Mar 15, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Wisconsin Badgers coach Bo Ryan talks to his team in a timeout during a game against the Michigan State Spartans in the semifinals of the Big Ten college basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Michigan State defeats Wisconsin 83-75. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

NCAA: Big Ten's Top Non-Conference Games

The mid-summer preseason polls cause much anticipation for the 2014-15 college basketball season as teams begin to announce their non-conference schedules. Each team will announce their respective non-conferences, while the conference schedules will be released shortly afterwards.

With that in mind, some match-ups have already been determined, as some are arranged months and in some cases years prior to taking place. The location, times and dates may still be determined; but for the most part, the biggest games (with the exception of some scenarios regarding a early season tournaments) have already been contracted, and the previews for future games will take place.

The ACC/Big Ten challenge has a 15-season history and always pits two of the best conferences in the nation against one another in a showdown once a year. Usually, the opponents alternate home versus road games. 

The best part of this challenge showcases how good each school is in it’s respective conference. To a degree this determines which teams and opponents will play in the challenge. 

Most of the games outside of the Big Ten Conference worth notice pertain to this series. The Big Ten is known to schedule great opponents outside of conference. 

This is why their resumes are among the best come March and Big Ten Conference rankings are higher.

Although the phrase “ACC/Big Ten Challenge” is well known, there are some other matchups in the first week of December that are worth paying attention to. Here are some notable non-conference Big Ten games to remember heading into the fall:

Nov. 18: Michigan State vs. Duke at Indianapolis
Two national powerhouses will square off rather early and neither are shy about loading up on the non-conference slate. Not just to better their resumes but to more importantly better their teams for the March run. 

Tom Izzo, unfortunately for Spartans fans, has been owned by Mike Krzyzewski. Michigan State has only beaten Duke once in seven tries. This includes no wins in regular season matchups.

Both schools have fans who travel well and in location like Bankers Life Fieldhouse, expect a packed arena. Duke is expected to be ranked in the top five, possibly a top three team. 

Although Michigan State will be taking a step back, they love nothing more than to play with a chip on their shoulder. Izzo has also lost out to some prized recruits to Coach K, including Jabari Parker of last year and this year’s five-star big man, Jahlil Okafor. This will be even more fuel to the fire for Sparty.

Dec. 2: Ohio State at Louisville
This isn’t unfamiliar territory for Ohio State, despite having to replace arguably its two best players in LaQuinton Ross and Aaron Craft. Thad Matta has coached the Buckeyes in all types of big time games, and he will embrace their matchup in the Big Ten/ACC challenge with his blue collar approach. 

This will be a battle between a future Hall-Of-Fame coach in Matta and an-already-in-the-Hall-of-Fame coach in Rick Pitino.

More importantly it will be a fantastic guard battle. Ohio State will carry veteran guard Shannon Scott and its five-star recruit, D’Angelo Russell, to battle against Louisville’s Chris Jones and Terry Rozier

The Cardinals will have an edge with their rugged frontcourt that includes Montrezl Harrell and sharpshooter Wayne Blackshear.

Dec. 3: Iowa vs. North Carolina at Raleigh, N.C.
This will be Iowa’s premier entry into the limelight. After a solid year in the Big Ten, the Hawkeyes will be rewarded with playing against what is supposed to be one of Roy Williams’ better Tar Heel teams in recent years. Iowa should be ranked  around the top 25 and North Carolina should definitely be in the top 10, with guys like Marcus Paige and J.P. Tokoto returning. 

This will be a big test for a heavy underdog  like Iowa.

Dec. 3: Virginia at Maryland
This couldn’t be a better Big Ten/ACC matchup. The Terps get to square off against their now-former conference rival, the Virginia Cavaliers. Separated by just 130 miles, this will be one of the better games in the series. 

Virginia should be a highly ranked team. They lost just two players on an ACC championship team that otherwise is bringing everyone else back. 

Maryland, on the other hand, not only bring pretty much everyone back, but is also bolstered by one of the top recruiting classes in the nation.

Dec 9: Illinois vs. Villanova at Madison Square Garden
One of the more underrated neutral site game among the non-conference matchups, a sneaky Illinois team will go to battle with a Jay Wright team that left a lot to be desired last season. After going 29-5 and getting a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, Villanova lost in the third round to the eventual champion Connecticut Huskies. 

With theit only real loss being James Bell, the Wildcats will bring back another guard-heavy team and should be placed between the top 15 and 20. Illinois didn’t have a second straight NCAA bid under coach John Groce, but it did finish better than .500 overall and made it to the NIT. 

The Fighting Illini are also bringing back a very dynamic backcourt with Rayvonte Rice and Tracy Abrams, which accounted for more than 25 points per game last season.

Dec. 12: Iowa State at Iowa
Who doesn’t love a in-state rivalry in December? Bragging rights are at stake here and head coach Fred Hoiberg expects to have a top 20 team at Iowa State despite losing some of his better players. 

The Hawkeyes too will be without their best player now that Roy Devyn Marble has progressed to the pro levels, but both teams are bringing back enough firepower to make this a very interesting and exciting game.

Dec. 13: Michigan at Arizona
Last year’s Big Ten regular season champs will experience a major overhaul going into 2014. Two first-round NBA draft picks, a second-rounder, a graduating senior captain and another rotation center who transferred gives the Wolverine roster a complete facelift. 

Still, many expect Michigan to compete due the volume shooters they have and the rising stardom of head coach John Beilein. 

Arizona itself is losing star freshman Aaron Gordon as well as senior guard Nick Johnson to the NBA. But that shouldn’t stop the Wildcats  from getting better. Sean Miller is bringing a loaded class in to Tucson, along with the return of Brandon Ashley,who was injured for the most part of last season. 

The Wildcats have the makings of a top five powerhouse, but with Michigan’s ability to shoot from distance, it wouldn’t be farfetched to think the Wolverines could pull off an upset.

Dec. 20: Ohio State vs. North Carolina at Chicago
Neutral site games in big arenas are always exciting for prime time, and when it is between two great coaches and two traditional powerhouses, it should make for a great game. 

Both coaches are very good strategists and make good adjustments. As both teams are the projected favorites in their respective conferences, this could possibly be a Final Four preview.

Tags: Big Ten Iowa Hawkeyes Michigan Wolverines Ohio State Buckeyes

comments powered by Disqus