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Eight teams, eight games to watch before Thanksgiving.

Remember this place?

Impressed by NYC Buckets' "Five Nights" series, finished with this year's epic data entry of schedules for the eight "Carril Cradle" teams and suffering from an mild early bout of snow madness, I opted to write a piece highlighting one non-conference game in the first three weeks of the season for each of the teams we cover.

My only rule was not picking match-ups that share the same date. Read on for sequential suggestions of contests to pay close(r) attention to as 2011-12 gets underway.

Saturday, November 5th
CCRI vs. Mercer
Mercer/Burlington Classic
2:00 pm ET

Why it is worth your time: It begins! The first game of the season for a "Carril Cradle" team and an early chance to catch some meaningful basketball here in Mercer County.

Saturday, November 12th
Wagner vs. Princeton
5:00 pm ET

Why it is worth your time: Really? This is Mitch Henderson's first game as head coach of the Tigers and a chance to answer many of your preseason questions about Princeton facing a much-improved Wagner team sporting a compliment of well-regarded freshmen and transfers. Non-conference appearances at home are scarce for this team after Thanksgiving, so go see the orange and black while you can. Plus, there's the likely hanging of a championship banner prior to the opening tip at Jadwin Gym.

Monday, November 14th
Providence vs. Fairfield
7:30 pm ET

Why it is worth your time: Ed Cooley returns in just his second game after leaving the Stags for the Friars and it is Sydney Johnson's curtain-raiser in Bridgeport. This is an early opportunity to knock off a Big East program for Fairfield as part of an ambitious but manageable schedule which sends the former Princeton coach's new team to Minnesota, the Old Spice Classic and UConn.

Wednesday, November 16th
Hofstra vs. Oregon State
Legends Classic
10:00 pm ET

Why it is worth your time: In past years, this is exactly the sort of game that a Craig Robinson-coached OSU team has dropped (see vexing losses in Corvallis to Texas Southern, Utah Valley State, Sacramento State, Seattle, Yale and Montana State). While the Flying Dutchmen are picked eighth in the CAA's preseason poll and Charles Jenkins is nowhere to be found, the result of this game is a bellwether for the Beavers' improvement. Regardless of outcome Oregon State advances to the Legends Classic semis at the Izod Center.

Thursday, November 17th
LSU vs. Northwestern
Charleston Classic
3:00 pm ET

Why it is worth your time: Northwestern's 2011-12 schedule has few chances for a signature victory prior to the start of Big Ten play, setting the Wildcats in a similar scenario to last year. The Wildcats should be favorites through the end of the year every time they suit up save for a trip to Georgia Tech and a home contest versus Baylor. There's the pressure to run through a less challenging non-conference slate unscathed and then hang even (or better) in conference to build a positive profile in the eyes of the selection committee. If NU can beat LSU (who are coming off an 11-21 season wherein they lost 13 of their final 14), they slide to the winner's side of the bracket in a tournament that includes Tulsa, Western Kentucky, VCU, Seton Hall, Georgia Tech and St. Joe's.

Monday, November 21st
Georgetown vs. Kansas
Maui Invitational
11:50 pm ET

Why it is worth your time: I picked this game for similar (but slightly different) reasons to why I chose the previous one For Georgetown to have a worthwhile trip to Hawaii they need to knock off a similarly young Jayhawks squad. The loser of this one gets Chaminade the next day and a return to the mainland without a DI win becomes possible. Tripping Kansas means that even going 1-2 in Lahaina would be a relatively successful trip assured of three games versus top flight programs.

Tuesday, November 22nd
Richmond vs. Illinois
Cancun Challenge
9:30 pm ET

Why it is worth your time: Last year the Spiders traveled to the Bahamas and flamed out versus an inferior Georgia Tech team. Will their second trip out of the country go any better? Richmond hosts Hampton and Sacred Heart in a domestic lead in which still falls under the tournament heading. The winner of this game gets the winner of Rutgers and Illinois State the next night. In some ways Chris Mooney's team traveling to Davidson on the 14th concerns me more with replacements for Kevin Anderson, Dan Geriot and Justin Harper unknown, but I already had a pick for that date!

Wednesday, November 23rd.
Denver vs. St. Mary's
7:00 pm ET
Root Sports

Why it is worth your time: Joe Scott's Princeton and Denver teams have not been known for their ability to win on the road (5-10, 3-9, 5-8, 0-16, 2-12, 2-11, 2-10) and last year the Gaels dusted the Pioneers by 30 at McKeon Pavilion. Marcus Schroeder on the St. Mary's bench and his former head coach on the opposite side is a nice wrinkle to this Thanksgiving eve pairing.

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