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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)

UVA cools Heels, wins ACC opener

Reggie Bullock
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Charlottesville — The Tar Heels are used to moving fast. They came into John Paul Jones arena as an unsurprising No. 1 in the nation in adjusted tempo. Virginia, on the other hand, was 343rd in the same stat. It was a classic unstoppable force vs. immovable object kind of game. The game ended up in the realm of 61 possessions for both teams, and that made it Virginia’s type of game. One of the NBA scouts in attendance — I’ll call him Jim Cardaway — seemed visibly annoyed with the frequent stagnation of the UNC offense.

When the final buzzer sounded, the Cavaliers held sway, winning 61-52 to take their ACC opener. The score represented Carolina’s season low on offense.

Most young teams make mistakes when they start moving too fast. For the UNC Tar Heels, the reverse almost seems to be true. Give a Heel time to think about what he’s doing on offense these days, and he’s likely to travel, hesitate a moment too long and let the lane close or miss his wide-open pivot man.

“In a physical game, it’s hard to get out and run as much,” said UVA head coach Tony Bennett. “But we tried to be vigilant and make them play against the set defense.”

Both teams were bolstered by the return of valued players. Reggie Bullock made a flashy comeback for the Heels, scoring 22 points on 7-9 shooting. UVA’s returnee was quieter, but no less important. Jontel Evans, back after sitting the last nine games for the Cavaliers, tallied just eight points, but his presence meant a lot to his team.

“It helped a lot,”  said UVA head coach Tony Bennett. “He’s not where he needs to be defensively, but as an older guy he was able to body Paige a few times.”

Virginia’s offensive spark came from 6’5″ swingman Joe Harris, who was the only Cavalier in double figures. He dropped 19 points on 7-11 shooting, including 2-4 from deep.

UNC’s freshman point guard Marcus Paige admitted after the game that UVA’s persistent, jarring screens threw the Tar Heels off their rhythm. Paige’s clear-headed analysis of his team’s flaws was echoed by his head coach, who assessed the game in terms only Roy Williams can, or will, use:

“Just silliness,” said a disgusted Williams in the post-game press conference. “You can’t say you’re young any more. It was a breakdown on both ends of the court. ACC basketball on the road and all that are great excuses, but we just didn’t frickin’ play.”

Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.

North Carolina’s Reggie Bullock expected to return Sunday

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North Carolina is coming off the biggest win of the year defeating UNLV 79-73 win at home on Saturday. To start the New Year, the Tar Heels received some more good news.

Junior, Reggie Bullock, the team’s second-leading scorer, returned to full practice on Friday and is expected to play in North Carolina’s conference opener against Virginia on Sunday, according to ESPN’s Robbi Pickeral.

Bullock, the 6-foot-7 wing, has been out since suffering a mild concussion on Dec. 27, when he and teammate, James Michael McAdoo collided into each at practice.

“Reggie was able to go through about half of practice today,” Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said on Friday. “If he doesn’t have any headaches, or any recurrence of symptoms that they worry about (with) the concussion, I would expect him to completely practice tomorrow. And if he does the same thing after that, I would expect him to play on Sunday.

“Everybody uses this term — ‘Cautiously optimistic’ is where we are.”

Depending on how Bullock responds following his return to the floor, Williams said Bullock could return to the starting lineup against Virginia.

The addition of Bullock is a big lift for North Carolina, as the Tar Heels open ACC play with three games – Virginia, Miami, and Florida State – in a span of a week. Bullock is coming into his own so far in his junior season, seeing career-highs in points, rebounds, and steals.  He’s also connecting on 48 percent of his three’s.

Bullock is averaging 13.1 points and 5.7 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game.

North Carolina and Virginia enter Sunday’s game with identical 10-3 records.

Terrence is also the lead writer at NEHoopNews.com and can be followed on Twitter: @terrence_payne

North Carolina will be without Reggie Bullock against UNLV due to concussion

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North Carolina junior Reggie Bullock will miss Saturday’s game against UNLV after suffering a mild concussion during practice Thursday evening, the school announced via Twitter.

