- Andy Katz, ESPN Senior Writer
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As the season gets set to tip off, we've made it easy for you. As you prepare for this year's hoops action, save these dates, circle these names, and keep an eye on these teams who have fallen on hard times recently but who are ready for a rebound season.
10 Games to Watch
1. USC vs. Memphis, San Juan, Puerto Rico, Nov. 21, Puerto Rico Tip-off Classic: This is a possible second-round matchup in this event, assuming USC beats Seton Hall and Memphis takes care of Chattanooga. It could be one of the best nonconference games of the season. It will also pit two of the top freshmen in the game in USC's DeMar DeRozan and Memphis' Tyreke Evans.
2. UCLA vs. Duke, Madison Square Garden, Nov. 21, Coaches vs. Cancer (ESPN2, 7 ET): This is also a wait-and-see, title-game matchup as both the Bruins and Blue Devils have to get through their weak pods to New York and then beat either Southern Illinois/UMass for Duke and Michigan/Northeastern for UCLA. If all that happens, two of the most storied programs in the country would meet in MSG.
3. Old Spice Classic semifinals and finals, Orlando, Nov. 28 and Nov. 30: A lineup consisting of Michigan State, Gonzaga, Georgetown, Tennessee, Oklahoma State, Maryland, Siena and Wichita State (the only team in this field that won't get a sniff of the postseason) should provide big-time games on the nights of the semifinals and finals. At least four of these teams could meet in late March.
4. North Carolina vs. Michigan State, Detroit, Ford Field, Dec. 3, ACC/Big Ten Challenge (ESPN, 9:15 ET): The Tar Heels could be coming off playing Notre Dame or Texas in the Maui Invitational final after a game at home against UNC-Asheville the previous Saturday. The Spartans will be waiting for this matchup and this could end up being one of the few losses for UNC this season.
5. UCLA at Texas, Dec. 4, Pac-10/Big 12 Challenge (ESPN2, 9 ET): The Longhorns have plenty of tests in their nonconference schedule. These two teams could easily meet in April.
6. USC at Oklahoma, Dec. 4, Pac-10/Big 12 Challenge (ESPN2, 7 ET): The two leagues made the right call this season in simply returning last season's games. These are the top two teams in their respective leagues, and it's shaping up to be quite a night for each conference.
7. Marquette vs. Tennessee, Nashville, Dec. 16, SEC/Big East Challenge (ESPN, 9:30 ET): The Golden Eagles are a sleeper team to compete for a top four-finish in the Big East. Tennessee is the favorite in the SEC. There are star players all around in this game.
8. Davidson vs. Purdue, Indianapolis, Dec. 20, Wooden Tradition: Two of the game's best talents -- Davidson's Stephen Curry and Purdue's Robbie Hummel -- will be on display. This will be a true test for the Wildcats to see if they are a contender or pretender nationally early in the season.
9. Michigan State vs. Texas, Houston, Dec. 20: Yet another top-10 matchup for both squads as they prepare for their respective conference seasons.
10. Gonzaga vs. Connecticut, Seattle, Dec. 20: The Huskies lost to the Bulldogs a year ago in Boston and now the neutral-court series goes West. Both are top-10 and Final Four legit.
10 Hidden Gems
1. Jeff Teague, So., Wake Forest: Teague has serious hops. He can get to the rack to finish with authority. He's a deft ballhandler and he will be one of the main reasons -- along with a heralded freshman class -- the Demon Deacons make the NCAA tournament.
2. DeQuan Jones, Fr., Miami: The Hurricanes are raving about the impact Jones will have for them this season. While Jones comes in with a name, it still doesn't resonate nationally. It should soon, as he teams up with Jack McClinton to form a productive tandem.
3. Joe Mazzulla, Jr., West Virginia: Mazzulla had a breakout game against Duke in the second round of the NCAA tournament last season. Bob Huggins will count on him more often this season and Mazzulla should deliver to keep the Mountaineers relevant.
4. Deonta Vaughn, Jr., Cincinnati: Vaughn gets pub within the Big East, but I challenge plenty of folks to name him nationally. Vaughn was a big-time scorer last season for the Bearcats, keeping them in the NCAA conversation for a while. If they make the tournament this season, he'll be the reason.
5. Trevon Hughes, Jr., Wisconsin: Hughes, who was second on the team in scoring last season, is ready to assume a leadership position for UW after the departure of Michael Flowers. The Badgers have had tremendous success with veteran perimeter players under Bo Ryan, and Hughes is next in line.
