SEC Preview: Ranking the 15 most intriguing non-league games

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

College Hoops Countdown, No. 5: SEC

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SEC Capsule Preview: Kentucky reloads for another title run, but there are potential challengers lurking
Ranking the SEC's 15 most intriguing non-league games
• Saturday: An ex-SEC player projects the league this season
• Sunday: World's Strongest Man-style workouts helped prepare Florida for the new season

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1. Kentucky at Louisville, Dec. 29

Comment: The last time these two bitter in-state rivals met, Kentucky survived a valiant Louisville second-half comeback and eliminated the Cardinals in the Final Four to reach the national title game. Louisville will have the core of its Final Four team back, whereas Kyle Wiltjer is the only Wildcats player who even logged a minute in that game.

2. Kentucky vs. Duke, Nov. 13 (Atlanta)

Comment: Even though Duke and Kentucky have somewhat of a rivalry as a result of their five NCAA tournament matchups, they've only played sporadically in the regular season. This opening week showdown pits the freshman-heavy Wildcats against a Duke team that starts seniors Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly but lacks its usual array of talent.

3. Missouri at Battle 4 Atlantis, Nov. 22-24

Comment: The first barometer for how good the transfer-laden Tigers can be is the toughest preseason tournament of the year. Up first for the Tigers is a Stanford team that returns four starters from last year's NIT championship, followed by perhaps a semifinal tilt with Louisville. Memphis, Duke, VCU and Minnesota loom on the other side of the bracket.

4. Florida at Arizona, Dec. 15

Comment: Arizona played in Gainesville last season without its point guard and with 6-foot-7 forward at center, yet the Wildcats still almost upset the Gators. Florida will have to play far better in Tucson to make it two straight over the Wildcats because Arizona bolsters its frontcourt with a decorated freshman class and adds Xavier transfer Mark Lyons in the backcourt.

5. Memphis at Tennessee, Jan. 4

Comment: The interstate rivalry Josh Pastner would prefer not to play will once again feature a very intriguing matchup. Memphis native Jarnell Stokes will lead an improved Vols team against the Tigers program the promising power forward spurned last winter to come to Knoxville instead.

6. Kentucky at Notre Dame, Nov. 29

Comment: Indiana's not on Kentucky's schedule this year thanks to the stubbornness of Tom Crean and John Calipari, but there is one true road game against a team from the Hoosier state. The Wildcats will visit a loaded Notre Dame team expected to contend in the Big East this season thanks to the return of breakout star Jack Cooley and guards Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant.

7. Florida at Florida State, Dec. 5

Comment: Two weeks after the Gators and 'Noles meet on the football field, they'll stage a worthy basketball encore. Florida has shooting guard Kenny Boynton and maybe the SEC's deepest frontcourt. Florida State boasts perhaps the nation's best returning shooting guard in Michael Snaer and its usual rugged defense.

8. Missouri at UCLA, Dec. 28

Comment: Hide your eyes, Missouri fans. You know the Tyus Edney highlight montage is coming. On the bright side for the Tigers, they have more than enough talent to go into Pauley Pavilion and hand the Bruins a loss in what could be a matchup of top 15 teams if UCLA has the services of freshmen Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson by then.

9. Syracuse at Arkansas, Nov. 30

Comment: What's the only way to force Jim Boeheim out of the greater New York area before the start of conference play? A Big East-SEC challenge road game in Fayetteville! This game features a good guard matchup between B.J. Young and Michael Carter-Williams and a compelling contrast in defensive styles between Syracuse's vaunted two-three zone and Mike Anderson's trapping man-to-man pressure.

10. Florida vs. Georgetown, Nov. 9 (Jacksonville)

Comment: Anyone who wants to watch this matchup between two likely NCAA tourney teams in person will pay a hefty price for the privilege. Since seats are limited because the game will be played on an aircraft carrier stationed in Jacksonville, ticket packages cost between $1,000 and $50,000.

11. Baylor at Kentucky, Dec. 1

Comment: Baylor fell behind by 20 points at halftime in its 82-70 Elite Eight loss to Kentucky last March. Can the Bears fare better against a totally revamped Wildcats team at Rupp Arena? Doubtful, but veteran guards Pierre Jackson and Brady Heslip give Baylor a chance.

12. Alabama at VCU, Dec. 15

Comment: When Anthony Grant coached at VCU from 2006 to 2009, his contract stipulated that the school that someday hired him away would have to schedule a home-and-home series against the Rams as penance. As a result, Alabama hosted VCU last November, a 72-64 Crimson Tide win, and will visit the Rams in Richmond this season.

13. Marquette at Florida, Nov. 29

Comment: The rematch of Florida's 68-58 Sweet 16 victory last March will feature very different teams on both sides of the floor. Gone are stars Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder for Marquette. Florida's frontcourt returns, but the Gators won't have Bradley Beal or Erving Walker on the perimeter.

14. Ole Miss at Diamond Head Classic, Dec. 22-25

Comment: Why is Ole Miss in the NIT every year even though it annually wins 20 games? Maybe because of woeful scheduling like this. The Rebels better find a way to win at least two games in Honolulu against a field that includes, Arizona, San Diego State and Miami because the toughest test on the rest of their non-league schedule is Middle Tennessee State or Loyola Marymount.

15. Vanderbilt at Old Spice Classic, Nov. 22-25

Comment: A Vanderbilt team that lost its entire starting five from last year probably would have benefited from a cushy opening-round draw in Orlando. Alas, the Commodores got Davidson, a 25-win NCAA tournament team a year ago that returns five starters including a pair of forwards that would start for many SEC teams.

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