Nonconference schedule analysis: SEC

October, 4, 2011
10/04/11
12:30
PM ET
For the rest of the week, ESPN.com will be breaking down the nonconference schedules of each and every team in a dozen different leagues. We began with the ACC and will continue later today with Conference USA. For now, the SEC ...

ALABAMA

Toughest: Puerto Rico Tip-Off (Nov. 17-20), Georgetown (Dec. 1), vs. Kansas State in Kansas City (Dec. 17), vs. Oklahoma State in Birmingham (Dec. 21)
Next-toughest: Oakland (Nov. 14), VCU (Nov. 27), at Dayton (Dec. 7), Detroit (Dec. 11), at Georgia Tech (Jan. 3)
The rest: North Florida (Nov. 11), Alabama A&M (Nov. 23), Jacksonville (Dec. 29)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- Anthony Grant puts his team in a great position for a big year with this schedule. The Crimson Tide shouldn't be on the bubble, but unlike last season, if they are then it won't be because of a cushy nonconference slate. There are more quality opponents than cupcakes, and yet there is not a team the Tide is overmatched against. It all starts in Puerto Rico, where Alabama opens with Maryland and then either MVC co-favorite Wichita State or Colorado. A potential matchup with Purdue or Temple could await in the final.

ARKANSAS

Toughest: at Connecticut (Dec. 3), Michigan (Jan. 21)
Next-toughest: Oakland (Nov. 16), at Oklahoma (Dec. 10)
The rest: USC Upstate (Nov. 11), vs. Houston in Little Rock (Nov. 18), Utah Valley (Nov. 22), Grambling State (Nov. 26), Mississippi Valley State (Nov. 30), Southeastern Louisiana (Dec. 17), Eastern Kentucky (Dec. 20), Louisiana Tech (Dec. 22), Charlotte (Dec. 28), Texas Southern (Dec. 30), Savannah State (Jan. 3)
Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- Mike Anderson hopes to bring excitement back to Fayetteville, and it helped that he was able to schedule another program with a championship legacy in Michigan for a game after the start of SEC play. By then, the Razorbacks should have had time to learn a new system and gotten thrown into the fire at defending champion UConn.

AUBURN

Toughest: Diamond Head Classic (Dec. 22-25), at Florida State (Jan. 4)
Next-toughest: at Seton Hall (Dec. 2), South Florida (Dec. 14)
The rest: McNeese State (Nov. 11), Kennesaw State (Nov. 14), Nicholls State (Nov. 25), Arkansas-Pine Bluff (Nov. 28), North Florida (Dec. 17), Florida A&M (Dec. 19), Georgia Southern (Dec. 30), Bethune-Cookman (Jan. 2)
Toughness scale (1-10): 2 -- The Tigers will play Hawaii and either Xavier or Long Beach State in the first two days of the Diamond Head Classic, but the challenging games are few and far between, which is probably a good things for a rebuilding AU program. The two Big East opponents are expected to finish in the bottom third of the league and FSU will be no doubt looking for revenge after being stunned by the Tigers last season.

FLORIDA

Toughest: at Ohio State (Nov. 15), at Syracuse (Dec. 2), Arizona (Dec. 7), vs. Texas A&M in Sunrise, Fla. (Dec. 17), Florida State (Dec. 22)
Next-toughest: vs. Rider in Jacksonville (Dec. 9), at Rutgers (Dec. 29), UAB (Jan. 3)
The rest: Jackson State (Nov. 11), North Florida (Nov. 17), vs. Wright State in Tampa (Nov. 21), Jacksonville (Nov. 25), vs. Stetson in Orlando (Nov. 28), Mississippi Valley State (Dec. 19), Yale (Dec. 31)
Toughness scale (1-10): 10 -- It's hard to give this schedule anything but a 10 isn't it? Billy Donovan is challenging his team in a big way, with Florida having road games against probable top-five teams in Ohio State and Syracuse to start the season. Like the Gators, Arizona, FSU and future SEC foe Texas A&M are teams with a chance to do something special this season. That’s quite a collection of teams from across the country for the defending SEC champs to play against.

