Our 2015-16 season preview continues with the Dagger's look at the 25 most intriguing non-conference games. Check back every day for more college hoops preview content.
1. Duke vs. Kentucky, Nov. 17 (Chicago): The heavyweight matchup many expected in last year's national title game never materialized because Wisconsin upset the Wildcats. Now Kentucky and Duke will meet a eight months later at the Champion's Classic, albeit with many new faces on both sides. This will be much of the nation's first glimpse of heralded freshman Skal Labissiere and Jamal Murray from Kentucky and Derryck Thornton and Brandon Ingram from Duke.
2. Maryland at North Carolina, Dec. 1: The Big Ten-ACC challenge will again provide one of college basketball's most anticipated non-league games next season: Terps-Tar Heels in a clash of preseason top five teams. North Carolina is atop many preseason polls thanks to the return of four starters from a 26-win Sweet 16 team. Maryland is not far behind as returners Melo Trimble and Jake Layman will get help from elite freshman center Diamond Stone, talented Georgia Tech transfer Robert Carter and ex-Duke shooting guard Rasheed Sulaimon.
3. Kentucky at Kansas, Jan. 30: Rest assured the Jayhawks will be highly motivated to win this one at home after the beating they took at the Champion's Classic last November. While most of Kentucky's stars are gone from the team that throttled Kansas 72-40, the Jayhawks return veterans Frank Mason, Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis and a handful of other rotation players.
4. Georgetown at Maryland, Nov. 17: In-state foes Maryland and Georgetown haven't scheduled one another in a regular season game since 1993, a 22-year hiatus that began amid bickering over where the next game should be played. The timing of the revival of the rivalry is fortuitous, however, with the Terps a preseason top-five team and the Hoyas one of the main threats to Villanova in the Big East.
5. Arizona at Gonzaga, Dec. 5: Two years ago, Arizona throttled Gonzaga in second round of the NCAA tournament. Last year, Arizona rallied to edge Gonzaga in overtime in Tucson. It may be a different story when the West's two premier programs meet this season in Spokane, however, because the the Zags return maybe the nation's best frontcourt and the Wildcats must replace four starters from last season.
6. Villanova at Virginia, Dec. 19: Two top 10 teams who have both won more than 60 games the past two seasons meet in Charlottesville the week before Christmas. Villanova enters the season as the Big East favorite thanks to the arrival of elite freshman guard Jalen Brunson, the return of standouts Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu and the breakout potential of rising junior Josh Hart. Virginia returns the core of last year's ACC title team besides high-scoring Justin Anderson and defensive standout Darion Atkins.
7. Kansas vs. Michigan State, Nov. 17 (Champion's Classic): If Kentucky-Duke is the main event of the Champion's Classic, this is certainly a compelling undercard bout. Michigan State certainly has the firepower to challenge Kansas with heralded freshman big man Deyonta Davis and high-scoring West Virginia transfer Eron Harris joining a Final Four team that already has a handful of key players returning including All-American candidate Denzel Valentine.
8. Louisville at Kentucky, Dec. 26: Whether this year's edition of college basketball's premier non-league rivalry is compelling will depend on how quickly Kentucky's freshmen develop and whether Louisville can exceed expectations. The Cardinals lost nearly every key player from last year's Elite Eight team, but they'll hope that a strong crop of newcomers highlighted by Drexel transfer Damion Lee is enough to help them avoid a rare rebuilding season.
9. Indiana at Duke, Dec. 2: This Big Ten-ACC Challenge matchup pits a pair of blue bloods with big expectations. The arrival of the nation's best recruiting class enables Duke to maintain title aspirations despite losing its top four players from last year's national championship team. Indiana can make the jump from good to elite if the arrival of heralded freshman big man Thomas Bryant can help solidify a defense that could neither keep guards out of the lane last season nor protect the rim.
10. Villanova vs. Oklahoma, Dec. 7 (Honolulu): Two of the nation's best backcourts will be on display in Honolulu when Big East favorite Villanova and Big 12 contender Oklahoma square off. The Wildcats will probably use some three- and four-guard looks to get reigning Big East co-player of the year Ryan Arcidiacono on the floor with highly touted freshman Jalen Brunson and returning standouts Josh Hart and Phil Booth. Oklahoma will counter with All-American candidate Buddy Hield and fellow guards Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard.
11. Cal at Virginia, Dec. 22: How good is a Cal team that returns three perimeter standouts and adds McDonald's All-Americans Ivan Raab and Jaylen Brown? This should be a good pre-Christmas litmus test. Virginia has won back-to-back ACC regular season titles and will be formidable as ever defensively and efficient as ever on offense.
12. Syracuse at Georgetown, Dec. 5: At a time when numerous historic rivalries have disappeared because of conference realignment, Syracuse and Georgetown have ensured theirs won't by starting a four-game series. Syracuse is hoping for a bounce-back season after a self-imposed postseason ban ended all hope of an NCAA bid last year, while Georgetown should contend in the Big East behind star D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera and talented sophomores Isaac Copeland and L.J. Peak.
