Chicago Colleges: Nonconference schedule analysis

Nonconference schedule analysis: Big Ten

October, 11, 2012
10/11/12
2:16
PM CT
This week, ESPN.com is breaking down the nonconference schedules of each and every team in a dozen of the nation's top leagues. On Monday, we began in the South with the ACC, SEC and Conference USA. On Tuesday, we focused on the East with the Atlantic 10, Big East and Colonial Athletic Association. Wednesday was all about the West with the Mountain West, Pac-12 and West Coast Conference. Today we focus on the Midwest with the Big Ten, Big 12, Missouri Valley and the best of the rest.

ILLINOIS

Toughest: Maui Invitational (Nov. 19-21), at Gonzaga (Dec. 8) vs. Missouri (Dec. 22 in St. Louis)
Next-toughest: Georgia Tech (Nov. 28)
The rest: Colgate (Nov. 9), St. Francis-NY (Nov. 12), at Hawaii (Nov. 16), Gardner-Webb (Nov. 25), Western Carolina (Dec. 4), Norfolk State (Dec. 11), Eastern Kentucky (Dec. 16), Auburn (Dec. 29 in Chicago)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- The first season of new coach John Groce's tenure kicks off with a pretty standard Illinois schedule, but with a twist -- it isn't often the Illini have chosen to play buzzsaw road games quite like their date at Gonzaga on Dec. 8. And the Maui Invitational is a nice field, too, one that begins with USC and features Texas, North Carolina, Butler and Marquette as possible opponents.

INDIANA

Toughest: Legends Classic (Nov. 19-20 in Brooklyn, N.Y.), North Carolina (Nov. 27)
Next-toughest: Butler (Dec. 15 in Indianapolis)
The rest: North Dakota State (Nov. 12), Sam Houston State (Nov. 15), Ball State (Nov. 25), Coppin State (Dec. 1), Central Connecticut State (Dec. 8), Mount St. Mary's (Dec. 19), Florida Atlantic (Dec. 21), Jacksonville (Dec. 28)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- If Indiana prevails over first-round opponent Georgia at the Legends Classic, it will face either UCLA or Georgetown -- both of which would be quality neutral-site opponents. But because the Crossroads Classic is in friendly territory, and the ACC-Big Ten Challenge brings North Carolina to Bloomington, the Hoosiers' nonconference schedule sets up the likely preseason No. 1 with a very plausible path to an undefeated pre-New Year's record.

IOWA

Toughest: Iowa State (Dec. 7), Northern Iowa (Dec. 15 in Des Moines)
Next-toughest: Cancun Challenge (Nov. 20-21 in Cancun, Mexico), at Virginia Tech (Nov. 27)
The rest: Texas-Pan American (Nov. 9), Central Michigan (Nov. 12), Howard (Nov. 15), Gardner-Webb (Nov. 17), Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (Dec. 1), South Dakota (Dec. 4), South Carolina State (Dec. 19), Coppin State (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale (1-10): 3 -- The emergence of Iowa State and a neutral-site game with Northern Iowa provide nice dates, but the Cancun Challenge's best teams are DePaul and a rebuilding Wichita State, and Virginia Tech was hollowed out in the wake of coach Seth Greenberg's offseason firing. There's simply not a lot here.

MICHIGAN

Toughest: NIT Season Tip-Off (Nov. 12-20 in Ann Arbor, Nov. 21-23 in New York), NC State (Nov. 27)
Next-toughest: Arkansas (Dec. 8), West Virginia (Dec. 15 in Brooklyn, N.Y.)
The rest: Slippery Rock (Nov. 9), at Bradley (Dec. 1), Western Michigan (Dec. 4), Binghamton (Dec. 11), Eastern Michigan (Dec. 20), Central Michigan (Dec. 29)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- The NIT Season Tip-Off comprises early-round games against mid-majors at the Crisler Center before presumably taking its show -- which will offer some combination of games against Virginia, Kansas State and/or Pittsburgh -- to Madison Square Garden. There are quality opponents available there, and both West Virginia and Arkansas will present challenges, but other than NC State in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, there are no elite teams on this projected title contender's docket. Good schedule, not great.

MICHIGAN STATE

Toughest: vs. Connecticut (Nov. 9 at Ramstein Air Base, Germany), vs. Kansas (Nov. 13 in Atlanta)
Next-toughest: at Miami (Nov. 28), Texas (Dec. 22)
The rest: Texas Southern (Nov. 18), Boise State (Nov. 20), Oakland (Nov. 23), Louisiana-Lafayette (Nov. 25), Nicholls State (Dec. 1), Arkansas Pine-Bluff (Dec. 5), Loyola-Chicago (Dec. 8), Tuskegee (Dec. 15), at Bowling Green (Dec. 18)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- Connecticut might not be Connecticut this season, but playing on an air base in Germany is never going to be easy -- especially when you follow it up four days later with a game against Kansas in Atlanta. Talk about travel. The ACC-Big Ten game at Miami is no slouch either, and Texas will be improved when it comes to East Lansing.

