College basketball's 50 can't miss non-conference games for 2012-13

Richard Mackson-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

A monumental rivalry showdown between Rick Pitino's Louisville Cardinals and John Calipari's Kentucky Wildcats tops the list of the best non-conference college basketball games for the 2012-13 season.

Before we get started, I'd like to note that the only games eligible for this list are ones guaranteed to take place. Just like the double play, potential preseason tournament semifinal and championship games can never be assumed. Unlike the double play, if you come at me with a hard slide during the course of this reading, my response is probably going to be a haymaker.

Anyone who watches all 50 of these games gets a Red Lobster/Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance dinner/movie date with yours truly. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is still playing, right? It's not? That's still the deal.

The challenge is easier now than it has been in years past, because the non-conference lineup in 2012-13 is absolutely loaded. Evidence to follow.

50. Lehigh at Baylor (Nov. 9)

If the games being played on naval ships and aircraft carriers are the main course on college basketball's opening night, then Pierre Jackson vs. C.J. McCollum is one hell of an appetizer.

49. North Texas at Saint Louis (Dec. 5)

The Billikens are one of the preseason favorites in the A-10 while North Texas has a player that might be as good as any in the country in sophomore Tony Mitchell. This could be an early introduction to the world of the casual sports fan for Mitchell, who figures to hear his name called in the first round of next June's NBA Draft.

48. Butler vs. Xavier (Nov. 13)

My guess is that this is the first time a game featuring two teams from the same conference has been featured on a list like this. The Bulldogs and Musketeers agreed to play one another during ESPN's Tip-Off Marathon before Butler made the jump to the A-10 a year ahead of schedule. The result is that the two will play each other in a game that won't count against either's conference record, and then will square off again in league play later on in the season.

47. Texas at Michigan State (Dec. 22)

Tom Izzo has once again lined up one of the nation's toughest non-conference schedules. Myck Kabongo and the Longhorns are one of the reasons why.

46. Saint Mary's vs. Drexel (Nov. 22 - Anaheim Classic)

The Anaheim Classic may not have done the best job setting up its tournament, as defending WCC champion Saint Mary's taking on likely CAA favorite Drexel in the quarters seems a little unfair. Frantz Massenat, Chris Fouch and Matthew Dellavedova give this matchup some serious mid-major star power.

45. Texas vs. UCLA (Dec. 8)

The young Bruins will attempt to put on a show in what should be an entertaining up-and-down battle at Reliant Stadium in Houston.

44. Temple vs. Syracuse (Dec. 22 - Gotham Classic)

I'm not going to lie to you, this game is at least four spots higher than it would be if the name "Gotham Classic" wasn't attached to it. I'm hoping we see these two duke it out again in next winter's "Mega City One Showdown."

43. Marquette at Florida (Nov. 29 - Big East/SEC Challenge)

This should be a fun rematch from last year's Sweet 16, where freshman Bradley Beal led the seventh-seeded Gators to a 68-58 upset of Buzz Williams' team.

42. Stanford at NC State (Dec. 18)

The Cardinal won a highly-competitive game in California last season, but NC State wound up having the better year. Both teams will begin practice expecting to compete for their respective conference titles.

41. Duke vs. Minnesota (Nov. 22 - Battle 4 Atlantis)

Probably the second most intriguing matchup on the first day of the loaded Battle 4 Atlantis tournament. This will be our first chance to see just how healthy Golden Gopher star Trevor Mbakwe is, and subsequently just how much of a problem a talented big man can pose for the Duke frontcourt.

40. Michigan State at Miami (Nov. 28)

The 'Canes may have been just one resume win short of making the NCAA Tournament last season, a fact Jim Larranaga may want to remind his team of when the mighty Spartans come to town.

39. North Carolina at Texas (Dec. 19)

No Longhorn will be more motivated for this game than point guard Myck Kabongo, who had one assist, one point and four turnovers in last year's embarrassing 82-63 loss to UNC.

