Matchups for SEC/Big East Challenge released (UPDATED)

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ESPN released the 12 match-ups for this season’s SEC/Big East Challenge on Friday morning, with defending national champion Kentucky visiting Notre Dame and Marquette visiting Florida in two of the event’s top games.

“I’m thrilled about this match-up and the opportunity to play Kentucky,” Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey said in a release. “These two schools have a long tradition of playing each other and we’ve been exploring options for renewing the rivalry.

“With all five of our starters returning next year, this is going to be a great early non-conference test for us. I’m excited that our fans will have the chance to be a part of such a powerful and meaningful game so early on in our season.”

New SEC members Missouri and Texas A&M won’t take part in the event, and the same goes for Big East members Connecticut, Louisville and Pittsburgh.

Thu, November 29
Kentucky at Notre Dame
Marquette at Florida 
South Carolina at St. John’s 
Seton Hall at LSU

Fri, November 30
Syracuse at Arkansas 
Tennessee at Georgetown 
DePaul at Auburn
Georgia at South Florida

Sat, December 1
Alabama at Cincinnati
Villanova at Vanderbilt
Mississippi State at Providence
Rutgers at Mississippi

The Big East won the inaugural event 8-4 last season, with Syracuse beating Florida at the Carrier Dome in the event’s marquee match-up.

From 2007-10 the two conferences met in two neutral-site doubleheaders before the competition was re-branded.

Five Games to Watch

1. Kentucky at Notre Dame

With Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant having a year of experience under their belts Mike Brey’s Fighting Irish should be one of the top teams in the Big East. Kentucky will once again be young but they’re also extremely talented, with center Nerlens Noel leading a team that should once again contend for a national title.

2. Marquette at Florida

Marquette does lose Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom, but Vander Blue and Junior Cadougan are rising juniors who should be ready to lead the way. Florida counters with Patric Young and Kenny Boynton in a battle of teams who will contend in their respective conferences.

3. Tennessee at Georgetown

Cuonzo Martin’s Volunteers nearly reached the NCAA tournament in spite of their early-season issues, and they’re a team that will be expected to take that next step in 2012-13 with Jeronne Maymon and Jarnell Stokes leading the way. Georgetown does have to replace Jason Clark, Henry Sims and Hollis Thompson but Otto Porter returns, and freshman D’Vauntes Smith-Rivers will be a welcome addition.

4. Alabama at Cincinnati

Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright are back to lead the way for the Bearcats, and their match-up with Trevor Lacey and Trevor Releford on the perimeter should be entertaining to watch. No more Yancy Gates (Cincinnati) or JaMychal Green (Alabama), but both teams should have enough talent to get back to the NCAA tournament.

5. Syracuse at Arkansas

Syracuse has to replace three* key contributors (* – not counting Fab Melo) from last year’s Elite 8 team but with their returnees and incoming recruits the Orange will once again contend for a Big East title. Mike Anderson’s second year in Fayetteville should result in an NCAA appearance for the Razorbacks, who welcome back guard B.J. Young.

However there seems to be an issue with Syracuse’s inclusion in the event according to ESPN.com. How that plays out will be interesting to watch.

Raphielle is also the assistant editor at CollegeHoops.net and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.