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Cat Scratches' annual basketball schedule breakdown (nonconference edition)

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More than three months have passed since Kentucky's Final Four run. If UK is to make history and return to the promise land in nine months, the march will begin with the 2011-12 nonconference schedule, which was unveiled for the first time Thursday.

Jump ahead and see the breakdown for...

Marist - Nov. 11
Kansas - Nov. 15
Penn State - Nov. 19
Old Dominion - Nov. 20
South Florida - Nov. 20
Radford - Nov. 23
Portland - Nov. 26
St. John's - Dec. 1
North Carolina - Dec. 3
Indiana - Dec. 10
Chattanooga - Dec. 17
Samford - Dec. 20
Loyola (Md.) - Dec. 22
Lamar - Dec. 28
Louisville - Dec. 31
Arkansas-Little Rock - Jan. 3

There are countless factors that go into a Final Four run, such as team chemistry, a will to win and sheer talent, but there is also a formula for getting there. To carve the best possible path to New Orleans, there's a method of calculated teams and numbers that goes into it.

As much as a coach would like to go out and play every national title contender in November and December, he must take into account his team's youth and its mental makeup. Suffer too many losses before the league slate and you may be too far behind -- or too psychologically defeated -- to catch up. Schedule too many cupcakes and your team won't be ready, mentally or physically, to take on the big boys in March.

It's a delicate balance UK men's basketball head coach John Calipari took into consideration when trying to mold this year's nonconference schedule. The way he sees it, he wants to form a slate of games that will bolster his team's RPI, give his players the best chance to win and help his program obtain a favorable NCAA Tournament seed.

Calipari believes -- much the way he did last year when he formed the nation's 11th-toughest nonconference schedule, according to CollegeRPI.com -- he's done that again.

This year's schedule features the likes of North Carolina and Kansas, the nation's second- and third-winningest schools in NCAA history, along with rising programs like St. John's, Penn State and Old Dominion. There's a five-game home stand in December, the annual clash with archrival Louisville, and a tough three-game stretch against Portland, St. John's and North Carolina.

UK will play a total of 15 nonconference games this season out of a possible 16 teams from 11 different leagues (UK will play Old Dominion or South Florida on Dec. 20 based on previous Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament results in Uncasville, Conn.). Six of those squads were in the NCAA Tournament a year ago, including two Elite Eight teams.

Six teams finished last year in the RPI's top 100 while the overall RPI of each nonconference team is 148. Kentucky's nonconference opponents went 284-245 in 2010-11, a .537 winning percentage.

What you will notice with the team-by-team breakdown below is that, with every program that struggled last year, just about every one of them is expected to return experience and the bulk of its scoring. Generally speaking, that should forecast for improvement.

All of this is in addition to a 16-game Southeastern Conference schedule, which will be released at a later time.

Without further ado, Cat Scratches is proud to unveil this year's nonconference schedule breakdown, fit with last season's records, RPI, returning stars, and everything you need to know as a Wildcat fan for each and every game.

* - Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament in Lexington
# - Champions Classic in New York
^ - Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament in Uncasville, Conn.
% - UK will play Old Dominion OR South Florida based on previous Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament results
! - Big East/SEC Challenge
1 - Annual game in Freedom Hall in Louisville

Marist*Marist (Nov. 11 - Lexington)

Head coach: Chuck Martin (fourth season)
Record/Conference finish: 6-27 (3-15 in MAAC/t-ninth)
Final RPI: 305
Final AP ranking: Not ranked
Postseason: N/A
Key returnees: Sam Prescott (11.4 ppg), R.J. Hall (9.2 ppg), Candon Rusin (7.8 ppg, 47 3-pointers), Dorvell Carter (7.7 ppg, 3.5 rpg)
Key losses: None
Series record: First meeting
Last meeting: N/A

The skinny: Marist's current situation epitomizes what a rebuilding project is all about. While six total wins is nothing to write home about, it was progress from its one-win season the year before. Head coach Chuck Martin clearly has a steep climb on his hands, but he'll at least have a lot of experience back in 2011-12. Marist will lose just one player, Korey Bauer, who averaged 3.5 points last year, while returning its top 10 leading scorers. Kentucky's season opener in the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament will lack star power, but Marist's guard-heavy lineup could be a good tune-up before the marquee matchup with Kansas.

