Top 10 Non-Conference Games Remaining
Plenty of stellar match-ups are on the horizon.
by David Cassilo / @dcassilo
As the season moves to the end of December, conference play is on the horizon. It might even shock you to learn that one ACC game has already been played with Virginia knocking off Virginia Tech last weekend.
While the conference schedules will give plenty of excellent contests on a nightly basis, that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few must-see out of conference games left on the calendar.
10. Duke at St. John’s (January 30)
Admittedly, this game looked a bit better before St. John’s lost to St. Bonaventure, but it’s always an event when Duke makes a trip to Madison Square Garden, and this year’s visit will provide more than the usual excitement. There would be no better way for new Red Storm head coach Steve Lavin to bring his school and the New York City college hoops scene back to relevance than a win against one of the best Duke teams in recent memory. This is a landmark opportunity for St. John’s in an annual series that tends to produce intense games regardless of talent difference.
9. Connecticut at Texas ( January 8 )
The Longhorns have been tough to figure out this season. At the 2K Sports Classic, Texas knocked off Illinois and was able to hang with Pittsburgh before falling by a basket. But with a recent trouncing by USC, Texas now is barely hanging onto its top-25 ranking. A loaded non-conference schedule has North Carolina, Michigan State and Arkansas on the horizon before a crucial home game against UConn. With the homecourt advantage, it could be Texas’ best shot for a signature win.
8. Arizona at BYU (December 11)
This isn’t just a matchup of two of the best teams out west, but also two of the best players in the country. Sophomore Derrick Williams has Sean Miller and Arizona poised for a return to the tournament, while high-scoring BYU senior Jimmer Fredette is a candidate for National Player of the Year. Although Arizona is currently unranked, it put a major scare into Kansas and has the talent to win the Pac-10.
7. UNLV at Kansas Stare (December 21)
Although the Mountain West Conference has three ranked teams (two more than the ACC), it still doesn’t get enough respect on the national scene. That can change quickly if UNLV can go into Kansas City and upset the Wildcats. The Runnin’ Rebels have become a perennial tournament team under Lon Kruger, and this game will show if they are ready to take the next step to contender.
6. Georgetown at Memphis (December 23)
The Hoyas have already won in one tough environment (in Kansas City against Missouri) and will have another chance to get a quality road win later this month. While this Memphis team may not have yet reached its full potential, it still has the talent to knock off a quality opponent. Austin Freeman will need to take charge for Georgetown to leave with a victory.
5. Memphis at Tennessee (January 5)
As usual, Memphis needs to load up on its non-conference schedule to compensate for playing in Conference-USA. This year’s installment of the annual series against Tennessee will give those talented Memphis freshmen their first taste of the rivalry. The Volunteers look too talented to drop this one at home in what will be the final game before Bruce Pearl’s suspension.
4. Kentucky at Louisville (December 31)
This year’s battle for bluegrass supremacy will be the first in Louisville’s brand new KFC Yum! Center, but the story with these two teams is always between the two coaches: mentor Rick Pitino and protégé John Calipari. Both of their squads are full of young talent that if it comes together soon enough, could have either team in the top-10 by the end of the year.
3. Illinois at Missouri (December 22)
One of the lesser-known rivalries in college basketball, Missouri and Illinois continue their tradition of squaring off in late December. Both teams are off to great starts, ranked 15th and 16th, respectively, but have failed to pick up a noteworthy non-conference victory. This will be a great chance to watch Illinois’ Demetri McCamey and Missouri’s Marcus Denmon, two talented, yet often overlooked guards.
2. Tennessee at Connecticut (January 22)
Another great Tennessee non-conference game, this one is particularly interesting because it will mark the brief return of Bruce Pearl. The trip to Storrs falls in the middle of the SEC’s eight-game suspension of Pearl, and presumably, he will return to coach the game. Aside from the drama surrounding their head coach, seeing the stifling Volunteer defense match up with Kemba Walker will be one of the best matchups of the regular season.
1. Pittsburgh vs. Tennessee (December 11)
If you had any doubt who had the toughest non-conference schedule, by now it’s clear the answer is Tennessee. Technically a neutral site game even though it will be played in Pittsburgh, this one will showcase two physical teams that will be happy to grind out possessions and slow down the pace. While Pittsburgh relies heavily on its guards and wing players, Tennessee does much of its damage in the frontcourt, and whichever team is able to compensate better for the mismatch will win this showdown between conference favorites.