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College basketball's 50 can't miss non-conference games for 2014-15

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No. 1 on the list features a pair of likely preseason top 5 teams, but not the pair you're probably thinking of.

Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Just a note before we get into this that the only games eligible for this list are ones guaranteed to take place. Much like the double play, potential early season tournament semifinal and championship games can never be assumed.

Anyone who watches all 50 of these gets a Red Lobster/Captain Phillips dinner/movie date with yours truly. Captain Phillips is still playing, right? It's not? I'm pretty sure it is. Regardless, that's still the deal.

50. Massachusetts at LSU (Dec. 2)

The consistently inconsistent Tigers have been a trendy "breakthrough team" pick this offseason, while UMass is looking to make back-to-back NCAA tournaments for the first time this century.

49. High Point at Ohio State (Dec. 10)

High Point's John Brown might be the best player in the country you've never heard of. I mean, you've probably heard of someone named John Brown, just not this John Brown. He averaged 19.5 points and 7.7 rebounds last season for a Panther team which, for a second straight season, won the Big South regular season crown but fell in its opening game of the conference tournament. Brown has already announced that this will be his final season in college, so if High Point doesn't get over the hump and into the NCAA Tournament, this could be his only evening in the national spotlight.

48. UC Santa Barbara at Kansas (Nov. 11)

Before Kansas' showdown with Kentucky, the Jayhawks will open the season at home against UC Santa-Barabara, a team which touts another one of the nation's most underrated players, senior forward Alan Williams.

47. Georgia Tech at Dayton (Dec. 23)

The darlings of last year's NCAA Tournament will "welcome" former head coach Brian Gregory back to UD Arena as they look to defeat Georgia Tech for a second straight season.

46. Toledo at Duke (Dec. 29)

Toledo has a lot of guys coming back who can put the ball in the basket with marked consistency. The only issue is that they don't have a lot of size. This could be a golden opportunity for highly-touted Blue Devil freshman center Jahlil Okafor to take over a game early in the season.

45. Louisville vs. Indiana (Dec. 9)

For whatever reason, these two powerhouse regional rivals haven't met since 2002. Now that they've finally agreed to do so, naturally the game is taking place 700 miles north inside Madison Square Garden.

44. Louisiana Tech at Syracuse (Dec. 14)

The Bulldogs won 29 games last season after notching 27 victories in 2012-13. Unfortunately, neither one of those campaigns produced anything more than a trip to the NIT. As a direct result, Tech has beefed up its non-conference schedule this season, which includes the chance to make a huge statement with a win inside the Carrier Dome.

43. Oregon vs. Michigan (Nov. 24)

Originally this Legends Classic tilt was going to be intriguing because it featured two likely top 15 teams. Now it's intriguing because everyone wants to see if Oregon is going to have enough players to avoid a forfeit.

42. Kansas at Georgetown (Dec. 10)

John Thompson III isn't going to let another season like 2013-14 go down under his watch. Knocking off the Jayhawks at home in early December would be a great way to prove that to his fan base.

41. Xavier at Cincinnati (Feb. 18)

Even when neither team figures to be much of a national player, the Crosstown Shootout Classic is one of those games every college hoops head circles with a black sharpie before the start of the season.

40. LSU at West Virginia (Dec. 4)

West Virginia has one of the most dynamic players in the country in Juwan Staten, but these are the types of games they've been finding ways to lose the past two seasons, which have been among the most disappointing in recent memory.

39. UC-Irvine at Arizona (Nov. 19)

The Anteaters need to be America's team this season. They were cruelly denied their first trip to the big dance when Cal Poly dealt them a shocking 61-58 defeat in the Big West Tournament semifinals last March. Irvine returns four of five starters from that team, including 7'6 big man Mamadou Ndiaye, who averaged 8.0 ppg, 6.2 rpg and 3.1 blocks as a freshman. Watching him go up against the Arizona front line is reason enough to tune in to this one. A loss for the Wildcats here is actually more likely than one in Maui.

38. Stanford at Texas (Dec. 23)

Both programs have perennially high expectations, and both are coming off of seasons that were something of a pleasant surprise. Now, both are expecting their teams to take another big step forward the year after.

37. Miami at Florida (Nov. 17)

The two in-state rivals will be meeting for the first time since the 2009 NIT, and for the first time in the regular season since 2005. The Gators figure to be right in the national title mix once again, while Miami is looking to get back to that group a year after a rebuilding season.