Kansas#Kansas (Nov. 15 - New York)

Head coach: Bill Self (ninth season)
Record/Conference finish: 35-3 (14-2 in Big 12/first)
Final RPI: 1
Final AP ranking: 2
Postseason: NCAA Elite Eight
Key returnees: Tyshawn Taylor (9.3 ppg, 4.6 apg), Thomas Robinson (7.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg)
Key losses: Marcus Morris (17.2 ppg, 7.6 rpg), Markieff Morris (13.6 ppg, 8.3 rpg), Tyrel Reed (9.7 ppg, 72 3-pointers), Josh Selby (7.9 ppg), Brady Morningstar (7.1 ppg, 3.3 apg)
Series record: UK leads 19-6
Last meeting: Kansas won 88-76 in the 2007 NCAA Tournament

The skinny: This is the matchup that just about everyone has marked on their calendars. One of two games in the inaugural Champions Classic in Madison Square Garden in New York, two of the winningest programs and certainly two of the most recently successful programs in the country will face off in one of the season's best matchups. Kansas won its seventh straight Big 12 regular-season title last year and has made the NCAA Tournament 22 consecutive years, the longest streak in the nation. If it wasn't for the Cinderella story of VCU, the Jayhawks would have been in the Final Four last year and been a favorite to cut down the nets. But for all the history and tradition this game will have, it will ironically lack experience. You already know about Kentucky's youth next season, but what you might not know is Kansas will be without five of its top seven scorers from last year's 35-3 team. Even for Bill Self, a master of reloading, that's a pretty big blow. The biggest hole to fill will come on the frontline, where Kansas must figure out how to replace the Morris twins. Returners Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson will need to take on bigger roles as Kansas' anchors, and Ben McLemore and Naadir Tharpe, top-100 recruits in the Rivals 2011 signing class, will be expected to contribute right away. Experience or not, this one should be a lot of fun.

Penn State^Penn State (Nov. 19 - Uncasville, Conn.)

Head coach: Patrick Chambers (first season)
Record/Conference finish: 19-15 (9-9 in Big 10/t-fourth)
Final RPI: 48
Final AP ranking: Not ranked
Postseason: NCAA second round
Key returnees: Tim Frazier (6.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg)
Key losses: Talor Battle (20.2 ppg, 106 3-pointers, 4.4 rpg), Jeff Brooks (13.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg), David Jackson (9.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg)
Series record: UK leads 2-1
Last meeting: Penn State won 73-68 in 2001

The skinny: Penn State finally broke through last year. After coming so close for so many years, the Nittany Lions made their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2001. The problem facing Penn State this year is that it came with a different head coach, the most prolific scorer in school history and a senior class that transformed the program. Penn State has none of those this year. Patrick Chambers takes over as head coach after leading Boston to its first NCAA Tournament since 2002. Chambers' first task is to figure out how to replace Talor Battle, who finished his career with 2,213 points, the 10th-highest total in Big 10 history. He doesn't have a lot of veterans to bridge the gaps as Penn State's second-, third- and fifth-leading scorers are also out of eligibility. Guard Tim Frazier increased his scoring load during the second half of the year and will be leaned on a lot this year to fill Battle's shoes. The matchup in Uncasville, Conn., is the second game of the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament.

Old Dominion%Old Dominion (Nov. 20 - Uncasville, Conn.)

