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College Basketball: Most Heated Matchups on the 2012-13 Schedule

Scott PolacekFeatured ColumnistAugust 6, 2012

College Basketball: Most Heated Matchups on the 2012-13 Schedule

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    While the attention of the sports world is focused squarely on London right now, college basketball schedules are quickly finalizing.

    Sure the sweltering weather makes it seem as if college basketball could not be further away, but in just a few short months, fans will once again be treated to a slew of early-season headliner games.

    In fact, the entire 2012-13 college basketball season is loaded with marquee matchups between traditional powerhouses, upset-minded underdogs and everything in between.

    With plenty of games to choose from, here are 12 of the most heated games on the schedule. Feel free to add the games you are most looking forward to in the comments because there is an abundance to choose from.

    *Preseason projections from www.sportingnews.com.

Duke vs. Kentucky

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    It’s Big Blue versus the Blue Devils. It’s legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski versus controversial coach John Calipari. It’s a rematch of one of the most famous games that ended with one of the most famous shots in NCAA history.

    Above all else, it is a showdown between two of college basketball’s true blue-blood programs and legitimate 2012-13 title contenders.

    Yes, key pieces are missing from last year for both squads (in Kentucky’s case, it’s more like the entire piece), but both are projected to be top-10 teams with loads of talent.

    The Wildcats will be led by freshman phenomenon (surprise!) Nerlens Noel, while Duke will need a big season from Seth Curry and Mason Plumlee.

    However, in reality all that matters in this contest are the names on the front of the jerseys.

Indiana vs. Ohio State

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    Alright, Indiana, it’s officially your time to shine.

    After suffering through some lean years thanks to Kelvin Sampson’s cell phone habits, the loyal and passionate Hoosier faithful finally find themselves back on top of the college basketball world.

    However, if Indiana is going to fulfill all its goals this year—which certainly includes winning the Big Ten—it’s going to have to go through the three-time defending Big Ten champion Ohio State.

    The Buckeyes have won or shared the Big Ten regular season crown in five of the last seven years and will probably not be relinquishing their stake at the top of the conference easily.

    These two squads split their matchups last season and played one of the most heated games of the season on New Year’s Eve.

    Jared Sullinger or no Jared Sullinger, this showdown will not be a walk in the park for Tom Crean’s top-ranked Hoosiers.

North Carolina vs. Duke

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    It wouldn’t be a proper list of college basketball’s top showdowns without the game’s greatest rivalry.

    The Tar Heels and Blue Devils will add two more chapters to its historical rivalry in 2012-13, which will go a long way towards determining the ultimate ACC champion.

    Perhaps fans in other ends of the country have grown somewhat weary of the coverage these games are given, but they rarely fail to disappoint.

    In fact, Austin Rivers’ incredible three-point shot at the buzzer to knock off the favored North Carolina was one of last season’s defining moments.

    Expect more of the same in 2012-13.

Louisville vs. Syracuse

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    Louisville fans could be forgiven if they had visions of Kemba Walker dancing in their heads last March.

    Just one season removed from Connecticut’s astounding run through the treacherous Big East Tournament and NCAA Tournament, Louisville appeared primed to do the exact same thing.

    Unfortunately for the Cardinal faithful, nobody informed in-state bully Kentucky of their plans. The Wildcats ended Rick Pitino’s unexpected run but not before Louisville reached the Final Four.

    It would not be nearly as surprising if the Cardinals, behind returning star Peyton Siva, were playing in college basketball’s final weekend this time around. Nevertheless, their biggest conference challengers may have something to say about that.

    The Orange return a handful of contributors to what is expected to be a top-10 team at the start of the season.

    While the Big East may have lost some of its momentum recently (partially due to Syracuse’s flirtations with the ACC), this marquee rivalry will ensure the conference remains in the limelight for the time being.

Kentucky vs. Louisville

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    While Louisville’s showdown with Syracuse will go a long way towards determining the Cardinal’s Big East fate, it’s a safe bet that this is the game fans have circled on the calendar in permanent marker.

    The defending national champion Kentucky Wildcats will look to reaffirm their spot as the top dog (cat?) in the "Bluegrass State" when they take on former coach Rick Pitino once again.

    While this Final Four rematch may not spark a riotous celebration in the regular season, few games (if any) can match its intensity.

    Basketball fans in every state should be just as excited as those in Kentucky for this game. It should be an early treat.

North Carolina vs. Indiana

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    The ACC/Big Ten Challenge always provides fans with a number of headliner games in the season’s first month. This year will be no different.

    Perhaps the best game on the Challenge’s docket is North Carolina vs. Indiana. It will be a crucial early season barometer for the presumed top-ranked Hoosiers and serves as an enticing matchup between two of college basketball’s brand names.

