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October 28, 2006

The must-see matchups for 2006-07

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The College Basketball Wire

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What makes for the biggest regular-season college basketball games?

Great rivalries. Top-10 teams meeting on neutral courts. Great players facing each other head-to-head. A coach making his first return home. Perhaps a rematch of a past game - with a little bulletin board material thrown in for good measure.

Two-in state rivalries and two other conference rivalries made our list of must-see games. See which other contests made the cut.

Ten Must-See Games (In chronological order)
Kansas vs. Florida at Las Vegas (Nov. 25)
This will be billed as a possible preview of the national title game. The defending national champion Gators and the talent-laden Jayhawks are both expected to land No. 1 seeds in the 2007 NCAA Tournament. Anything less than a trip to the Final Four for these teams will be considered a disappointment. Their rosters are loaded with future NBA players. The problem is that tipoff is set for 10:30 p.m. Eastern, so about half the country won't see it.
Ohio State at North Carolina (Nov. 29)
The main event of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge was supposed to provide a final answer to the great debate over which school has the nation's top recruiting class. We'll have to settle for some insight instead. The Tar Heels edged the Buckeyes for the No. 1-ranked class in Rivals.com's 2006 team rankings. However, 7-footer Greg Oden - the No. 1 overall prospect who signed with the Buckeyes - won't play because of a wrist injury. Oden is not expected back until January. The game will still feature at least three freshmen who are future lottery picks North Carolina's Wayne Ellington and Brandan Wright and Ohio State's Daequan Cook.
Memphis at Tennessee (Dec. 6)
This in-state rivalry is starting to heat up again, on and off the court. During a visit to Memphis last month, Tennessee's flamboyant coach Bruce Pearl took offense (that's being kind) to a question from a reporter who asked about the Volunteers trying to dethrone the Tigers as the state's premier program. Thanks to the arrival of Pearl and his up-tempo style, the two teams should combine for another exciting affair. The Tigers rallied from a four-point halftime deficit to win 88-79 last season.
LSU vs. Texas in Houston (Dec. 10)
These programs met in the Elite Eight last season, but after losing all five starters the Longhorns will look far different from the squad that played in that game. The Big 12 power isn't rebuilding though, not with the addition of a stellar recruiting class led by the nation's No. 2 prospect - Kevin Durant. The Tigers look like a Final Four threat again with the return of four starters, including Glen Davis. The versatile big man has lost more weight and looks like a strong candidate for National Player of the Year.
Kansas State vs. Xavier in Cincinnati (Jan. 3)
Bob Huggins makes his return to Cincinnati, and his Wildcats could be the fan favorite. When Huggins landed the K-State job, the Wildcats instantly became the second-favorite team for many Bearcats fans. There are intriguing storylines outside of Huggins, too. The veteran-laden Wildcats have a shot at making their first NCAA Tournament since 1996. Xavier, the defending Atlantic-10 champs, have one of the top teams outside of the major conferences.
Duke at North Carolina (Feb. 7)
Arguably the biggest rivalry in sports, this game is always worth watching regardless of where the teams are ranked. It has produced some of the best finishes in college basketball in the last 10 years. The Tar Heels might have the deepest and most talented team in the nation, but anyone who has followed this rivalry knows that makes them far from a lock. This will also be the first one-on-one matchup between Duke's Josh McRoberts and UNC's Tyler Hansbrough.
Georgia Tech vs. Connecticut in Atlanta (Feb. 11)
The Georgia Dome, site of the Final Four (capacity around 40,000), hosts an intriguing Big East-ACC matchup. The Jackets are expecting a huge turnaround after an 11-18 season. The reason for optimism is the addition of two top-10 prospects, point guard Javaris Crittenton and small forward Thaddeus Young. The Huskies lost their top seven scorers, but have reloaded with a highly touted eight-man recruiting class. Former four-star point guard A.J. Price also returns for UConn after a long layoff.
UCLA at Arizona (Feb. 17)
If this matchup doesn't decide the Pac-10 regular-season championship, it will almost certainly play a major role. Both teams appear to be significantly better than everyone else in the league. The Bruins have the personnel to get back to the national title game, and the Wildcats are more talented than last season. One big reason for that is the arrival of athletic wing Chase Budinger, the No. 4 overall prospect in the class of 2006.
Florida at LSU (Feb. 24)
Before the Gators can prove they are the best team in the nation again, they must show they are the best in the SEC. The Tigers are one of the few teams with the size to match up with the Gators on the inside. This could also be a statement game for LSU's Glen Davis, who could greatly improve his draft stock with a big performance against the Gators' inside duo of Al Horford and Joakim Noah.
North Carolina at Duke (Mar. 4)
The Tar Heels might have more talent, but does it matter when you are playing in Cameron Indoor Stadium? The Cameron Crazies seem to save all their energy for the rematch every year. The Duke fans create what may be the toughest environment in all of sports for the visiting team. That home-court advantage could play a bigger role than in the past because the Tar Heels plan on using so many freshmen. Whichever team loses the first meeting will have added incentive in this one.

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