MINNESOTA

Toughest: Battle 4 Atlantis (Nov. 22-24 in Bahamas), at Florida State (Nov. 27)
Next-toughest: at USC (Dec. 8)
The rest: American (Nov. 9), Toledo (Nov. 12), Tennessee State (Nov. 15), Richmond (Nov. 18 in St. Paul, Minn.), North Florida (Dec. 1), South Dakota State (Dec. 4), North Dakota State (Dec. 11), Lafayette (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale (1-10): 9 -- From Nov. 22 to Nov. 27, there are few teams in the country with a schedule as tough as Minnesota's. The Battle 4 Atlantis is this season's premier tournament. Minnesota will play Duke, then Memphis or Virginia Commonwealth, and some combination of Louisville, Missouri, Northern Iowa and Stanford just a few days before stopping off at Florida State for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Harsh stuff -- and a trip to USC in December is no cakewalk, either.

NEBRASKA

Toughest: Creighton (Dec. 6), at Oregon (Dec. 15)
Next-toughest: Valparaiso (Nov. 15), at Wake Forest (Nov. 27), USC (Dec. 3)
The rest: Southern (Nov. 11), Nebraska-Omaha (Nov. 18), Tulane (Nov. 21), Kent State (Nov. 24), Jacksonville State (Dec. 18), Sun Bowl Invitational (Dec. 22-23), Nicholls State (Dec. 29)
Toughness scale (1-10): 3 -- The only marquee opponent on this schedule is Creighton, and Nebraska is lucky enough to get Doug McDermott and Co. at home (even if a number of Jays fans are likely to invade Lincoln). A trip to Oregon won't be easy, but when your next-toughest games are home dates with Valpo and USC, your schedule isn't going to rate that highly. And in a rebuilding year, that's OK.

NORTHWESTERN

Toughest: at Baylor (Dec. 4)
Next-toughest: Maryland (Nov. 27), Butler (Dec. 8), Stanford (Dec. 21)
The rest: Texas Southern (Nov. 13), Mississippi Valley State (Nov. 15), Fairleigh Dickinson (Nov. 18), Delaware State (Nov. 20), South Padre Island Invitational (Nov. 23-24), Illinois-Chicago (Dec. 1), Texas State (Dec. 17), Brown (Dec. 23)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- Northwestern's only road test before conference play comes at Baylor, and it will be a significant test. But the other highlights are limited to good-but-not-great teams, all of which come to Evanston. This isn't as bad as some of Northwestern's recent schedules, but it isn't among the toughest in the Big Ten.

OHIO STATE

Toughest: Marquette (Nov. 9 in Charleston, S.C.), at Duke (Nov. 28), Kansas (Dec. 22)
Next-toughest: Hall of Fame Tip-Off (Nov. 17-18 in Uncasville, Conn.)
The rest: Alabany (Nov. 11), UMKC (Nov. 13), Northern Kentucky (Dec. 1), Long Beach State (Dec. 8), Savannah State (Dec. 12), UNC Asheville (Dec. 15), Winthrop (Dec. 18), Chicago State (Dec. 29)
Toughness scale (1-10): 9 -- The Marquette game will be on board an aircraft carrier, and you never know what'll happen on one of those things. Combine that with a trip to Duke in the Challenge (the Blue Devils will surely be looking for revenge for last season's smackdown in Columbus) and a home date with Kansas, and the end result is a pretty strong schedule, all things considered.

PENN STATE

Toughest: Puerto Rico Tip-Off (Nov. 15-18)
Next-toughest: vs. La Salle (Dec. 5 at the Palestra)
The rest: St. Francis-Penn. (Nov. 9), Bucknell (Nov. 23), Boston College (Nov. 28), Penn (Dec. 1), Army (Dec. 8), Delaware (Dec. 15), New Hampshire (Dec. 23), Duquesne (Dec. 29)
Toughness scale (1-10): 3 -- I thought about going lower, but the Nittany Lions get a little toughness scale boost for a couple of reasons. For one, the Puerto Rico Tip-Off bracket has Tim Frazier and Co. taking on NC State in the first round. For another, this team is still very much in the throes of rebuilding, at a school where the athletics programs have faced (and are facing) some of the most dire times in NCAA history. A so-so schedule is forgiveable, I'd say.

PURDUE

Toughest: 2K Sports Classic (Nov. 15-16 in New York), vs. Notre Dame (Dec. 15 in Indianapolis)
Next-toughest: at Clemson (Nov. 28), Xavier (Dec. 1)
The rest: Bucknell (Nov. 9), Hofstra (Nov. 11), UNC-Wilmington (Nov. 21), Lamar (Dec. 4), at Eastern Michigan (Dec. 8), Ball State (Dec. 18), William & Mary (Dec. 29)
Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- The 2K Sports Classic features a game vs. Villanova and either Alabama or Oregon State. And the neutral-court Crossroads Classic matchup with Notre Dame is going to be a tough one. But with Xavier being down for this return home-and-home trip, and Clemson rebuilding under Brad Brownell, the schedule doesn't have much of an edge to it. It's merely OK.

WISCONSIN

Toughest: at Florida (Nov. 14), Las Vegas Invitational (Nov. 23-24), at Marquette (Dec. 8)
Next-toughest: Virginia (Nov. 28), Cal (Dec. 2)
The rest: Southeastern Louisiana (Nov. 11), Cornell (Nov. 18), Presbyterian (Nov. 20), Nebraska-Omaha (Dec. 4), Green Bay (Dec. 12), Milwaukee (Dec. 22), Samford (Dec. 29)
Toughness scale (1-10): 9 -- Now this is a tough schedule. It features road trips to Florida and Marquette (plenty of Badgers fans will be in the building Dec. 8, but still), as well as the Las Vegas Invitational, which offers an opening-round game against Creighton and a possible matchup against Arkansas. Virginia and California are solid opponents, while Milwaukee and Green Bay are nothing to overlook. But the real strength of the slate comes in those road tests, which many of the Big Ten's top schedules can't boast.

