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College basketball continues to improve its non-conference season

Matta and Williams Thad Matta's (L) Buckeyes and Roy William's Tar Heels will collide in the first annual CBS Sports Classic in November. (Getty Images)

College basketball has been derided for the way its regular season opens with a whimper. Although a slew of compelling one-off events have been arranged in recent years, attracting eyeballs in the heart of football season has proven difficult.

The push to make college hoops a bigger TV draw before New Year’s Day will continue in 2014. The lineup for the ACC/Big Ten challenge was announced last week, with Duke-Wisconsin, Ohio State-Louisville and Syracuse-Michigan among the most compelling fixtures. On Wednesday, the details of two more non-conference tournaments were unveiled.

The CBS Sports Classic will pit four programs with a combined 25 championships between them – Kentucky, UCLA, Ohio State and North Carolina – in a round-robin style event. In this year’s rendition, UCLA will take on Kentucky and North Carolina will face Ohio State on Dec. 20 at the United Center in Chicago. The matchups and sites for the next three Classics have already been determined:

United Center (Chicago, Ill.) December 20, 2014: UCLA vs. Kentucky, North Carolina vs. Ohio State

Barclays Center (Brooklyn, N.Y.) December 19, 2015: UK vs. OSU, UNC vs. UCLA

Las Vegas, Nev. (venue undetermined) December 17, 2016: UCLA vs. OSU, UK vs. UNC

The prestige of four powerhouse programs, akin to the star-studded roster featured in the popular Champions Classic, should make the CBS Sports Classic one of college hoops’ best non-conference events. For this year’s version, the best possible contest would have been Kentucky vs. North Carolina, as both teams will likely open the season ranked in the top 10. Still, the quality of competition figures to be top-notch, if not the matchup intrigue.

“We are excited to bring these powerhouse programs together for a tremendous early season showcase,” Dan Weinberg, Senior Vice President, Programming, CBS Sports, said in a release.  “From its debut next season, the CBS Sports Classic will be a marquee event, adding to our already deep college basketball schedule.”

Also on Wednesday, the matchups for the SEC/Big 12 challenge were revealed. The challenge is highlighted by two marquee clashes on Dec. 5, with Texas traveling to Kentucky and Florida playing at Kansas. All four teams should begin the season in the top 25.

Here is the complete lineup:

Wednesday, December 3

Auburn at Texas Tech

December 4

Arkansas at Iowa State

TCU at Ole Miss

LSU at West Virginia

Baylor at Vanderbilt

December 5

Missouri at Oklahoma

Florida at Kansas

Texas at Kentucky

December 6

Oklahoma State at South Carolina

The teams and matchups in the CBS Sports Classic and SEC/Big 12 Challenge add more credence to the notion that college basketball is improving its non-conference product. Other high-profile, non-conference events taking place in 2014 that have already been announced include the Champions Classic and the Battle 4 Atlantis.
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