College Basketball: Top Non-Conference Clashes Before Conference Play Tips off

Eric SmithCorrespondent IIIDecember 5, 2011

College Basketball: Top Non-Conference Clashes Before Conference Play Tips off

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    This college basketball season has started off as one of the best ever. There's been so much talent coming back to their respective teams this season due to the uncertainty of the NBA season back when it came time to make the decision to go pro or not.

    This has helped the games become even more interesting, and we've actually seen some huge mid-major over major program upsets.

    With the gap between major programs and the lower, undermatched conference opponents being so close, the non-conference schedule is even more important.

    No longer is a conference game against an undermatched opponent a gimme. NCAA basketball is getting to be like the NFL, where anyone can win on any given day.

    We've already seen great early-season matchups of Duke vs. Kansas, Ohio State vs. Duke, Wisconsin vs. North Carolina, Michigan vs. Memphis and North Carolina vs. Kentucky, just to name a few.

    This is a list of the top non-conference games left before we tip off the conference schedule at the end of the month for the major conferences.

Arizona Wildcats at Florida Gators, December 7th

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    Both teams have NCAA tournament-run hopes and have great backcourts. Both teams also have inconsistent frontcourt play.

    That will lead to a great matchup in Gainesville.

    Both teams are in the Top 25 in the national ranks and are built very evenly.

    Whichever team makes the least amount of mistakes and gets the best frontcourt play will win this game.

Ohio State Buckeyes at Kansas Jayhawks, December 10th

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    If the Buckeyes are going to lose a game, it could be this one. Playing Kansas away from Ohio will be a challenge.

    Kansas was supposed to have a rare down year, but it's been playing great so far. It made it to the championship game in the Maui Invitational, where it lost a close game to Duke.

    Kansas could enter this game with momentum and hope to knock off unbeaten Ohio State.

    Ohio State, on the other hand, wants to rival the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers team and try to run the table with a great team.

    Jared Sullinger is a potential National Player of the Year contender and wants to lead this team to a championship.

    The Buckeyes also want to prove the blowout win over Duke in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge wasn't a fluke.

    Both teams are extremely young, so the team with the least amount of turnovers will win.

UNLV at Wisconsin, December 10th

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    Wisconsin is coming off of two disappointing losses to North Carolina and in-state rival Marquette. UNLV travels east after upsetting then No. 1 North Carolina to win the Las Vegas Invitational.

    This game will be good in that UNLV is trying to come back to relevance after its strong teams in the early '90s. Wisconsin has strong defense and great point guard play, so UNLV won't have it so easy.

    In fact, even though North Carolina was No.1, I think this will be the most difficult matchup on the season for UNLV due to the Badgers' defense.

    Look for this game to be close.

Cincinnati Bearcats at Xavier Musketeers, December 10th

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    The crosstown rivalry will be a must-watch game. The "battle for Cincinnati" will feature two Top 20 ranked teams, with Xavier in the top 10.

    For the last several years, Cincinnati has been struggling and Xavier was the favorite. This year, it will be different.

    After both teams had a bench-clearing fight a few years ago, you can expect this game to be more physical than ever before with both teams being so good.

    A win could be a big momentum builder for either team.

Memphis Tigers at Louisville Cardinals, December 17th

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    This is an old Conference USA rivalry. Both teams were ranked preseason in the Top 15, and this game was surely circled by both teams on their calendars.

    The two rivals haven't faced each other since that 2005 Conference USA title game where Darius Washington missed two free throws with no time on the clock to give Louisville the championship.

    The following year, Louisville left for the Big East and Memphis fans were mad.

    This is Memphis' chance at a rematch and to regain control of this rivalry in the KFC Yums Center in Louisville.

Texas A&M Aggies at Florida Gators, December 17th

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    This is the middle game of three straight tough games for the Gators. The Orange Bowl classic matchup with Texas A&M will force the Gators to not look ahead to their rival matchup with the Seminoles three days later.

    The Aggies will come in ranked in the Top 25, and head coach Billy Kennedy thinks they can win the Big 12 this year.

    The Gators have an explosive offense and will look to battle behind the home crowd and win this game.

    Either way, we will know who each team is after this game.

Gonzaga at Arizona, December 17th

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    These two teams will meet in the ninth annual Battle in Seattle.

    Gonzaga will try to get its first-ever win over Arizona in three tries. Both teams have tournament hopes and should be ranked in the Top 25 entering this West Coast matchup.

    Gonzaga will need solid play from its backcourt to stop Arizona. Arizona is backcourt strong but inexperienced and weak up front.

    If Gonzaga can get backcourt contributions and doesn't turn the ball over, it has a good chance in this game.

Florida State Seminoles at Florida Gators, December 20th

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    This is usually a big football rivalry for the battle of Florida. This year is a rare year that the basketball game will be a bigger and more physical matchup than the football game.

    The Gators and Seminoles were both ranked in the preseason and have great teams.

    The Gators are fast and explosive on offense, while the Seminoles are built to win on the defensive end of the floor.

    Add that to the game being a big rivalry, and both teams being so even, and you have a great battle for the Sunshine State.

Butler at Gonzaga, December 20th

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    This game will have Gonzaga as a big favorite. Butler is down this year, but it still has the toughness of its past teams that have made two straight national championship game appearances. It just doesn't have as much talent.

    What makes this game big, though, is these have been the two most dominant mid-major programs for the last 10 years.

    This is Gonzaga's chance to steal some of the thunder back from what Butler has stolen.

    This early matchup will tell us if Gonzaga is ready to take it back or if Butler isn't quite ready to relinquish the keys to the best mid-major yet.

Louisville at Kentucky, December 31st

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    The battle of the Bluegrass State matchup should be one of the best in the history of these two schools. Both teams are currently in the Top Five and could stay there for this New Year's Eve matchup in Rupp Arena.

    Both teams have Final Four hopes and will look to build off of a win in this game to go into their conference schedules.

    This will be a classic Rick Pitino vs. John Calipari matchup as well. Both are two of the best college basketball coaches to ever roam the sidelines.

    Both teams like to play uptempo and have great defenses to stop each other as well.

    Look for this to be a matchup that has a national championship game atmosphere.

Gonzaga at Xavier, December 31st

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    This is a battle of the two best mid-majors in college basketball this year.

    Both teams have high hopes to make the run that the fellow mid-major Butler Bulldogs have made the last two seasons.

    This game will be dominated by guard play and features two teams that are very well disciplined and don't turn the ball over much.

    Gonzaga's youth has to be strong or this game will lean toward the home team, Xavier.