    Expect an atmosphere at Assembly Hall that rivals last year’s classic against Kentucky.

    With the crowd rocking, and Roy Williams and Tom Crean stalking the sidelines, you would be hard pressed to find a better way to headline the first night of the annual battle between two of the nation’s top conferences.

Kansas vs. Ohio State

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    When this game rolls around on the schedule, it will look all too familiar to Buckeye fans.

    It was only a few short months ago that Ohio State held a double-digit first half lead against the Jayhawks during their Final Four battle.

    It appeared as if Thad Matta’s squad was cruising to the National Championship game and a much anticipated NCAA Tournament rematch with the same Kentucky team that had knocked them out the previous season.

    Bill Self and Kansas had other ideas. The Jayhawks came storming out of the locker room and held off a late charge by the Buckeyes to secure their own bid in the title game. It was the second time Kansas defeated Ohio State last year, although the first time was without Jared Sullinger.

    While it won’t take away much of the sting from last year’s Final Four loss, the Buckeyes certainly want to remove the Jayhawk thorn from their side this year.

Michigan State vs. Kansas

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    The Jayhawks may as well be an honorary member of the Big Ten before conference season starts.

    In addition to the rematch with Ohio State, Kansas will battle it out with another of the Midwest’s best teams in Michigan State.

    While both teams may take a small step backwards from last year, as they try to replace Thomas Robinson and Draymond Green respectively, this should be one of the best non-conference games of the year.

    Two traditional powerhouses led by two of the nation’s most prominent coaches is always a successful formula.

    Additionally, the Spartans and Jayhawks both have demanding schedules which will inevitably include a handful of losses. Thus, a critical early season win would go a long way toward boosting the resume come seeding time in March.

N.C. State vs. Michigan

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    Michigan surprised many last year by winning a share of the Big Ten regular season championship.

    This year may be North Carolina State’s turn to do the same thing (well, win the ACC, not Big Ten).

    The Wolfpack are projected to be a top-10 team to begin the 2012-13 season and could very well challenge traditional powers Duke and North Carolina for conference and in-state supremacy.

    As for the Wolverines, they received welcome news when star point guard Trey Burke decided to remain in school. Behind Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and a star-studded recruiting class, Michigan may have its strongest team since the days of the Fab Five.

    While showdowns between North Carolina and Indiana or Duke and Ohio State may draw more national attention, it is games like this one, between dangerous conference contenders, that typically determine the outcome of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Gonzaga vs. Butler

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    There aren’t supposed to be two Cinderellas at the ball—there’s only one glass slipper.

    Despite the aforementioned fairy tale restrictions, nobody has played the role of NCAA Tournament crasher better than Gonzaga and Butler. In fact, Butler would have won the entire thing had Gordon Hayward’s last second heave been about two inches to the side.

    While big conference fans may look at this as only a cute distraction until the real competition begins, these are two premier programs that deserve to be mentioned near the top of anyone’s list.

    Butler could use a marquee out-of-conference win in its first season in the Atlantic 10, where the competition will be somewhat more difficult than it was in the Horizon League.

    Historic Hinkle Fieldhouse should be ready to go in this battle between the top two non-power conference teams of the last 10 years.

UCLA vs. Arizona

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    The best program in college basketball history (at least in terms of championships) is ready to return to prominence again. The only team that may stand in its way in the weak Pac-12 is the Arizona Wildcats.

    Much like Kentucky was last season, UCLA is loaded with freshmen weapons. Terrific trio Kyle Anderson, Shabazz Muhammad and Tony Parker join forces to provide the Bruins with the deadly combination of size and speed.

    Kentucky proved that freshmen-oriented teams can go far in the postseason, so expectations are sky-high for UCLA.

    However, Arizona may have a hand in determining the conference champion. A loaded recruiting class (as well as transfer Mark Lyons from Xavier) joins returning forward Solomon Hill on a deep and dangerous Wildcats team.

    The Pac-12 may be a step behind the other power conferences (and even some not-so-power conferences), but it is not the fault of these two squads.

Cincinnati vs. Xavier

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    The title of this article is the most heated matchups of the college basketball season. Well, it doesn’t get any more heated than the end of the Cincinnati and Xavier game last year.

    For years, this was one of the game’s most underrated rivalries that was only well-known among Ohio residents and die-hard fans.

    So much for that.

    One Yancy Gates sucker punch later and one of the ugliest incidents in recent college basketball history was underway.

    The brawl was such a black eye to the two programs that each seriously considered cancelling the Crosstown Shootout this season. Luckily for college basketball fans, they chose otherwise.

    While it would be shocking if there was an incident that even comes close to last year’s, the intensity in this season’s version should be at an all-time high.

    It’s time for college basketball fans to become acquainted with one of the game’s best showdowns for the right reasons.

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