October 06, 2011
The Dagger's week-long Mountain West preview continues Thursday with a look at the league's 12 most intriguing non-conference matchups.
1. UNLV vs. Las Vegas Invitational, Nov. 25-26
Comment: Assuming the Tar Heels can beat South Carolina the previous night and the Rebels can survive USC, this would set up an intriguing UNLV-North Carolina matchup in the championship game of the Las Vegas Invitational. It's unlikely the Rebels have the firepower to take down the nation's best team, but it sure would be fun to watch them take a home run swing in front of what's sure to be a partisan crowd at Orleans Arena.
Comment: San Diego State's revamped frontcourt is thin and undersized, so the Aztecs are fortunate this matchup will take place so early in the season. Baylor's array of talented big men will be slightly less formidable than usual because star sophomore Perry Jones will be serving the third of a three-game suspension for receiving improper benefits from an AAU coach.
3. New Mexico vs. 76 Classic, Nov. 24-27
Comment: Since its side of the bracket consists of a decent Santa Clara team and rebuilding Washington State and Oklahoma, New Mexico needs to at least reach the title game of this eight-team tournament. That could set the stage for an enticing matchup with Big East foe Villanova, a potential marquee win for the Lobos if they can pull it off.
4. UNLV at Wisconsin, Dec. 10
Comment: Don't expect Wisconsin to overlook UNLV after what happened last year when these two teams met. Guard Justin Hawkins stole an inbound pass in the final minute and sank a pair of crucial free throws, preserving the Rebels' 68-65 upset of the Badgers last December in Las Vegas.
5. San Diego State at Arizona, Nov. 23
Comment: By this point, we should have a good idea of how far San Diego State regressed after losing four starters from last year's 34-win season. The season won't even be two weeks old, and the Aztecs will already have hosted USC and visited Big 12 contender Baylor and Pac-12 favorite Arizona.
6. New Mexico vs. Oklahoma State, Dec. 17
Comment: A neutral-court matchup in name only since it takes place in Oklahoma City, this may be New Mexico's most challenging non-conference game. Oklahoma State boasts highly touted McDonald's All-American forward LeBryan Nash to complement returning starters guard Keiton Page and forward Jean Paul Olukemi.
Comment: It's too bad this showcase game wasn't on Colorado State's schedule a year ago so the nation could have gotten a glimpse of the now-graduated frontcourt duo of Andy Ogide and Travis Franklin. The Rams remain on an upward trajectory as a program, but just being competitive at Duke in what appears to be a transition year may be a daunting challenge.
8. UNLV at Wichita State, Dec. 4
Comment: Considering UNLV already visits Wisconsin, Illinois, UC Santa Barbara, Hawaii and Cal State Bakersfield in an oddly constructed non-league schedule, it's a cruel twist of fate that the Rebels drew a trip to Wichita for their Mountain West-Missouri Valley challenge game. Not only are the Shockers expected to be Creighton's toughest competition for the league title, they're notoriously tough to beat at home.
9. Cal at San Diego State, Dec. 4
Comment: Although San Diego State's non-conference schedule is daunting to say the least this season, the Aztecs did a terrific job luring quality opponents to raucous Viejas Arena. In addition to this enticing rematch of a 77-57 San Diego State rout in Berkeley last season, the Aztecs also host USC, Missouri Valley favorite Creighton and Big West favorite Long Beach State.
10. Cal at UNLV, Dec. 23
Comment: We'll find out if Mike Montgomery has more success against UNLV than his predecessor Ben Braun did. The Rebels won the first three games of a four-game series between the two programs a few years ago before a 73-55 Cal victory on Nov. 28, 2008 stopped the streak and prevented the Bears from suffering further embarrassment.
Comment: It's a coup for Air Force to get in-state foe Colorado to visit its gym, especially in a year when the Falcons ought to be more than capable of winning this game. Whereas the Buffaloes lose 80 percent of their scoring from last season's NIT semifinalist, Air Force returns the core of a 16-16 team including leading scorers Michael Lyons and Tom Fow.
Comment: In a season in which there isn't too much to be excited about on Boise State's non-conference schedule, this is the best of the lot. Granted it would be a vastly superior matchup in football, but the trip to Baton Rouge to face an improved LSU team will still provide a worthwhile litmus test for how the revamped Broncos will fare in their debut season in the Mountain West.
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
Big 12: Big 12 projections and storylines to watch, Iowa State's Royce White aims to capitalize on second chance, Ex-Oklahoma guard Michael Neal projects the league, Ranking the 15 best non-league Big 12 games, Q&A with Baylor point guard Pierre Jackson