38. Alabama at VCU (Dec. 15)

The Crimson Tide are contractually obligated to play this game as part of a home-and-home deal that stems from a clause in Anthony Grant's old contract at VCU. The Rams had the same contractual clause with Jeff Capel, and stomped his Oklahoma team when they came to the Siegel Center in 2009.

37. Notre Dame vs. Saint Joseph's (Nov. 16 - Coaches vs. Cancer Classic)

The second semifinal of the CVCC championship round will feature an intriguing inside battle between Big East Player of the Year candidate Jack Cooley and NBA prospect C.J. Aiken, the reigning A-10 Defensive Player of the Year.

36. Ohio at Memphis (Dec. 5)

The Bobcats return literally everyone from a team that was a point away from becoming the first 13 seed to ever advance to the Elite Eight. After going toe-to-toe with North Carolina last March, it's unlikely that D.J. Cooper and Walter Offutt are going to be intimidated by a trip to the FedExForum.

35. BYU vs. Florida State (Nov. 16 - Coaches vs. Cancer Classic)

Michael Snaer has already gone on the record with his belief that he is the best shooting guard in college basketball. His first chance to back those words up will come against Brandon Davies and a BYU team looking to return to the big dance for a seventh straight year.

34. Kansas State at Gonzaga (Dec. 15 - Battle in Seattle)

This will be the 10th year for the Battle in Seattle, an event in which Gonzaga has posted a 5-4 record.

33. Ohio State vs. Marquette (Nov. 9 - Carrier Classic)

This one won't generate the same level of attention that last year's inaugural Carrier Classic between North Carolina and Michigan State did ... but I bet there will still be some really cool pictures.

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32. Temple at Kansas (Jan. 5)

Fran Dunphy and Bill Self are two of the top basketball minds in the country, and as a result, Temple and Kansas are two of just 13 programs to have appeared in each of the last five NCAA Tournaments.

31. Saint Joseph's at Creighton (Dec. 1)

Saint Joseph's is the preseason pick to win a loaded A-10, and the 2012-13 Hawks are likely Phil Martelli's best team since he had Jameer Nelson and Delonte West manning the backcourt. This will also be a showcase game for Creighton's Doug McDermott, a first team All-American a season ago who would like to make a run at bringing home national Player of the Year honors.

30. Kentucky vs. Maryland (Nov. 9 - Barclays Center Classic)

The early departure of Terrell Stoglin pretty much ensured that it would take Mark Turgeon at least another year to have the Terps back competing for ACC titles. Still, Alex Len and company are fully capable of putting a scare into a young Kentucky team playing its first game.

29. West Virginia vs. Michigan (Dec. 15 - Brooklyn Hoops Winter Festival)

West Virginia still hasn't forgiven Michigan for stealing both Rich Rodriguez and John Beilein, and Wolverine fans haven't forgiven the folks in Morgantown for convincing them Rodriguez was worthy of hiring. Beilein will be facing the Mountaineers with probably his best team since those '04-'05 and '05-'06 West Virginia squads.

28. Gonzaga at Butler (Jan. 19)

College GameDay will be at Hinkle Fieldhouse for this matchup between the two programs perhaps most synonymous with mid-major basketball.

27. Tennessee at Georgetown (Nov. 30 - Big East/SEC Challenge)

Jarnell Stokes, Jeronne Maymon and Otto Porter provide an abundance of frontcourt talent for one of the headline matchups of the Big East-SEC Challenge.

26. Duke vs. Temple (Dec. 8)

Fran Dunphy's Owls have upset a top ten team in each of the past four seasons. Last season's statement win was a 78-73 shocker over then-No. 5 Duke in early January. Temple will look for a repeat performance in the second game of a double-header at the Izod Center, where the Blue Devils are 19-1 all-time.

25. Indiana vs. Butler (Dec. 15 - Crossroads Classic)

The Hoosiers figure to begin the season ranked either No. 1 or No. 2, but that doesn't mean there aren't significant concerns about Tom Crean's team's ability to defend (there are). How well IU guards a Butler team which has the shooters to burn you from the perimeter but not a lot of guys capable of creating their own shot should be a nice early barometer for whether or not Indiana can play the type of defense necessary to win a national title.

