Five nonconference games to watch
Nov. 15, 2011
Nov. 21: Notre Dame Missouri will meet the Irish in Kansas City for the College Basketball Experience Classic opening round. Notre Dame is coming off a historic season, finishing 27-7 and earning a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament under the guidance of Mike Brey, the 2010 AP Coach of the Year. Much of last year's magic came from forward Ben Hansbrough, who inked a contract with Bayern Munich in Germany over the summer.
On top of replacing Hansbrough, the Irish will look to fill the void of two other starters by leaning on 6-foot-8-inch forward Tim Abromaitis and 6-foot-8-inch guard Scott Martin. Containing the duo will be key for the Tigers, who from top-to-bottom are a more athletic bunch.
Nov. 22: No. 24 California/Georgia Based on how the first round of the CBE Classic plays out, Missouri will face either Cal or Georgia. Expectations are high at Cal, a program looking to make its third tournament appearance in the past four seasons. The strength of the Golden Bears lies with the reliable guard Jorge Gutierrez and last season's PAC-12 Freshman of the Year, guard Allen Crabbe. The matchup should prove to be a battle of backcourts.
Dec. 6: Villanova The Wildcats will be without the services of three of last year's starters, including guard combo Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes. The duo carried the team last year but at the same time showed flashes of inconsistencies. Guard Maalik Wayns will have to heavily contribute while responsibly operating the offense. The Wildcats will play a starting rotation with great size and matching up will be key for the Tigers.
Dec. 22: Illinois The Illini enter the season lacking firepower. The team is without five of last year's top seven scorers. Freshmen like point guard Tracy Abrams and forward Mike Shaw will have to find roles for the Illini. It will be a rotation that won't be established early on in the season, forcing coach Bruce Weber to search for his team's identity. By late December, that identity should just about be discovered.