NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 27: Terrence Jones #3 of the Kentucky Wildcats celebrates after a play against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the east regional final of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at Prudential Center on March 27, 2011 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
A monumental showdown between likely No. 1 North Carolina and likely No. 2 Kentucky highlights the 50 best non-conference college basketball games of the upcoming season.
Just a note that the only games eligible for this list were ones guaranteed to take place. Like the double play, potential preseason tournament semifinal and championship games can never be assumed.
Anyone who watches all 50 gets a Red Lobster/The Expendables dinner/movie date with yours truly. The Expendables is still playing, right? It's not? That's still the deal.
50. Purdue at Xavier (Dec. 3)
The Boilermakers won't face a field that's exactly stacked in Puerto Rico, so this will be the first real showcase game of the Robbie Hummel comeback season.
49. St. John's at Duke (Jan. 28)
The Johnnies humiliated Duke at Madison Square Garden a season ago, but Steve Lavin's insanely young team figures to have its work cut out for them in this year's January clash.
48. Pittsburgh at Tennessee (Dec. 3)
Cuonzo Martin's first season in Knoxville figures to be a tough one as Tobias Harris, Scotty Hopson, Melvin Goins and Brian Williams are all playing the game elsewhere. None of that will matter to a Pitt team out for revenge after last year's 83-76 loss to the Vols.
47. Georgetown at Alabama (Dec. 1)
Despite winning the West division with a 12-4 record, the Crimson Tide became the first SEC team ever to win 10 or more games in league play and not receive a bid to the NCAA Tournament. An extremely poor non-conference resume and an RPI of 80 were to blame. Anthony Grant's team must take care of business in games like this to ensure they don't find themselves in a similar position come March, 2012.
46. Marquette vs. Washington (Dec. 6)
This Jimmy V. Classic game at Madison Square Garden is a huge opportunity for a pair of teams that experts seem to be having trouble pegging. Both have been predicted to finish all over the place in their respective conferences.
45. West Virginia vs. Baylor (Dec. 23)
Big things are expected of the Bears this year, but that's a story we've heard before. Snatching a win over the Mountaineers in Vegas (IBN Sports Las Vegas Classic) the day after defeating Saint Mary's would do wonders in the effort to sway non-believers.
44. Syracuse at North Carolina State (Dec. 17)
The Orange leave New York in December for the first time since '86 (1886) to face Mark Gottfried's debut effort at NC State.
43. Kansas vs. Georgetown (Nov. 21)
This might be the most stacked field in the history of the Maui Invitational, which is saying something. Every game not featuring Chaminade (this is a game not featuring Chaminade) borders on the line of must-see.
42. Harvard at Connecticut (Dec. 8)
Harvard returns every key player from a squad that was a buzzer-beating loss to Princeton away from cashing the program's first ticket to the dance since 1946. Outside of a potential meeting with Florida State in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, this is as close to a pre-Big East test as the mighty Huskies will get.
41. Oklahoma State vs. Pittsburgh (Dec. 10)
This game at Madison Square Garden - part of the Carquest Auto Parts Classic (it exists...does too) doubleheader - will provide a rare opportunity for Pitt to bolster its non-conference resume and Oklahoma State a shot at a signature win it would love to have come Selection Sunday.
40. Villanova at Temple (Dec. 10)
The Owls will have a handful of opportunities to prove their merits as a challenger to Xavier's thrown before A-10 play begins. The biggest will come in this Big Five tilt at the Liacouras Center.
39. Missouri vs. Notre Dame (Nov. 21)
Notre Dame forward Tim Abromaitis - who must sit out the first four games of the season after participating in exhibition games during a season he redshirted...three years ago - will be back just in time for this guaranteed CBE Classic semifinal in Kansas City.
38. Duke vs. Washington (Dec. 10)
The second game of the Carquest Auto Parts Classic (it exists...does too) doubleheader at the Garden has the potential to be the coming out party for U-Dub freshman guard Tony "Murder T. Wrote" Wroten.
37. Baylor vs. Saint Mary's (Dec. 22)
Watching Baylor's young guns try to contain Matthew Dellavedova should make this the most enjoyable Las Vegas Classic tilt.
