Top 25 non-conference games for 2013-2014

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click hereThe rest of our Top 25 Countdown can be found here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

With six months of no college basketball to watch, it’s about time that the ball starts bouncing once again. The season gets underway in just over a month, so here are some of the non-conference games that you should keep an eye on this season. The top game should come as little surprise, but there are many other intriguing match-ups between teams who will be in the Top 25 and on the fringe, as well as a few mid-major teams looking to prove themselves in the early going.

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1. Kentucky vs. Louisville (December 28)

Like you thought the number one non-conference game would be something other than Kentucky vs. Louisville at Rupp? Two legendary coaches, a slew of future NBA players on the court from both teams, two of the best and most rabid fan bases in the country – this game at the end of December is a great way to close the book on 2013.

Last meeting: Louisville 80, Kentucky 77 (2012)

2. Duke vs. Kansas (November 12)

You’d be hard pressed to find a better double-header of games all season than Duke vs. Kansas and Kentucky vs. Michigan State (see below) as part of the Champions Classic. All four teams ranked inside the Top Ten with national title hopes on their minds. The nightcap pits Duke against Kansas, and two of the best freshman against one another — Duke’s Jabari Parker and Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins.

Last meeting: Duke 68, Kansas 61 (2011)

3.Kentucky vs. Michigan State (November 12) 

Depending on how the preseason rankings shake out, the early game of the night very well could have the No. 1 team in the county playing the No. 2 — how’s that for some early season fireworks? This will also be Kentucky’s first true test of the young season; the nation will see how far along Coach Cal has his young team of superstars against a veteran Michigan State bunch led by Adreian Payne and Keith Appling.

Last meeting: Michigan State 94, Kentucky 88 20T (2005 NCAA Tournament)

4. Michigan vs. Arizona (December 14)

An intriguing match-up between two teams who lost a fair bit of talent from last season, but still have high expectations for the 2013-14 season. Arizona, of course, has one of the top freshman in the country in Aaron Gordon, while Michigan — coming off of its first Final Four appearance in 20 years — returns a trio of sophomores in Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III, and Nik Stauskas, along with highly touted freshman point guard Derrick Walton Jr.

Last meeting: Arizona 61, Michigan 60 OT (2004)

5. North Carolina at Michigan State (December 4)

One of the featured games of the ACC / Big Ten Challenge, North Carolina faces their first true road test of the season traveling to East Lansing. This being Carolina’s sixth game of the year, one has to assume that P.J. Hairston’s suspension will have been lifted by this point, although that all depends how stringent Roy Williams and North Carolina wish to be with Hairston. With Reggie Bullock foregoing his senior season, the Tar Heels will lean on Hairston as a primary scoring option. The match-up between Hairston and Gary Harris would be a great one to watch.

Last meeting: North Carolina 67, Michigan State 55 (2011)

6. Florida vs. Kansas (December 10)

An enigma for the latter half of the prior season, Florida is coming off of three straight appearances in the Elite Eight. Their game against Kansas is sandwiched in between games against Connecticut and Memphis — talk about a tough three game stretch. Replacing Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario will be a challenge, although some would posit Boynton is addition by subtraction given his erratic play at times.

Last meeting: Kansas 82, Florida 80 OT (2006)

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7. Duke vs. Michigan (December 3)

Another one of the premier games of the ACC / Big Ten Challenge, Duke welcomes Michigan to Cameron Indoor. Duke has dominated this series in recent years winning nine of the last ten meetings, but many of those games took place when the Wolverines were a struggling program marred near the bottom of the Big Ten. Incoming freshman Jabari Parker and transfer Rodney Hood will be major factors in the Duke frontcort, but handling the size and brute strength of Mith McGary inside will be a challenge.

Last meeting: Duke 82, Michigan 75 (2011)

8. North Carolina vs. Kentucky (December 14)

This was one of the “can’t miss” games of the 2011-12 season, and the college basketball community is certainly pleased to see this series continue between two of the most storied programs in history — last year proved to be a brief hiatus in the series. Kentucky’s slew of talented freshmen will be a storyline all year, but keep an eye on the match-up between North Carolina’s James Michael-NcAdoo and how he performs inside against Julius Randle.

Last meeting: Kentucky 73, North Carolina 72 (2011)

9. Marquette vs. Ohio State (November 16)

Each of these teams are coming off of runs to the Sweet 16 last year, and both will be adapting to life after losing their top players from a year ago — DeShaun Thomas at Ohio State and Vander Blue at Marquette. Perhaps more difficult for Marquette to overcome is losing point guard Junior Cadougan. In this the Golden Eagles’ first test of the year, it will be interesting to track how Derrick Wilson, who will most likely take over the point guard duties, handles himself against Aaron Craft.

