Now my rankings won't be as fun as BroncoFitz's ranking of Football Non-Conference games (mainly because I have no idea what the hell an ocarina is). But let's take a stab at picking out the Top 25 Non-Conference games for this upcoming basketball season.
Disclaimer: I tried to pick out the best match-ups based on watchability. Hence, you won't see Eastern Michigan-Kentucky here.
25. Miami vs. Tennessee State - December 21
We start off with an oddball game of sorts. Miami Head Coach John Cooper used to be the head coach at Tennessee State, and this will be the first return to his former school. The Tigers were 18-15 last year in the Ohio Valley Conference and made it to the first round of the College Basketball Invitational. This will be a good test for the RedHawks, who will be more familiar with each other by December. Miami's schedule is brutal, with trips to Notre Dame, Arizona State, Xavier and Massachusetts. Wins will be hard to get on the road, but the home schedule is much easier.
24. Butler vs. Ball State - November 23
This is a huge game for Ball State, as it welcomes Butler into Worthen Arena. The last time the Bulldogs came to Muncie in 2011 they walked away with a 55-58 loss, courtesy of 21 points from Jarrod Jones. It was quite an offseason for Butler, who lost their head coach to the Boston Celtics and also Rotnei Clarke and Andrew Smith. Ball State will be facing a team still trying to find itself in mid-November, which is the perfect formula for an upset.
23. Akron vs. South Carolina - December 28
Simply put, South Carolina was one of the worst high-major teams in the country last year. The Gamecocks had an RPI of 224 and a KenPom ranking of 210 (both out of 345). On top of that, their leading scorer from last year graduated. Frank Martin, the old Kansas State coach, will eventually figure this out, but it'll take awhile. Akron will come into this game prepared and expecting to win. This game being over Christmas break also is a positive for Akron, as there will likely be low student turnout (if students go to South Carolina games anyway).
22. Stony Brook vs. Toledo - November 22
Stony Brook? Really? This should be a blowout, right? If you're saying that, you probably haven't been paying much attention to college basketball the past few years. The Seawolves, out of the America East Conference, have won over twenty games the past two seasons and were an outstanding 25-8 last year with an NIT appearance. Head Coach Steve Pikiell went 4-24 his first season at the helm eight years ago and has now made the program one of the best in the conference. Toledo will have their hands full with this one, as Stony Brook returns their top three scorers. This game will be in Detroit as it is part of the subregional of the 2k Sports Classic hosted by Detroit-Mercy.
21. South Dakota State vs. Buffalo - January 3
2012-2013 was yet another banner year in South Dakota State basketball as they reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament bowing out to eventual champion Michigan. It's hard to believe that in just five years as an NCAA Division 1 team, the Jackrabbits have already been to two NCAA Tournaments. They've rode the back of Nate Wolters, who averaged 22 points per game last year. The good news for the Bulls is that Wolters is now in the NBA with the Milwaukee Bucks. Third leading scorer Tony Fiegen also graduates, but the Jackrabbits can usually play well no matter who is out there. This is just one of the many quality games on Buffalo's schedule, which we'll get more into later.
20. St. Bonaventure vs. Buffalo - December 7
Here's a battle of Western New York, as the Bonnies and Bulls duke it out in early December. St. Bonaventure struggled last year without Andrew Nicholson, going 14-15 overall and 7-9 in the Atlantic 10. The Bonnies lose a lot, as they graduated four players averaging fifty points cumulatively. This could be a down year in Olean, and the Bulls will likely get revenge for the 82-79 loss to the Bonnies last year.
19. Toledo vs. Boston College - November 14
Here's another game for Toledo in the 2k Sports Classic, this time at Boston College. Former Cornell head man Steve Donahue is trying to get things straightened out in Chestnut Hill, but it's not quite where he wants it yet. The Eagles were just 16-17 last season, but only graduate one player. It's safe to say they'll be better, and they'll meet a good Toledo team early in the season. The Rockets have a real chance of winning this one, one of the few chances a MAC team will have against high-major competition.
18. Robert Morris vs. Eastern Michigan - November 14
Last year everyone learned that Robert Morris (Bob Morris, affectionately) wasn't actually just some guy. The Colonials beat powerhouse Kentucky in the first round of the NIT which was the cherry on top of their impressive 24-11 season. This will be a good barometer for the Eagles as Robert Morris is a good team but are losing two of their top scorers. The Eagles zone defense will be something the Colonials will need to adjust to, which will be difficult to do this early in the season. This game is part of the Keightley Classic being hosted by Eastern Michigan, and was originally supposed to be played in Bowen Field House before that got shut down.
