Pac-12 Preview: Ranking the 15 best non-conference games

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

1. Duke vs. Washington, Dec. 10

Comment: In the second of two marquee games in four days at Madison Square Garden, Washington will take aim at a Duke program that historically has struggled against teams whose bevy of explosive guards can expose the Blue Devils' lack of lateral quickness. Can Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten exploit that potential advantage? If so, that could help the Huskies make this one interesting.

More from The Dagger's Pac-12 Preview

MONDAY: How much will being homeless hurt UCLA?
TUESDAY: Projections and storylines to watch next year
WEDNESDAY: Ranking the league's 15 best non-conference games
THURSDAY: How Washington State is repairing its tarnished image
FRIDAY: Q&A with Oregon State guard Jared Cunningham

2. Arizona vs. Gonzaga, Dec. 17

Comment: If this is going to be a matchup of the two best teams in the West, Arizona will have to improve considerably in the next six weeks. The Wildcats dropped their opening exhibition game against Seattle-Pacific last Thursday and narrowly escaped Humboldt State on Tuesday, results that suggest they're still adjusting to life after Derrick Williams.

3. UCLA at Maui Invitational, Nov. 21-23

Comment: In a tournament featuring five former national champions and five AP Top 25 teams, UCLA received by far the friendliest draw. Up first is a matchup with Division II Chaminade, followed by a semifinal game against either an unusually shorthanded Kansas team or a Georgetown team that must replace guards Chris Wright and Austin Freeman.

4. Arizona at Florida, Dec. 7

Comment: What may be Arizona's most difficult road test of the season will be highlighted by a matchup of highly touted freshmen guards. On Florida's side, it's St. Louis native Bradley Beal. And for the Wildcats, it's the duo of point guard Josiah Turner and shooting guard Nick Johnson.

5. Oregon at Vanderbilt, Nov. 11

Comment: It's difficult to predict whether Oregon's collection of transfers and freshman will need more time to mesh with the returners, but at least the Ducks are catching Vanderbilt at an opportune time. The host Commodores will be without center Festus Ezeli, who is serving a suspension for accepting minor extra benefits and nursing a knee injury that will sideline him for the first month of the season.

6. Kansas at USC, Dec. 22

Comment: The two teams that take the floor at the Galen Center next month will bear scarcely any resemblance to the Kansas and USC teams that staged a classic in Lawrence 12 months earlier. Four starters and reserve guard Josh Selby have all departed for the Jayhawks, while USC must replace frontcourt stalwarts Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson, defensive stopper Marcus Simmons and injured guard Jio Fontan.  {YSP:MORE}

7. Texas at UCLA, Dec. 3

Comment: The last time Texas visited UCLA in Dec. 2007, it held Kevin Love in check and handed a Final Four-bound Bruins team its first loss of the season. The stakes won't be as high this season and the site will be the Sports Arena instead of Pauley Pavilion, but this matchup still represents an early chance to see if the oft-questioned Texas frontcourt can hold its own against UCLA's enviable collection of quality big men.

8. 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.

9. Washington vs. Marquette, Dec. 6

Comment: It won't be hard for Marquette's upperclassmen to find motivation 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.

10. Washington at St. Louis, Nov. 20

Comment: In addition to Saint Louis hosting a rare game against a potential top 25 opponent, this marks the return of Washington's Lorenzo Romar to the school he coached from 1999 to 2002. The nostalgia factor will be fun, but the Huskies will have to be careful to avoid an upset loss against what may be the Atlantic 10's third best team this season.

11. Washington State at Gonzaga, Nov. 14

Comment: For Washington State, this is an opportunity to prove it can topple a geographic rival and prove it can contend for a NCAA tournament berth even after the departure of Klay Thompson and DeAngelo Casto. The guard duo of Reggie Moore and Faisal Aden give the Cougars a chance, but the Zags' frontcourt strength and home court advantage may be too tough.

12. UCLA at St. John's, Feb. 18

Comment: In UCLA's last visit to Madison Square Garden to face St. John's during Ben Howland's inaugural season eight years ago, several Bruins snapped postgame photos in the historic gym despite falling by 20 points. Expect a more businesslike approach from UCLA and a more palatable outcome against a St. John's program that returns just one scholarship player from last year's team.

13. Oregon at BYU, Dec. 3

Comment: Even though Jimmer Fredette and Jackson Emery have departed, winning at BYU will be no easy task for Oregon. Not only is the Marriott Center one of the nation's most difficult venues for opposing teams, the Cougars also will have a formidable front court headlined by junior Brandon Davies and senior Noah Hartsock.

14. Cal at CBE Classic, Nov. 21-22

Comment: Is Cal's veteran core capable of contending for a Pac-12 title? This tournament should provide a good early litmus test. A semifinal with rebuilding Georgia is a game the Bears should win to set up a title game matchup against either Big 12 contender Missouri or perennial NCAA tournament team Notre Dame.

15. Butler at Stanford, Dec. 22

Comment: Nothing went Stanford's way last December when Butler blitzed the Cardinal 83-50 in Indianapolis. Expect a vastly different game and perhaps a different outcome when a more mature Stanford team gets its rematch in Palo Alto against a Bulldogs squad that will likely still be adjusting to the departure of Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack.

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 East: For Cincinnati's Yancy Gates, suspension was a turning point; Big East projections and storylines to watch;Ex-Notre Dame forward Jordan Cornette projects the league; Ranking the 15 best non-league Big East games

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

CAA: Has VCU's improbable Final Four run impacted its recruiting?; CAA projections, all-league teams and storylines to watch

C-USA: Marshall aims to end NCAA tournament drought;C-USA projections, all-league teams and storylines to watch.

Mountain West: San Diego State out to prove it's no one-hit wonder;MWC projections and storylines to watch;Ex-New Mexico forward Daniel Faris projects the league;Ranking the 12 best non-league MWC games;Q&A with UNLV guard Anthony Marshall

WCC: Kevin Foster aims to shoot Santa Clara into WCC title picture; Projections and storylines to watch next year; Q&A with BYU guard Charles Abouo

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