13. Indiana vs. Notre Dame, Dec. 19 (Indianapolis): While both Crossroads Classic matchups are very intriguing this year, the battle between point guards Yogi Ferrell and Demetrius Jackson makes Indiana-Notre Dame especially compelling. Ferrell averaged 16.3 points and 4.9 assists last season as the leader of a potent Indiana offense. Jackson will have to evolve into Notre Dame's primary perimeter threat this season after serving as an understudy to Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton last year.
14. Maryland vs. UConn, Dec. 8 (New York): This will be a showcase game for a UConn team eager to prove that it's nationally relevant again after missing the NCAA tournament last year. The Huskies lost star guard Ryan Boatright to graduation, but they add high-scoring Seton Hall transfer Sterling Gibbs to a nucleus that includes shot blocking specialist Amida Brimah and talented but inconsistent wings Daniel Hamilton and Rodney Purvis.
15. Kentucky at UCLA, Dec. 3: Kentucky embarrassed the Bruins last December, scoring the game's first 24 points en route to an 83-42 rout. Will UCLA circle this game on the calendar as a chance for revenge? Not so, according to head coach Steve Alford. "I'd like to delete it from the calendar," he told reporters at Pac-12 media day last week.
16. Louisville at Michigan State, Dec. 2: For Louisville to be competitive on the road at Michigan State, its collection of transfers and freshmen must be ready to make an early impact. The few returning Cardinals are sure to be highly motivated since this is a rematch of Michigan State's 79-75 Elite Eight overtime win last March.
17. Utah at Wichita State, Dec. 12: Scheduling home-and-home series against quality opponents remains challenging for Wichita State, so this matchup with the Utes is probably the best chance the Shockers have to notch a signature early win. Wichita State returns stars Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet but must replace top big man Darius Carter and top perimeter defender Tekele Cotton. Utah is a threat to win the Pac-12 again this season if Jakob Poeltl emerges as a dominant big man and its guards collectively replace the production of star Delon Wright.
18. Michigan vs. UConn, Nov. 25 (Bahamas): The best opening-round game in a holiday tournament this season could be this matchup pitting two teams eager to return to the NCAA tournament after down seasons a year ago. The winner likely draws Syracuse in the Battle 4 Atlantis semifinals and could see Gonzaga or Texas in the title game. The loser would probably face Charlotte on day two unless the 49ers upset the Orange.
19. Gonzaga at SMU, Feb. 13: How compelling this matchup turns out to be will probably depend on whether SMU is still motivated at this point in the season despite not having any postseason hopes. Nic Moore, Markus Kennedy and the Mustangs return a Top 25 caliber roster, however, NCAA sanctions will prevent them from playing in their conference tournament or being eligible to earn an NCAA bid.
20. LSU vs. Marquette, Nov. 23 (Brooklyn): The arrival of potential No. 1 overall draft pick Ben Simmons and fellow elite freshman Antonio Blakeney has boosted interest in LSU basketball to levels not seen since at least the Tigers' 2006 Final Four season and perhaps the days of Shaquille O'Neal. LSU won't play many marquee opponents until January, so this Legend's Classic semifinal is the closest Simmons will get to an early-season showcase. The winner meets either NC State or Arizona State in the title game.
21. Iowa State at Cincinnati, Dec. 22: In-state rivalry games against Iowa and Northern Iowa may be the two most meaningful matchups on the Cyclones' non-league schedule, but this game will be the best barometer for how good Iowa State is. Defensive-oriented Cincinnati returns almost its entire roster from a team that reached the NCAA tournament round of 32 last March. A road win would be a sign that Iowa State's preseason top 10 ranking is well deserved.
22. Kansas at San Diego State, Dec. 22: The Mountain West favorites will have the attention of the Jayhawks after doing the improbable last year and springing an upset in Lawrence. San Diego State figures to be formidable yet again defensively next season, but it will need a breakout season from Malik Pope, greater consistency from Winston Shepard and quality point guard play from freshman Jeremy Hemsley to take a step forward offensively.
23. Texas A&M vs. Texas, Nov. 25:Thanks to some deft scheduling by the organizers of the Battle 4 Atlantis, the Aggies and Longhorns will renew their rivalry in the quarterfinals of that tournament. There will be more than in-state bragging rights on the line though. The winner likely gets a crack at Gonzaga the following day. The loser misses an opportunity for a marquee victory and heads to the consolation bracket.
24. Vanderbilt at Baylor, Dec. 6: Can Vanderbilt build on its strong finish to last season and emerge as Kentucky's top challenger in the SEC this year? A handful of early non-conference challenges like this one should serve as a good barometer. Baylor again will have a formidable frontcourt anchored by Rico Gathers, but guard play is a concern for the Bears with Kenny Chery and Royce O'Neale having graduated. It will be up to Lester Medford and Al Freeman to fill those voids.
25. Wisconsin at Oklahoma, Nov. 29: Though national player of the year Frank Kaminsky and fellow standouts Sam Dekker, Josh Gasser and Traveon Jackson are all gone, Wisconsin may yet be relevant again next season. Point guard Bronson Koenig and forward Nigel Hayes both could be all-conference level players. The key for the Badgers to have a chance in challenging games like this one will be finding supporting players capable of making an impact.
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