Thu Sep 09 09:00am EDT
Before we get to the tilts, I want to take a second to mention I think it's completely fair to say the Big East is going to take another spiral downward this season.
After the high that was the 2008-09 season, this is completely acceptable; there are 16 teams, so there's always going to be a handful of legitimate March threats, but the center of this league in 2010-11 could be rather doughy.
Still, Big East, and it sells and sells well. Excited, certainly, and I think we'll have at least one fairly big surprise in terms of a team skyrocketing near the top of the standings. Who? Ah: We'll save that for October's closer look.
Below, 10 sturdy non-con games and five intra-conference matchups. We'd offer all in-league entrees, but the menu hasn't been sent out by the league yet.
1. Northern Iowa at Syracuse, Nov. 12
Comment: UNI will have plenty of buzz entering the 2009-10 season. Syracuse's ceiling, again, will be up for debate. If the Panthers can shock (well, after Kansas, perhaps not) the Orange faithful in the Carrier Dome, it's the type of win that can resonate until March.
2. Butler at Louisville, Nov. 16
Comment: It's the grand opening of the KFC Yum! Center. Oh, that name will never get old. The $238 million facility will be happy to have basketball once again after Louisville's rocky offseason. Butler won't have Gordon Hayward, but plenty of playmakers from last year's title-game team return.
3. Pittsburgh vs. Maryland, Nov. 18
Comment: The Panthers bring back four of five starters, including Ashton Gibbs (above). They could very well be the coaches' pick to win the league in 2010-11. This game is part of the Coaches vs. Cancer four-team extravaganza at Madison Square Garden. Last year, the Panthers were embarrassed by lowly Indiana. After that, everyone thought they were done. Funny how that turned out.
4. Marquette vs. Duke, Nov. 22
Comment: This game is part of the College Basketball Experience (that's CBE for you newbs) Classic in Kansas City. Noteworthy because Marquette did a great job of playing up to competition last year, and Duke is certainly a superior opponent. Neutral floor, perhaps Kyrie Irving, Duke's stud frosh, has some growing pains? Jimmy Butler will need to come up big for MU.
5. Notre Dame vs. the field at the Old Spice Classic, Nov. 25 to 27
Comment: The Irish open up against dangerous Georgia, then anyone from Cal to Temple to Wisconsin to Boston College could be waiting. The Old Spice Classic is continually one of the most well-rounded preseason tournament.
6. Georgetown vs. Missouri, Nov. 30
Comment: Sneaky game, as both teams could easily be top-15 clubs if they get to the end of the month without a loss. Much easier said than done, but regardless, the contrasting styles-Georgetown running the Princeton offense; Missouri's up-and-down Arkansas-lite tempo-make for an unpredictable matchup.
7. Temple at Villanova, Dec. 29
Comment: It's going to be a physical Big 5 battle. Temple will no doubt have the gusto to defeat a Villanova team that may be getting a tad overhyped heading into this season. No Scottie Reynolds means the Wildcats will have to find out who this team's leader is real quick. If it's not evident by the time Christmas rolls around, the Owls may be favored in this one.
8. Kentucky at Louisville, Dec. 31
Comment: You remember last year, right? DeMarcus Cousins nearly getting himself tossed in the opening minutes. What I love is how both programs have bought into the hatred full force once again. This game is always appointment television.
9. Purdue at West Virginia, Jan. 16
Comment: The ‘Eers aren't going to be as good as they were last season, but Purdue-a Final Four preseason pick among many a prognosticator -will absolutely have its hand full in Morgantown. Last year's New Year's Day game was a 77-62 Boilermakers thumper.
10. Tennessee at UConn, Jan. 22
Comment: What will become of the Huskies? In the midst of a tough conference schedule in 2009-10, UConn won a home game over No. 1 Texas without Jim Calhoun on the sideline. When the game's at Gampel Pavilion-and we don't yet know if this one will be; the schedule is seriously due out any hour now-the Huskies are undoubtedly a much more focused, tough opponent.
11. St. John's at UCLA, Feb. 5
Comment: Steve Lavin travels back to Los Angeles to coach against his former team. And you know what? He's going to be great talking about it. If UCLA is still in a down cycle, the Johnnies could steal one and get a huge win for the program and some retribution for Lavin after he was run out of town for not winning enough to please the boosters.
12. Pittsburgh at Villanova, TBD
Comment: The intra-Pennsylvania rivalry has seen its teams be relevant, if not dominant, in the Big East for the better part of the past decade. The tussle at the top could come down to these two. Jamie Dixon and Jay Wright are possibly the conference's two most likeable coaches, and that only helps the watch-ability factor.
13. Syracuse at Georgetown, TBD
Comment: Obligated to include this every year, no matter the records. It's the best rivalry the conference has to offer. Period. Double period.
14. Notre Dame at Marquette, TBD
Comment: Want to see what Mike Brey's team can do on the road in conference this season. Luke Harangody is finally gone, so how will they respond?
15. West Virginia at Cincinnati, TBD
Comment: Had to get the Bearcats in this list somewhere, and why not the home game against Huggins' team? It's always going to be emotional for the former Cinci coach to head back to the Queen City and go against this team.