6. Damion James, Jr., Texas: James is ready for a breakout season and should become the next stud to wear Longhorn gear. James has All-American potential with his ability to score from all over the court.
7. Quincy Pondexter, Jr., Washington: The Huskies could be a sleeper team in the Pac-10, and if they are it will be because Pondexter has a monster season. The Huskies will be led by Jon Brockman, but he needs a versatile player on the wing to complement him and Pondexter has the ability to deliver.
8. Taylor Rochestie, Sr., Washington State: Rochestie was the heart of the Cougars on many an occasion last season. While Kyle Weaver, Derrick Low and Robbie Cowgill got much of the attention, Rochestie delivered in many ways that weren't reflected in the box score. He has the chance to produce significant numbers.
9. Jarvis Varnado, Jr., Mississippi State: The Bulldogs always seem to hang around for a potential NCAA berth. If that occurs again this season, Varnado will be the reason. He's a shot-blocker who is developing his offensive game to be a productive player at both ends.
10. Chris Warren, So., Ole Miss: The Rebels had one of the surprise freshmen a year ago in Warren, and he's now expected to be a go-to player for a possible postseason team. He could end up being the top point guard in the SEC by season's end.
10 Turnaround Teams
(Teams poised to go from losing season -- to postseason)
1. LSU (13-18, 6-10 SEC): Why? New coach Trent Johnson has a healthy Tasmin Mitchell, veteran shot-blocker Chris Johnson, a scoring guard in Marcus Thornton and a versatile defender in Garrett Temple. If the point guard play is decent, the Tigers will win the SEC West.
2. Washington (16-17, 7-11 Pac-10): Why? Jon Brockman may be the Pac-10 player of the year if he's healthy, the Huskies seem to be hungrier and more focused, and the timing is right in a rebuilding Pac-10 for Washington to rise up to the top half.
3. Cincinnati (13-19, 8-10 Big East): Why? Mick Cronin had the Bearcats in the conversation for an NCAA berth last season and that was without Texas transfer Mike Williams. Williams is healthy after an Achilles injury and Deonta Vaughn is back to provide the scoring punch. This team is tough and will be a difficult out.
4. Providence (15-16, 6-12 Big East): Why? The Friars are healthy with point guard Sharaud Curry leading them after missing most of last season. The scorers are in place to fit into Keno Davis' 3-point, uptempo style. The only problem getting to the NCAAs with this group is the league they're in -- the Big East.
5. Georgia Tech (15-17, 7-9 ACC): Why? As you can see, the Yellow Jackets were close to being a .500 or better team in the ACC last season. The difference was the Yellow Jackets needed a point guard. They got one in freshman Iman Shumpert. If he's as good as advertised, the Yellow Jackets can make the NCAAs.
6. NC State (15-16, 4-12 ACC): Why? Well, it's still hard to figure out the Wolfpack's collapse a year ago. If the chemistry is better, and Brandon Costner, Ben McCauley and a healthy Farnold Degand (at the point) return to the way they played two seasons ago, the Wolfpack will make a run at the NCAAs.
7. Boston College (14-17, 4-12 ACC): Why? Tyrese Rice is still one of the most proficient scorers in the country and now he has help in freshman Reggie Jackson and Vermont transfer Joe Trapani. Putting Josh Southern on the court more is an upgrade from the departed John Oates. BC was close in a number of games last season but couldn't finish off opponents. The Eagles should this season.
8. Missouri (16-16, 6-10 Big 12): Why? The Tigers had a slew of off-court issues last season and still were highly competitive. If things are calm, and Mike Anderson can truly play the way he wants with Leo Lyons, DeMarre Carroll and a slew of newcomers, the Tigers can be an NIT team at the very least.
9. Illinois (16-19, 5-13 Big Ten): Why? This is a tough one, but the Illini should be a postseason team. Kentucky transfer Alex Legion should help immediately, but the onus is on returnees Trent Meacham and Chester Frazier to improve their production. The NIT is realistic for this crew.
10. Auburn (14-16, 4-12 SEC): Why? Jeff Lebo's teams have been nailed with injuries and suspensions. Four starters are back, led by Korvotney Barber. If there is any fairness here for Lebo, this squad should be able to finish ahead of Arkansas and challenge the two Mississippi schools for spots behind LSU and Alabama in the SEC West.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.