Head coach: Blaine Taylor (11th season)
Record/Conference finish: 27-7 (14-4 in CAA/second)
Final RPI: 23
Final AP ranking: Not ranked
Postseason: NCAA second round
Key returnees: Kent Bazemore (12.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.2 spg)
Key losses: Frank Hassell (15.1 ppg, 9.4 rpg), Ben Finney (9.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg), Darius James (7.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg)
Series record: UK leads 1-0
Last meeting: UK won 88-69 in 1992

The skinny: If there is one thing VCU and Butler taught us last season, it's that the gap between mid-major programs and the big boys is getting smaller by the day. What does Old Dominion have in common with them? Old Dominion actually finished higher than VCU in the Colonial Athletic Association regular-season standings, and Butler, the eventual national runner-up, just barely edged Old Dominion in the second round of the NCAA Tournament thanks to a buzzer beater. Had Old Dominion hung on to beat Butler, who knows, maybe the Monarchs could have danced their way to the title game. Old Dominion will lose a lot of offensive firepower, most notably leading scorer Frank Hassell, but if Kentucky advances to play the Monarchs in the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament, the Cats will face one of the best defensive teams they'll see all year. Top returning scorer Kent Bazemore was last year's CAA Defensive Player of the Year. Head coach Blaine Taylor also knows how to reload, leading the program to the postseason seven straight years.

South Florida%South Florida (Nov. 20 - Uncasville, Conn.)

Head coach: Stan Heath (fifth season)
Record/Conference finish: 10-23 (3-15 in Big East/15th)
Final RPI: 159
Final AP ranking: Not ranked
Postseason: N/A
Key returnees: Augustus Gilchrist (13.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg), Jawanza Poland (9.1 ppg), Hugh Robertson (8.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg)
Key losses: Jarrid Famous (8.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg), Anthony Crater (4.6 apg)
Series record: First meeting
Last meeting: N/A

The skinny: South Florida received some good news when forward Augustus Gilchrist decided to return for his senior season. Gilchrist, a pro prospect, can move bodies down low and has showed an ability to make jump shots. Whether he can get South Florida back on track remains to be seen. After making waves in the Big East in 2009-10, South Florida struggled in the rugged Big East last season. The Bulls' biggest problem? Putting the ball in the basket. But should UK draw South Florida in the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-off Tournament, Kentucky could have its hands full. South Florida possesses a lot of athleticism, has a great coach in Stan Heath, and while the Bulls took their fair share of losses in the league last year, they were actually in just about every game, losing 15 of their games by 10 points or less.

RadfordRadford (Nov. 23 - Lexington)

Head coach: Mike Jones (first season)
Record/Conference finish: 5-24 (2-16 in Big South/10th)
Final RPI: 334
Final AP ranking: Not ranked
Postseason: N/A
Key returnees: Jareal Smith (9.4 ppg, 2.0 apg), Blake Smith (8.9 ppg), Gorkez Sonmen (8.5 ppg), Tolga Cerrah (8.1 ppg, 6.0 rpg)
Key losses: None
Series record: First meeting
Last meeting: N/A

The skinny: Say what you will about Radford's 5-24 record a year ago, but the returnees are a bunch of tough kids. They suffered some humbling defeats a year ago while dealing with the loss of four 1,000-point scorers, and they lost their head coach about a month ago. Mike Jones was recently hired as the new coach after serving as Shaka Smart's right-hand man during VCU's Final Four run. Radford won't scare anyone, but if you're a believer of rallying around adversity, maybe this team can do it. After all, just about everyone from one of the NCAA's youngest teams returns, including leading scorer Jareal Smith. Radford has some size with 7-foot-1 center Martins Abele, who played at nationally recognized Oak Hill Academy.

