Most schools have finalized their schedules for next season (we're about 4½ months away from the first tip-off, by the way), which means it's time to peruse the schedules and come up with a list of must-see non-conference games.
Some of these will be played while the football season is in full swing. But these games are good enough that you will have to pay attention, anyway.
Here are the 12 best.
12. Ohio State at Duke, Nov. 28
Buzz: This is part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Neither seems likely to begin the season in the top 10, but there's still some intrigue for this early-season matchup. For instance, how much will the Buckeyes miss Jared Sullinger? And can Duke's frontcourt hang with Ohio State's even if the Buckeyes are without Sullinger?
11. Texas vs. UCLA in Houston, Dec. 8
Buzz: UCLA looks ready to become a national title contender again, thanks to an incredibly deep class of stud freshmen headed by Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson. Despite losing leading scorer J'Covan Brown, who seemingly took every shot for the Longhorns last season, Texas looks to have a legit shot at the Big 12 title. The Longhorns should have an excellent backcourt, and there is a nice group of freshmen big men arriving to provide some help.
10. UNLV at North Carolina, Dec. 29
Buzz: The Runnin' Rebels gained national attention by whipping the Tar Heels in Las Vegas in November last season; this season, they will try to knock off the Heels in the Dean Dome. UNLV definitely has the athletes to hang with the Heels, who will be undergoing a big makeover after the loss of four starters.
9. San Diego State vs. Syracuse on a carrier off San Diego, Nov. 9
Buzz: This is one of the first games of the season, and it gives San Diego State an opportunity to make some early national noise. The Aztecs return their top four scorers and add a big-time recruit in F Winston Shepard, a five-star prospect. Syracuse lost three of its top four scorers, and it could take a while for the Orange to jell. Games 9 and 10 on this list are big opportunities for the Mountain West to gain even more national cachet.
8. Kentucky at Notre Dame, Nov. 29
Buzz: Kentucky isn't playing Indiana this season, so this game against a different Indiana-based school will have to suffice. Winning at Notre Dame isn't easy, and the Irish – who lose only one key player – are a talented bunch sure to get physical with the Wildcats.
7. San Diego State vs. UCLA in Anaheim, Calif., Dec. 1
Buzz: This is another chance for SDSU and the Mountain West to gain some attention. You could make a case that the winner of this one is the best team on the West Coast. This sets up nicely for a lot of reasons: Steve Fisher vs. Ben Howland. SDSU's veterans vs. UCLA's youngsters. Power conference vs. mid-major conference.
6. Kansas vs. Michigan State in Atlanta, Nov. 13
Buzz: While neither of these powerhouse programs look to have enough to contend for the national title, it's still Kansas vs. Michigan State and it's still Bill Self vs. Tom Izzo. And on a neutral court, to boot. It's early enough in the season to think that the winner simply will be the team that least misses its star from last season (Kansas with Thomas Robinson and Michigan State with Draymond Green).
5. Florida at Arizona, Dec. 15
Buzz: Both seem likely to go into the season as the second-best team in their league, Arizona behind UCLA in the Pac-12 and Florida behind Kentucky in the SEC. These teams met in Gainesville last season, and the Gators got a huge game from C Patric Young (25 points, 10 rebounds) to beat the smallish Wildcats. Well, the Wildcats are smallish no more. Coach Sean Miller signed three five-star big men to go with a nice cast of holdovers. Young is back for Florida, but to win this one, the Gators' backcourt will have to come up big.
4. Duke vs. Kentucky in Atlanta, Nov. 13
Buzz: Admit it – any time these teams get together on a basketball court, it's a must-watch game. Even if this doesn't seem as if it will be a vintage Duke team, the Blue Devils should have enough firepower to make things interesting. Plus, this is early enough in the season that it's possible UK players still will be getting acclimated to each other.
3. North Carolina at Indiana, Nov. 27
Buzz: This is another ACC-Big Ten Challenge matchup, and it features two of the pre-eminent programs in basketball history. IU will be the preseason pick to win the Big Ten; UNC should be picked second or third in the ACC. Indiana is a veteran group counting heavily on a true freshman point guard (Kevin "Yogi" Farrell). North Carolina is a young group counting heavily on a true freshman point guard (Marcus Paige).
2. North Carolina State at Michigan, Nov. 27
Buzz: This is part of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, and the best matchup in that event. The Wolfpack should be the preseason favorites to win the ACC; the Wolverines should be Indiana's main challenger in the Big Ten. Both should be in the top six or seven when the game tips off. Finally, for the first time in a long, long time, both are expected to be the best team in their state, which will only increase the pressure on coaches Mark Gottfried of NCSU and Tom Crean of IU.
1. Kentucky at Louisville, Dec. 29
Buzz: As if the in-state bragging rights weren't enough, this one could be for No. 1 in the polls. Truthfully, the polls don't mean anything. But those in-state bragging rights? They're the gift that keeps annoying your neighbor for 364 days. The sniping from the coaches in the week before the game will make this even more fun.
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