17. February 25: Missouri at Kansas (4:00, CBS)- A rivalry that dates back to the Civil War could soon be extinct due to Missouri’s anticipated move to the SEC, so enjoy one of the last few meetings between these bitter border foes. Both squads have tempered expectations heading into the season – Kansas due to the departures of six main contributors and the ineligibility of two freshmen, Missouri because of Laurence Bowers’ crushing ACL injury. Kansas’ Thomas Robinson and Missouri’s Marcus Denmon are reasons enough to watch, though. Robinson has the tools to make a leap to All-America status, while Denmon is criminally underrated and one of the nation’s true elite guards.
16. December 2: Vanderbilt at Louisville (9:30, ESPN)- I must admit: the powers-that-be who determine the matchups for the ACC/Big Ten and SEC/Big East challenges know exactly what they’re doing (well, except for sending St. John’s to Kentucky). The non-conference schedules for Vandy and Louisville were already daunting before this battle of potential top ten teams popped up on the slate. The absence of center Festus Ezeli, given he doesn’t return in time following a sprained PCL/MCL suffered last week, negates what could have been a major post advantage for Vanderbilt in light of Terrence Jennings’ early departure. The Cards will look for a resume-building win behind a clear point guard edge, a raucous home court advantage and their relentless full-court pressure.
15. December 2: Florida at Syracuse (7:30, ESPN)- Electric guard play will be on full display at the Carrier Dome with Scoop Jardine, Brandon Triche and impact freshman Michael Carter-Williams leading the charge for Syracuse and the foursome of Erving Walker, Kenny Boynton, Brad Beal and Mike Rosario filling it up for Florida. The trump card for the Orange could be 6’7 wing Kris Joseph, a preseason Big East first teamer. Billy Donovan will employ plenty of three or four-guard lineups this season, which could create a mismatch opportunity for Joseph. Cancel all plans for December 2 with this game and Vandy-Louisville on the docket.
14. February 18: Arizona at Washington (4:00, FSN)- Two years ago, Arizona basketball was a program in serious transition with four head coaches in four years, Lute Olson’s awkward departure and an embarrassing coaching search. Heading into 2011-12, the Wildcats are now the favorites to claim their second straight Pac-12 title in what has been an epic turnaround under Sean Miller. One of the stumbling blocks towards that goal could be this mid-February tilt in Seattle. How a backcourt that will depend on significant contributions from two freshmen – point guard Josiah Turner and off-guard Nick Johnson – handles such a raucous atmosphere will go a long way in not only determining the outcome of this game, but how Arizona fares in their first season post-Derrick Williams.