2014-2015 Season Preview: 25 must-watch non-conference games

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Kentucky beat Louisville twice last season (AP Photo)

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

The college basketball offseason is brutal, longer than any other major sport. But practice is already underway, meaning actual college basketball games are officially right around the corner. This year’s non-conference slate has everything you could ask for — rivalries, rematches, top-10 clashes, etc. — and many of these games happen within the first five days of the 2014-2015 season.

Here are the 25 best non-conference games. Mark your calendars:

THE TOP 15

1. Kansas vs. Kentucky (Champions Classic in Indianapolis) – Nov. 18

The Jayhawks and Wildcats meet in the nightcap of the 2014 Champions Classic just four days after the college basketball season begins. Kentucky returns Willie Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson, Alex Poythress and the Harrison twins and add four more McDonald’s All Americans to that roster. Kansas, however, also brings in a highly-touted quartet that will join returners Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis. Bill Self and John Calipari have both won their national championships at the expense of the other.

2. Duke vs. Wisconsin (ACC/Big Ten Challenge) – Dec. 3

The ACC/Big Ten Challenge’s top game will pit two top-5 teams against one another as the Blue Devils head to the Kohl Center in Madison to take on the Badgers. Not only does this matchup two conference favorites, it provides the best individual matchup of the season, with the senior Frank Kaminsky going up against the nation’s top freshman Jahlil Okafor.

3. Kentucky vs. Louisville – Dec. 27

Kentucky took both games from Louisville last season, including a five-point win in the Sweet 16. Luckily, the Cardinals get the Wildcats at home this season with great matchups on the floor. Terry Rozier and Chris Jones up against the Harrison twins and Tyler Ulis while Montrezl Harrell battles the massive UK frontline. The nation’s best rivalry rarely disappoints.

4. Arizona vs. Gonzaga – Dec. 6

Despite losing two starters, Arizona has plenty of NBA talent in its starting five. Gonzaga will field one of the best rosters in program history, with starters Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell and Przemek Karnowski and transfers Byron Wesley and Kyle Wiltjer. The last time these two teams met was March in the Round of 64. Arizona cruised to a 84-61 win.

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Rondae Hollis-Jefferson tries to dunk on Gonzaga (Getty Images)

5. North Carolina vs. Kentucky – Dec. 13

One ACC contender wasn’t enough for John Calipari, as his Cats welcome the Tar Heels to Rupp Arena. The 2011 meeting was an instant classic and while the two blue bloods took a break from play in 2012, the non-conference tilt is back on for a second straight season after UNC topped UK in last year. 

6. Texas vs. Kentucky – Dec. 5

The SEC/Big 12 Challenge one-upped its ACC-Big Ten counterpart with two incredible games on Friday, Dec. 5. One of those games? Kentucky hosting Texas. The Longhorns are coming off a rejuvenated season and will pose a front court of Jonathan Holmes, Cameron Ridley and five-star freshman Myles Turner ready to do battle with Kentucky’s deep frontline.

7. Florida vs. Kansas – Dec. 5

In the nightcap of that SEC/Big 12 Challenge double-header, Florida and Kansas meet once again in the regular season, only this time in Allen Fieldhouse. Last season, the Gators used a 67-61 win to kick-off a 30-game winning streak that brought them to the Final Four. This game will include some new faces (Cliff Alexander, Kelly Oubre, etc.) and players in bigger roles (Kasey Hill, Chris Walker).

8. Duke vs. UConn – Dec. 18

UConn won its fourth national championship in 15 years this past April with Duke playing a role in two of those titles. In 1999, the Huskies defeated Duke in the national championship game. Five years later, the Huskies downed the Blue Devils in the Final Four. When they meet on Dec. 18 in Izod Center, it’ll mark the 10th time they’ve played. Duke hopes it’s a lot like the last meeting (2009) when it won a 68-59 contest. Both fanbases travel well.