24. Florida vs. Kansas State (Dec. 22 - Hi-Vee Wildcat Classic)

K-State guard Rodney McGruder has made a habit of saving his best performances for the Wildcats' biggest stages, and a Sprint Center date with the Gators will be his first chance to make a major splash in 2012-13.

23. Wisconsin at Marquette (Dec. 8)

College basketball's most underrated rivalry has been decided by double digits just twice since 2001.

22. Memphis at Tennessee (Jan. 4)

It's not quite back to where it was in 2008 when the in-state rivals met in a showdown between No. 1 and No. 2, but there's likely to be more talent on the floor in this year's game than there has been since John Calipari made the move to Lexington.

21. Memphis vs. VCU (Nov. 22 - Battle 4 Atlantis)

You know a preseason tournament is loaded when one of its quarterfinal matchups features a pair of teams who might both be ranked in the top 25 by the time the game rolls around. Josh Pastner's Tigers against Shaka Smart's Rams should be the highlight of a fantastic opening day in the Bahamas.

20. Baylor at Gonzaga (Dec. 28)

"The Kennel" is as raucous a big-time game environment as there is in college basketball, and kudos to Scott Drew for agreeing to bring his team to Spokane.

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19. Cincinnati vs. Xavier (Dec. 19)

The predicted strength of these respective teams alone doesn't make this game worthy of inclusion, but after what happened in 2011, well, I think the term "can't miss" applies here. The ugly brawl between these longtime rivals resulted in this year's game being moved to a neutral location and the series title being changed from "The Crosstown Shootout" to "The Skyline Chili Crosstown Classic benefiting the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center."

This is what happens when you throw punches, kids. No one wins, people get hurt and sh-t gets really, really stupid new names.

18. Syracuse vs. San Diego State (Nov. 9 - Battle of Midway)

There's been talk recently that this game may be canceled due to insufficient financial backing. Assuming that doesn't happen, the Aztecs and Orange ought to provide the main event for college basketball's opening day.

17. Creighton vs. Wisconsin (Nov. 23 - Las Vegas Invitational)

Doug McDermott and the Bluejays have aspirations of becoming a player on the national scene this season. The first major step in making that happen will be taking out a Badger team whose discipline always makes them as difficult as any squad in the country to beat early on in the season.

16. Florida at Florida State (Dec. 5)

Both fan bases are likely to still be fixated on the gridiron at the time the Gators and Seminoles are ready to tip off, but a battle of in-state rivals who should both be nationally ranked ought to warrant its fair share of attention in the Sunshine State.

15. Kentucky at Notre Dame (Nov. 29 - Big East/SEC Challenge)

It never seems especially intimidating, but for whatever reason Notre Dame has been virtually unbeatable inside the Joyce Center under Mike Brey. Jack Cooley, Jerian Grant, Eric Atkins and company will be a tough early test for a young Wildcat team playing their first true road game.

14. Wisconsin at Florida (Nov. 14)

Bo Ryan's defense against Billy Donovan's offense...and also, you know, Bo Ryan's offense against Billy Donovan's defense. If one side had the ball the whole time there's no way I'd be putting this game on the list.

13. San Diego State vs. UCLA (Dec. 1 - Wooden Classic)

If they aren't the best, then San Diego State's Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley are at the very least one of the most formidable backcourt duos in the country. They'll get an early crack at UCLA and their heralded freshmen.

12. Baylor at Kentucky (Dec. 1)

Obviously this matchup would be a tad sexier if the combined six underclassmen who were taken in the first round of the 2012 NBA Draft were still around, but such is life today in college basketball. Instead we'll just have to settle for a showdown between Isaiah Austin and Nerlens Noel, the two top-rated freshmen big men in the country.