PortlandPortland (Nov. 26 - Lexington)

Head coach: Eric Reveno (sixth season)
Record/Conference finish: 20-12 (7-7 in West Coast/fifth)
Final RPI: 103
Final AP ranking: Not ranked
Postseason: CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament
Key returnees: Nemanja Mitrovic (13.5 ppg, 93 3-pointers), Tim Douglas (7.7 ppg, 3.0 apg)
Key losses: Jared Stohl (14.1 ppg, 91 3-pointers), Luke Sikma (12.9 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 2.6 apg), Kramer Knutson (6.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1.5 bpg)
Series record: UK leads 2-0
Last meeting: UK won 79-48 in 2010

The skinny: Kentucky's 31-point rout last season in Portland, Ore., was more indicative of the team UK turned out to be than what Portland truly was. Recently speaking, Portland is nearing the level of programs like Gonzaga and St. Mary's, and the Pilots appeared ready to compete for the West Coast title midway through the year until they hit a plateau in mid-January. Portland will bid adieu to three starters, including all-conference forward Luke Sikma and leading scorer Jared Stohl, but if the Pilots can go 20-12 after losing four starters the year before, chances are they can rebound from these losses. Returner Nemanja Mitrovic can fill it up from behind the 3-point line. As a matter of fact, Mitrovic ranked sixth in the country in 3-point percentage (.463) last season. As UK fans know all too well, the 3-point shot can be the great equalizer, and it seems like sharpshooters have had big nights in Rupp Arena lately. Portland will have quite a few holes to fill in the paint.

St. John's!St. John's (Dec. 1 - Lexington)

Head coach: Steve Lavin (second season)
Record/Conference finish: 21-12 (12-6 in Big East/t-third)
Final RPI: 28
Final AP ranking: 18
Postseason: NCAA second round
Key returnees: None
Key losses: Dwight Hardy (18.3 ppg, 62 3-pointers), Justin Brownlee (12.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg), D.J. Kennedy (10.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg)
Series record: UK leads 10-5
Last meeting: St John's won 62-61 in 2001

The skinny: Was there a more exciting team to watch last year than St. John's? Between the buzzer beaters, shocking upsets and the addition of former UCLA coach Steve Lavin, it became clear midway through last year that one of the all-time great programs is on its way back. In the talent-rich city of New York, Madison Square Garden is once again buzzing about the Red Storm. With a recruiting class that ranks No. 3, according to Rivals, chances are last year wasn't a one-hit wonder. Headlining Lavin's star-studded freshman class is center Norvel Pelle and shooting guard D'Angelo Henderson, ranked 23rd and 40th overall, respectively, in addition to four four-star forwards. There's just one problem: They'll be counted on early and often to pick up where last year's team left off. After returning to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2002, electrifying seniors D.J. Kennedy and Dwight Hardy are gone. So is Justin Brownlee. And Paris Horne. And Justin Burrell. And five more seniors. That's an entire team. The good news for St. John's is Lavin is an energetic coach who has restored the fire in a tradition-rich program and runs a system that can cause havoc for other teams.

North CarolinaNorth Carolina (Dec. 3 - Lexington)

Head coach: Roy Williams (ninth season)
Record/Conference finish: 29-8 (14-2 in ACC/first)
Final RPI: 7
Final AP ranking: 7
Postseason: NCAA Elite Eight
Key returnees: Harrison Barnes (15.7 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 67 3-pointers), Tyler Zeller (15.7 ppg, 7.2 rpg,), John Henson (11.7 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 3.2 bpg), Dexter Strickland (7.5 ppg, 3.1 rpg), Leslie McDonald (7.0 ppg, 51 3-pointers), Kendall Marshall (6.2 ppg, 6.2 apg)
Key losses: None
Series record: UNC leads 22-12
Last meeting: UK won 76-69 in the 2011 NCAA Tournament