GEORGIA

Toughest: CBE Classic (Nov. 21-22), at Xavier (Nov. 25), Cincinnati (Dec. 2)
Next-toughest: at Colorado (Nov. 28), Georgia Tech (Dec. 7), at USC (Dec. 17)
The rest: Wofford (Nov. 11), Bowling Green (Nov. 13), South Dakota State (Nov. 16), Mercer (Dec. 20), Furman (Dec. 23), Winthrop (Dec. 27), Delaware State (Dec. 30)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- The CBE Classic gives the Bulldogs an opportunity to measure themselves in Kansas City against a veteran Cal team and then either Missouri or Notre Dame. It won’t be easy to pick up road wins against Top-25 Xavier or across the country at USC. Cincinnati is another ranked team and playing in the thin air of Boulder will be a challenge. This schedule gets it done. Will the Dawgs survive?

KENTUCKY

Toughest: vs. Kansas in NYC (Nov. 15), North Carolina (Dec. 3), Louisville (Dec. 31)
Next-toughest: Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off (Nov. 19-20), St. John’s (Dec. 1), at Indiana (Dec. 10)
The rest: Marist (Nov. 11), Radford (Nov. 23), Portland (Nov. 26), Chattanooga (Dec. 17), Samford (Dec. 20), Loyola-Md. (Dec. 22), Lamar (Dec. 28), vs. Arkansas-Little Rock in Louisville (Jan. 3)
Toughness scale (1-10): 9 -- The UNC and Louisville games at Rupp will be a pair of marquee matchups that should get college basketball fans everywhere excited. The Champions Classic matchup with fellow blue blood Kansas is a headliner at the Garden, and a visit to Assembly Hall to play a rising Indiana team should be intriguing. The Wildcats get Penn State and either Old Dominion or South Florida at the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut and also play a St. John’s team loaded with talented freshmen.

LSU

Toughest: Marquette (Dec. 19), Virginia (Jan. 2)
Next-toughest: Charleston Classic (Nov. 17-20), at Rutgers (Dec. 3), at North Texas (Dec. 22)
The rest: Nicholls State (Nov. 12), at Coastal Carolina (Nov. 15), South Alabama (Nov. 23), at Houston (Nov. 29), Boise State (Dec. 10), UC Irvine (Dec. 15), Grambling (Dec. 29)
Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- The Marquette and Virginia games are at home and give the Tigers a prime opportunity to prove they can bounce back after two straight disastrous seasons. At the Charleston Classic, LSU plays Northwestern and then either Tulsa or Western Kentucky. (Either VCU, Seton Hall, Georgia Tech or St. Joe's will be the third opponent.) Road tests against Rutgers and North Texas are tricky-but-winnable games. This schedule gives Trent Johnson’s team a reasonable chance to rack up wins, and for a program coming off consecutive 11-wins seasons, it needs them to build confidence.

MISSISSIPPI STATE

Toughest: 2K Sports Classic (Nov. 17-18), West Virginia (Dec. 3), vs. Baylor in Dallas (Dec. 28)
Next-toughest: North Texas (Nov. 27), at Detroit (Dec. 17), Utah State (Dec. 31)
The rest: Eastern Kentucky (Nov. 7), Akron (Nov. 9), South Alabama (Nov. 12), Louisiana-Monroe (Nov. 21), Tennessee-Martin (Nov. 25), Troy (Dec. 10), Florida Atlantic (Dec. 13), vs. Northwestern State in Jackson (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- The Bulldogs’ hectic schedule backfired last season while this year’s is set up to give them a chance to shine. The 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer features an opener against Texas A&M and then either Arizona or St. John’s at Madison Square Garden. There's a home game against Bob Huggins' crew, a neutral-site game against Baylor, which many consider the Big 12 favorite, and chance to go against sleeper teams Detroit on the road and Utah State at home. Now Rick Stansbury’s team just has to come through.

