Circle Your Calendar: The 68 Must-See Games of 2012-13, Part OnePosted by Brian Otskey on November 5th, 2012
Brian Otskey is a contributor for Rush the Court. Let him know what you think at @botskey on Twitter.
Can you believe it? Real, live college basketball begins this coming Friday and continues through early April. From San Diego to Miami to Ann Arbor and all places in between, here is your guide to the top 68 games of the 2012-13 college basketball season. NCAA Tournament and conference title implications ride on each and every one of these games so settle in and mark your calendars. Games later in the season, when teams are gelling and making a postseason push, are valued more than match-ups earlier in the season when teams are still trying to find their identities. We begin our countdown with games #68 to #52, listed below in order. The countdown will continue as we move through the week prior to opening night on November 9. Check back all week for the rest of the list. (h/t to Zach Hayes for his assistance in building this list).
68. November 30: Syracuse at Arkansas (8:30 PM, ESPN) – The marquee non-conference home game for Arkansas (as part of the Big East/SEC Challenge) is also a quality early season road test for Syracuse, a team that rarely leaves New York before conference play begins. The Razorbacks haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2008, having gone 22-42 in SEC play over the last four seasons. With Michigan being the only other top shelf team on their non-conference schedule, this game is a huge opportunity for this potential bubble team to notch a win that will make the committee take notice.
67. December 15: Indiana vs. Butler (2:00 PM, CBS) – It will be interesting to see how Butler performs against their conference schedule in the Atlantic 10 versus the Horizon League but before they get a chance to do that, they’ll take on intrastate rival Indiana in Indianapolis. The Crossroads Classic, as it’s called, is a mid-December boon for a state with basketball entrenched in its culture. Now eligible, sharpshooter Rotnei Clarke (transfer from Arkansas) could keep the Bulldogs competitive against Indiana’s porous perimeter defense but Cody Zeller and company may be too much for Brad Stevens’ team to handle.
66. March 5: Arkansas at Missouri (7:00 PM, ESPN) – Razorbacks head coach and former Missouri headman Mike Anderson makes his return to Columbia for a late season tilt that should have postseason implications. Anderson’s teams love to play in the style of Nolan Richardson’s “40 minutes of hell” but you can bet Missouri will be well equipped to handle it with some holdovers from the Anderson regime still on the roster. With the combination of the return of Anderson and senior night, you can bet the crowd at Mizzou Arena will be fired up and ready to go for this one.
They also meet: February 16 in Fayetteville.
65. February 25: Syracuse at Marquette (7:00 PM, ESPN) – Despite being criminally underrated seemingly every season, Buzz Williams and Marquette will likely be in the Big East mix ahead of this late February matchup. The Golden Eagles will have a different look without Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom but an infusion of newcomers, headlined by Arizona State transfer Trent Lockett and a talented core of returning players ready to take the next step. Syracuse will start a new lineup this season after losing many key players but make no mistake, the Orange are among the favorites to take home the Big East crown in their final season in the conference.
64. February 24: Cincinnati at Notre Dame (2:00 PM, CBS) – The Bearcats are among the teams that may be a tad overrated but they should compete for a solid finish in the Big East. Heading to Notre Dame late in the season, however, is no easy task. Now without Yancy Gates, how do the Bearcats match up with Notre Dame’s Jack Cooley and Garrick Sherman in the paint? At a building in which it’s almost impossible to win, that will be Mick Cronin’s biggest question mark heading into this game.
They also meet: January 7 in Cincinnati.
63. December 19: Xavier vs. Cincinnati (7:00 PM, ESPN2) – Against some objections, the Crosstown Shootout is back for another year. After last year’s events, we’re pretty sure this year’s edition won’t be as physical. You can still expect a hard fought affair with a lot of tension between the fan bases. The good news is this game will be played at a neutral site downtown instead of a campus site where tempers can flare and get out of control. Xavier has some talent back but the Musketeers are not projected to contend for the Atlantic 10 regular season championship.
62. February 5: Florida at Arkansas (7:00 PM, ESPN) – Arkansas has a fairly tough SEC schedule with home and homes against Missouri and Florida included. While they are difficult games, they’re also opportunities for the Razorbacks to enhance their tournament resume. Taking care of business at home is paramount for any NCAA Tournament team and Arkansas needs to do that here against a good Florida team. This could be the year Patric Young makes the long awaited jump to one of the elite big men in college basketball. The match-up between Young and Hunter Mickelson will be fun to watch in this one.
They also meet: February 23 in Gainesville.
61. December 19: North Carolina at Texas (9:00 PM, ESPN2) – It is a bit of a transition year for North Carolina but don’t be fooled. This is still a sure-fire Top 25 basketball team. Roy Williams scheduled appropriately with a good mix of top notch games and some easy wins along the way. The trip to Texas six days before Christmas will give the Tar Heels a challenge, but one that’s not as difficult as their November trip to Bloomington to face Indiana. As for Texas, Rick Barnes has brought in an insane amount of freshmen, some of whom must contribute immediately to add depth to a team that loses the scoring punch provided by J’Covan Brown.