36. Wisconsin at Marquette (Dec. 6)

Steve Wojciechowski will get his first taste of this massively underrated rivalry when what figures to be a highly-ranked Badger team strolls into the Bradley Center.

35. Creighton at Nebraska (Dec. 7)

It's strange to see a game where a Big Ten team is looking to strip a recently departed Missouri Valley squad of its title as the state's most dominant program, but that's certainly the case here. Tim Miles has Nebrasketball set up as a trendy preseason top 25 pick, while Creighton appears poised to finally take a bit of a step back as they adjust to life without Doug McDermott. The recent evolution of basketball fandom in Nebraska has been kind of fascinating to watch, and it's the reason why a game no one would have cared about five years ago is suddenly looking like a pretty entertaining viewing experience.

34. Virginia at Maryland (Dec. 3)

The Terps will get their first chance to stick their collective tongue out at the conference they left when they host the reigning ACC conference and tournament champions in the Big 10-ACC Challenge.

33. Arkansas at Iowa State (Dec. 4)

I love this game because it pits two of college basketball's top home court advantage programs against one another. The Arkansas players who take so much pride in defending Bud Walton Arena will now get to experience a taste of Hilton Magic.

32. Wichita State vs. Memphis (Nov. 18)

The Shockers figure to start 2014-15 with another pretty lofty national ranking, and they'll be putting their nation's best regular season winning streak on the line against Josh Pastner and the Tigers inside the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, S.D.

31. Louisville vs. Minnesota (Nov. 14)

The Pitinos will open their 2014-15 seasons against one another in Puerto Rico as they take part in the third annual Armed Forces Classic. There will be camo jerseys, one, maybe two nationally ranked teams, and plenty of passive aggressive "shots" being lobbed from a father at his son, and vice versa. Great start of the season fun for everyone involved.

30. Utah at BYU (Dec. 23)

The two teams really don't like one another, and they're both going to be pretty good. That's reason enough for me.

29. Arizona at UNLV (Dec. 23)

Both teams have a lot of young talent, but Arizona has significantly more experienced talent to throw into that mix. Expect an evening with a lot of points and some ridiculous athleticism.

28. Iowa State at Iowa (Dec. 12)

Basketball state? McCaffery and Hoiberg are certainly working towards it.

27. Utah at San Diego State (Nov. 18)

SDSU has emerged to fill the role of the unexpected West Coast power that Utah laid claim to in the '90s and early 2000s. Now, the Utes feel like they're in a position to take back that title, which makes this early season clash even more interesting than it would have been otherwise.

26. Oklahoma at UCLA (Nov. 26)

After a surprising season which saw them earn a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament, Oklahoma has emerged as a sleeper pick to win the Big 12. A win over the Bruins in the first round of the Battle 4 Atlantis would go a long way towards legitimizing those claims.

25. Utah at Kansas (Dec. 13)

The Utes weren't bashful with their pre-Pac 12 scheduling, and this will certainly be their most ambitious journey.

24. Georgia State at Iowa State (Nov. 17)

Georgia State is the mid-major everyone has their eyes on heading into this season. It seems silly, but if they want to have any shot at being in the mix for an at-large bid come March, then winning their season-opener in Ames is probably a must.

23. SMU at Michigan (Dec. 20)

This one isn't quite as interesting as it would have been had Emmanuel Mudiay made it to Dallas, but the Mustangs still look like the non-UConn team to beat in the AAC.

22. Texas at Connecticut (Nov. 30)

Thanksgiving weekend probably means more than just football to you if you've made it this far in the post. Set a reminder for noon on Sunday so you don't miss the Boatright/Taylor show.

21. Harvard at Virginia (Dec. 21)

Harvard might begin the season ranked at the bottom of the top 25, but there isn't much on the team's non-conference slate that will allow it to move up significantly before starting the Ivy League's 14-game tournament. The one glaring exception is this Sunday showdown at Virginia.

20. SMU at Gonzaga (Nov. 17)

The Mustangs still look like a legitimate top 25 team without Mudiay, and Gonzaga should work its way back into the conversation of being a Final Four threat after something of a down year for the program. This will certainly be one of the highlights of the Tip-Off Marathon.

19. Texas at Kentucky (Dec. 5)

Brace yourself for a lot more Kentucky in the top 20 of this list.

18. Wichita State at Utah (Dec. 3)

The game at Memphis is going to get a lot of hype because it's taking place on the season's pseudo opening night, but this one is likely the bigger threat to Wichita State's regular season winning streak.

