Ah yes, college basketball is...almost here. It may as well be. Teams will start practice with Midnight Madness ceremonies this Friday, which include the likes of Baylor, Texas A&M and Kansas. And since the season is upon us, below are the Top 10 non-conference games featuring Big 12 teams in descending order. These include potential match-ups in preseason tournaments. If you feel I missed a game or two or five, that's what the comment section is for. Be my guest.
10. Iowa State @ Michigan: Saturday, Dec. 3, 2011 (Ann Arbor, MI)
Obviously this is a new Cyclones team that head coach Fred Hoiberg has in his second year in Ames. With ex-Big Ten players in Chris Allen and Chris Babb plus former top Minnesota commit Royce White, this could be Iowa State looking to get a résumé-building win at the Crisler Arena from a talented Michigan team.
9. Kansas vs UCLA: Possible semifinal at EA Sports Maui Invitational; Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2011 (Maui, HI)
The Jayhawks lost a lot of production from the 2010-11 team while UCLA lost Malcolm Lee and Tyler Honeycutt to the NBA. One aspect of this game in UCLA's favor would be the size up front. KU's Thomas Robinson is 6-9 and can block out well, but the Bruins can throw 305 lbs of Joshua Smith along with twins David and Travis Wear, who are transferring over from North Carolina.
8. Missouri vs Illinois: Thursday, Dec. 22, 2011 (St. Louis, MO)
The Braggin' Rights game between the Tigers and Fighting Illini have been double-digit results in the last three years, but with the unfortunate ACL injury to Mizzou's Laurence Bowers, this game has evened out a bit coupled with Illinois' stellar freshman class coming in.
7. Kansas vs Georgetown: Actual quarterfinal at EA Sports Maui Invitational; Monday, Nov. 21, 2011 (Maui, HI)
This is just another mammoth game being played at this year's Maui Invitational. The Hoyas lost their scoring punch from Austin Freeman. Senior Jason Clark will try to assume the leadership role on the team while three incoming recruits are looking to break through.
6. Texas A&M vs Arizona: Possible championship at 2K Sports Classic; Friday, Nov. 18, 2011 (New York, NY)
The Aggies are led by Preseason All-Big 12 First Team talent Khris Middleton and a batch of seasoned veterans in Naji Hibbert, Ray Turner, David Loubeau and point guard Dash Harris. The Wildcats lose their everyman in Derrick Williams but still have key players returning plus the top five freshman class coach Sean Miller was able to reel in. This would be the dream match-up for the title game.
5. Texas vs Vanderbilt: Possible championship at TicketCity Legends Classic; Monday, Nov. 21, 2011 (East Rutherford, NJ)
Texas doesn't have any of their starters returning, but they have help in Preseason All-Big 12 First Team guard J'Covan Brown and five-star point guard Myck Kabongo by way of Canada. Vanderbilt has become infamous for being awarded #4 or #5 seeds in the NCAA Tournament and faltering in their first game. Folks in and outside of Nashville believe this is the year they go deep in March with senior leaders Jeffery Taylor, Festus Ezeli and Lance Goulbourne.
4. Kansas vs Duke: Possible championship at EA Sports Maui Invitational; Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2011 (Maui, HI)
A lot of things would have to bounce in the favor of Kansas in order to make this game with the Blue Devils happen. Austin Rivers and new-look Duke will be trying to search for their identity as well as Kansas, so this could be a perfect chance to sneak up on Duke.
3. Missouri vs Notre Dame: Progressive CBE Classic; Monday, Nov. 21, 2011 (Kansas City, MO)
Oddly enough, the Fighting Irish have only one senior on the 2011-12 roster--and he's a good one--Tim Abromaitis. He is predicted by USA Today to finish on the Big East's First Team, but he has help in the form of ex-Purdue Boilermaker Scott Martin and freshman guard/forward Pat Connaughton. This Irish team will be a stark contrast to Mizzou's seven seniors on the roster.
2. Texas @ North Carolina: Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2011 (Chapel Hill, NC)
This game more than any other this year will be a great litmus test for Texas to see where they are as they enter conference play. And if the NBA lockout continues, you'll have a shot to check out three NBA lottery picks play on the most talented team in college basketball.
1. Kansas vs Kentucky: Champions Classic; Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2011 (New York, NY)
If there's one thing ESPN had a great idea for, it's the yearly 24-Hour College Basketball Tip-Off Marathon. And the night is capped off with the inaugural Champions Classic featuring Michigan State, Kansas, Kentucky and Duke in a jam-packed doubleheader slate. Head coach John Calipari and his talented Wildcats get their first look in front of a national audience.