Bullock, a 6-7 native of North Carolina, is averaging 13.1 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, both good for second on the team.

Against the length and athleticism of UNLV, Bullock could have been an asset. He was a lone bright spot in North Carolina’s upset loss to a struggling Texas team earlier this month when he scored 18 points. As a strong perimeter defender, UNLV will have the advantage in Bullock’s absence.

Katin Reinhardt and Bryce Dejean-Jones could get more touches on the perimeter with Bullock out of the lineup, but Anthony Bennett and Khem Birch will still be the focus on the interior for the Rebels.

Without Bullock in the lineup, the Tar Heels will also need to fill in offensively, which means more from P.J. Hairston, Leslie McDonald, and Dexter Strickland.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Bullock ready to fill it up at UNC

NCAA Basketball Tournament - Ohio v North Carolina
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Sure, North Carolina lost last season’s big four of Kendall Marshall, Harrison Barnes, Ty Zeller and John Henson to the NBA. On the flipside, Roy Williams will have plenty of young, dynamic talent coming into the program as he always does. In the meantime, where’s the veteran leadership going to come in?

Much of that onus will fall upon Reggie Bullock, the junior shooting guard who didn’t find much room to, well, shoot as the fifth wheel on the Tar Heel spaceship last year. His sophomore season average of 8.8 points didn’t set the world on fire, but close observation shows the kernel possibility in Bullock that may be ready to explode. He shot 38 percent from downtown, and used his bullish 6’7″, 205-lb. body to snag an impressive 5.1 rebounds per game in his second season in Chapel Hill.

But the question remains: can he score? I mean really, really score?

That question may have been answered last week, as the star-laden N.C. Pro-Am summer league wrapped up on Thursday. The championship game featured former UNC breakout star Jerry Stackhouse, as well as current Duke players Quinn Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon and Amile Jefferson. According to Andrew Carter of the Charlotte Observer, amongst all that talent, it was Bullock who stole the show.

Bullock led his Banks Law Firm team (Bullock and Stackhouse played together) to a 91-84 championship game victory against Dream Works (which had all the Duke guys). The official scorers credited Bullock with 28 points but I think they missed one of six 3-pointers. I had him finishing with 31 – 19 of which came in the first half.

And this comes after he scored 30 points during his team’s semifinal victory on Wednesday.

Yes, it’s only the summer league, where defense is at times optional and offensive is at times – most of the time, even – improvisational. But Bullock looked good, shooting with confidence and playing with more speed than he did last season with the Tar Heels.

If nothing else, UNC should prove to have a reliable and versatile backfield, which is crucial in high-level college hoops. Stillman White performed admirably in his Big Dance trial-by-fire filling in for the injured Marshall at the end of last season, Dexter Strickland should be back from injury, and Bullock will be able to use his size and shooting touch to great effect both inside and out.

Earning the Pro-Am MVP award while playing against many of the guys he’ll battle next season could be a strong sign that Bullock is ready for his close-up.

Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.

15 freshmen to love, this year and next

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Don’t go falling in love with freshmen like Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger, North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes and Baylor’s Perry Jones. They head the list of this season’s one-and-done players.

Also included: Duke’s Kyrie Irving, Kansas’ Josh Selby, N.C. State’s C.J. Leslie, Memphis’ Will Barton, Syracuse’s Fab Melo and Kentucky’s trio of Brandon Knight, Enes Kanter and Terrence Jones, among others.

If any of those guys return for their sophomore seasons, consider it a pleasant surprise for hoopheads.

Robin Scholz / AP

Who’s that leave? Fifteen talented guys you can watch this season and next.

Vander Blue, Marquette
The 6-3 guard was the Wisconsin player of the year and backed out of playing for Bo Ryan so he could suit up for Buzz Williams. Jimmy Butler will be the Eagles’ go-to guy, which means Blue can focus on doing what he does best – attacking the basket and playing multiple guard spots. You’ll spot Blue by the ink on his arms.