60. November 23: Creighton vs. Wisconsin at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, NV (10:00 PM, ESPN2) – What a fantastic early season treat on a neutral floor in Las Vegas between the high octane offense that is Creighton and the disciplined toughness of Wisconsin. Blue Jays star Doug McDermott will have to deal with Bo Ryan’s defensive schemes and his team’s physicality while Wisconsin has to keep the pace to its liking because it simply cannot score enough points to win a shootout with Creighton, especially without expected starting point guard Josh Gasser (torn ACL/out for the season) in the lineup. This is a terrific match-up that college basketball junkies will adore.
59. December 8: UCLA vs. Texas at Reliant Stadium in Houston, TX (5:15 PM, ESPN) – As is now customary, Rick Barnes has challenged his young Texas team with games in Maui, against Michigan State, North Carolina, Georgetown and UCLA in this instance. Texas is not an offensive powerhouse by any means and it is going to have to learn really quick how to play defense. With the non-conference schedule the way it is, the Longhorns better be well on their way towards doing that. An infusion of talent at UCLA has fans optimistic but questions remain. How will the blue chip recruits such as Kyle Anderson and Shabazz Muhammad (if eligible) fit in? Key non-conference tests like this one may provide Ben Howland with some answers.
58. February 9: North Carolina at Miami (2:00 PM, ESPN or ESPN2) – Miami has been getting a lot of positive press during the offseason. With a non-conference schedule that features only one marquee game, the Hurricanes need to win games in conference like this one in order to find themselves on the path towards the NCAA Tournament. Miami has shown steady improvement over the last three seasons and this may finally be the year it gets back to the Big Dance. With a loaded conference schedule that includes home and homes with North Carolina, Duke and Florida State, the Hurricanes will have earned it if they do make it.
They also meet: January 10 in Chapel Hill.
57. December 22: Florida vs. Kansas State at Sprint Center in Kansas City, MO (8:00 PM, ESPN2) – A change of pace may be exactly what Kansas State needs after Frank Martin. The kinder, gentler Bruce Weber takes his place in Manhattan and inherits a team with enough talent to do some damage in the Big 12. Building their NCAA resume with non-conference wins is imperative but the opportunities will be few and far between. This, however, is one of them. To beat a good Florida team, Kansas State will have to rely on the rebounding and toughness it displayed under Martin’s leadership. While Weber is a nice guy, he’s a tough basketball mind and will have his team playing hard. He should get the job done under less pressure in the Big 12.
56. March 2: Kentucky at Arkansas (4:00 PM, CBS) – Arkansas has made a number of appearances so far on our list but that speaks to the number of opportunities it has to pick up quality wins along the way. There may be no greater opportunity than a March CBS games against conference favorite Kentucky at Bud Walton Arena. The Wildcats start an entirely new lineup this season but John Calipari will have them molded into a solid unit by the time this game rolls around. Getting a win here against an inexperienced team playing on the road late in the season would be massive for Arkansas.
55. December 28: Baylor at Gonzaga (8:00 PM, ESPN2) – This should be a great game between two teams projected at or near the top of their respective conferences. The fact that the game is being played on campus at the Kennel makes it even more enticing. Baylor has been stocked with talent for the last few years under Scott Drew but this team has never been able to move into elite status. Winning games like this one is part of that equation. For Gonzaga, this could be one of Mark Few’s best teams ever in Spokane. There are many reasons to watch this game but if you like three-point shooting you absolutely must watch. The three-point shooting showdown between Canada natives Brady Heslip and Kevin Pangos will be more than worth it.
54. November 9: Syracuse vs. San Diego State (8:00 PM, FSN) – The season’s opening day this Friday features a number of games in interesting locations. This one will be played on the deck of the U.S.S. Midway in San Diego between two favorites in their respective conferences. The Aztecs return the bulk of their starting lineup and add a number of newcomers, including St. John’s transfer Dwayne Polee II. Both of these teams will be in the NCAA Tournament but a win here would enhance either’s seed. Remember, the committee says games in November matter just as much as those in March. Regardless of the outcome, there will be great scenery in southern California and hopefully a competitive game.
53. March 2: Butler at VCU (12:00 PM, ESPN) – The two Final Four darlings of America are now in the same conference and they will meet down the stretch in a game that could impact the Atlantic 10 title race. VCU, among the A-10 favorites, has everybody except Bradford Burgess back from a team that went 15-3 in the Colonial last season and made the round of 32. Both of these teams have a lot of experience which will help them adapt to their new league and should be peaking when they meet on March 2.
52. January 23: Duke at Miami (7:00 PM, ESPN) — As we mentioned above, the Hurricanes have a very difficult ACC schedule. Hosting Duke on your home floor in the middle of conference play is an opportunity to makes waves throughout the conference and spark a stretch run. For Duke, Mike Krzyzewski will learn a lot from this game. Can his team come through and win a game on the road against an opponent dying to move up in the standings and surpass the Blue Devils and North Carolina? Duke has always played well on the road in conference, even in the most hostile of environments. Miami will hope to put an end to that, at least for the time being, against this edition of the men from Durham.
They also meet: March 2 in Durham.
Check back tomorrow for Part Two of the best 68 games of the 2012-13 season.