Last meeting: Marquette 82, Ohio State 70 (1994)

source: Getty Images10. Oklahoma State vs. Memphis (November 19)

Two of the top backcourts in the country will do battle early in the year. Marcus Smart gave Travis Ford a very nice present heading into the offseason when he elected to stay at Oklahoma State for his sophomore year, thereby solidifying one of the top backcourts in the country with Smart and Markel Brown. Meanwhile, Memphis has dream backcourt with a quartet of fine guards in Michael Dixon Jr. Geron Johnson, Chris Crawford, and Joe Jackson.

Last meeting: Oklahoma State 70, Memphis 53 (2004 NCAA Tournament)

11. Connecticut vs. Florida (December 2)

We should all be delighted this tilt is being played at Connecticut’s on-campus gym, Gampel Pavilion, rather than the XL Center, the arena in downtown Hartford. The Huskies have a prolific backcourt with Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright, but are thin up front which plays into Florida’s advantage as they return Patric Young.

Last meeting: Florida 69, Connecticut 60 OT (1994)

12. Colorado vs. Kansas (December 7)

Colorado figures to be a Top 25 team as they return do-it-all guard Spencer Dinwiddie, along with Askia Booker. Last year, the Buffaloes were dismantled at Kansas losing by 36 points, but they’ll look to return the favor to Wiggins and company this year at home.

Last meeting: Kansas 90, Colorado 54

13. Duke vs. UCLA (December 19)

While UCLA plays at Missouri on December 7, the first time Steve Alford and his team will truly be in the limelight comes in the Big Apple against Duke. Despite losing the talented, Alford has plenty of talent to work with as the Wear twins return along with rising sophomores Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams.

Last meeting: Duke 84, UCLA 73 (2002)

14. Memphis vs. Florida (December 17)

If you can believe it, it’s been nearly 40 years since these two programs last met. This season’s game will greatly challenge a Florida backcourt without the services of the previously mentioned Boynton and Rosario, especially facing a supremely talented and deep Tigers backcourt.

Last meeting: Florida 84, Memphis 83 (1976)

15. Kansas vs. New Mexico (December 14)

The Lobos will have a new-look on the sidelines with Craig Neal taking over for Steve Alford, but the product on the court will largely be the same. Senior guard Kendall Williams returns, as does the Lobo’s front court duo of Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow. New Mexico figures to be a Top 25 team and the class of the Mountain West, and their game against Kansas will go a long way proving just how good they are this season.

Last meeting: Kansas 59, New Mexico 40 (1964)

16. Florida at Wisconsin (November 12)

Last meeting: Florida 74, Wisconsin 56 (2012)

17. Syracuse vs. Indiana (December 3)

Last meeting: Syracuse 61, Indiana 50 (2013 NCAA Tournament)

18. Wisconsin vs. Marquette (December 7)

Last meeting: Marquette 60, Wisconsin 50 (2012)

19. Notre Dame vs. Ohio State (December 21)

Last meeting: Ohio State 67, Notre Dame 62 (2008)

20. Memphis vs. Gonzaga (February 8)

Last meeting: Memphis 62, Gonzaga 58 (2011)

21. Wichita State vs. Tennessee (December 14)

Last meeting: Tennessee 69, Wichita State 60 (2012)

22. Colorado vs. Harvard (November 24)

Last meeting: Harvard 82, Colorado 66 (2010)

23. Virginia vs. Virginia Commonwealth (November 12)

Last meeting: Virginia 86, Virginia Commonwealth 70 (1998)

24. Creighton vs. Arizona State (November 28)

Last meeting: Creighton 87, Arizona State 73 (2012)

25. Oregon vs. Georgetown (November 8, in Camp Humphreys, South Korea)

Last meeting: Oregon 57, Georgetown 50 (2006)

Five ‘Dream’ Games

The following five games we are crossing our fingers that if things break right in these early season tournaments, these match-ups will happen:

  • Arizona vs. Duke (Championship of the NIT Season Tip Off)
  • Louisville vs. North Carolina (Championship of the Hall of Fame Tip Off)
  • Syracuse vs. Gonzaga (Championship of the Maui Invitational)
  • Michigan vs. Virginia Commonwealth (Second Round of the Puerto Rico Tip Off)
  • Connecticut vs. Indiana (Championship of the 2K Sports Classic Benefiting The Wounded Warrior Project)

College Hoops Contender Series: Does Kansas have the talent to overcome awkward roster construction?

