Commentary

The games you can't miss this season

Originally Published: November 10, 2011
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

There are plenty of potential games we'd like to see in these early-season tournaments, but here are 25 games we know we're going to see. You won't want to miss any of them.

North Carolina vs. Michigan State, Nov. 11: The Tar Heels open the season as the No. 1 team in the country. Michigan State is a potential sleeper in the Big Ten. But playing this game on the USS Carl Vinson off the coast of San Diego should create an atmosphere unlike any we've ever seen in college basketball. This is the sport's version of hockey's Winter Classic. Let's hope the rain holds off.

Kentucky vs. Kansas, Nov. 15: Kentucky makes its national television debut against an upstart Kansas team that is reshuffling its personnel but still is a viable threat to win the Big 12 and go deep into March. This is one of two games at the Champions Classic with the other being Duke versus Michigan State. Should be a fun night at Madison Square Garden.

[+] EnlargeKenny Boynton
Kim Klement/US PresswireFlorida is one of two top-10 opponents that will play in Columbus during a two-week span.

Florida at Ohio State, Nov. 15: The Buckeyes are the consensus Big Ten favorite. Florida is a legit SEC title contender. The Gators lost to the Buckeyes at home last season. Florida doesn't have an answer for Jared Sullinger, but the Buckeyes will have trouble with the Gators' guards.

Duke at Ohio State, Nov. 29: This is the premier game in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. And anytime Duke plays a true road game in the nonconference, it ends up being quite an event. Who can forget the Blue Devils' loss at Wisconsin two years ago that finally got the Big Ten off the hook in this event? This will be as tough a chore.

Vanderbilt at Louisville, Dec. 2: The SEC/Big East Challenge also produces this tantalizing game. The Commodores are a trendy SEC contender and have a loaded nonconference slate with games against Oregon, Xavier and at Marquette. But this one could be the best of the bunch.

Florida at Syracuse, Dec. 2: This is one of the headline games of the SEC/Big East Challenge. The Gators built the most challenging nonconference schedule ever under Billy Donovan. The Orange aren't shying away from elite competition, either.

North Carolina at Kentucky, Dec. 3: This won't rival LSU-Alabama in terms of implications, but it could be No. 1 versus No. 2 and have as many future pros on the court as any other game during the regular season. Neither team may have as tough a matchup position by position. That doesn't mean either team will coast during its schedule, but this should be the toughest game for each player on the court.

Marquette at Wisconsin, Dec. 3: Unless you've lived in the state of Wisconsin, it's hard to grasp the importance of this rivalry game. This matchup will be a strong early indicator for both schools.

Cincinnati at Xavier, Dec. 10: This is one of the best nonconference rivalry games and now that the Bearcats have improved the stakes are higher. Cincinnati's schedule is weak overall while the Musketeers have more chances for power-rating pop. This is always a must-see.

Louisville at Kentucky, Dec. 31: The rivalry between these two schools is as intense as any in the country. Toss in Rick Pitino and John Calipari and it reaches another level. This will prove to be quite an entrée into the Big East and SEC seasons.

Gonzaga at Xavier, Dec. 31: Both schools have a legit shot to make a Final Four run and have loaded up the nonconference slate. This game against each other might be the toughest of all.

Texas A&M at Baylor, Jan. 2: The timing is unfortunate because students likely won't be on campus. This could be the last time the Aggies play at their rival school, since the Aggies are off to the SEC. It was Baylor that nearly blocked the move and threatened to sue. Both teams are also real threats to win the Big 12.

Butler at Detroit, Jan. 8: We could be witnessing a change at the top of the Horizon League -- at least for this season. If that's going to occur, the Titans must win this game and prove to the Horizon that they belong.

Cal at Washington, Jan. 19: The unbalanced Pac-12 schedule produces only one matchup between these two schools and it's in Seattle. If the Bears want to win the Pac-12, then stealing a road win at UW would do wonders for their cause.

Ohio State at Wisconsin, Feb. 4: If the Badgers have a chance of overtaking Ohio State in the Big Ten, then they must win this game. A year ago, Wisconsin won in thrilling fashion. The games between these two have hardly ever disappointed.

Wichita State at Creighton, Feb. 11: The two favorites in the Missouri Valley meet in Omaha, where the Bluejays should be rolling by mid-February. This should turn into quite a rivalry within the Valley. Both will have a chance for an at-large berth.

[+] EnlargeVanderbilt Fans
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyThe Vandy students will be plenty fired up for their primetime game against the Cats.

Kentucky at Vanderbilt, Feb. 11: If the Commodores fancy themselves an SEC title contender, then beating Kentucky with "College GameDay" in town will be a must. This game comes at a crucial time for the Dores during the stretch run toward an NCAA tournament berth.

UNLV at New Mexico, Feb. 18: The Lobos are the favorites to win the Mountain West, but the Runnin' Rebels will be on their heels throughout the conference season. This will be their last crack before the conference tournament.

Memphis at Marshall, Feb. 25: The Tigers have a host of quality games (at Louisville, at Georgetown, Xavier, etc.), but the Conference USA title could come down to this game against the upstart Thundering Herd, who may need this game for NCAA at-large consideration.

Missouri at Kansas, Feb. 25: This may be the last time the two schools play for quite a while after the Tigers leave for the SEC. Kansas fans likely will be all over the Tigers. The timing of this game could determine the Big 12 champ or at the very least seeding in the conference tournament.

North Carolina at Duke, March 3: This is the second of the two annual rivalry games and could have a significant meaning for the Blue Devils in their quest to potentially catch UNC for the ACC title or snatch a high seed for the Big Dance.

Washington at UCLA, March 3: The Pac-12 title could be determined on this date. The Bruins and the Huskies are more than capable of challenging for the conference title. UCLA, in an unbalanced schedule, plays Washington twice, going up to Seattle a month earlier.

Pittsburgh at Connecticut, March 3: The unbalanced schedule sets up only one meeting between the two Big East rivals and the game is in Storrs. Seeding and the conference title race could be on the line, but there's also a chance this could be the final meeting if Pitt is able to bolt to the ACC early.

Kentucky at Florida, March 4: The SEC regular-season title could very well be on the line in Gainesville, not to mention high seeds in the NCAA tournament. Great job by the league office making this the finale.

Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com