- Robbi Pickeral, College Basketball
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For the next four days, ESPN.com will be breaking down the nonconference schedules of each and every team in a dozen of the nation's top leagues. Let's begin with the ACC ...
Toughest: Charleston Classic (Nov. 15-18), Harvard (Dec. 4)
The rest: Florida International (Nov. 11), Auburn (Nov. 21), Bryant (Nov. 25), Penn State (Nov. 28), St. Francis-N.Y. (Dec. 8), New Hampshire (Dec. 16), Providence (Dec. 22), Holy Cross (Dec. 29), Dartmouth (Dec. 31)
Toughness scale (1-10): 3 -- The Eagles open the Charleston Classic against Baylor, with their second game against Dayton or Colorado. But except for Harvard -- no longer a shoo-in for the Ivy League title, after losing its two co-captains for the season -- there aren’t a whole lot of headliners in this bunch. You can’t really blame coach Steve Donahue for trying to take it easy on his team. Last year’s bevy of freshmen are now more experienced sophomores, but the squad is still growing and rebuilding.
Toughest: Old Spice Classic (Nov. 22-25 in Orlando, Fla.), Arizona (Dec. 8)
Next-toughest: Purdue (Nov. 28), at South Carolina (Dec. 2), at Coastal Carolina (Dec. 19)
The rest: Presbyterian (Nov. 12), at Furman (Nov. 16), Florida A&M (Dec. 15), South Carolina State (Dec. 23), The Citadel (Jan. 1)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- Even before hosting Purdue (in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge) and Arizona at home, the Tigers open up the Old Spice Classic against Gonzaga, a preseason Top 25 lock that is expected to make a 15th straight trip to the NCAA tournament this season. These will all be interesting challenges for Clemson, which lost its top two scorers. The Gamecocks are probably headed for the lower part of the SEC standings, but it'll still be important for Brad Brownell to knock off Frank Martin in their first rivalry matchup.
Toughest: vs. Kentucky (Nov. 13 in Atlanta), Battle 4 Atlantis (Nov. 22-24), Ohio State (Nov. 28)
Next-toughest: Delaware (Dec. 1), Temple (Dec. 8 in East Rutherford, N.J.), vs. Davidson (Jan. 2 in Charlotte)
The rest: Georgia State (Nov. 9), Florida Gulf Coast (Nov. 18), Cornell (Dec. 19), Elon (Dec. 20), Santa Clara (Dec. 29)
Toughness scale (1-10): 9 -- Coach Mike Krzyzewski does not want another early exit from the NCAA tournament, and he’s preparing his team early with a grueling mix of Final Four contenders and mid-major talent. Kentucky (Champions Classic) and Ohio State (ACC/Big Ten Challenge) will be two early measuring sticks, and they sandwich in a challenging trip to the Bahamas, where the Blue Devils open against Minnesota, and then face either Memphis or VCU in a stacked tourney that could very well end up placing all eight participants in the Big Dance.
Toughest: Coaches vs. Cancer (Nov. 16-17 in Brooklyn), Minnesota (Nov. 27), Florida (Dec. 5)
Next-toughest: Mercer (Dec. 2), at Auburn (Jan. 2)
The rest: South Alabama (Nov. 9), Buffalo (Nov. 12), North Florida (Nov. 21), Maine (Dec. 9), Louisiana-Monroe (Dec. 17), at Charlotte (Dec. 22), vs. Tulsa in Sunrise, Fla. (Dec. 29)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- The Seminoles struggled during their nonconference slate last season before turning things around to win their first ACC tournament title. And it will be interesting to see how this team, which features ACC Player of the Year candidate Michael Snaer, will fare. Minnesota and Florida should provide some Top 25-caliber tests, and Mercer will be the heavy favorite to win the Atlantic Sun title. The Noles also have a game against BYU in the Coaches vs. Cancer event, and will face either Notre Dame or Saint Joseph’s after that.
Toughest: Anaheim Classic (Nov. 22-25), at Illinois (Nov. 28)
Next-toughest: Georgia (Dec. 4)
The rest: Tulane (Nov. 9), Presbyterian (Nov. 16), UNC Wilmington (Dec. 8), Alabama State (Dec. 17), The Citadel (Dec. 22), Fordham (Dec. 29), Chattanooga (Jan. 2)
Toughness scale (1-10): 3 -- After living a nomadic existence last season as Alexander Memorial Coliseum was reconstructed into the new McCamish Pavilion, at least the Yellow Jackets this season will have a real home. Coach Brian Gregory is still in rebuilding mode, and that shows by a nonconference schedule that should, at least, help produce some confidence-building wins. The Jackets open with decimated Rice in the Anaheim Classic and will face either Cal or Drake in the second round.
Toughest: vs. Kentucky (Nov. 9 in Brooklyn)
Next-toughest: LIU-Brooklyn (Nov. 16), at Northwestern (Nov. 27), George Mason (Dec. 2 in Washington, D.C.), Stony Brook (Dec. 21)
The rest: Morehead State (Nov. 12), Lafayette (Nov. 20), Georgia Southern (Nov. 24), Maryland-Eastern Shore (Dec. 5), South Carolina State (Dec. 8), Monmouth (Dec. 12), Delaware State (Dec. 29), IUPUI (Jan. 1)
Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- The Terps open the season in a big way -- against the defending national champs in the inaugural Barclays Center Classic -- but the pickings are a little slim after that. LIU-Brooklyn, George Mason, Stony Brook and Delaware State are all contenders for their various conference crowns and Northwestern is decent, but this is not exactly murderers' row. With ACC leading scorer Terrell Stoglin gone, coach Mark Turgeon will use these games to try to develop a more well-rounded offense from his team.