The skinny: Oh, boy, this will be huge. It will only be December and these teams have seen quite a bit of each other since 2001, but this matchup should have the feeling of a national championship game when you consider last year's Elite Eight matchup, the players returning, the expectations and the preseason rankings. Heading into the season, just about everyone's national title favorites are North Carolina, 1, and Kentucky, 1A. Really, when you look at both rosters with who is coming back and who is being added, you can't go wrong with either. For the Tar Heels, the list of impact players coming back seems like it never ends, but a lot of next year's success will depend on the four-headed monster of Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller, John Henson and Kendall Marshall. Zeller is one of the country's premier post players, Henson can rebound and block shots, Marshall was the nation's ninth-best assist man last year, and Barnes, well, he can do just about everything. As equally surprising as the decisions of Terrence Jones and Ohio State's Jared Sullinger to return for another year, Barnes returns to Chapel Hill, N.C., with unfinished business on his mind. While both these teams will be very familiar with each other after last year's two matchups, UNC will add power forward James Michael McAdoo (No. 8 overall in Rivals' 2011 class) and small forward P.J. Hairston (No. 13 overall). Of course, UK will have the nation's top freshman class.

IndianaIndiana (Dec. 10 - Bloomington, Ind.)

Head coach: Tom Crean (fourth season)
Record/Conference finish: 12-20 (3-15 in Big Ten/11th)
Final RPI: 192
Final AP ranking: Not ranked
Postseason: N/A
Key returnees: Christian Watford (16.0 ppg, 5.4 rpg), Verdell Jones III (12.5 ppg), Jordan Hulls (11.0 ppg, 55 3-pointers), Maurice Creek (8.3 ppg)
Key losses: None
Series record: UK leads 31-23
Last meeting: UK won 81-62 in 2010

The skinny: Indiana has increased its win total in each of Tom Crean's three seasons at IU, but the time to return to the postseason is now for Tom Crean and the Indiana basketball program. In year four of the reclamation project at one of the nation's top programs, people are expecting results, and Crean may finally have the pieces to put the puzzle together. There are a lot of reasons for optimism in Bloomington, Ind. For one, the Hoosiers return just about everyone from last year's team, including the top seven scorers. It's also the first time IU has had four-year seniors in its program since the 2007-08 campaign. Forward Christian Watford can score in bunches and should get plenty of help down low in five-star signee Cody Zeller. A 6-foot-11 center, Zeller is being locally touted as the savior of the program. While that may turn out to be true, the key to this year's team may actually be Maurice Creek. As a freshman, Creek was a dynamic scorer until he was sidelined with a knee injury. Creek had a hard time regaining his form as a sophomore, and once he started to, he went down with another knee injury. Can he bounce back from two injuries and find his scoring roots? Will Zeller be as good as advertised? If IU can positively answer both of those questions, the Hoosiers should find their way back to the postseason after a rare drought.

ChattanoogaChattanooga (Dec. 17 - Lexington)

Head coach: John Shulman (eighth season)
Record/Conference finish: 16-16 (12-6 in Southern/t-first in North)
Final RPI: 200
Final AP ranking: Not ranked
Postseason: N/A
Key returnees: Omar Wattad (14.3 ppg, 88 3-pointers), Ricky Taylor (13.0 ppg), Keegan Bell (9.7 ppg, 62 3-pointers), Chris Early (9.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg)
Key losses: DeAntre Jefferson (8.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg)
Series record: UK leads 11-0
Last meeting: UK won 79-63 in 2007

The skinny: Chattanooga will mark the first of five straight home games, the longest home stand of the season. Before UK plays Chattanooga, you'll likely hear John Calipari rave about Chattanooga, how the Mocs can play with anyone and how they shouldn't be taken lightly. For the most part, he'll be right. Chattanooga competes for the Southern Conference championship on a regular basis and tied for the North Division title last year. The Mocs, however, wanted more. Chattanooga started the conference slate 7-0 but finished 12-6 and lost in the second round of the league tournament. With proven potential and its top four scorers returning, this could be a dangerous game for UK, especially because it comes after three tough matchups against St. Johns, North Carolina and Indiana. Keep an eye on returning scorers Omar Wattad and Keegan Bell, neither of whom is afraid to shoot it from the outside. The duo combined for 150 treys last year.

