- Myron Medcalf, ESPN Staff Writer
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None of these nonconference games will likely happen, but that won’t deter us from dreaming up some early-season matchups that could really spice things up in November and December.
In an ideal world, these are some of the ones we'd like to see in the 2012-13 season ...
Indiana at Kentucky: Surely you didn't think we'd begin anywhere else. The drama between the programs has evolved into the most fascinating storyline of the offseason. These two just can’t get along, and we’ll all suffer as a result. They played two thrillers last season, but they won’t play for the foreseeable future after talks stalled twice in the past month because of concerns about location and contract years. And that’s sad, especially since both squads will enter next season as top-five teams. Kentucky's Nerlens Noel and IU's Cody Zeller will start the year as Wooden Award candidates, yet won't get to play in what would've been a fascinating individual matchup. Can’t we call Dr. Phil to help with this?
UCLA at North Carolina: The Wear twins (David and Travis) join Larry Drew II as former Tar Heels now playing for the Pac-12 power. Drew endured a fury of criticism during his time with UNC and was ultimately replaced in the starting lineup by Kendall Marshall, who was just a freshman at the time. It prompted Drew to transfer midseason, and that did not exactly endear him to Carolina Nation. The Heels lost Harrison Barnes, John Henson, Tyler Zeller and Marshall, but they’ll have some new faces and some young ones leading the way this season. Sounds a lot like the Bruins.
UNLV at Pittsburgh: After Khem Birch left Pitt in the middle of his freshman season, the wheels really fell off for coach Jamie Dixon’s program. Injuries, poor play, more injuries. A nationally ranked team became a major disappointment, and Birch incurred a chunk of the blame. The youngster will be eligible following the fall semester, and a late-December matchup between a UNLV team that’s assembled one of the top frontcourts in America (Anthony Bennett arrives, Mike Moser returns) and a Pitt squad with big plans for 6-foot-10 New Zealand product Steven Adams (No. 6 in the 2012 class) could be a war, especially with the bad blood brewing from Birch’s departure.
Ohio State at NC State: We'd don't get to see this matchup in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge (the Buckeyes travel to Duke, and the Wolfpack head to Michigan), but both of these teams will likely begin the season in the top 10 -- possibly even top five -- and a matchup in Raleigh would be an excellent gauge for both teams. Aaron Craft against Lorenzo Brown at the point? Yes, please. Rising junior C.J. Leslie and NC State's bevy of elite newcomers against Deshaun Thomas and shot-blocker-on-the-rise Amir Williams? We'll take that, too. So much talent on the floor. So much potential.
Memphis at Arizona: Josh Pastner built up his reputation as a young assistant and recruiter under Lute Olson at Arizona, his alma mater. He was connected to the program for nearly a decade before joining John Calipari’s staff at Memphis. This would be a good time to go back. The Wildcats have a top-three recruiting class that’s created a buzz about Arizona’s re-emergence on the national scene. Pastner didn’t sign many preps -- although Shaq Goodwin (No. 31 in the ESPN 100) will definitely help -- because the bulk of his squad returns, including Joe Jackson and Adonis Thomas.
Duke at Syracuse: You have to wonder how long Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Boeheim will remain in their current posts. They coach with a fire that suggests they can stay in the game for years, but we still don't want to pass up on seeing these giants square off against each other, which has happened so rarely over the decades. A matchup between the two legends at the Carrier Dome could set attendance records. Syracuse returns talented veterans such as Baye Keita and C.J. Fair, and the Orange add top-15 freshman DaJuan Coleman, too. Duke will rely on veteran backcourt contributors Andre Dawkins and Seth Curry, while incoming freshman Rasheed Sulaimon could be a star.
San Diego State at Michigan: Steve Fisher found glory and drama during his time in Ann Arbor. He was a hero for leading the Wolverines to a national title in 1989, but he left following a recruiting scandal tied to some of Michigan’s top recruits during his tenure, including Chris Webber. But his name has been restored with a healthy tenure at San Diego State, a squad that he’s shaped into a contender and that should be a top-15 team this season. Michigan has also found success in recent years under John Beilein, and next season’s squad could start the season in the top five with the return of Trey Burke and the addition of a stellar recruiting class. Great matchup with a great storyline as Fisher goes back to the Crisler Center.
Murray State at Creighton: Doug McDermott and Isaiah Canaan both considered their professional options following the 2011-12 season, but both All-America candidates will return. And that means their respective programs likely will be the top mid-majors entering next season. Canaan led Murray State to a furious start in Steve Prohm’s first season with the program, and McDermott helped his father’s Creighton program crack the Top 25, while also soliciting NBA interest just a year after he was expected to redshirt his freshman season. Both teams won NCAA tournament games, and both return players who could finish as first-team All-Americans. Let's square them off before 18,000 rowdy folks in Omaha. Mid-major matchups don't get much better than that.
Michigan State at Missouri: This just feels like it would be a fun matchup, doesn't it? Few teams this season will be as fascinating to track as Mizzou, which has a few key returnees but will be made up mostly of transfers and incoming freshmen in its first year as a member of the SEC. The Tigers might've lost a few of their best players from a 30-win team, but make no mistake: They are still plenty talented. Once they get all their parts in place, we'd love to see them square up against a well-coached and equally talented team like Michigan State.
(Editor's Note: As for Kansas-Missouri, well, duh ... but we already covered that one Tuesday with a look at the realignment-wrecked rivalries we'd like to see continued in nonconference play.)
Louisville at Indiana: Coach Tom Crean could use another border rival right now, and Louisville might be the best team in Kentucky next season. Gorgui Dieng is one of the best shot-blockers in America, and Peyton Siva and Wayne Blackshear return, too. It wouldn’t have the same national spotlight as Kentucky-IU, but from a competitive standpoint, the matchup could surpass it. These are two of the toughest teams in America going into next season. If UK and Indiana can’t figure things out, let’s get Louisville involved. UL and IU have reportedly had discussions about a future series. No need to wait.
Baylor at Gonzaga: Coach Scott Drew lost a lot of talent from last season when Perry Jones III and Quincy Miller decided to go pro and Quincy Acy graduated. Miller’s departure hurts the most because he initially said he’d come back for his sophomore season but changed his mind a few weeks ago. No worries. Baylor is still potent, with one of the most talented backcourts in the country. Pierre Jackson and Brady Heslip are a proven combo, and incoming freshman point guard L.J. Rose could contribute from day one, too. Let’s send the Bears to Spokane for a battle with another ultra-talented backcourt at Gonzaga. Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell Jr. and David Stockton would give the Bears’ guards fits. And vice versa. I’d love to see it. (1:50 p.m. ET: Well, well, well, it turns out we'll all get to see it! The Bears are traveling to Spokane this season to return a game that was played in Dallas two years ago. Hey, that'll work.)
Kentucky at UCLA: The top two recruiting classes in 2012 would definitely cause a stir with a nonconference meeting at the newly renovated Pauley Pavilion. Shabazz Muhammad had the chance to pick Kentucky, but the McDonald's All-American wing signed with UCLA, a decision that helped the Bruins end UK's streak of three straight No. 1 classes. Anchored by Nerlens Noel, UK had to "settle" for the No. 2 incoming crew. The battle among the youngsters would also feature two teams with plenty to prove. UCLA coach Ben Howland hopes this incoming class will help revive the program and erase memories of last season. Kentucky will try to defend its national championship without the services of the key players who helped the Wildcats win it. Boy, would this be fun.