17. Oakland vs. Western Michigan - November 26
It seems like Oakland and Western Michigan play every year. Last year, the Broncos prevailed 76-72 in Kalamazoo and this year it'll be in Alumni Arena again. The Grizzlies are transitioning to the Horizon League this year after many years in the Summit League. Oakland fits better geographically in the Horizon and the competition is better. The Grizzlies were pretty average last year, going 16-17 and losing in the first round of the CIT to Youngstown State. Drew Valentine graduates but leading scorer Travis Bader and big man Corey Petros return. This should be another fun one in this series.
16. Bucknell vs. Kent State - December 4
Many remember Bucknell from their historic NCAA Tournament win over Kansas in 2004 and followed that up with a first round victory over Arkansas the next year. This Bison won the Patriot League again last year going 28-6 and getting an 11 seed in the tournament. Bucknell loses a lot though, as NBA Draft Pick Mike Muscala (19 points per game), Bryson Johnson (11) and Joe Willman (11) all graduate. Kent State may have the advantage in this one on paper because of all the losses on the other side, but don't count Bucknell out. The Flashes normally play well at home and this one will be an exciting one.
15. Buffalo vs. Canisius - December 11
The college basketball scene in Buffalo is starting to get a little crowded. The Bulls used to be the only basketball ticket in town worth going to, as both Canisius and Niagara struggled mightily. Now, Head Coach Jim Baron has turned it around at Canisius and Niagara won the Metro-Atlantic Athletic Conference last season. The Golden Griffins graduate two of their better players but return their star Billy Baron, son of the head coach. This game will be interesting not just for the fact that these two teams will be good, but more for the coaching matchup. Both Baron and Bobby Hurley are well-known in the Northeastern U.S., and it'll be great to see them game plan against each other. This game will be played in the First Niagara Center, home of the Buffalo Sabres, which is hosting the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament this season.
14. Kent State vs. Temple - November 11
This is the first game of the 24-Hour Tip-Off Marathon on ESPN, which means you'll actually get to watch it at a normal time. Temple was really good last year, winning a second-round game in the NCAA Tournament last year over North Carolina State. The Owls lose a lot though, especially Khalif Wyatt who just got cut by the 76ers. These two teams played last year in the first game of the season, with Temple winning 80-66. Temple is always tough to play at home, so this will be a tall task early in the season for the Flashes.
13. North Dakota State vs. Western Michigan - November 20
This is a rematch of the first round of the CBI last season, which the Broncos won 72-71 in overtime. The Bison had a very successful year last year, going 24-10 and getting into the postseason. They return pretty much everybody, including leading scorers Taylor Braun, Marshall Bjorklund, and Mike Felt. I hope that these two can form a mini-rivalry; I would love to see them play every year. They're very similar in playing style and both have good coaches. I would expect this game to be close at the end as the game will likely mirror last year's contest.
12. Youngstown State vs. Kent State - November 27
This will be a fun one, especially to those in Northeast Ohio. These two play pretty much every year, and along with Akron and Cleveland State form a nice little foursome in the region. Kent State won last year's match-up in Youngstown in overtime, 85-78. The Penguins will be looking for some revenge and will likely have the better team this time around. Senior Kendrick Perry is one of the best players in the Midwest regardless of conference and was named Horizon League Preseason Player of the Year for this season. Senior forward Kamren Belin was also named second team all-conference. Stopping Perry will be of utmost importance for Kent, and it'll be exciting to see him go up against Kris Brewer.
11. Akron vs. Saint Mary's - November 12
This is another game in the ESPN 24-hour Tip-Off Marathon, and it'll be played at 3 am on the East Coast. Those aren't ideal playing conditions for the Zips, especially in the second game of the season. On top of that, the Gaels are a perennial contender in the West Coast Conference and a well-known team nationally. They won an NCAA Tournament game against Middle Tennessee last year in the First Four before bowing out to Memphis in the next round. The good news for the Zips is that Matthew Dellavedova has graduated. "Delly" was Saint Mary's best player the past few seasons and has been receiving extended minutes for the Cleveland Cavaliers in preseason play. Even though the Zips probably won't be favored, give Keith Dambrot credit for getting this on the schedule and having yet another national television game.
10. Mercer vs. Ohio - November 26
Mercer? I'm sure when Ohio fans saw that name on the schedule they thought the Bears were going to be just another walkover. If you look at what Mercer did last year though, you wouldn't be so quick to write them off. Here are some of their premier wins last year: Florida State, Alabama, Florida Gulf Coast, and Tennessee in the first round of the NIT. The year before, they won the College Insider Tournament and beat Georgia Tech. Only one senior graduates, but that happens to be their leading scorer. I have a feeling the Bobcats might take these guys lightly, and look what happened when Winthrop came into the Convo last year.