SamfordSamford (Dec. 20 - Lexington)

Head coach: Jimmy Tillette (14th season)
Record/Conference finish: 12-19 (4-14 in Southern/sixth in North)
Final RPI: 284
Final AP ranking: Not ranked
Postseason: N/A
Key returnees: Jeffrey Merritt (10.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg), Gregg Wooten (7.6 ppg)
Key losses: Josh Bedwell (8.3 ppg, 51 3-pointers), Josh Davis (7.5 ppg, 45 3-pointers)
Series record: First meeting
Last meeting: N/A

The skinny: UK will play its second straight Big South opponent just before Christmas and should cruise into the holidays on a winning note if it can simply score. Why that simple? Samford is a very low-scoring team with just one double-digit scorer, Jeffrey Merritt, on last year's roster. Merritt will return, but Samford will lose its two glue guys in the backcourt. If you're looking for possible reasons for concern from a Kentucky perspective, Samford should have a healthy Levi Barnes, a 6-foot-10 center who was named the best high school rebounder and shot blocker in the state of Georgia two years ago. Also, Samford runs a Princeton-style offense, so while the Bulldogs don't score a ton, they can be efficient and cut the game in half.

LoyolaLoyola (Md.) (Dec. 22 - Lexington)

Head coach: Jimmy Paston (eighth season)
Record/Conference finish: 15-15 (10-8 in MAAC/fifth)
Final RPI: 181
Final AP ranking: Not ranked
Postseason: N/A
Key returnees: Shane Walker (11.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.7 bpg), Erik Etherly (10.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg), Justin Drummond 9.8 ppg, Robert Olson (9.1 ppg, 45 3-pointers), J'hared Hall (8.8 ppg), Dylon Cormier (8.1 ppg)
Key losses: Jamal Barney (10.3 ppg), Brian Rudolph (6.5 ppg, 4.4 apg)
Series record: First meeting
Last meeting: N/A

The skinny: What's the scariest thing about balance? Any number of guys are capable of putting up big numbers on a given night. That's what Loyola has with five of six players returning who averaged 8.8 points or more last year. The Greyhounds don't seem to do anything great, but they do seem to do a lot of things well. Loyola will miss guard Brian Rudolph, who is out of eligibility, but the core of what was a young team a year ago returns. This is another team that won't scare anybody, but Loyola will be no pushover.

LamarLamar (Dec. 28 - Lexington)

Head coach: Pat Knight (first season)
Record/Conference finish: 13-17 (7-9 in Southland/fifth in East)
Final RPI: 290
Final AP ranking: Not ranked
Postseason: N/A
Key returnees: Mike James (12.5 ppg), Anthony Miles (11.9 ppg, 3.9 apg), Devon Lamb (9.5 ppg, 8.3 rpg), Brandon Davis 8.2 ppg, 55 3-pointers)
Key losses: Kendrick Haris (10.3 ppg)
Series record: UK leads 2-0
Last meeting: UK won 103-61 in 2008

The skinny: Two things you should about Lamar as a Kentucky basketball fan: One, Pat Knight, after three-plus seasons as head coach at Texas Tech, is in his first year with Lamar. If you've paid any attention to what his father, coaching legend Bob Knight, has said about the UK program this offseason, that might be motivation enough to watch this game. Secondly, if you like high scorers, check out Lamar guard Mike James, whose 12.5 scoring average isn't indicative of his potential. James came off the bench last year to pour in 52 points in 28 minutes against Louisiana College. No player in Division I men's basketball scored more points in a single game in 2010-11.

