October 13, 2011
The Dagger's week-long Big East preview continues with a look at the conference's 15 most intriguing non-conference matchups next season.
Comment: The nation's best non-conference rivalry should be especially hotly contested this season with both Kentucky and Louisville among the nation's best teams and both coaches sniping at one-another during the offseason. The Cards will be seeking revenge for a 78-63 loss to the Wildcats last season.
Comment: This fierce city rivalry will be as nationally relevant this season as it has been since the Bob Huggins era in the Queen City. Both Xavier and Cincinnati return the core of teams that made the NCAA tournament last year and expect to begin the season in the preseason top 25.
3. Memphis at Louisville, Dec. 17
Comment: After a six-year layoff following Louisville's departure from Conference USA, the Cardinals and Tigers will renew a storied rivalry that dates back decades. Better yet, the 86th meeting between the two programs promises to have national implications with both teams likely to begin the season in the top 20.
Comment: The last time these two teams met, Syracuse cruised to an 85-73 victory over Florida in 2009 in a battle of unbeatens in Tampa. Expect this game to be closer since the Gators will be bringing center Patric Young and one of the nation's deepest, most talented backcourts to the Carrier Dome.
5. Vanderbilt at Louisville, Dec. 2
Comment: This matchup of experienced Final Four contenders easily could have been a rematch of an NCAA tournament game from last March. Had Louisville beaten Morehead State and Vanderbilt escaped Richmond, this would have been a juicy round of 32 matchup in Denver.
Comment: If Louisville-Kentucky and Xavier-Cincinnati are the nation's two premier non-league rivalries, then Marquette vs. Wisconsin isn't far behind. The Badgers have won the last two meetings against their in-state rival including a 69-64 victory in Milwaukee last season.
7. Villanova at Temple, Dec. 10
Comment: Until St. Joseph's, La Salle or Penn prove otherwise, the annual matchup between Temple and Villanova will also essentially be the Big 5 championship game. The Wildcats have beaten the Owls five of the last six times they played, but Villanova did get upset the last time the two teams met at the Liacouras Center.
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.
9. Georgetown at the Maui Invitational, Nov. 21-23
Comment: We'll know quickly whether Jason Clark is capable of becoming a go-to scorer for the Hoyas and whether any of their young big men are ready to take a step forward. Up first for Georgetown in Maui is Kansas, likely followed by UCLA in case the Hoyas pull the quarterfinal upset.
10. Connecticut at Battle 4 Atlantis, Nov. 24-26
Comment: It's shameful that this tournament represents the toughest challenge the defending national champs will face before Big East play, but such is the state of UConn's non-league schedule. The Huskies open with UNC Asheville and then face either Central Florida or College of Charleston before a potentially difficult title game against probably either Florida State or Harvard.
11. Marquette vs. Washington, Dec. 6
Comment: Marquette's upperclassmen should be extra motivated to win this neutral-court matchup against the Huskies at Madison Square Garden. Washington used a 15-point second-half comeback to knock Marquette out of the NCAA tournament in the opening round in 2010.
Comment: Since a matchup with rebuilding Tennessee doesn't appear all that daunting, this neutral-court game at Madison Square Garden may be Pittsburgh's most challenging game before Big East play begins. Oklahoma State adds McDonald's All-American Le'Bryan Nash to a strong returning nucleus, raising hopes that the Cowboys can get back to the NCAA tournament this March.
13. Notre Dame vs. CBE Classic, Nov. 21-22
Comment: Star forward Tim Abromaitis will return from his season-opening four-game suspension in time for the Irish's semifinal matchup with Missouri. Upset the Tigers in Kansas City, and Notre Dame will face either Cal or Georgia in the title game the next night.
14. Syracuse at Preseason NIT, Nov. 14, 15, 23, 25
Comment: Considering Syracuse returns the core of last year's team and will be playing in front of a friendly Madison Square Garden crowd, it would be a huge disappointment if the Orange don't win the Preseason NIT. The four host schools are Syracuse, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma State and Stanford, though it's conceivable that George Mason could upset the Hokies in Blacksburg and make it to New York.
15. Notre Dame vs. Indiana, Dec. 17
Comment: Neither the Irish nor the Hoosiers are likely to be ranked or to contend in their respective conferences, but this is still a matchup loaded with in-state significance. Furthermore, the winner will earn a marquee victory that could help them land on the right side of the bubble come NCAA tournament time.