Mountain West Preview: Ranking the 15 most intriguing non-league games

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

1. UNLV at North Carolina, Dec. 29

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Ranking the Mountain West's 15 most intriguing non-league games
• Tuesday: The UNLV-San Diego State rivalry will reach a crescendo in the Aztecs last year in the league
• Tuesday: A former Mountain West player breaks down this year's league race

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Comment: Dave Rice credits last year's nationally televised upset of top-ranked North Carolina for demonstrating his vision for the UNLV program to recruits and enabling the Rebels to land a top 10 class. The Tar Heels lost four starters to the NBA last spring, but they'll have home-court advantage this year and they certainly won't be lacking for motivation.

2. San Diego State vs. Syracuse (USS Midway), Nov. 9

Comment: It took a collaborative effort between the Aztecs, the Orange and Fox Sports San Diego to save perhaps the most appealing of four marquee games on Naval ships to be played on the first day of the 2012 season. The result is the preservation of a matchup between a San Diego State team that boasts one of the nation's elite backcourts and a Syracuse program that will contend in the Big East despite losing most of its starting lineup from last season.

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

Comment: If California had a state championship trophy, the Aztecs would own it. They're undefeated against teams from their own state the past two seasons including two wins over Cal, Long Beach State and San Diego and one over USC and Saint Mary's. The only reason UCLA isn't on that list is the Bruins won't play a home-and-home with the Aztecs, but Ben Howland did agree to a rare meeting with San Diego State this season on a neutral floor in Anaheim.

4. New Mexico at Cincinnati, Dec. 27

Comment: This is the marquee game on New Mexico's unusually challenging non-league schedule. Cincinnati graduated enigmatic center Yancy Gates, but returns guards Sean Kilpatrick and Dion Dixon and the rest of the core of a team that caught fire last February and rode that momentum to the Big East title game and the Sweet 16.

5. Colorado State at Colorado, Dec. 5

Comment: Used to be that this game meant something in football. Now it's the hoops side that's nationally relevant. A youthful but promising Colorado team coming off a Pac-12 tournament championship hosts a Colorado State team that adds 7-foot Minnesota transfer Colton Iverson to last year's perimeter-oriented group that reached the NCAA tournament.

6. San Diego State vs. Diamond Head Classic, Dec. 22-25

Comment: If San Diego State and Arizona can both survive their first two games in Hawaii, then the Christmas Day title game of this tournament promises to be lots of fun. Up first for the Aztecs is rebuilding San Francisco, followed by a matchup with either a solid Ole Miss team or Indiana State.

7. Nevada at Washington, Dec. 8

Comment: The last time these two met last December, Deonte Burton scored 31 points including the game-tying basket in regulation to propel Nevada to a 76-73 home win. Burton will be back again to terrorize the Huskies, as will backcourt-mate Malik Story, but this year's matchup may favor the Huskies because it takes place in Seattle instead of Reno.

8. UNLV at Global Sports Classic ( Las Vegas), Nov. 23-24

Comment: Oregon will get a look at what might have been when they see Anthony Bennett up close in the opening game of this two-day event. If the Rebels win, they'll get Cincinnati or Iowa State in the title game.

9. Davidson at New Mexico, Nov. 12

Comment: It won't tip off until 2 a.m. EST since it's part of ESPN's 24-hour marathon, but this one is worth staying up for if possible. Even though New Mexico is historically tough at the Pit, the Lobos will get a huge challenge from Davidson, which returns all five starters including forwards Jake Cohen and De'Mon Brooks from a group that reached the NCAA tournament last March.

10. Colorado at Wyoming, Dec. 1

Comment: Like last season, the Cowboys have scheduled to try to get to 20 wins, with home games against the likes of Cal State Bakersfield and Southern along with an unusual same-season home-and-home with UC Santa Barbara. This matchup with Colorado is far and away the most appealing home game on the schedule, though a road test at Illinois State as part of the final Valley-Mountain West challenge will be difficult as well.

11. UNLV at Cal, Dec. 9

Comment: The toughest true road game on UNLV's non-league schedule besides North Carolina is this trip to Berkeley to face a Cal team the Rebels dismantled in Las Vegas last season. The Bears graduated leaders Jorge Gutierrez and Harper Kamp, but they return high-scoring point guard Justin Cobbs, smooth shooting guard Allen Crabbe and a more mature Richard Solomon, who was suspended the second half of last season.

12. New Mexico at Saint Louis, Dec. 31

Comment: The back half of New Mexico's two-game late December road swing won't be any easier than the Cincinnati game four days earlier. Saint Louis won't have Rick Majerus on the sidelines, but the Billikens do return four starters and most of their bench from a team that spent part of last season in the Top 25 and defeated Memphis in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.

13. Colorado State at Washington, Nov. 24

Comment: Here's a chance for Colorado State to earn a marquee early-season win to bolster its hopes of returning to the NCAA tournament. Even without Tony Wroten and Terrence Ross, wings C.J. Wilcox and Scott Suggs and point guard Abdul Gaddy give the Huskies enough perimeter firepower to challenge for a top-five Pac-12 finish.

14. Fresno State at Texas, Nov. 9

Comment: Former Texas assistant Rodney Terry returns to Austin with a youthful Fresno State team that added six new players this offseason for a much-needed talent infusion. It may not be a happy homecoming for Terry, however, unless leading scorer Kevin Olekaibe (right elbow) and top freshman Robert Upshaw (leg) have returned from injury by then.

15. Air Force at Colorado, Nov. 25

Comment: Is it good or bad that Air Force is returning most of its roster from a team that went 3-11 in the Mountain West last season and got head coach Jeff Reynolds fired last winter? This early test at Colorado will provide a barometer for whether the Falcons have improved or not.

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