The 10 worst nonconference schedules

October, 11, 2012
10/11/12
2:14
PM CT
Editor's Note: This week, ESPN.com broke down the nonconference schedules of each and every team in a dozen of the nation's top leagues. On Monday, we began in the South with the ACC, SEC and C-USA. On Tuesday, we focused on the East with the A-10, Big East and CAA. Wednesday was all about the West with the Mountain West, Pac-12 and WCC. Today we focused on the Midwest with the Big Ten, Missouri Valley and Big 12. We also analyzed the schedules of 10 prominent mid-majors from outside those 12 conferences.

A quick note: You may notice that many of the below schedules come from unsurprising places. When ranking and grading nonconference schedules, we try to take into account the relative strength of a team, if a program is rebuilding, and so forth. But for the purposes of this post, such distinctions were difficult to parse.

I understand many of these schedules are constructed in order to help teams along in their development, and also -- let's just be honest about it -- inflate win totals. Even so, these are all high-major teams. They could all do better. In the end, I tried to find the 10 worst high-major schedules, with only minimal (but not zero!) consideration for program context. OK, let's begin (in alphabetical order):

DEPAUL

Toughest: Cancun Challenge (Nov. 20-21)
Next-toughest: at Arizona State (Dec. 12)
The rest: UC Riverside (Nov. 9), Gardner-Webb (Nov. 15), Austin Peay (Nov. 17), Fairfield (Nov. 27), at Auburn (Nov. 30), at Chicago State (Dec. 5), Milwaukee (Dec. 9), Northern Illinois (Dec. 16), UMBC (Dec. 22), Loyola-Chicago (Dec. 29)

DePaul is getting better under third-year coach Oliver Purnell, especially compared to where the Blue Demons were (hint: in the absolute talent cellar) when he took over. Unfortunately, the schedule is not following suit. The Cancun Challenge is the only thing worth noting here, and it features Wichita State (which is also a rebuilding program) and either Iowa or Western Kentucky. If that's Iowa, great -- the Hawkeyes are a trendy Big Ten sleeper pick. That said, when Iowa is your best possible opponent, sorry, your schedule is bad.

OKLAHOMA STATE

Toughest: South Florida (Dec. 5), Gonzaga (Dec. 31)
Next-toughest: Puerto Rico Tip-Off (Nov. 15-18), at Virginia Tech (Dec. 1)
The rest: UC Davis (Nov. 9), Portland State (Nov. 25), Missouri State (Dec. 8), Central Arkansas (Dec. 16), UT-Arlington (Dec. 19), Tennessee Tech (Dec. 22)

This schedule is not as bad as some of the others you'll see on this list. However, it is the worst of any team you'll see that also has two McDonald's All-Americans on its roster. There are no true road challenges, the Puerto Rico Tip-Off field is good but not great, and Gonzaga is the only top-25 team anywhere near the slate if the Pokes fall flat in San Juan. This isn't a great nonconference schedule by any metric, but when you take into account Oklahoma State's talent level -- and their chances of playing spoiler in the Big 12 this season -- it is rather blasé.

OLE MISS

Toughest: Diamond Head Classic (Dec. 22-25 in Honolulu)
Next-toughest: at Middle Tennessee (Dec. 8), at Loyola Marymount (Dec. 19)
The rest: Mississippi Valley State (Nov. 9), Coastal Carolina (Nov. 13), Arkansas-Little Rock (Nov. 16), McNeese State (Nov. 20), Lipscomb (Nov. 23), Rutgers (Dec. 1), ETSU (Dec. 14), Fordham (Jan. 4)

There are some who believe Ole Miss will be an NCAA tournament team in 2012-13. Others claim the Rebels can hang near the top -- or at least in the middle of the pack -- in the SEC this season. That may or may not be true, but we won't really find out until SEC play begins. Other than a possible matchup with San Diego State on a neutral court, and a road game at Middle Tennessee -- points for that, but not too many -- Ole Miss has absolutely nothing on its schedule. With a few exceptions, most of the teams on this list are rebuilding, and their schedules say so. Andy Kennedy's team is supposed to be rounding into form, but you wouldn't know it from the above schedule.

PITTSBURGH

Toughest: NIT Season Tip-Off (Nov. 12-23)
Next-toughest: Detroit (Dec. 1)
The rest: Mount St. Mary’s (Nov. 9), Fordham (Nov. 12), Oakland (Nov. 17), Howard (Nov. 27), vs. Duquesne (Dec. 5 at Consol Energy Center), North Florida (Dec. 8), Bethune Cookman (Dec. 15), Delaware State (Dec. 19), Kennesaw State (Dec. 23)

It's hard to fault Jamie Dixon for his scheduling philosophy. As SI.com's Luke Winn wrote last month, Dixon is the nation's best RPI exploiter; he slips in every crevice of the NCAA's crude metric, all while rarely putting his team at risk. And with due praise out of the way, sorry, but this schedule is really ugly. Pitt is likely to play Michigan and either Virginia or Kansas State in the NIT Season Tip-Off, but even if those games were guaranteed they're not enough to keep the Panthers off this list. Besides, sure, Pitt was bad last year, but let's not forget that this is still Pitt, one of the most comprehensively consistent programs of the past decade. Their scheduling sights should be set much higher.