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Who are the favorites to win a national title? Who can legitimately be called a contender? Who has the pieces to make a run to the Final Four? We’ll break that all down for you over the next three weeks in our Contender Series.

Last week, we gave you our Final Four sleepers and talked about six different Final Four contenders – Louisville, West Virginia, Villanova, Wichita State, USC and Miami – that are just flawed enough that we can’t call them contenders.

There is a pretty clear-cut delineation between the four or five best teams, the clear national title challengers, and the rest of the country this season.

This week, we will be taking a deeper dive into five of those teams.

What makes them good enough to win a national title?

But why won’t they win a national title?

We took a look at Kentucky yesterday. Now let’s break down Kansas and what makes them a title contender.

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Devonte’ Graham (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

WHY THEY WILL WIN

They’re Kansas, and Kansas does not lose Big 12 races.

I don’t expect that that will change this year, and there are four reasons why:

  1. Phog Allen Fieldhouse: Kansas does not lose there. It just doesn’t happen, which means that you can pencil in nine Big 12 wins for them off the bat. Then, consider that …
  2. … the rest of the Big 12 is down: Outside of West Virginia, is there anyone in the league that should scare Kansas? Baylor could be a top 25 team, but losing Jonathan Motley will keep them out of the Big 12 title discussion. Texas should be relevant again, but even with the addition of Mo Bamba and the return of Andrew Jones, I think they’re more ‘top 25 good’ than ‘challenge Kansas’ good. Oklahoma is still rebuilding. Texas Tech and TCU look like they could be NCAA tournament teams, but not much more. Iowa State lost what feels like everyone. Oklahoma State and Kansas State are … whatever.
  3. And Bill Self is still Bill Self: There’s a reason that he is already a Hall of Famer despite being just 54 years old. He’s one of the best in this business, and if the 13 straight regular season titles didn’t convince you yet, I’m not sure that anything will. At this point there is no reason to assume anything other than Self trotting out a team that is going to be in and around the top ten, in the mix for a No. 1 seed and, as such, a Final Four and title contender. It’s just what Kansas does.
  4. Most importantly, Kansas is still super-talented: It starts with Devonte’ Graham, who I think has a real shot at being an all-american this season. He’ll be playing his more natural point guard position, and he may actually be a better pure point guard than National Player of the Year Frank Mason was last season. Malik Newman, a former top ten recruit that redshirted last season, will be joining Graham in the back court. Svi Mykhailiuk is back, as is LaGerald Vick, while another transfer — Sam Cunliffe — will be eligible come December. Throw in Udoka Azubuike and Billy Preston up front, and the Jayhawks have a nice blend of talent, youth and experience.

All that said, I don’t think this will be the best Kansas team we’ve seen in recent years.

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Lagerald Vick (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

WHY THEY WON’T WIN

Everything about this Kansas team just feels kind of … weird.

Let’s start with the transfers. They have five of them on the roster this year. Three will be redshirting this season. One, Sam Cunliffe, won’t be eligible until December after transferring out of Arizona State just one semester into his Sun Devil career. Another, Malik Newman, will be eligible to play this season after redshirting last year, teaming up in the back court with Devonte’ Graham, who is in a weird position in his own right.

Graham was a point guard in high school. He was a point guard when he signed with Appalachian State and he was a point guard when he was forced to go to prep school for a year because the Mountaineers wouldn’t let him out of his Letter Of Intent. He was also a point guard when he arrived at Kansas, and he proceeded to spend the next three years playing off the ball as point guard Frank Mason went from being the other guy in a recruiting class that included Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid to the National Player of the Year as a senior.

For the first time in his college career, Graham will be taking over the primary point guard duties in a back court that includes a player in Newman that wants the ball in his hands and likes to shoot as much as anyone in college hoops.

How that back court pairing gels will likely end up being the most influential part of the Jayhawk season.

But there’s more.

Let’s talk small-ball for a second.

Bill Self, for years, was a coach that wanted to do nothing more than he wanted to play two bigs. Sometimes, those bigs were the Perry Ellis-type, face-up fours whose ability to score in the mid-range was elite. Sometimes, like when he made it to the national title game in 2012, he had Thomas Robinson lining up next to Jeff Withey.

However it played out, the constant was two big men … until last season, when Josh Jackson showed up and suddenly Self had the ideal small-ball lineup: Two point guards, two tough and athletic wings that could make threes and a big body in the post that can block shots and get rebounds. With Jackson now gone, Kansas and Self now have something of a problem on their hands. As it stands, there are just nine eligible scholarship players on the Jayhawks roster. Only three of them can be considered big men — Udoka Azubuike, Billy Preston and Mitch Lightfoot.