9. UConn vs. Florida – Jan. 3

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AP photo

In the last 22 games of the 2013-2014 season, Florida had just two losses, both against UConn. Shabazz Napier’s buzzer-beater in Storrs stole a victory from the Gators. Four months later, Florida became part of UConn’s unlikely national championship run. Billy Donovan gets Kevin Ollie’s team in Gainesville to kick off the 2015.

10. Utah vs. San Diego State Nov. 18

The 24-hour tip-off marathon picks back up in the early evening with one of those games being Utah at San Diego State. The Utes have high hopes this season with the return of Delon Wright. The Aztecs exceeded expectations last season and could repeat that with Dwayne Poole is a host of young talented guards.

11. SMU vs. Gonzaga – Nov. 17

SMU missed out on the NCAA tournament last season due to a weak out-of-conference schedule. Larry Brown beefed up that portion of the schedule this year with Gonzaga — a team with top 10 talent — as an early test. This is still an interesting game, but would have been much higher on the list had Emmauel Mudiay enrolled.

12. Duke vs. Michigan State – Nov. 18

The Blue Devils have four big-time recruits including Okafor and Tyus Jones. Michigan State lost three starters and will rely on Branden Dawson, Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice. It’s tough to compete with the headliner of the Champions Classic, but this is as good of an opening act as you’ll see.

13. Virginia vs. VCU – Dec. 6

Last season, VCU entered Charlottlesville as the No. 14 team in the nation and left with a 59-56 victory over the Cavaliers. The Rams host the Cavs in early December this time around. At that point in the season both teams could be in the top-15 or even top-10. VCU will be battle-tested by Dec. 6 with games against MAC-favorite Toledo and Villanova beforehand. The Wahoos will have the talented perimeter of Malcolm Brogdon, London Perrantes and Anthony Gill to go head-to-head with Havoc.

14. Syracuse vs. Villanova – Dec. 20

An original Big East Conference game is always a must-see event. The Orange also have St. John’s on the schedule, but traveling to Philadelphia to take on ranked Villanova program is the better of the two. This will be the second time these two former league rivals go toe-to-toe since the conference dismantled, as the Orange pulled away with a 78-62 victory at home in what ended up being a top-10 matchup.

15. Wichita State vs. Memphis (in Sioux Falls, South Dakota) – Nov. 14

How do you make a mid-November game in Sioux Falls, South Dakota interesting? Invite a team that hasn’t lost a regular season game since March 2013 and bring in a perennial top-25. Sure, Memphis is going through a rebuilding mode with an entire new back court, but the Tigers have inside presence with Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols that could give the Shockers trouble. Cleanthony Early is now a Knick, but Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker are both All American candidates.

TEN MORE TIMES YOU’LL NEED TO SET YOUR DVR

  • 16. Kentucky vs. UCLA – (CBS Sports Classic in Chicago) Dec. 20: Two blue-bloods square off in the United Center.
  • 17. Texas vs. UConn – Nov. 30: Ryan Boatright vs. Isaiah Taylor will be fun.
  • 18. Arizona vs. Michigan – Dec. 13: Sean Miller’s defensive mastery vs. John Beilein’s offensive ingenuity.
  • 19. Arizona vs. UNLV – Dec. 23: The Runnin’ Rebels have a ton of young talent on their roster.
  • 20. Syracuse vs. Michigan (ACC/Big Ten Challenge) – Dec. 2: Syracuse have PG questions while Michigan has an unproven front line.
  • 21. Ohio State vs. North Carolina (CBS Sports Classic in Chicago) – Dec. 20: Are the Buckeyes truly a top 15-caliber team?
  • 22. Minnesota vs. Louisville (U.S. Air Station in Puerto Rico) – Nov. 14: Big Pitino vs. Little Pitino.
  • 23. Green Bay vs. Georgia State – Dec. 4/27: Arguably the nation’s two-best mid-majors. Keifer Sykes vs. Ryan Harrow and R.J. Hunter. And yeah, these two teams meet twice.
  • 24. Oklahoma vs. UCLA – Nov. 26: Oklahoma has a chance to win the Big 12 is Tashawn Thomas gets eligible.
  • 25. Wichita State vs. Utah  Dec. 3: Utah is one of the best teams you’re not paying attention to right now.