11. Kansas vs. Michigan State (Nov. 13 - Champions Classic)

The "other" Champions Classic matchup features a pair of coaches who proved last season that they can take an inexperienced team that looks totally confused in November and turn them into a legitimate national title contender by March. Don't be surprised if this one isn't as pretty a game as you'd expect from two of the biggest names in the sport, but you also shouldn't be surprised if these same teams are both in the mix for No. 1 seeds four months later.

10. Florida at Arizona (Dec. 15)

Sean Miller's combination of an elite recruiting class and a core of returning contributors headlined by Solomon Hill has made Arizona one of the most intriguing teams in the country heading into this season. They'll get a chance to make an early statement for the West Coast against a Florida squad that appears ready for another deep NCAA Tournament run.

9. UNLV at North Carolina (Dec. 29)

The Runnin' Rebels have been good for an impressive early season victory (last season it was over the then top-ranked Tar Heels) the last few years, but have then generally underachieved during the second half of the season. Dave Rice has a Final Four contender on paper, and a late December showdown in Chapel Hill is the perfect opportunity to convince the rest of the country that his squad is legit.

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8. NC State at Michigan (Nov. 27 - Big Ten/ACC Challenge)

An extremely attractive early showdown between a pair of programs both hoping to make the leap back to national prominence this season. Mark Gottfried and John Beilein both got players back -- C.J. Leslie and Trey Burke -- who most thought would be calling the NBA their home right now, and will both also be adding the best freshmen classes either program has seen in years.

7. Missouri at UCLA (Dec. 28)

One of the only bad things about the NCAA Tournament is that a single loss can completely discredit a season's worth of work. Such is the case with Missouri, who isn't getting a lot of preseason national hype despite returning a handful of players from last year's Big 12 tournament champions and adding four transfers who could all start for pretty much any team in the country. They'll have a chance to make a big pre-new year's statement against Ben Howland and his talented young Bruins.

6. Louisville at Memphis (Dec. 15)

The longtime conference rivals will face each other for the final time as non-conference foes before Memphis makes the jump to the Big East next season. It's a tough call on which matchup provides more justification for being giddy about this game: Shaq Goodwin and Adonis Thomas versus Gorgui Dieng and Chane Behanan in the paint, or the battle out front between lightning quick point guards Joe Jackson and Peyton Siva.

5. Ohio State at Duke (Nov. 28 - Big Ten/ACC Challenge)

This will be a rematch from last year's Challenge when Ohio State dismantled Duke, 85-63 in Columbus. The Buckeyes shot 59% and drilled 8-of-14 3-point attempts against a Coach K team that looked completely and utterly disinterested in playing any defense. DeShaun Thomas, who is back for his junior season, dominated Duke's frontcourt in that game and finished with 18 points.

4. Kentucky vs. Duke (Nov. 13 - Champions Classic)

Kentucky/Duke is one of college basketball's strangest "rivalries," as Big Blue Nation has despised all things Blue Devil for the past 20 years while the Cameron Crazies have failed to reciprocate really any of that hate. This will be the 20th all-time meeting between the two perennial powerhouses, but the first since 2001. UK leads the series, 11-8.

3. Kansas at Ohio State (Dec. 22)

Kansas beat the Buckeyes twice last season, the second time coming in the Final Four. Thomas Robinson and Jared Sullinger won't be dueling in the post anymore, but this could still once again wind up being the precursor to a later showdown on a larger stage.

2. North Carolina at Indiana (Nov. 27 - Big Ten/ACC Challenge)

The showcase game of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge features what could be the nation's top-ranked team in Indiana against what could be a top five team in North Carolina if the Tar Heels are able to leave Maui unscathed the week before. This has the potential to be an early statement game for both IU's Cody Zeller and UNC's James McAdoo, a pair of guys with national Player of the Year aspirations.

1. Kentucky at Louisville (Dec. 29)

This has always been the sport's most hate-filled rivalries, but now UK and U of L are coming off a season in which they played one another in the Final Four, and into a season where they both figure to begin ranked somewhere in the top five. I hear their coaches don't like each other.

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