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Udoka Azubuike (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

In an ideal world, one where Self has a back court that includes a pair of ball-handlers that will be in his starting lineup and a shortage of big bodies, the Jayhawks would once again play small-ball.

The problem?

Jackson was the glue that held that lineup together. He was the prototype college four. He was tough as nails defensively, he could rebound like a power forward and he defended the rim when needed. He was also a matchup nightmare on the offensive end, a natural wing and skilled playmaker with three-point range and the ability to grab a rebound and immediately spark transition.

Kansas does not have that guy anymore. LaGerald Vick is an excellent spot-up three-point shooter and the kind of athlete that will be a plus-wing defender, but he’s all of 6-foot-4 and he’s nowhere near the playmaker that Jackson was. Cunliffe, when he finally gets eligible, is a little bit bigger than Vick but not all that different of a player. Svi Mykhailiuk is a skilled player on the offensive end of the floor that has, shall we say, question marks defensively.

In theory, the answer to this problem would be for the Jayhawks to play Azubuike, a former five-star recruit, and Preston, a five-star prospect in the Class of 2017, together. Frankly, they actually fit fairly well together. The problem is that this would mean that the only front court depth that Self would have is Lightfoot, who looked out of his element in the 102 minutes he played as a freshman.

There isn’t an easy answer to this issue.

It’s one of the pitfalls of taking three sit-out transfers the same year.

Which is why this Kansas team has such a weird feel to it.


Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

PREDICTION

Overall, Kansas is going to be fine.

Outside of West Virginia, the rest of the Big 12 is not all that intimidating. The Jayhawks should win their 14th straight Big 12 title.

But there is valid reason to be concerned about what this team is going to be able to accomplish against the best teams in the country. Last year, they were the team that created the mismatches, that forced teams to play their way or take the loss.

I just don’t see how that happens this season. I’m not sure Kansas going small would force the best teams to match them because I don’t think it’s all that worrisome having a college four guard the likes of Vick, Cunliffe or Svi. I also don’t think their two-big lineup will be all that effective unless Preston has a bigger impact — i.e. all-Big 12ish — than I expect and Lightfoot proves to be a better bench presence than I realized.

The combination of Bill Self, the amount of talent on the roster and Phog Allen Fieldhouse will keep the Jayhawks in and around the top five throughout the year.

But I think they will be more matchup-dependent in the NCAA tournament than you would think a potential No. 1 seed would be.

Iowa’s McCaffery: ‘I’ve turned programs in’ for cheating

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There aren’t a lot of unwritten rules in basketball. One of them, though, is that if a coach breaks a real rule, other coaches don’t speak up. Coaches would seemingly rather lose out on a recruit or transfer rather than turning in one of their own for suspected malfeasance.

Not for Fran McCaffery, though.

The Iowa coach was asked Monday about the FBI investigation into corruption into college hoops, and freely volunteered that he has previously turned other programs in for violations – and that he’ll do it again, if need be.

“I’ve turned programs in and I’ll continue to do that when I know that there’s something going on,” McCaffery said at the program’s media day, according to the Des Moines Register. “But a lot of times you don’t know what’s going on. So can you police yourselves? Only if you know something’s going on. But even then it’s hard for the NCAA to do something.”

Turning in another program for violations is really one of the biggest taboos in the coaching profession. That’s why you get coaches look silly in blocking schools for transfers when tampering is suspected, rather than a coach just reporting tampering.

McCaffery’s tactic, while probably frowned upon by many of his colleagues, is probably the best weapon the NCAA has in combating cheating. If coaches make it clear they won’t tolerate cheating – or that if it occurs, it won’t go unremarked upon – that will go along way in changing a culture and system that the FBI is going to potentially uncover with its wide-ranging investigation that already has resulted in 10 people’s arrest and a Hall of Fame coach’s firing.

“Any time the game is cleaned up,” McCaffery said, “it’s better for all of us.”

Report: Louisville offered $1.5 million settlement to Pitino

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When it became clear that Louisville and Rick Pitino were going to part ways, much of the discussion instantly turned to the more than $40 million left on the coach’s contract.

The school reportedly tried to avoid that whole ordeal Monday, but Pitino apparently wasn’t interested.

Louisville offered to pay $1.5 million to a charity started by Pitino in exchange for his resignation, according to WDRB-TV Louisville. Pitino did not accept and was then fired for cause by the Louisville board.