PROVIDENCE

Toughest: Puerto Rico Tip-Off (Nov. 15-18)
Next-toughest: Mississippi State (Dec. 1), at Boston College (Dec. 22)
The rest: NJIT (Nov. 10), Bryant (Nov. 12), Fairfield (Nov. 23), Holy Cross (Nov. 27), Rhode Island (Dec. 6), Colgate (Dec. 18), at Brown (Dec. 28)

The differences between what this schedule could be, and what it is, are stark. For example, had the Friars got Mississippi State in any of the past five years -- rather than this one -- that would be a quality opponent. And if Boston College wasn't undergoing its own rebuilding project, and if PC were to topple UMass in the first round in Puerto Rico (opening up possible games against NC State and Tennessee), then we may be talking. Alas, the schedule as it is is downright brutal, with Mississippi State and BC and then a bunch of really cupcake-y low majors (NJIT, Bryant) rounding out the badness.

RUTGERS

Toughest: at Ole Miss (Dec. 1)
Next-toughest: at Princeton (Nov. 16), vs. Iona (Dec. 8 in NYC)
The rest: St. Peter’s (Nov. 9), Sacred Heart (Nov. 12), Boston U (Nov. 20), UNC Greensboro (Nov. 25), George Washington (Dec. 11), UAB (Dec. 16), Rider (Dec. 28)

As medium-to-low mid-majors go, Princeton and Iona are pretty solid. As the lynchpins of the schedule you create -- that game at Ole Miss is part of the Big East/SEC Challenge, so minimal points are awarded -- they are not exactly beasts. And ... that's pretty much it! Most of the schedules on this list at least have a token mediocre early-season tournament to their credit. Rutgers doesn't even have that. Gross.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Toughest: at St. John’s (Nov. 29)
Next-toughest: Hoops for Hope Classic (Nov. 24-25 in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico), Clemson (Dec. 2)
The rest: Milwaukee (Nov. 11), Morgan State (Nov. 16), Rider (Nov. 19), Elon (Nov. 21), Jacksonville (Dec. 7), Appalachian State (Dec. 19), vs. Manhattan (Dec. 22 in Brooklyn), Presbyterian (Dec. 29), South Carolina State (Jan. 5)

You'll have to forgive South Carolina: It's going to take some time to get used to this whole "basketball being important" thing. That's the promise of coach Frank Martin's hire, and there's every reason to believe Martin will get the Gamecocks and their fans there eventually (by dragging them kicking and screaming, if needed). But this schedule still reflects the old South Carolina, where the Gamecocks would routinely (attempt) to feast on early-season cupcakes in the hopes of inflating their win totals and getting to the NCAA tournament. It never really worked. The game at St. John's is a must, thanks to the Big East/SEC Challenge. Other than that, yikes.

TCU

Toughest: South Padre Island Invitational (Nov. 23-24)
Next-toughest: Houston (Dec. 4), at Tulsa (Dec. 9)
The rest: Cal Poly (Nov. 9), Centenary (Nov. 12), SMU (Nov. 15), Prairie View A&M (Nov. 18), Navy (Nov. 20), Southern Utah (Nov. 29), Southern (Dec. 18), at Rice (Dec. 22), Mississippi Valley State (Dec. 30)

Look, it's hard to fault TCU -- and especially first-year coach Trent Johnson -- for having one of the worst schedules in the country. Of course the Horned Frogs are scheduling soft. They've been rebuilding for ... forever, basically. But still, we're in high-major territory now. Let this be a friendly reminder that it's time to start scheduling like it.

TEXAS TECH

Toughest: Arizona (Dec. 1), Alabama (Dec. 19)
Next-toughest: Arizona State (Dec. 22)
The rest: Prairie View A&M (Nov. 9), Nebraska-Omaha (Nov. 14), Grambling State (Nov. 20), Jackson State (Nov. 26), Northern Kentucky (Dec. 4), McNeese State (Dec. 16), North Carolina A&T (Dec. 28), Florida A&M (Dec. 31)

Perhaps this is now-deposed Texas Tech coach Billy Gillispie's final legacy at the school: The strategy of somehow getting away with not scheduling any road games whatsoever. Arizona is a quality opponent (if young), and Alabama is fundamentally solid (if somewhat retooling), but other than those two "highlights," most of this schedule comprises low-major guarantee games and few real challenges. Oh, and Arizona State. You get the point.

UTAH

Toughest: at BYU (Dec. 8 )
Next-toughest: at SMU (Nov. 28), Boise State (Dec. 5)
The rest: Williamette (Nov. 9), Sacramento State (Nov. 16), Idaho State (Nov. 21), Central Michigan (Nov. 23), Wright State (Nov. 24), at Texas State (Nov. 30), SMU (Dec. 18), Cal State Northridge (Dec. 21), College of Idaho (Dec. 28)

The Utes went 6-25 last season. They were historically bad in the nonconference and nearly as bad during conference play. (Though somehow not as bad as USC. That still boggles the mind. How do you perform worse than Utah in last year's Pac-12?! How is that possible?) The point being, no one would expect Utah to be loading up on a Texas-esque nonconference slate. Unless you're actively trying to set new school win total lows, there doesn't seem to be much point. And having said all that ... with the exception of the long-standing rivalry game at BYU, this schedule is atrocious.