17. VCU vs. Villanova (Nov. 24)

There aren't many programs with better reputations for having stellar guard play than these two. With all of Oregon's off-the-court issues, this will likely wind up being the stronger of the two Legends Classic semifinals.

VCU Season Preview

16. Syracuse at Villanova (Dec. 20)

It still feels wrong to see this in the middle of a list of non-conference games. The two old Big East rivals met at the Carrier Dome last season, with Syracuse winning the showdown of top 10 teams by a decisive 78-62 margin.

15. Virginia at VCU (Dec. 6)

The Rams established themselves as a legitimate Final Four contender last season when they went into Charlottesville and beat the eventual dual ACC champions. This year the Hoos will look to get revenge at the Siegel Center in what could wind up being a matchup of top 15 or even top 10 teams.

14. Gonzaga at Arizona (Dec. 6)

Arizona embarrassed the Zags in the Round of 32 last March, but Mark Few's team figures to be more up to the challenge this season. This will be the sixth meeting in a series that has only seen Gonzaga prevail once.

13. Syracuse at Michigan (Dec. 2)

One of the headline games of this December's Big Ten-ACC Challenge will be a rematch from the 2013 Final Four. Syracuse's Rakeem Christmas and Michigan's Caris LeVert are the only two players who played meaningful minutes in that Wolverine victory.

12. Ohio State at Louisville (Dec. 2)

Louisville gets hosting duties against the Bucks in its first taste of the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. U of L shooting guard Terry Rozier, an Ohio native, will likely be tasked with defending star OSU freshman D'Angelo Russell, who was raised in Louisville.

11. North Carolina vs. Ohio State (Dec. 20)

It's the opening game in the first year of the CBS Sports Classic, which will feature rotating games between the Buckeyes, Tar Heels, UCLA and Kentucky.

10. Duke vs. Michigan State (Nov. 18)

The undercard of the Champions Classic will feature a Duke team that should start the season with more than a handful of No. 1 votes, and a Michigan State squad that will likely be rebuilding ... at least as much as Tom Izzo ever "rebuilds."

9. Connecticut at Florida (Jan. 3)

It's been a little over six months since Florida fell to UConn in the first national semifinal, and I'm not sure Gator fans are any less confused about their team's performance than they were that night. Starting a new year by sending the Huskies back to Storrs with a loss won't heal that wound, but it might help a little bit. A very little bit.

8. Florida at Kansas (Dec. 5)

It's only right that two programs which haven't been afraid to schedule heavy before the turn of the calendar in recent years should square off in the SEC-Big 12 Challenge.

7. Kentucky vs. UCLA (Dec. 20)

It's always a must-see event when the two programs with more national tiles than any other meet on the hardwood, something which hasn't happened since the 2006 Maui Invitational. Kentucky leads the all-time series between the two superpowers, 6-4.

6. Duke vs. Connecticut (Dec. 18)

This will be our first real indication as to whether or not a Shabazz-less UConn is a legitimate threat to defend its national championship.

5. Michigan at Arizona (Dec. 13)

Outside of that first tier of coaches (Krzyzewski, Williams, Pitino, Calipari, Boeheim, Izzo, Donovan, Self), I'm not sure there are two brighter stars in college hoops right now than Sean Miller and John Beilein. They each figure to have legit title contenders yet again, and they'll get a chance to prove it early on in Tucson.

4. North Carolina at Kentucky (Dec. 13)

The last five games in this series -- which includes an Elite 8 matchup in 2011 -- have all been decided by seven points or less. This is the start of a three-week stretch in December where Kentucky will play nobody outside of the Tar Heels, Louisville and UCLA. If you're only going to play three games, that's not a bad trio.

3. Kentucky at Louisville (Dec. 27)

The two programs have combined for four Final Four appearances and two national championships in the last three seasons, which should make this a golden era for the rivalry. The only problem is that Louisville can't find a way to beat Kentucky. The Cards' only victory over the Cats since the arrival of John Calipari was a three-point win during UK's NIT season of 2012-13 .

2. Kentucky vs. Kansas (Nov. 18)

Since its inception, the Champions Classic has become the tip-off marathon's main event, and this year's final act is no different. There's a very strong chance that this winds up being a battle of two top five teams, and that one of them (Kentucky) is the No. 1 team in the country.

1. Duke at Wisconsin (Dec. 3)

Kentucky/Kansas is likely to get more hype because of the players involved, but I think these are going to be the two most polished teams over the first seven or eight weeks of the season, which should make this the non-conference game played at the highest level. The Kohl Center on this Wednesday night should be one of the craziest environments of the entire season.