On Thursday morning, the Gophers announced their 2011-12 nonconference schedule. The sexy home matchup against a top-25 school that fans have coveted since Tubby Smith's 2007 arrival was not on it. But it's an intriguing setup for a Gophers team with so much inexperience.
Five top-100 RPI schools will venture to the Barn for matchups that should challenge a young Gophers squad, which will add seven new players (including redshirts from last season) to the mix next season.
A Dec. 3 home matchup against USC and a Nov. 30 ACC-Big Ten Challenge matchup against a Virginia Tech squad with a stacked recruiting class (three four-star recruits on Rivals.com) highlight the entire lineup. The Gophers will travel to USC during the 2012-13 season as part of a home-and-home agreement. USC was a First Four participant in last year's NCAA tourney.
The Gophers will also compete in the Old Spice Classic in Orlando during Thanksgiving weekend. That field includes Dayton, Texas Tech, Arizona State and Wake Forest ... an assembly that projected to be far more competitive when the Gophers booked their slot four years ago.
Bucknell, a team the Gophers will play at home Nov. 11, competed in the NCAA tournament last season. Five teams on Minnesota's nonconference schedule (excluding prospective opponents in the Old Spice Classic), finished last year with top-100 RPIs.
It's the kind of schedule that will allow the Gophers, who finished with an 85 RPI last year, to build chemistry as a crew of players who've never played Division I basketball mesh with an experienced frontcourt combo of Ralph Sampson III and Trevor Mbakwe.
There's no Kansas or Kentucky or Louisville or Missouri on the menu. That void would warrant criticism in past years when the team entered the respective seasons with more veterans. Not so much this year.
There are a lot of question marks facing the Gophers as they prepare to enter the 2011-12 campaign. Who's the starting point guard? Is Elliott Eliason ready? Can Trevor Mbakwe lead both on and off the floor? Will Ralph Sampson III play up to his potential? Which newcomers will make an immediate impact?
This nonconference schedule will give the Gophers an opportunity to answer some of those questions before Big Ten play begins.
The schedule: Nov. 1 -- Bemidji State (exhibition); Nov. 7 -- Augustana (exhibition); Nov. 11 -- Bucknell; Nov. 14 -- North Dakota State or South Dakota State; Nov. 17 -- Fairfield; Nov. 21 -- Mount St. Mary's; Nov. 24-27 -- Old Spice Classic (Orlando, Fla.; opening game vs. DePaul followed by Texas Tech or Indiana State); Nov. 30 -- Virginia Tech; Dec. 3 -- USC; Dec. 6 -- Appalachian State; Dec. 10 -- St. Peters; Dec. 13 -- Central Michigan; Dec. 22 -- North Dakota State or South Dakota State.
All games except Old Spice Classic are at Williams Arena. The Big Ten conference schedule and TV information will be announced at a later date.