Nonconference schedule analysis: Big East

October, 11, 2012
10/11/12
2:13
PM CT
This week, ESPN.com is breaking down the nonconference schedules of each and every team in a dozen of nation's top leagues. On Monday, we began with the ACC, SEC and C-USA. We started Tuesday with the A-10 and now it's off to the Big East ...

CINCINNATI

Toughest: Global Sports Invitational (Nov. 23-24 in Las Vegas)
Next-toughest: Alabama (Dec. 1), vs. Marshall (Dec. 15 in Charleston, W.Va.), vs. Xavier (Dec. 19 at US Bank Arena), New Mexico (Dec. 27)
The rest: UT-Martin (Nov. 11), Mississippi Valley State (Nov. 13), North Carolina A&T (Nov. 18), Campbell (Nov. 20), Arkansas-Little Rock (Dec. 6), Maryland-Eastern Shore (Dec. 8), Wright State (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- The Bearcats earn a slight bump thanks to a trip to Vegas that includes a game against Iowa State and then either UNLV or Oregon. But otherwise there isn’t a lot to get excited about here. Even the Crosstown Shootout has lost a little luster, moved off campus after the brawl and muted by a seriously depleted Xavier roster.

CONNECTICUT

Toughest: vs. Michigan State (Nov. 9 in Germany), vs. NC State (Dec. 4 in NYC), Washington (Dec. 29)
Next-toughest: Paradise Jam (Nov. 16-19), Harvard (Dec. 7)
The rest: Vermont (Nov. 13), Stony Brook (Nov. 25), New Hampshire (Nov. 29), Maryland-Eastern Shore (Dec. 17), Fordham (Dec. 21)
Toughness scale: 8 -- Welcome to the hot seat, Kevin Ollie. Jim Calhoun has done you little in the way of a favor, leaving a Huskies team in the midst of reconstructing itself a tough schedule. The Armed Forces Classic with the Spartans on the base in Germany will be a spectacle in the best sense of the word, but followed just four days later with a not-so-easy game against perennial America East contender Vermont. And that’s just the first week. There's also a preseason top-10 team in NC State and a decent field in the Virgin Islands that includes New Mexico and several dangerous mid-majors.

DEPAUL

Toughest: Cancun Challenge (Nov. 20-21)
Next-toughest: at Arizona State (Dec. 12)
The rest: UC Riverside (Nov. 9), Gardner-Webb (Nov. 15), Austin Peay (Nov. 17), Fairfield (Nov. 27), at Auburn (Nov. 30), at Chicago State (Dec. 5), Milwaukee (Dec. 9), Northern Illinois (Dec. 16), UMBC (Dec. 22), Loyola-Chicago (Dec. 29)
Toughness scale: 2 -- There’s a rationale here that’s understandable. DePaul has to walk before it can run and frontloading an impossible schedule will do no good for a team still trying to crawl its way up the Big East standings. But maybe a little something to move the needle wouldn’t be a bad idea. The Cancun event is about it and that offers up retooling Wichita State and either Iowa or Western Kentucky.

GEORGETOWN

Toughest: vs. Florida (Nov. 9 in Jacksonville), Legends Classic (Nov. 19-20 in Brooklyn, N.Y.)
Next-toughest: Tennessee (Nov. 30), vs. Texas (Dec. 4 in New York)
The rest: Duquesne (Nov. 11), Liberty (Nov. 14), Mount St. Mary’s (Nov. 24), Towson (Dec. 8), Longwood (Dec. 10), Western Carolina (Dec. 15), American (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale: 8 -- This schedule is potentially even better. If the Hoyas beat UCLA in Brooklyn, they'll likely take on preseason No. 1 Indiana the next day. That's after the opener against Florida and before tough games against Tennessee and Texas. Georgetown, looking for a second straight better-than-expected season, will be well-tested by the beginning of December. If they aren’t beaten up or beaten down, the Hoyas will come out the stronger for it in time for Big East play.

LOUISVILLE

Toughest: Battle 4 Atlantis (Nov. 22-24), at Memphis (Dec. 15), Kentucky (Dec. 29)
Next-toughest: Illinois State (Dec. 1), vs. Western Kentucky (Dec. 22 in Nashville)
The rest: Manhattan (Nov. 11), Samford (Nov. 15), Miami-Ohio (Nov. 18), at Charleston (Dec. 4), UMKC (Dec. 8), Florida International (Dec. 19)
Toughness scale: 8 -- The beauty in this schedule is what you don’t see -- namely the Battle 4 Atlantis schedule after the first-round date with Northern Iowa. Missouri, Stanford, Memphis, VCU, Duke and Minnesota round out the field of heavy hitters, all of whom will give the top-5 Cards plenty to handle. And the date with Kentucky is always a nice friendly little waltz, too.

MARQUETTE

Toughest: vs. Ohio State (Nov. 9 in Charleston, S.C.), Maui Invitational (Nov. 19-20), at Florida (Nov. 29), Wisconsin (Dec. 8)
Next-toughest: LSU (Dec. 22)
The rest: Colgate (Nov. 11), Southeastern Louisiana (Nov. 13), UMBC (Nov. 26), Savannah State (Dec. 15), at Green Bay (Dec. 19), North Carolina Central (Dec. 29)
Toughness scale: 8 -- Another schedule with a hidden gem -- that would be a potential tango with North Carolina in Maui. But only if the Golden Eagles get past Butler, no easy task. Even without that, though, Buzz Williams has set his team up nicely, with not just some big names but a good mix of contrasting styles -- from uptempo Florida to no-tempo Wisconsin. You can even forgive Marquette for its dose of supposed ‘easy’ games. There's enough heft here, including that opener against the Buckeyes, to excuse any number of softies.

