Pac-12’s Five Most Important Non-Conference GamesPosted by KDanna on October 10th, 2012
The best thing about October isn’t watching football or the MLB playoffs; no, it’s all about analyzing college basketball non-conference schedules. Where are the potential RPI boosts? Trap games? Guarantee ones? So many possibilities for those ’12 or ’13 tilts!
But way out west, promise has quickly turned into embarrassment in November and December for the Pac-12 in recent years. Last season, the Pac went 9-38 against teams that finished the regular season in the RPI Top-100 and 3-28 against those finishing 50th or above, according to realtimerpi.com. Numbers like those are why Washington didn’t get an at-large bid even as the conference’s regular-season champion. So, it goes without saying that the first two months of the season are HUGE for a conference like the Pac-12 to regain respect around the college basketball world. With that in mind, we’re ready to begin circling some dates to keep an eye on in the conference calendar. Here are my choices for the five most important non-conference games for the Pac in 2012-13, in order of appearance:
1. USC vs. Illinois (November 19) – Talk about the ultimate RPI-boost game. Illinois is the Trojans’ first-round opponent of the Maui Invitational, which means a certain D-II team will be lurking in the consolation bracket. If the Trojans beat the Illini, they get to play Texas, another high-quality RPI opponent. If the Trojans lose… that’s right, Chaminade is up next (assuming Texas doesn’t Oklahoma 2010-11 it). In case you were wondering, the Silverswords are not a high-quality RPI opponent. Neither the Trojans nor the Illini are coming off storybook seasons (USC went 1-17 in an extremely down Pac-12, while Illinois absolutely imploded, finishing the season 2-12 after a 15-3 start), but a little early-season karma can do a body of work good. And, we’ll get a chance to see just how much difference USC’s new faces (like Ari Stewart, J.T. Terrell and Eric Wise) and newly healthy returnees (with senior point guard Jio Fontan exhibit A) can make.
2. UCLA vs. Georgetown (November 19) – Conferences are largely judged by how their perceived top dogs do, and assuming UCLA has a full roster at its disposal (which, well, is a pretty big assumption to make at this point, but there is hope for Kyle Anderson to be cleared sooner rather than later), UCLA will be considered the cream of the crop in the Pac. A huge test looms a week-and-a-half into the season with a trip to Brooklyn and a date with Georgetown. Get through the Hoyas, and most likely Indiana awaits. Not only will the Bruins potentially be without star recruits Shabazz Muhammad and Anderson, but they might also be without junior guard Tyler Lamb, who underwent successful arthroscopic knee surgery Tuesday and is expected to miss four to six weeks. That puts his return at anywhere from November 6-20, though Ben Howland is optimistic he will have Lamb by the time Indiana State rolls around for the November 9 opener.
3. Stanford vs. Missouri (November 22) – The Cardinal carry a lot of momentum into the upcoming campaign after winning the NIT championship in resounding fashion over Minnesota, and the folks around The Farm are expecting to finally get back to the Big Dance. A 2-1 Stanford showing in the Battle 4 Atlantis (the toughest pre-conference tournament out there this year) could go a long way towards fulfilling that goal, and third place would look a lot better than fifth. Thus, pulling off a W against Missouri in the first round is crucial. Missouri-Northern Iowa-VCU isn’t a bad slate, but Missouri-Louisville-Duke/Memphis would be unmatched by just about anyone in the country. The Tigers lose their top three scorers from last season, but do return double-digit guys in Phil Pressey and Michael Dixon, not to mention adding UConn transfer Alex Oriakhi to beef up a frontcourt that must deal with the loss of Ricardo Ratcliffe.
4. Cal @ Wisconsin (December 2)– Remember the last time Cal won a non-conference game against a quality opponent on the road? Neither do I (upon further review, it was December 10, 2008, at Utah, back when the Utes were a non-conference opponent). The Golden Bears always have one of the best RPIs in the Pac-12 because of their tough-ish non-conference schedules; the only problem is they usually lose those big games. The Badgers provide Mike Montgomery and Co. a chance for a top-notch road win, as Bo Ryan’s boys made it to the Sweet Sixteen last year and return two fifth-year seniors in Ryan Evans and Jared Berggren. Can Cal capitalize this time around?
5. Florida @ Arizona (December 15)– The Wildcats had a disappointing non-conference slate last year after being a preseason Top 25 team, but they almost picked up a huge win in Gainesville, taking the Gators to overtime thanks to three Solomon Hill free throws with four ticks left in regulation. The Zona Zoo should be rocking for this one; it’s the biggest non-conference opponent Arizona has faced at home since Kansas came to the McKale Center four years ago. If UCLA isn’t at full strength, eligibility-wise and health-wise, all eyes will turn to Sean Miller’s squad as being the poster child for the Pac, and by this time more than a month into the season, the ‘Cats young freshmen will hopefully be comfortable in their new digs.