POTENTIAL IN-SEASON TOURNAMENT GAMES WE’RE HOPING TO SEE

  • Battle 4 Atlantis: North Carolina vs. Wisconsin
  • Maui Invitational: San Diego State vs. Arizona
  • 2k Classic: Texas vs. Syracuse
  • Orlando Classic: Kansas vs. Michigan State
  • Legends Classic: Michigan vs. VCU
  • Puerto Rico Tip-Off: UConn vs. West Virginia

Report: NCAA will give more notices of allegations soon

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Now that the FBI’s college basketball corruption cases are complete, the NCAA will likely move forward with more notices of allegations.

Speaking to ESPN’s Heather Dinich on Wednesday at the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, NCAA vice president of Division I Governance Kevin Lennon said that more investigations could come “in due time and I think  very quickly.”

The NCAA needed to wait for the FBI’s trials to finish up before launching its own investigations on schools mentioned over the past 18 months. We could see a high number of big-name programs get investigated during the NCAA’s process.

“You don’t get in the way of a federal investigation,” Lennon said Wednesday. “Activity was going on during that span that was within our purview, but now that the court cases are done, now we’re in a position where you’re likely to see notices of allegations going to institutions that have violated NCAA rules, etc. I think you can anticipate notices of allegations will be coming.”

Following the completion of the first FBI trial in October 2018, the NCAA already reportedly sent notice of allegations to Arizona, Kansas, NC State and Louisville. Other prominent programs, including but not limited to, Auburn, LSU, Oklahoma State and USC have also been mentioned during recent college basketball corruption trials.

While the NCAA will seek all documents that schools turned over to the federal government during legal procedures, the real difficulty in the NCAA’s investigations will be getting third-party participants to speak — or even cooperate in the first place. Those not tied to the NCAA through member schools have no legal obligation to help the NCAA during their investigation process.

Wednesday’s Knight Commission meeting also went over processes discussed or implemented because of the Rice Commission’s April 2018 report. Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey, president of the board of directors for the NABC, made waves by questioning where accountability comes from when it comes to coaching penalties.

Asking why “there’s been no hammer from the top of campus,” Brey asked why schools haven’t been accountable with coaches who break the rules.

“Why hasn’t an athletic director or a president acted in some of these current cases?” Brey said.

“I think a lot of our coaches want to know why hasn’t the hammer come down? I’m a little naïve to it. Is it legal stuff? A lot of lawyers? I think our profession would love to see the hammer be dropped on some of these situations. We need an explosion back.”

Brey has every right to question where penalties are coming from since only Louisville head coach Rick Pitino has lost his job among head coaches during this scandal. There seems to be a lot of confusion on where some things stand with the NCAA, and its rules, but maybe we’ll get more clarification now that the FBI trials are done.

Juwan Howard will be the next Michigan head coach

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Juwan Howard is heading back to school.

The former Fab Five member has accepted an offer to replace John Beilein as Michigan’s next head coach, according to multiple reports. He has spent the last six seasons as an assistant coach with the Miami Heat, where he played his final three seasons as a pro. The Wolverines ultimately picked Howard over Providence head coach Ed Cooley and Luke Yaklich, who was an assistant on Michigan’s staff the last two years.

Stadium is reporting that Howard has agreed to a five-year deal.

This will be the first time in 25 years that Howard has been back in the mix on a college campus, since he left Ann Arbor to become the No. 5 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, and that is what makes this decision a risk for the Wolverines.

Howard has never been an assistant coach at the college level. He hasn’t worked at the high school level. He hasn’t coached in the AAU ranks. There is not a strong track record for this kind of a hire. Of all the former NBA player that have ended up coaching a college team, Fred Hoiberg is really the only one that has had unquestionable and continued success. Kevin Ollie won a national title with UConn, but he not only was an assistant coach on Jim Calhoun’s staff for two years before getting the job, his title-winning team was a No. 7-seed that rode Shabazz Napier’s coattails to the title and he eventually got fired after driving UConn straight into the ground. Chris Mullin was a bust at St. John’s. The jury is still out on Patrick Ewing at Georgetown, but two years in he’s sitting with a 34-29 record and a 14-22 mark in the Big East.