It’s little surprise to see Pitino reject such an offer with so many more millions on the table should he (almost certainly) begin legal proceedings trying to recoup the cash that Louisville says it doesn’t owe him by firing for cause.

I vehemently reject (the school’s) right to do so ‘for cause,’” Pitino said in an affidavit sent to the school. “I have given no ’cause’ for termination of my contract.”

The firing came on the heels of the latest controversy  to hit Louisville under Pitino’s watch. First came the escort scandal that rocked the program, but now the school is part of the FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball. Ten people were arrested as part of the probe, including an adidas executive who is alleged to have orchestrated getting $100,000 to the family of a recruit in order to facilitate his commitment to the Cardinals program.

Pitino may be out at Louisville, but with more than $40 million at stake, the school surely hasn’t seen the last of him.

Louisville officially fires Rick Pitino

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Louisville’s Athletic Association has officially fired head coach Rick Pitino nearly three weeks after an FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball linked the Hall of Fame head coach and his program to a $100,000 payment from Adidas to a recruit that enrolled at Louisville.

The association, made up of trustees, faculty, student and administrators, oversees Louisville athletics. They voted unanimously to fire Pitino.

Pitino has $44 million in salary remaining on his contract, which extends through the 2026 season. He was with Louisville for 16 seasons.

Pitino had been ‘effectively fired‘ by the university on September 27th, the day after the scandal first broke.

Earlier this summer, Louisville had received their sanctions from the NCAA in a different scandal that enveloped Pitino’s program. In October of 2015, a book was published by an escort named Katina Powell who alleged that a member of Pitino’s staff had paid for strippers and prostitutes for recruits and members of the Louisville team, some of whom were underage. The NCAA’s sanctions, which included vacating the 2012 Final Four and 2013 National Title in addition to Louisville’s self-imposed 2016 postseason ban, were handed down in June, two weeks after a Louisville coach had allegedly helped facilitate a $100,000 payment from Adidas to Brian Bowen’s family and six weeks before another coach would allegedly attempt to do the same for a 2019 prospect.

Kansas’ Self: Adidas case a “dark cloud on our profession’

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LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Kansas coach Bill Self had come to know James Gatto well over the years, along with just about everyone else involved with the college basketball side of the athletic apparel giant Adidas.

It comes with the territory as one of the company’s flagship schools.

But when Self first heard that Gatto had been swept up in a wide-ranging FBI investigation, centered on Louisville but uncovering corruption elsewhere in college basketball, the Jayhawks’ coach admitted being “very disappointed and disheartened” and likened it to a “dark cloud for our profession.”

Prosecutors have accused the 47-year-old Gatto of conspiring with coaches and others to funnel payments to top prospects and their families to win commitments to play at schools sponsored by Adidas. The idea was that their relationship with Adidas would continue whenever they reached the professional level.

The family of one prospect was allegedly paid $100,000 to commit, according to court documents, and the school was later revealed to be Louisville. The school has since placed coach Rick Pitino on administrative leave while the federal investigation is being resolved. Nine others, including former Oklahoma State assistant Lamont Evans, have been charged in the case.

Self said during a lengthy interview Friday that the cash payments from Adidas surprised him, but “what is not surprising is third parties’ involvement in recruiting. Everyone should know that.”

“That’s prevalent everywhere,” he said. “There’s nothing illegal about agents talking to kids and their families in ninth and 10th grade. There’s nothing illegal about shoe companies funding AAU programs. That is what’s been encouraged and done, so it shouldn’t be a surprise you could have influence from third parties.”

Kansas officials insist they have not been contacted by the FBI, and the school is not under any sort of investigation. It

Kansas recently reached a 12-year contract extension with Adidas that will ultimately provide the school with $191 million in sponsorship money and apparel. Self suggested the affiliation is being used by rivals on the recruiting trail.

“Whenever in recruiting there is something out there that has been reported, whether it’s reliable or unreliable, total myth, whatever, there’s usually competitors that make sure that information gets to people. Unfortunately, that’s how it works,” Self said. “You can say that’s negative recruiting … but a lot of times the things that are reported are so inaccurate it puts you on the defense.”

The Jayhawks already have commitments from two top-100 prospects in 6-foot-9 forward Silvio de Sousa from Florida’s IMG Academy and 6-10 center David McCormack from Virginia’s Oak Hill Academy.

They are also in the mix for several more top-50 prospects in what could be a crucial class for them.

“I’d be lying,” Self said, “if I told you we hadn’t discussed these issues with kids. And has it hurt us to date? I don’t think it has. But it’s not signing day, either.”