Running Down the Top Pac-12 Non-Conference Games: Take ThreePosted by AMurawa on October 16th, 2012
Last week, a pair of my colleagues here posted their lists of five non-conference games featuring Pac-12 teams to watch. To be clear, Connor Pelton’s list was of the five most watchable games on the slate, while Kevin Danna’s list was the five most important games. Today I’ll tell you the games that Connor and Kevin missed on their respective lists and tell you why these games need to be right there among the best of the Pac-12’s non-conference games.
First, Kevin picked the following five games as the most important non-conference games:
- USC vs. Illinois
- UCLA vs. Georgetown
- Stanford vs. Missouri
- California at Wisconsin
- Florida at Arizona
Now, to be sure, those are by no means a bad slate of games. And, given the state in which we last saw Pac-12 basketball, any games its member institutions play in the non-conference should be considered very important, as the league tries to re-establish its national credibility. That being said, I’m looking for one of two things in ranking the importance of non-conference games: Either match-ups of elite teams against teams that figure to be highly ranked come March, or match-ups of middle-of-the-Pac teams against other potential bubblicious teams. Kevin nailed a couple of the first type here, especially with the UCLA/Georgetown Legends Classic semifinal that will not only give the Bruins a chance to score a solid win over a solid Big East team, but could also give the squad a chance to score a major RPI booster against Indiana in the final of that tournament. Likewise, if Arizona can take care of Florida, that should be a nice feather in the Wildcats’ cap come Selection Sunday, especially considering their otherwise ordinary (at best) non-conference slate.
Kevin does a great job picking out a couple other key early season tournament games, with USC needing to open its run in the Maui Invitational with a win over Illinois in order to give the Trojans a chance at other big names deeper in that tourney. Stanford is in a similar situation in the loaded Battle 4 Atlantis tourney. Really, there’s not a lot on his list to argue with, but I’d pick out a couple other games that could be harbingers of what is to come on Selection Sunday.
Stanford at North Carolina State (December 18) – Stanford has no shortage of chances to open eyes in the non-conference slate, but this first of back-to-back road games (the second is at Northwestern three nights later) in the week before Christmas could be key. Last year Stanford impressed early in the year, handling teams like Colorado State, Oklahoma State and this very Wolfpack team, mixed in with a gutty performance against a top-five Syracuse team. But their momentum stalled a bit over finals break, and they dropped a home game to Butler just before conference play. This year, if the Cardinal can come back from exams strong and pull a road sweep, not only would they have a couple nice wins under their belt, but they could ride the wave of success into conference play.
Colorado at Kansas (December 8) – Connor picked this as one of his five most watchable games, and I certainly agree. I expect Colorado to be a very good team this season. With their returnees bolstered by a strong freshman class, they’ve got a chance to cause a lot of problems for other teams. However, they just don’t have a whole lot of opportunities to prove it in their non-conference slate. There is a match-up with Dayton in the Charleston Classic and potential meetings with Baylor and Murray State down the road in that tourney, and just before this match-up there is the rivalry game with Colorado State, but the biggest, surest chance for the Buffs to score a signature win involves going into Lawrence and coming out with their first win after 18 straight losses to KU (and their first win in the Phog in 30 attempts). Make no mistake, CU’s talented frontline of Andre Roberson, Josh Scott and Xavier Johnson will have their hands full with a big and bad Jayhawk frontline, but the now-experienced Buffs’ sophomore backcourt could make the difference in a tight game.
As for Connor’s list, man, there are plenty of games there to be excited about.
- Florida at Arizona
- Oregon State vs. Kansas
- Missouri at UCLA
- California at Wisconsin
- Colorado at Kansas
It’s been six months since we’ve last seen college hoops, so right now any of those look more than appealing, with the Mizzou/UCLA, Florida/Zona and Colorado/Kansas games standing out. However, I’ve got a couple of other games I would shoehorn into that list in place of the other two games.
Creighton at California (December 15) – Last year Creighton had the fifth most efficient offense in the nation, and with the Bluejays returning all-everything forward Doug McDermott along with eight other contributors from last year’s team, you can expect they’ll be mighty good this year as well. It will be interesting to see what kind of plan Cal head coach Mike Montgomery comes up with to slow McDermott, while Golden Bear stars Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs will give Creighton’s swiss cheese defense a challenge of their own.
UCLA vs. San Diego State (December 1, in Anaheim) – Over the past three seasons while the Bruins have been mired in a downturn, their upstart neighbors from down south have run up an 85-20 record with a visit to the Sweet Sixteen mixed in. Along the way, the Aztecs have nurtured one of the stronger homecourt advantages (45-4 over those three seasons) in the nation and have been inarguably the best program in Southern California in recent years. Don’t think that UCLA hasn’t taken notice. And don’t think there won’t be a whole lot of chirping when these two programs meet at the 2012 version of the Wooden Classic. What’s more, the potential for such a stellar one-on-one matchup in Shabazz Muhammad vs. Jamaal Franklin is enough to make this game some must-see action.