Non-conference schedule assessment: Big 12

Jamie Squire

The Big 12 boasts some of the best players in the nation, and accordingly features a loaded slate of non-conference games this season.

The Big 12 should once again be among the most competitive conferences in college basketball this upcoming season, but the excitement doesn't begin with conference play. A loaded set of non-conference games should keep the excitement high in the Midwest from the onset of the 2013-14 season.

With arguably the best player in the nation, Andrew Wiggins, joining Kansas, it will be exciting to see whether anyone keeps up with the Jayhawks. That's something we should find out relatively early as tough out-of-conference opponents pepper the team's schedule.

Wiggins, Kansas challenged early and often

Kansas coach Bill Self won the first battle by getting Wiggins, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, to join his program, but things don't get easier from here. Self may have the most talented player in the country, but he'll be looking to fit that skill set into a young roster missing numerous key players from last season.

We should know fairly quickly just how that's progressing. After a few tune-up games at home against smaller programs, the Jayhawks head to Chicago on Nov. 12 for a nationally televised matchup against Duke. With the looming matchup between Wiggins and Jabari Parker, another elite freshman, it will be an early barometer for the team's season.

Things don't exactly cool down from there, either, as the Jayhawks will cover a brutal two-week span between November and December starting with Wake Forest in the Battle 4 Atlantis. Already scheduled are road games against Colorado and Florida, while advancing in the Bahamas could add another two games.

Kansas then returns home for a pair of games against New Mexico and Georgetown in mid-December. By that point, we should have a pretty decent grasp on just how Wiggins' freshman year will go.

Big 12/SEC Challenge draws huge matchups

It's not quite the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, but the counterpart put on by the Big 12 and SEC features some pretty awesome games. Starting on Nov. 14 with a contest between Texas Tech and Alabama, the two conferences will come together 10 times over five weeks.

Beyond the Kansas-Florida tilt mentioned above, Kentucky playing Baylor on a neutral court easily stands as the biggest matchup. With the Wildcats boasting a historically lauded freshman class, the Bears should have an opportunity for a major upset on national television.

Those are the two biggest games, but other matchups should bring some exciting action. Vanderbilt visiting Texas should be interesting, while Ole Miss taking on Kansas State could also be fun. Another projected NBA lottery pick, Marcus Smart, powers Oklahoma State against South Carolina on Dec. 6.

Texas aims for better start in 2013

Last season, the Longhorns looked shaky during non-conference play before collapsing with five straight losses against Big 12 opponents. In 2013, the schedule looks a little easier without games against UCLA or Georgetown, but Texas will be challenged nonetheless.

That really begins Nov. 25, when the Longhorns will take on BYU at the CBE Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City. The meat of the non-conference schedule comes nearly a month later, when Texas visits Chapel Hill for a matchup against North Carolina before returning home to host a tough Michigan State team.

With additional games against Temple and Vanderbilt, the Longhorns will need to avoid the issues that cropped up following a tough non-conference slate last year.

Texas Tech to visit Arizona, ASU

Here's to hoping Texas Tech players like the desert, because the team will be making two major trips to Arizona during its non-conference schedule this year. The first comes Dec. 3, when the Red Raiders head to Tucson, Ariz., to face Aaron Gordon and the Wildcats.

Gordon, a projected top-five pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, has powered Arizona to major hype entering the 2013-14 season. After early non-conference games against teams like Alabama and Pittsburgh, Texas Tech will have the opportunity to take down a truly big fish on the road.

Nearly three weeks later, the Red Raiders head to Tempe, Ariz., to visit the Sun Devils. Arizona State isn't quite on the same level as its in-state competitor, but that's a pretty tough team to beat at home.

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