NOTRE DAME

Toughest: CVC Classic (Nov. 16-17 in Brooklyn, N.Y.), Kentucky (Nov. 29)
Next-toughest: vs. Purdue (Dec. 15 in Indianapolis)
The rest: Evansville (Nov. 10), Monmouth (Nov. 12), George Washington (Nov. 21), St. Francis-Pa. (Nov. 24), Chicago State (Nov. 26), Brown (Dec. 8), IPFW (Dec. 17), Kennesaw State (Dec. 19), Niagara (Dec. 21)
Toughness scale: 5 -- It’s not awful -- and it could get better, with Florida State perhaps waiting in the wings in Brooklyn (ND opens with A-10 favorite St. Joe's there) -- but this isn’t exactly the same as the Irish’s football schedule. Yes, Kentucky coming to town for the SEC/Big East Challenge is a great feather in the cap, but there are too many teams here that aren’t guaranteed NCAA tournament selections to get hyped up about.

PITTSBURGH

Toughest: NIT Season Tip-Off (Nov. 12-23)
Next-toughest: Detroit (Dec. 1)
The rest: Mount St. Mary’s (Nov. 9), Fordham (Nov. 12), Oakland (Nov. 17), Howard (Nov. 27), vs. Duquesne (Dec. 5 at Consol Energy Center), North Florida (Dec. 8), Bethune Cookman (Dec. 15), Delaware State (Dec. 19), Kennesaw State (Dec. 23)
Toughness scale: 3 -- Yikes. This is a whole lotta meh for the Panthers. The NIT will help. Assuming they beat Fordham and/or Robert Morris or Lehigh (the latter of which won't be easy), a trip to MSG will likely produce a matchup with Michigan and either Virginia or Kansas State. The rest is pretty grim, but then again so was Pitt last season. It might be not be a bad way to go about the season.

PROVIDENCE

Toughest: Puerto Rico Tip-Off (Nov. 15-18)
Next-toughest: Mississippi State (Dec. 1), at Boston College (Dec. 22)
The rest: NJIT (Nov. 10), Bryant (Nov. 12), Fairfield (Nov. 23), Holy Cross (Nov. 27), Rhode Island (Dec. 6), Colgate (Dec. 18), at Brown (Dec. 28)
Toughness scale: 2 -- You almost can’t fault the Friars here. It’s not their fault New England basketball is a mess. If it weren’t, games against Rhode Island and BC would have some heft. But truth be told, Ed Cooley ought to be sighing in relief here. Without heralded freshman Ricardo Ledo, Providence needs a little more time to build, and this schedule ought to allow for that. There might be some meat in San Juan with an opener against UMass and Tennessee and NC State in the field. But there's not much else to see here.

RUTGERS

Toughest: at Ole Miss (Dec. 1)
Next-toughest: at Princeton (Nov. 16), vs. Iona (Dec. 8 in NYC)
The rest: St. Peter’s (Nov. 9), Sacred Heart (Nov. 12), Boston U (Nov. 20), UNC Greensboro (Nov. 25), George Washington (Dec. 11), UAB (Dec. 16), Rider (Dec. 28)
Toughness scale: 1 -- When the toughest games you have are against the Ivy League and a middle-of-the-pack SEC contender (which was scheduled for them), there just isn’t much to crow about. This is a schedule built to get Rutgers wins but not much else.

ST. JOHN’S

Toughest: Charleston Classic (Nov. 15-18)
Next-toughest: Detroit (Nov. 13), South Carolina (Nov. 29)
The rest: Holy Cross (Nov. 21), Florida Gulf Coast (Nov. 24), NJIT (Dec. 1), at San Francisco (Dec. 4), Fordham (Dec. 8), vs. St. Francis-NY (Dec. 15 in Brooklyn, N.Y.), UNC Asheville (Dec. 21)
Toughness scale: 4 -- The Red Storm could get a bump in Charleston, where they open with the home-team Cougars and could draw Murray State in the second round and maybe Baylor or Colorado down the road. So that’s not awful. But otherwise Steve Lavin has a manageable -- if not entirely easy -- reentry into his coaching career, as does his young roster.

SETON HALL

Toughest: Hall of Fame Tipoff Classic (Nov. 17-18 in Uncasville, Conn.)
Next-toughest: at LSU (Nov. 29), at Wake Forest (Dec. 8), vs. LIU-Brooklyn (Dec. 22 in Brooklyn, N.Y.)
The rest: UMKC (Nov. 9), Norfolk State (Nov. 12), Maine (Nov. 21), St. Peter’s (Nov. 25), NJIT (Dec. 4), North Carolina A&T (Dec. 15), Longwood (Dec. 19), Stony Brook (Dec. 28)
Toughness scale: 3 -- This could get better if the Pirates play Ohio State at Mohegan Sun (that would require a win over Washington) and would have been better if Wake Forest was what Wake Forest used to be. But going by the "play the hand you’re dealt" adage, Seton Hall is holding a pair of 3s at best.