LouisvilleLouisville (Dec. 31 - Lexington)

Head coach: Rick Pitino (11th season)
Record/Conference finish: 25-10 (12-6 in Big East/t-third)
Final RPI: 17
Final AP ranking: 14
Postseason: NCAA second round
Key returnees: Kyle Kuric (10.8 ppg, 70 3-pointers), Peyton Siva (9.9 ppg, 5.2 apg), Chris Smith (9.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg)
Key losses: Preston Knowles (14.6 ppg, 3.1 apg, 100 3-pointers), Terrence Jennings (9.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg)
Series record: UK leads 28-14
Last meeting: UK won 78-63 in 2010

The skinny: Maybe it seems like it every year, but it certainly feels like the UK-Louisville rivalry is at an all-time high. Both programs are booming, both have high-profile head coaches and both are coming off tremendous seasons. While Louisville's didn't end the way it would have liked - the Cardinals were stunned by Morehead State in their first NCAA Tournament game - it didn't tarnish arguably Rick Pitino's best coaching job as U of L's coach. With several pieces of an overachieving team back, Pitino will welcome his best recruiting class in several years. The four-man class features a little bit of everything. Power forward Chane Behanan, a physical scorer, should fill the void Terrence Jennings left, while Wayne Blackshear is an athletic swingman who can score in bunches. Although the loss of Preston Knowles will hurt, Louisville always seems to find a knack for 3-pointer shooters and defensive-minded players. Replacing Knowles will be more about finding someone with his intangibles and leadership than his ability to make shots. Look for Peyton Siva, a point guard who can do a little bit of everything, to take the next step in his junior year.

Arkansas-Little Rock1Arkansas-Little Rock (Jan. 3 - Louisville)

Head coach: Steve Shields (ninth season)
Record/Conference finish: 19-17 (7-9 in Sun Belt/fifth in West)
Final RPI: 196
Final AP ranking: Not ranked
Postseason: NCAA first round
Key returnees: Daylon Guy (7.6 ppg)
Key losses: Solomon Bozeman (16.6 ppg, 65 3-pointers), Alex Garcia-Mendoza (8.9 ppg), Matt Mouzy (7.9 ppg)
Series record: First meeting
Last meeting: N/A

The skinny: Last year was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Arkansas Little-Rock, and for the majority of the season it was. UALR struggled to a fifth-place finish in the underrated Sun Belt with a below .500 league record before completely turning around its season late. The Trojans won four games in four days to win the Sun Belt Tournament crown and earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. UALR nearly capitalized on its Cinderella run in the NCAA Tournament by forcing UNC Asheville to overtime in the first round. The Trojans ultimately lost, but the team's first NCAA Tournament berth since 1990 generated a lot of good feeling for a program that was supposed to struggle. The problem now for the Trojans is that they lose virtually every major contributor to the magical late-season run. Guard Daylon Guy, with a modest 7.6 scoring average, is the leading returner, making the 2011-12 UALR team very much a mystery.

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6 Comments

GO BIG BLUE. THIS CAN BE THE YEAR OF THE COMEBACK. GOOD LUCK COACH CAL.

any idea how to buy tix to the NY game against kansas?

WELL, THAT SHOULD BRING THE LAST OF THOSE FAIR-WEATHER FANS OUT OF THE CLOSET. (THE ONES THAT ACTED LIKE THEY DIDNT KNOW WE HAD A BASKETBALL TEAM 3 YEARS AGO, AND SAID 'OH, THEY PLAYED LAST NIGHT?'....... THOSE SAME FOLKS WHO GAVE AWAY THEIR SEASON TICKETS DURING THE BILLY G ERA, THE SAME FOLKS THAT REFERRED TO THE TEAM AS 'KENTUCKY', BUT NOW SAY 'US' OR 'WE') GOOD RIDDINS TO THE ONES WHO NEVER CAME BACK..... GO BIG BLUE AND GOD HELP ANY TEAM IN THE WAY.

Anyone know how to get tix to the games in Uncasville?

why would a coach the caliber of Calliari, pick players that intend to go one and out.. Duke dont, kansas dont. N C dont.. dont make any sense to me

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