Avery Johnson. Isiah Thomas. Clyde Drexler. Mike Dunleavy. Mark Price. Danny Manning. The list of NBA guys that have gone back to school and fizzled out is long.

Penny Hardaway — and, to a point, Jerry Stackhouse — are different. Penny worked his way up from the bottom. He started as a middle school coach and spent about a decade coaching in the high school and AAU ranks in Memphis before taking over the Tigers. Stackhouse coached an AAU program before taking over at Vanderbilt as well. They know the ins and outs of building relationships at that level. They had a keen understanding of what it means to be a head coach at the college level when they got hired, even if that understanding came from dealing with coaches recruiting their players.

Howard doesn’t have that.

And it doesn’t mean that he is going to be a flop.

When you have LeBron James and Dwyane Wade campaigning for you, the kids you will be recruiting will take notice. When your candidacy brings Jalen Rose and Chris Webber together, there are going to be people in Ann Arbor that want to make this work. He spent two decades playing in the NBA. He was an assistant on Erik Spoelstra’s staff, a staff that has turned the Heat into one of the better defensive teams in the NBA ever since LeBron left. That same staff has also proven themselves capable of establishing a culture of hard work, toughness and player development.

Howard may not have a ton of experience on a college bench — or doing the things required to run a college program — but the coaching chops are there.

But there is no question that this is a major risk.

And while Warde Manuel’s decision to hire Ollie when he had the same job in Storrs did result in UConn winning their fourth national title, he also ended up bringing in the guy that had to be fired just four years after cutting down those nets.

Clemson forward Baehre tears knee ligament

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CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Clemson forward Jonathan Baehre is out indefinitely after tearing a knee ligament.

The school says the injury occurred during practice Monday. There is no timetable for his return.

Baehre is a 6-foot-10 junior transfer from UNC Asheville who sat out last season. With four senior starters gone off this year’s team, Baehre was expected to play a major role for the Tigers.

Coach Brad Brownell says it’s an unfortunate injury for Baehre and the team. Brownell says Baehre had worked hard since joining the Tigers and he had no doubt Baehre would approach rehab strongly “and have a very productive career at Clemson.”

Baehre, from Germany, started 21 games for UNC Asheville in 2017-18 and averaged 7.4 points and 4.6 rebounds a game.

Sam Mitchell leaves Memphis coach Penny Hardaway’s staff

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Memphis coach Penny Hardaway says former NBA coach of the year Sam Mitchell is no longer part of his staff.

Mitchell worked as an assistant coach for Memphis in 2018-19 during Hardaway’s debut season. Hardaway said Tuesday at a news conference that Mitchell has “decided to go in another direction.”

Hardaway added that “we definitely appreciate Sam so much and support him.” Hardaway said Mitchell will always be like an “older brother” to him.

Mitchell was an NBA head coach with the Toronto Raptors from 2004-09 and with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2015-16. He was named the NBA Coach of the Year in 2007.

Ex-Louisville coach Denny Crum hospitalized with a stroke

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — An official with Denny Crum’s foundation says the former Louisville coach has been hospitalized after recently suffering a stroke.

Jonathan Israel, who is the principal fundraiser for the Denny Crum Scholarship Foundation, provided the information in a Twitter post attributed to the foundation on Tuesday. The post that Crum, 82, who lives in Louisville, suffered the stroke in the past week. The post did not mention his condition or what hospital he is in, but added that Crum and his family “appreciates the thoughts, prayers and also their privacy while he is recovering.” There will be no other statements, the post added.

Inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame in 1994, Crum was 675-295 with Louisville and led the Cardinals to NCAA men’s basketball championships in 1980 and 1986 before retiring in 2001 after 30 years. The coach suffered a stroke in August 2017 while fishing in Alaska but recovered and has attended Cardinals home games in recent years.