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.