Toughest: Michigan State (Nov. 28), at Massachusetts (Dec. 1), Diamond Head Classic (Dec. 22-25)
Next-toughest: Detroit (Nov. 24), at UCF (Dec. 18), La Salle (Jan. 2)
The rest: Stetson (Nov. 9), at Florida Gulf Coast (Nov. 13), Jacksonville (Nov. 24), Charlotte (Dec. 14)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- The Hurricanes are loaded with talent, but it’s still a good thing they’ll have guard Durand Scott (suspended for the first three games of the season) back in time to face some of the toughies -- including Michigan State and Detroit, which is led by former McDonald’s All-American Ray McCallum Jr. Miami opens with home team Hawaii at the Diamond Head Classic, and could face Arizona the next day. Ole Miss and San Diego State are the other top teams in that tournament. UMass and La Salle are sleeper NCAA tourney candidates out of the A-10.
Toughest: Maui Invitational (Nov. 19-21), at Indiana (Nov. 27), at Texas (Dec. 19), UNLV (Dec. 29)
Next-toughest: at Long Beach State (Nov. 16)
The rest: Gardner-Webb (Nov. 9), Florida Atlantic (Nov. 11), UAB (Dec. 1), ETSU (Dec. 8), East Carolina (Dec. 15), McNeese State (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- Unlike past seasons, there is no Kentucky on this schedule. But games at NCAA title favorite Indiana and against UNLV (which beat the top-ranked Tar Heels last season) could pose some early angst for a team that lost four starters to the NBA draft. Roy Williams’ squad could also face young-but-talented Texas twice in the span of a month, if they meet in the title game of the Maui Invitational. UNC opens there against rebuilding Mississippi State, then faces a stern test from either Butler or Marquette.
Toughest: at Michigan (Nov. 27), vs. Connecticut (Dec. 4 in New York), Stanford (Dec. 18)
Next-toughest: Puerto Rico Tip-Off (Nov. 15-18), UNC Greensboro (Dec. 31)
The rest: Miami-Ohio (Nov. 11), UNC Asheville (Nov. 23), Cleveland State (Dec. 8), Norfolk State (Dec. 15), St. Bonaventure (Dec. 22), Western Michigan (Dec. 29).
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- The Wolfpack are going to be a favorite to win the ACC, and coach Mark Gottfried has put together a good schedule to prepare his talent-loaded team for the rigors of league play. The Michigan game in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge will be NC State’s marquee nonconference matchup, but UConn will pose a challenge, Stanford is hoping to build off its run to the postseason NIT title and UNC Asheville and UNC Greensboro are solid in-state mid-majors. NC State opens with Penn State in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, and will get Providence or UMass in the second game. Tennessee or Oklahoma State possibly loom in the title game.
Toughest: NIT Season Tip-Off (Nov. 12-23), at Wisconsin (Nov. 28), Tennessee (Dec. 5)
Next-toughest: at George Mason (Nov. 9), Old Dominion (Dec. 22)
The rest: Fairfield (Nov. 12), Green Bay (Dec. 1), Mississippi Valley State (Dec. 8), Morgan State (Dec. 19), Wofford (Dec. 30)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- The Cavaliers' scoring ability sans Mike Scott will be tested early with challenging games against the Badgers and Volunteers, and even against a couple of CAA mid-major teams in George Mason and ODU that consistently post 20-win seasons. The Cavs open the NIT Season-Tip Off with games against Fairfield and Delaware or Penn at home, and they also have Kansas State on their side of the bracket. Michigan is the top seed in that tournament, so how tough this schedule ultimately becomes depends on how well UVa does in that tournament.
Toughest: Iowa (Nov. 27), Oklahoma State (Dec. 1), at West Virginia (Dec. 8), BYU (Dec. 29)
Next-toughest: at UNC Greensboro (Nov. 19), Las Vegas Classic (Dec. 22-23)
The rest: ETSU (Nov. 10), Rhode Island (Nov. 12), VMI (Nov. 15), Appalachian State (Nov. 23), Mississippi Valley State (Dec. 10), Georgia Southern (Dec. 15)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- First-year coach James Johnson already had his work cut out for him, with only eight scholarship players. This schedule doesn’t make things much easier. While there aren’t any top-10 teams in the mix, there are several NCAA-caliber squads that will test the Hokies' depth and measure their rebuilding efforts. They will play Bradley at the Las Vegas Classic, then Colorado State or Portland the next day.
Toughest: Paradise Jam (Nov. 16-19)
Next-toughest: Nebraska (Nov. 27), at Richmond (Dec. 1), Seton Hall (Dec. 8), UNC Greensboro (Dec. 22), Xavier (Jan. 2)
The rest: Radford (Nov. 9), William & Mary (Nov. 23), High Point (Dec. 5), Furman (Dec. 18)
Toughness scale (1-10): 4 -- Let’s face it: The Demon Deacons are still in rebuilding mode, and so is their nonconference schedule. Wake will play UConn in the first game of the Paradise Jam, then Iona or Quinnipiac in the second. The Deacs need to win some early games, because with freshmen contributing at key positions, victories will likely be hard to come by come ACC play.