillard to his worst performance of the season, a quiet 14 points on dreadful 4 of 17 shooting. Gutierrez has graduated, but the Bears will try to do the same thing this season to the nation's leading returning scorer, Creighton's Doug McDermott.

14. Utah at BYU, Dec. 8

On a laughable schedule chock-full of Division II cupcakes and small-conference also-rans, this matchup with in-state rival BYU is Utah's lone early-season matchup against a team of any relevance. Even staying competitive would be a sign of progress for the Utes on the heels of last year's disastrous 6-25 campaign in coach Larry Krystkowiak's debut season in Salt Lake City.

15. Arizona State at Las Vegas Invitational, Nov. 23-24

Comment: On a schedule clearly designed to build confidence and perhaps save coach Herb Sendek's job, this is the lone early-season litmus test. Arizona State will open with Arkansas before meeting either Wisconsin or Creighton. Anything besides two losses would be an encouraging sign for a Sun Devils team looking to build around freshman point guard Jahii Carson, Liberty transfer Evan Gordon and big man Jordan Bachynski.

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