When and where: Nov. 21-22 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. (each of the four featured teams will host two games on their home floor prior to the semis)
Semifinal schedule for the CBE Classic
Nov. 21: Missouri vs. Notre Dame (7:30 ET, ESPN2); California vs. Georgia (9:30 ET, ESPN2)
Nov. 22: Third-place game (7:45 ET, ESPNU); championship game (10 ET, ESPN2)
Initial thoughts: Can you say homecourt advantage? Last season, when Kansas State faced Gonzaga and Duke in the CBE in Kansas City, the building was practically painted purple. This November, black and gold will be the dominant motif, and not least because Mizzou's two opponents -- Notre Dame and either Cal or Georgia -- seem unlikely to travel for a basketball tournament during football season. It'll be all Tigers, all the time, at least where fan support is concerned. … As for the bracket, Missouri appears to be the favorite, as Notre Dame and UGA rebound from key losses and surprising NBA draft decisions. (The Irish lost Big East Player of the Year Ben Hansbrough and saw Carleton Scott make a surprising move to the pro ranks; Georgia lost its top two leading scorers, forward Trey Thompkins and guard Travis Leslie.) … One interesting caveat in all this is Cal, which returns its three best players from a team that surprisingly won 18 games in what was supposed to be a rebuilding season. Should Bears fans expect serious improvement? Or is this team who we thought they were?
Matchup I can't wait to see: Missouri-Notre Dame. I overuse the word fascinating -- or maybe I'm just easily fascinated -- but Missouri's transition from the Mike Anderson era to the Frank Haith regime promises to be legitimately, well, fascinating. Haith inherits five starters from a team that went 23-11 and would, were it not for the sudden coaching change, be many observers' odds-on favorite to win the Big 12. But how much of Anderson's borderline insane uptempo style will Haith retain? How will his players adjust to those changes? Meanwhile, Notre Dame will be trying to carry the program momentum gained during one of the best seasons in school history -- albeit one ended by a disappointing tournament loss to Florida State -- without its star Hansbrough, surprising draft entrant Scott, and forward Tyrone Nash.
Potential matchup I'd like to see: Missouri vs. California. No one is exactly sure how good Missouri will be this season, but it's safe to say they won't be bad. Cal, on the other hand, is an open question. The Golden Bears return everyone of note from last year's team, including key players Jorge Gutierrez, Allen Crabbe and Harper Kamp. Often, we expect college hoops teams with lots of returners to improve almost by default. Often, thanks to experience and cohesion, they do. Other times, we're reminded that just because a mediocre team kept its best players doesn't mean that team is no longer mediocre. Which category will include Mike Montgomery's latest bunch?
Key players to watch:
Marcus Denmon, Missouri: Denmon had a breakout season in 2010-11, and 2011-12 could be the one that makes him a star. But Denmon was also a beneficiary of Anderson's high-paced, freewheeling offense, which allowed the lightning-quick guard to find copious open shots in transition. He now has two major roles under Haith: Score as efficiently as in 2011, and command his team in what is sure to be an unfamiliar system.
Tim Abromaitis, Notre Dame: After taking a redshirt earlier in his career, Abromaitis is back for his fifth year. And if Notre Dame plans on preventing a fade into the middle of the Big East, they'll need the experienced, 6-foot-8 small forward to carry much of the leftover offensive load.
Kentavious Caldwell, Georgia: At this point, Caldwell means more to UGA's long-term prospects than any immediate impact he may have on the floor. He was Mark Fox's first big-time recruit, one that could pave the road for a big-time talent boost in the coming years. In the short-term, though, Caldwell's performance will have a lot to do with whether Fox can hold on to a hard-earned spot in the SEC conversation.
Jorge Gutierrez, California: Gutierrez had a decent individual year and he's a tremendous defender, but two things held him back. The first was shooting. The second was turnovers. If the Cal guard has improved in either category this season, he could have an outsized impact on his team's overall performance.
Kim English, Missouri: After an emergent sophomore season, English appeared primed to be one of the best backcourt talents in the country last season. Instead, though he didn't regress entirely, he didn't exactly improve either. English is a tireless worker famous for sleeping in the Missouri gym; we'll see in November if that work has finally paid off.
Predicted winner: Missouri. Transition or no transition, Mizzou is the most talented squad in this four-team field. It'll also have the benefit of overwhelming homecourt advantage. We may see the Tigers tested early in the season, but they're the obvious choice here.
Who others are picking:
Andy Katz: Missouri
Diamond Leung: California
Dana O'Neil: Missouri