SOUTH FLORIDA

Toughest: at Oklahoma State (Dec. 5)
Next-toughest: UCF (Nov. 10), George Mason (Dec. 29), at UCF (Jan. 2)
The rest: Maryland-Eastern Shore (Nov. 16), Loyola-Chicago (Nov. 17), Western Michigan (Nov. 18), Bradley (Nov. 20), at Stetson (Nov. 26), Youngstown State (Dec. 18), Bowling Green (Dec. 21)
Toughness scale: 3 -- The Bulls had to fight and pray to make it into the NCAA tournament a season ago, a serious bubble team until the Big East tournament. This schedule won’t do much to make March easier should USF be successful again. There’s just enough here to turn the committee’s head, so it will be up to the Big East slate to make South Florida viable.

SYRACUSE

Toughest: vs. San Diego State (Nov. 9 at Battle of the Midway), vs. Temple (Dec. 22 in NYC)
Next-toughest: Princeton (Nov. 21), at Arkansas (Nov. 30), Long Beach State (Dec. 6), Detroit (Dec. 17)
The rest: Wagner (Nov. 18), Colgate (Nov. 25), Eastern Michigan (Dec. 3), Monmouth (Dec. 8), Canisius (Dec. 15), Alcorn State (Dec. 29), Central Connecticut State (Dec. 31)
Toughness scale: 6 -- I’m done with arguing the merits of Jim Boeheim’s schedule because he always wins. He wins games, lots of them, and he wins the argument, quieting the scheduling critics (present company included) with deep March runs. This isn’t awful, but it’s not saliva-inducing wonderful either. So what? It will work. Just watch.

VILLANOVA

Toughest: 2K Sports Classic (Nov. 15-16), Temple (Dec. 5)
Next-toughest: Marshall (Nov. 11), at Vanderbilt (Dec. 1), Saint Joseph’s (Dec. 11)
The rest: Columbia (Nov. 20), at La Salle (Nov. 25), at Penn (Dec. 8), Delaware (Dec. 16), at Monmouth (Dec. 22), NJIT (Dec. 28)
Toughness scale: 4 -- The 2K Sports Classic, with Purdue as the opener and either Alabama and Oregon State in the second game, raises the bar slightly and the chronically hard-to-win Big 5 games help, too, especially now that some of those teams have life again. But this is by no means the most menacing schedule Jay Wright has ever concocted for his team. Which might be wise. The Wildcats, remember, were not exactly the most menacing team a season ago.

Nonconference schedule analysis: MVC

October, 11, 2012
10/11/12
2:10
PM CT
This week, ESPN.com is breaking down the nonconference schedules of each and every team in a dozen of the nation's top leagues. On Monday, we began in the South with the ACC, SEC and C-USA. On Tuesday, we focused on the East with the A-10, Big East and CAA. Wednesday was all about the West with the Mountain West, Pac-12 and WCC. Today we focus on the Midwest with the Big Ten, Big 12, Missouri Valley and the best of the rest.

BRADLEY

Toughest: at South Florida (Nov. 20), Michigan (Dec. 1), Las Vegas Classic (Dec. 22-23)
Next-toughest: George Washington (Dec. 4)
The rest: Eastern Illinois (Nov. 9), Texas-Pan American (Nov. 12), at IUPUI (Nov. 17), Tennessee-Martin (Nov. 24), at Central Michigan (Nov. 28)
Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- Considering it went 7-25 last season, Bradley certainly could’ve scheduled easier. South Florida will contend for a second-straight NCAA tournament berth and Michigan is a preseason top-10 team. The Braves will face Virginia Tech and either Colorado State or Portland in Vegas. George Washington won only 10 games a year ago but returns four starters.

CREIGHTON

Toughest: Las Vegas Invitational (Nov. 23-24), at Cal (Dec. 15), BracketBusters (TBA)
Next-toughest: North Texas (Nov. 9), Saint Joseph’s (Dec. 1), Akron (Dec. 9)
The rest: Presbyterian (Nov. 18), Longwood (Nov. 20), Boise State (Nov. 28), at Nebraska (Dec. 6), Tulsa (Dec. 19)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- Although it’s not as soft as last year’s, the Bluejays’ nonconference schedule is a bit underwhelming for a top-15-caliber team. They’ll be challenged by Wisconsin and either Arkansas or Arizona State in Las Vegas, and a trip to Cal won’t be easy. North Texas, Saint Joseph’s and Akron all will pose threats in Omaha and will help the RPI. But Creighton’s best nonconference game may be its BracketBusters showdown with a to-be-determined opponent in late February.

DRAKE

Toughest: DIRECTV Classic (Nov. 22-25), at Nevada (Nov. 30), Saint Mary’s (Dec. 5), vs. Iowa State (Dec. 15 in Des Moines)
Next-toughest: at Detroit (Nov. 17), BracketBusters (TBA)
The rest: William Jewell (Nov. 10), IPFW (Dec. 8), North Carolina Central (Dec. 19), Eastern Illinois (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- Kudos to coach Mark Phelps for building one of the conference’s most challenging nonconference schedules. The Bulldogs travel to Horizon League favorite Detroit and will then face Cal and then either Georgia Tech or Rice in Anaheim. Nevada and Saint Mary’s are stiff tests from out West. The schedule could play huge dividends for Drake in MVC play.