36. Butler at Indiana (Nov. 27)
Neither team figures to be ranked come game day, but that will hardly limit the intrigue surrounding this meeting between the Hoosiers and the new darlings of the Hoosier state.
35. Texas at UCLA (Dec. 3)
A win at Pauley over a UCLA team that has the potential to be the class of the Pac 12 would be a huge asset for Texas in its quest to keep its streak of 13 straight NCAA Tournament appearances alive.
34. Missouri vs. Illinois (Dec. 22)
The 31st meeting in the Braggin' Rights rivalry will again be played at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. Illinois holds a decisive 20-10 series advantage, but Mizzou has won the last two meetings and figures to be favored again come December.
33. Notre Dame at Gonzaga (Nov. 30)
A solid early test for a pair of teams that have overachieved in the regular season and underachieved in the NCAA Tournament in recent years.
32. Texas at North Carolina (Dec. 21)
Losing Jordan Hamilton, Cory Joseph, Gary Johnson and Tristan Thompson would seem to leave Rick Barnes without enough dogs to have much of a shot here, but, you know, that's why they play the games, and stuff.
31. Missouri at Old Dominion (Dec. 30)
VCU may have crashed the Final Four, but it was the Monarchs who claimed the CAA's tournament title. Replacing center Frank Hassell is a tall task, but a win here could still put ODU in prime position to make a run at an at-large bid.
30. Louisville at Butler (Nov. 19)
A likely top ten team (the Cardinals), the two-time defending national runners-up (the Bulldogs), and one of the sport's most legendary venues (Hinkle Fieldhouse); there's nothing not to like here.
29. UNLV at Wisconsin (Dec. 10)
This ends a brutal four-game stretch for the Badgers that includes a trip to Carolina and their annual rivalry game with Marquette. The Rebs won by three in Vegas a year ago.
28. California at UNLV (Dec. 23)
Two of the better squads on the left coast dial it up for what promises to be Christmas Eve Eve fun for the whole family.
27. Belmont at Duke (Nov. 11)
Everyone expects Belmont to dominate the Atlantic Sun, but it's almost definitely going to take an upset here or four days later at Memphis for the Bruins to have a shot at the big show should disaster strike in the A-Sun tourney.
26. Butler at Gonzaga (Dec. 20)
The original mid-major darling versus the program that has done what the 'Zags never could...twice. Expect to hear "you can't really call these guys 'mid-majors' anymore" at least 950 times on Dec. 20.
25. Florida State at Michigan State (Nov. 30)
Two of the sport's more physically-imposing teams year in, year out. High school coaches around the country will be using this game tape to lecture disinterested 16-year-olds about rebounding for the rest of the winter.
24. Villanova vs. Missouri (Dec. 6)
The second Jimmy V. Classic game features a pair of teams with both high preseason expectations and numerous question marks. By this point we should have some idea of how life without Laurence Bowers is going to be for Mizzou.
23. Gonzaga vs. Arizona (Dec. 17)
The ninth-annual Battle in Seattle features a pair of programs coming off of conference championships and toting preseason national rankings. Arizona is 3-0 all-time against the 'Zags.
22. Michigan vs. Memphis (Nov. 21)
Have I mentioned the Maui Invitational is stacked? This day one matchup figures to feature a pair of top 25 teams.
21. Gonzaga at Xavier (Dec. 31)
Reigning A-10 Player of the Year Tu Holloway will provide all sorts of problems for a very thin and inexperienced Bulldog backcourt.
20. Texas A&M at Florida (Dec. 17)
The Orange Bowl Classic features a pair of teams that should still be in the top 20 come tip-off. Billy Kennedy spoke during the offseason about his desire to win a Big 12 title, and this game will be a solid barometer of whether or not that's realistic in 2012.
19. Vanderbilt at Marquette (Dec. 29)
John Jenkins vs. Darius Johnson-Odom? Yes, please.