OLE MISS

Toughest: Paradise Jam (Nov. 18-22), Miami (Nov. 25)
Next-toughest: at Penn State (Dec. 4), at Southern Miss (Dec. 17), at Dayton (Dec. 30)
The rest: Louisiana-Monroe (Nov. 11), Grambling (Nov. 14), at DePaul (Dec. 1), Mississippi Valley State (Dec. 10), Louisiana-Lafayette (Dec. 14), vs. Middle Tennessee in Southaven, Miss. (Dec. 21), SMU (Jan. 3)
Toughness scale (1-10): 3 -- There’s not much to get excited about here. At the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands, the Rebels open with Drake and then play either Marquette or Winthrop. Virginia and Drexel are among the teams on the other side. There are road games against Penn State, Southern Miss and Dayton, but all three of those teams are rebuilding. A trip to Chicago to take on DePaul at least gets Ole Miss to a destination city.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Toughest: Las Vegas Invitational (Nov. 25-26), at Clemson (Dec. 4), Ohio State (Dec. 17)
Next-toughest: Providence (Dec. 1)
The rest: Western Carolina (Nov. 11), at Elon (Nov. 15), Tennessee State (Nov. 20), Mississippi Valley State (Nov. 22), Presbyterian (Dec. 13), Southeastern Louisiana (Dec. 21), Wofford (Dec. 28), USC Upstate (Dec. 31), South Carolina State (Jan. 3)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- South Carolina has difficult matchups against two of the top teams in the nation when it goes up against North Carolina in Las Vegas and hosts Ohio State. But outside of that second game in Las Vegas against either UNLV or USC, the only other time the Gamecocks leave the state is by traveling to Elon. It doesn’t help, though, that leading scorer Bruce Ellington is expected to miss most of the nonconference schedule while playing football.

TENNESSEE

Toughest: Maui Invitational (Nov. 21-23), Pittsburgh (Dec. 3), at Memphis (Jan. 4), Connecticut (Jan. 21)
Next-toughest: at Oakland (Nov. 28), at Charleston (Dec. 14)
The rest: UNC Greensboro (Nov. 11), Louisiana-Monroe (Nov. 16), Austin Peay (Dec. 10), UNC Asheville (Dec. 20), East Tennessee State (Dec. 23), The Citadel (Dec. 29), Chattanooga (Jan. 2)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- Bruce Pearl always put together some of the toughest nonconference schedules in the country and things will be no different for the Vols in the first year of Cuonzo Martin. But are the Volunteers up to the task in a rebuilding year? They get defending national champion UConn and Big East powerhouse Pitt at home. At a stacked Maui Invitational, Tennessee gets none other than Duke in the opening game, followed by either Michigan or Memphis, a young and talented team that the Vols also have to play on the road in early January.

VANDERBILT

Toughest: Oregon (Nov. 11), Legends Classic (Nov. 19, 21), Xavier (Nov. 28), at Louisville (Dec. 2), at Marquette (Dec. 29)
Next-toughest: Cleveland State (Nov. 13), Bucknell (Nov. 15), Indiana State (Dec. 17)
The rest: Monmouth (Nov. 25), at Davidson (Dec. 7), Longwood (Dec. 19), Lafayette (Dec. 21), Miami-Ohio (Jan. 2), Middle Tennessee (Jan. 28)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- This schedule should prepare Vanderbilt for SEC and postseason play while also setting up Kevin Stallings’ team for favorable NCAA tournament seeding. The Commodores have road games against Big East contenders Louisville and Marquette. They host A-10 favorite Xavier and Pac-12 sleeper Oregon. At the Legends Classic in New Jersey, they play North Carolina State and either Texas or Oregon State. Even mid-major opponents Cleveland State, Bucknell and Indiana State are coming off either NCAA or NIT appearances.

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