Reggie Bullock, North Carolina
Think Wayne Ellington, only taller. The 6-6 guard could start for the Heels, who need someone to stretch defenses with a reliable outside shot. The rest of his game needs work, which will be the only thing keeping him in school past his freshman season.

Joe Jackson, Memphis
Forget one or two seasons. Tigers fans are hoping the Memphis native sticks around four years. The 5-11 point guard is lightning quick, savvy and bound to make life easier for his young, talented teammates. Or he’ll just do it himself. There’s a little bit of Allen Iverson in Jackson.

Tobias Harris, Tennessee
This may be a stretch, but I can hope, right? The 6-8 forward is adept in the pain or on the perimeter and rarely slacks off. That’s perfect for Bruce Pearl’s Vols, who thrive with versatile, athletic players. Harris will overmatch nearly every defender he faces, which means he’s not long for the college game. But two seasons? That’s possible.

Ray McCallum, Detroit and Trey Ziegler, Central Michigan
What are a five-star prospect and a four-star prospect doing playing at mid-majors schools? They’re playing for their dads. If that’s not worth cheering, I don’t know what is. McCallum’s heady point guard, while Ziegler’s a shooting guard who could lead the MAC in scoring.

Ian Miller, Florida State
The latest in a series of top-flight talent in Tallahassee, Miller should vie for ACC freshman of the year honors. The 6-3 guard is a solid finisher and aggressive getting to the rim, a godsend for a ‘Noles team that struggles getting the ball in the basket.

Tyler Lamb, UCLA
The 6-4 Lamb is just what the Bruins were missing last season – an athletic guard who can hit from outside or get to the rim. He’ll play, too. UCLA coach Ben Howland’s been impressed by Lamb’s defensive effort.

Adreian Payne, Michigan State
A 6-10 center who thrives on defense, can block shots and rebound? Sounds like a Tom Izzo player to me. Payne figures to spell Spartans post players Delvon Roe and Derrick Nix this season, then step into a more prominent role the next few seasons as his offense develops.  

Phil Pressey, Missouri
The Tigers’ system is built around guards who can push the pace and pressure defenders. That’s perfect for Pressey, a 5-10 blur who also isn’t afraid of challenging taller foes at the rim. He and his brother, Matt, could be Missouri’s backcourt for years to come.

Jereme Richmond and Meyers Leonard, Illinois
Richmond, a 6-7 wing, and Leonard, a 6-10 center, are the gems of Illinois’ 2010 class and could step into prominent roles once Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale graduate this spring. If the freshmen pair can match the consistency and productivity of Davis and Tisdale, the Illini are set.

Terrence Ross, Washington
The early favorite for Pac-10 freshman of the year. The 6-5 guard should thrive thanks to Huskies point guard Isaiah Thomas, who excels at driving the lane and dishing to open teammates around the arc. That’s perfect for Ross, whose best asset is his sweet stroke.

J.T. Terrell, Wake Forest
Here’s all you need to know about the 6-4 guard, courtesy of Dave Telep: “Somebody told me he was shooting it from one step past half court off a ball screen,” Wake assistant Jeff Battle said. “Who would shoot that? They said he makes them, too. I don’t know if coach will let him shoot 50-footers, but he can do it.”

Dion Waiters, Syracuse
Someone’s going to have to pick up the scoring slack with Wes Johnson and Andy Rautins gone. That falls to Kris Joseph and Waiters, a tremendous talent who can step into Rautins’ role as the perimeter threat. Added bonus: Unlike Rautins, Waiters can get to the rim.

Patric Young, Florida
The solution to the Gators’ frontcourt issues. The 6-8 Young grabs rebounds, blocks shots and intimates foes with his imposing build. He’s not polished offensively, but that’s the main reason he’ll be in Gainesville more than one year. Guys with his athleticism are usually NBA bound ASAP.

Mike Miller’s also on Twitter @BeyndArcMMiller, usually talkin’ hoops. Click here for more.