18. Arizona at Florida (Dec. 7)
Both teams have serious talent, but also serious questions in the frontcourt. The attraction here will be in the backcourt, where Kenny Boynton, Erving Walker, Kyle Fogg and 'Zona freshman Josiah Turner will look to put on a show.
17. Xavier at Memphis (Feb. 4)
The two leaders of that awkward, unnamed group that separates the BCS conferences from the mid-major leagues will step out of league play for a final major March tune-up on Feb. 4 at the FedEx Forum.
16. Marquette at Wisconsin (Dec. 3)
Maybe it's because fans don't find either's style of play particularly appealing, but I'm not sure how this has remained college basketball's most underrated rivalry for so long.
15. Florida State at Florida (Dec. 20)
Speaking of rivals, it's been a long time since the basketball game between these two featured a pair of teams with better rankings than their football counterparts, but that might very well be the case this year.
14. Xavier at Vanderbilt (Nov. 28)
Holloway and Jenkins are the main attractions here, but the big storyline will be the return of Vandy center Festus Ezeli, who must serve a six-game suspension to start the season for accepting a meal and a hotel room from an alumnus.
13. Cincinnati at Xavier (Dec. 10)
The Crosstown Shootout was a must-watch even during the years where one side came into the game as a decided favorite (in recent years it's been Xavier). Now both squads are consensus preseason top 20 squads, and figure to enter the game with national rankings.
12. Wisconsin at North Carolina (Nov. 30)
A major opportunity for both Harrison Barnes and Jordan Taylor to make early statements in the race for player of the year. Both teams are pretty good too.
11. Duke vs. Michigan State (Nov. 15)
The first installment of the Legends Classic - which will feature these two teams plus Kentucky and Kansas playing annually at Madison Square Garden - should provide some much-needed intrigue to college basketball during the period of time where football is still king.
10. Ohio State at Kansas (Dec. 10)
The Jayhawks have a chance to prove they're not "down," the Buckeyes have a chance to prove they belong right up there with North Carolina and Kentucky in the discussion for national title favorites, and Jared Sullinger has a chance to prove he's the best player in the country.
9. Florida at Syracuse (Dec. 2)
Billy Donovan has really beefed up his non-conference schedule, and knocking off the 'Cuse inside the Carrier Dome might be the biggest test of them all.
8. Memphis at Louisville (Dec. 17)
These two long-time fierce rivals have not met since Darius Washington missed two free-throws with no time left in the 2005 Conference USA title game. Louisville then bolted for the Big East and Tiger fans claimed the Cards wouldn't schedule John Calipari's guys anymore. The fact that both teams could be in the top ten just makes this that much sexier.
7. Florida at Ohio State (Nov. 15)
You have to love the fact that these two have continued to schedule each other since meeting in the '07 national championship game. Annual meetings between national powers from different conferences are terrific for the sport.
6. Vanderbilt at Louisville (Dec. 2)
The headline game for this year's Big East/SEC Challenge should pit a pair of top ten (and likely unbeaten) squads against one another.
5. Kansas vs. Kentucky (Nov. 15)
The second Legends Classic game will provide the finale for ESPN's 24-hour college hoops marathon.
4. North Carolina vs. Michigan State (Nov. 11)
If the likely No. 1 team in the nation taking on one of the sport's top programs wasn't enough to pique your interest, then maybe the fact that the game will be played on the deck of the aircraft carrier where Osama Bin Laden was buried at sea is. Oh yeah, and the President will be there watching.
3. Duke at Ohio State (Nov. 29)
Easily the best matchup of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The big question for the Blue Devils is whether or not they have enough of an inside presence to compete for the national title. It's a question that will be asked early and often in a game featuring Jared Sullinger.
2. Louisville at Kentucky (Dec. 31)
The rivalry was already college basketball's most contentious before Rick Pitino and John Calipari decided to spend a significant chunk of the offseason lobbing shots at one another. Rupp Arena may spontaneously combust from hate a half hour before tip.
1. North Carolina at Kentucky (Dec. 3)
Arguably the sport's two biggest names and the two runaway preseason favorites to cut down the nets in 2012. As far as non-conference games in recent memory are concerned, I can't think of one bigger.