9. Robert Morris vs. Buffalo - November 26
Bob Morris comes in again, as do the Bulls. There's not much to say about the Colonials that hasn't been already said above, but this will be a fun one. Buffalo always seem to have good, smart scheduling tactics, and those are likely to keep up under Bobby Hurley.
8. Valparaiso vs. Ohio - November 17
I'm really liking Ohio's schedule too, as you'll see below. Valpo had one of their best seasons record-wise last year and got a 14 seed and second round exit against Michigan State. This was a heavily senior-laden team, as all but four players on the team were seniors. Even though they'll be decimated, Bryce Drew knows how to coach and he'll have his team ready.
7. Kent State vs. Charleston - December 21
This is an interesting game in that you wouldn't expect these teams to meet many times. Charleston won twenty-four games last year and received a bid to the CBI. Kent State will have their hands full with Adjehi Baru, a 6'9" center and a top-100 recruit nationally by most recruiting services. The Cougars have a really solid team and they'll be a good match for Kent State. The Flashes may not be favored but they have a great chance of picking up a great road win.
6. Akron vs. Oregon State - December 22
Here's yet another opportunity for the Zips to pick off a Power Six team. This'll be the first round match-up in the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii, with the winner to play Iowa State or George Mason. This is a sneaky good tournament, with no dominant team but with a lot of good teams all possessing the same skill level. The Beavers suspended forward Eric Moreland until January, and he was supposed to be a key contributor this season. Roberto Nelson is their best player, putting up eighteen points per game last year. Oregon State only won four games in the Pac-12 last season, so the Zips have a really good shot at this one.
5. Northern Iowa vs. Ohio - November 9
The Bobcats open their season in a strong manner, welcoming the Northern Iowa Panthers into the Convo. The ‘Cats beat Northern Iowa two years ago 76-59, and this is the return game from that one. The Panthers won twenty-one games last year, finished third in the Missouri Valley Conference and went deep into the College Insider Tournament. Three of the top four leading scorers graduated, but Seth Tuttle (11.4 points, 6.6 rebounds per game) returns. Ben Jacobson is a great coach and is yet to win less than eighteen games. This will be the best game of the opening weekend in the MAC.
4. Buffalo vs. Drexel - December 29
The last Buffalo entry on the list comes as a trip down to Philadelphia to face the Drexel Dragons. Bobby Hurley certainly wants to be known in the fertile recruiting ground that is Philadelphia, so that's probably why he scheduled this one. Last year was an interesting one for the Dragons and Coach Bruiser Flint, who went from 29-7 the season before to just 13-18 last year. The name to know here is Frantz Massenat (apparently also known as Frank), who returns as the starting point guard. Damion Lee is also a guy to look out for as he led the team in scoring last year. Drexel will be better this season and will provide a real test for the Bulls.
3. Ohio vs. Richmond December 22
Things didn't go so well for the Spiders last year in Athens. They got their bell rung 73-48, although they may have been looking forward to Thanksgiving than being in Southwest Ohio. Richmond didn't have a terrible year last year; they went 19-15 and 8-8 in the Atlantic 10. Leading scorer Darien Brothers graduated, but everyone else comes back. I'm guessing the Spiders will want some revenge and will be a little more focused this year.
2. Akron vs. Middle Tennessee - November 16
This was one of the top non-conference games in the MAC last year, and I'm putting it in here again. Akron defeated Middle Tennessee 82-77 in overtime last year in what was a great game by both teams. The good news for the Zips is that the two guys who tore them apart in that game, Raymond Cintron (22) and Marcos Knight (21), have graduated. The Blue Raiders are still a good team this year and will look to repeat their Sun Belt Championship. It'll be hard to go 19-1 in conference this year, but they should have a good look at getting back into the NCAA Tournament
1. Massachusetts vs. Ohio - December 18
Well, here we are. Massachusetts beat Ohio 85-76 last year and the ‘Cats will look to return the favor this year. These two teams couldn't be any closer as they were last year, as they were separated by just twelve spots in the RPI and were right next to each other in the final KenPom rankings. Chazz Williams is the floor general for the Minutemen, and he can really fill it up. This will be a really good test for the Bobcats going into the conference season. The Minutemen are as talented as the top teams in the MAC, so it'll be a good measuring stick for this new-look Ohio team. Make sure to mark your calendars for this one.
Just missed the cut: Ball State-Indiana State, Buffalo-Texas A&M, Central Michigan-Bradley, South Florida-Bowling Green