EVANSVILLE

Toughest: at Notre Dame (Dec. 10), at Colorado State (Dec. 1), Murray State (Dec. 8), at Butler (Dec. 22)
Next-toughest: Coaches vs. Cancer Classic (Nov. 15-17), at Tennessee Tech (Nov. 20)
The rest: Alabama A&M (Nov. 26), Miami-Ohio (Dec. 5), Alabama State (Dec. 15), Oakland City (Dec. 18)
Toughness scale (1-10): 9 -- After opening on the road at Notre Dame -- an upper-echelon Big East team -- the Purple Aces play three straight home games in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. But that doesn’t mean the wins will come easy. Buffalo, Yale and Western Illinois all return three starters from winning teams. Colorado State, Butler and Murray State will all contend for NCAA tournament bids. This schedule gives an improving Evansville program a chance to take that “next step.”

ILLINOIS STATE

Toughest: at Drexel (Nov. 15), at Louisville (Dec. 1), at Dayton (Dec. 19)
Next-toughest: UC Santa Barbara (Nov. 12), South Padre Island Invitational (Nov. 23-24), Wyoming (Dec. 4)
The rest: Delaware State (Nov. 18), Fairleigh Dickinson (Nov. 20), Western Michigan (Dec. 8), Morgan State (Dec. 16), Austin Peay (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- For a fringe top-25 team hoping to earn its first NCAA berth since 1998, this is a relatively weak nonconference schedule. Louisville is an NCAA title contender, Drexel returns four starters from a 29-7 team and Dayton is a tough place to play. Otherwise, there are no marquee matchups on the slate. The South Padre Island Field is weak with UAB, TCU and Northwestern.

INDIANA STATE

Toughest: at UCLA (Nov. 9), New Mexico (Dec. 1), Diamond Head Classic (Dec. 22-25 in Honolulu)
Next-toughest: at Ball State (Nov. 2), BracketBusters (TBA)
The rest: Winthrop (Nov. 13), Truman State (Nov. 17), High Point (Nov. 25), at Morehead State (Dec. 8), IUPUI (Dec. 15)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- This slate provides plenty of challenges for a program that lost four starters from an 18-15 team. Opening on the road against UCLA looks to be an insurmountable feat, but the experience will pay off in the long run. The Sycamores will also faced a much-improved Ole Miss squad in the Diamond Head Classic, which also features San Diego State, Arizona and Miami.

MISSOURI STATE

Toughest: San Diego State (Nov. 17), at Oklahoma State (Dec. 8)
Next-toughest: Hoops for Hope Challenge (Nov. 24-25 in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico), Oral Roberts (Dec. 1), Valparaiso (Dec. 15), at New Mexico State (Dec. 22)
The rest: Philander Smith (Nov. 9), Jacksonville (Nov. 19), Alcorn State (Nov. 21), at Tulsa (Dec. 5), at Alabama A&M (Dec. 18)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- The Bears will have plenty of chances to impress the NCAA tournament selection committee with this slate. The problem is that Missouri State will be loaded with new faces, making victories against postseason contenders such as San Diego State and Oklahoma State seem unlikely. A championship in the Hoops for Hope Challenge (where the Bears open against rebuilding South Carolina) would provide a nice confidence boost.

NORTHERN IOWA

Toughest: Battle 4 Atlantis (Nov. 22-24), at UNLV (Dec. 19), Saint Mary’s (Dec. 22)
Next-toughest: at George Mason (Dec. 8), vs. Iowa (Dec. 15 in Des Moines)
The rest: Wartburg (Nov. 10), Toledo (Nov. 14), North Dakota (Nov. 17), Milwaukee (Dec. 1), Northern Colorado (Dec. 5)
Toughness scale (1-10): 9 -- The Panthers open play against Final Four favorite Louisville in the Battle 4 Atlantis, one of the most loaded tournaments in recent memory. Duke, Memphis, Missouri and Stanford are also in the field. UNLV will almost certainly be ranked in the preseason top 25, and Saint Mary’s -- last year’s WCC champion -- features one of the nation’s top point guards in Matthew Dellavedova. Iowa and George Mason will both contend for NCAA bids. What a schedule.

SOUTHERN ILLINOIS

Toughest: at Saint Louis (Nov. 24), at Western Kentucky (Dec. 5), World Vision Classic (Dec. 20-22 in Logan, Utah)
Next-toughest: Fresno State (Nov. 28), at Green Bay (Dec. 14), BracketBusters
The rest: at New Orleans (Nov. 12), Benedictine-Springfield (Nov. 17), at SIU (Nov. 20)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- Other than Saint Louis, Barry Hinson won’t play many top-25 caliber teams in his first season at Southern Illinois. But the Salukis won’t face many patsies, either. One of the most difficult tests probably will come three days before Christmas, when Hinson’s squad squares off against host Utah State in the World Vision Classic.

WICHITA STATE

Toughest: at VCU (Nov. 13), at Tennessee (Dec. 13)
Next-toughest: Cancun Challenge (Nov. 20-21), vs. Southern Miss (at INTRUST Bank Arena in Wichita), BracketBusters
The rest: NC Central (Nov. 10), Western Carolina (Nov. 15), Howard (Nov. 17), Tulsa (Nov. 28), at Air Force (Dec. 2), Northern Colorado (Dec. 8), Charleston Southern (Dec. 20)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- Victories at VCU or Tennessee could go a long way toward enhancing the Shockers’ NCAA tournament résumé, but there isn’t too much to get excited about on the rest of the slate. It’s a shame Wichita State couldn’t schedule at least one marquee opponent to play at home. To be fair, teams from major conferences probably aren’t too eager to face Gregg Marshall’s squad on the road. Koch Arena is an incredibly difficult place to play, especially when the Shockers are on a roll, which they have been in recent years.

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