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COLUMN: Don't miss this heaping helping of hoops


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With the rise of all-sports programming and the advent of regional sports networks like BTN, college basketball has become an all-you-can-eat buffet. A heaping helping of hoops, every night of the week.

If you’re a hardcore fan, it’s heaven on TV. But it can also be a bit overwhelming. So many games, so many channels, so little room left on the DVR. The 10 from Ben is here to help. Whether you watch three games a year or three a night, here are the 10 you absolutely cannot miss:

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1 Lehigh at No. 19 Baylor (today, 5 p.m., Fox Sports Southwest). The first game on the list may require a little legwork, but it’s worth it. If you don’t get FSSW, get to your favorite sports bar, order up a basket of wings and watch two of the best scoring guards in the country. Lehigh is led by preseason All-American C.J. McCollum, who scored 30 points in last year’s NCAA tournament win over Duke. Baylor’s offense runs through Pierre Jackson, a hiccup-quick senior who averaged 13.8 points and 5.9 assists last year. But this game isn’t just about the guards. The Bears lost three frontcourt players to the NBA draft, but they added freshman Isaiah Austin, a versatile 7-footer who reminds scouts of Anthony Davis. Last year the Hawks played at St. John’s and at Michigan State. With four starters back, they won’t be scared walking into Waco.

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2 Champions Classic (Tuesday, 7 p.m., ESPN). OK, so this is cheating because it’s really a doubleheader, but it’s two big-time games featuring four of the country’s top 14 teams. First it’s No. 7 Kansas (led by center Jeff Withey and redshirt freshman guard Ben McLemore) vs. No. 14 Michigan State. Big Ten fans can get an early look at Tom Izzo’s Spartans, who lost Draymond Green but have Keith Appling, a healthy Branden Dawson and Hamilton Southeastern’s Gary Harris. After Kansas-MSU, it’s No. 3 Kentucky vs. No. 8 Duke. After sending six players to the NBA over the summer, John Calipari reloaded with another class of one-and-done stars. Get to know Nerlens Noel and Alex Poythress now, because they won’t be around next year. Possible bonus game: A week after playing Kentucky, the Blue Devils jet down to the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis holiday tournament, where they could play No. 2 Louisville in the championship game.

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3 No. 11 North Carolina at No. 1 Indiana (Nov. 27, 9:30 p.m., ESPN). It’s too bad there wasn’t one more year left on the Hoosiers’ contract with Kentucky, but they’ll get to play another blue blood when UNC visits Assembly Hall for the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. Carolina is trying to rebuild after losing four first-round draft picks, but the Heels still have potential top-five pick James McAdoo. More bonus games, all from the Challenge: North Carolina State at Michigan, Minnesota at Florida State and Ohio State at Duke. Wow.

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4 No. 3 Kentucky at No. 2 Louisville (Dec. 29, 4 p.m., CBS). Two of my favorite things: Christmas leftovers and holiday hoops. Seven months ago, these bitter rivals played in the Final Four. The faces in Lexington have changed, but in Louisville, three returning starters (including Big East Player of the Year candidate Peyton Siva) would love to get back on the winning side of this Commonwealth conflict.

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5 No. 8 Duke at No. 6 North Carolina State (Jan. 12, Noon, ESPN). None of the current NC State players were alive the last time the ACC title went to the Wolfpack (1989), but this group has the talent to end the famine. They have gifted players both inside (6-9 sophomore C.J. Leslie averaged 14.7 points and 7.3 rebounds last year) and out (Lorenzo Brown is one of the best point guards in the country), and they’ve added a trio of McDonald’s All-Americans. With playmaker Austin Rivers gone to the NBA, Duke will need freshman guard Rasheed Sulaimon to make an instant impact.

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6 No. 18 UNLV at No. 20 San Diego State (Jan. 16, 10 p.m., CBS Sports Network). Two names you may know: UNLV’s Mike Moser (a 6-8 forward who averaged a double-double last year) and SDSU’s Jamaal Franklin (a 6-5 guard who averaged 17.4 points and 7.9 rebounds). Two names you may not know: Anthony Bennett and Winston Shepard. Bennett, the jewel of the Rebels’ top-10 recruiting class, adds to UNLV’s frontcourt depth. He’ll be a lottery pick in two years. Shepard, a 6-8 freshman, is a big-time prospect who will be counted on to contribute right away.

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7 No. 12 Arizona at No. 13 UCLA (Jan. 24, 9 p.m., ESPN2). Don’t miss this game if you want to see three of the top freshman in the country, including UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammed, a long, ultra-athletic wing who could be the top pick in next year’s draft. But even with all of the young phenoms on the floor, this game could be decided by grad student Mark Lyons. Lyons transferred to Arizona from Xavier, and his arrival fills a hole at point guard and transforms the Wildcats into Final Four contenders. IU fans could get an early look at the Bruins, as the two teams could play in the championship game of the Legends Classic in Brooklyn on Nov. 20.

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8 No. 5 Michigan at No. 1 Indiana (Feb. 2, 8 p.m., ESPN). Check out this stretch for IU: vs. Michigan State, at Purdue, vs. Michigan, at Illinois, at Ohio State. Brutal. The only possible break is the game in Champaign, but even the undermanned Illini are playing a better brand of ball under first-year coach John Groce. In the middle of that trecherous stretch is the game of the year in the Big Ten (ESPN agrees and is sending its College Gameday crew to Bloomington to cover the showdown). Michigan’s Trey Burke is the best point guard in the country, but the Hoosiers have a big advantage up front. The Wolverines’ frontcourt is deep, but they don’t have anybody as good as Cody Zeller and Christian Watford.

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9 No. 22 Notre Dame at No. 9 Syracuse (Feb. 4, 7 p.m., ESPN). When they roll into the Carrier Dome for this Big East ballgame, the Irish could be a top-10 club. They have tough games on the schedule (vs. Kentucky, vs. Purdue, at Cincinnati), but they could have 20 wins by the time they play the Orange. A proven recipe for success: Assemble a first-class backcourt (Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant) and surround them with a ton of size (6-9 Jack Cooley and eight other players listed at 6-7 or taller). Syracuse lost four of its top six players, but if 6-10 freshman DaJuan Coleman can play well right away, the rest of the pieces should fall into place for another deep run.

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10 Butler at VCU (March 2, Noon, ESPN). The Bulldogs play a really good schedule, with games against Marquette, IU, Gonzaga and a possible matchup with UNC in the Maui Invitational. But this is the game I’m looking forward to, a battle between two A-10 newcomers coached by two of the hottest young bench bosses in America. This one has the feel of a bracket buster game plus the weight of a late-season conference clash. And if you like 3-pointers, you’ll love watching Rotnei Clarke (274 3s in three years at Arkansas) and Troy Daniels (94 for the Rams last year).

Ben Boldt is a columnist for The Daily Reporter and a former sports editor. E-mail him at bcboldt@gmail.com.

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