- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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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. We began with the ACC and will continue later today with the SEC. For now, Conference USA ...
Toughest: at North Carolina (Dec. 15), at Massachusetts (Dec. 22)
Next-toughest: at Charlotte (Dec. 1), at Georgia State (Nov. 26)
The rest: Washington & Lee (Nov. 10), Methodist (Nov. 13), UNC Greensboro (Nov. 16), Appalachian State (Nov. 20), St. Andrews (Dec. 4), Gardner-Webb (Dec. 18), Norfolk State (Dec. 29), Campbell (Jan. 2), North Carolina Wesleyan (Jan. 1)
Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- East Carolina is hardly a hoops hotbed; rather, it's a program very much rebuilding under third-year coach Jeff Lebo. So I'll give Lebo credit for taking a very much rebuilding program on the road, where it is sure to take lumps against UNC and a good UMass team, and could struggle at Charlotte and Georgia State. The home schedule is downright awful and includes several non-Division I opponents, but you have to pile up wins somewhere.
Toughest: Texas A&M (Dec. 1)
Next-toughest: at TCU (Dec. 4)
The rest: Florida A&M (Nov. 9), at San Jose State (Nov. 13), Grambling State (Nov. 17), Louisiana College (Nov. 19), at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (Nov. 25), at Prairie View A&M (Nov. 28), Texas Southern (Dec. 8), Louisiana-Lafayette (Dec. 15), Chicago State (Dec. 22), Prairie View A&M (Dec. 29), Texas Pan-American (Dec. 3)
Toughness scale (1-10): 2 -- Thanks to some high-end recruiting (Danuel House and Danrad "Chicken" Knowles, although the latter is a partial qualifier and won't play until next season), Houston is on the right path and could make a little noise this season. But thanks to a schedule that is almost entirely composed of Division I bottom-feeders (save for Texas A&M and a game at TCU), the nonconference win total won't tell us much.
Toughest: at Villanova (Nov. 11), vs. West Virginia (Dec. 5 in Charleston, W.Va.), vs. Cincinnati (Dec. 15 in Charleston, W.Va.), at Kentucky (Dec. 22), at Ohio (Jan. 5)
Next-toughest: vs. South Dakota State (Nov. 17 in Hempstead, N.Y.), Nevada (Nov. 24)
The rest: Longwood (Nov. 9), vs. District of Columbia (Nov. 16 in Hempstead, N.Y.), at Hofstra (Nov. 18), Morehead State (Nov. 28), UNC-Wilmington (Dec. 1), Coppin State (Dec. 8), Savannah State (Dec. 19), Delaware State (Jan. 2)
Toughness scale (1-10): 9 -- Marshall fancies itself an NCAA tournament team this season, and for good reason. The Thundering Herd return most of a team that advanced to the C-USA tourney final and narrowly missed out on the NCAA tournament bubble. This schedule reflects it. It is filled with real challenges, both at home, on the road, and in nearby Charleston against Cincinnati and rival West Virginia.
Toughest: Battle 4 Atlantis (Nov. 22-24), Louisville (Dec. 15), at Tennessee (Jan. 4)
Next-toughest: Harvard (Nov. 19), Ohio (Dec. 5), Loyola-Md. (Dec. 30), at Xavier (Feb. 26)
The rest: North Florida (Nov. 12), Samford (Nov. 17), Tennessee-Martin (Nov. 29), Austin Peay (Dec. 8), Lipscomb (Dec. 20), Oral Roberts (Dec. 28)
Toughness scale (1-10): 9 -- Josh Pastner is consistently clear about his desire to play one of the nation's toughest schedules and this hardly constitutes a departure. The Battle 4 Atlantis features a loaded field that could produce eight NCAA tourney teams (including opening opponent VCU), the home date with long-lost rival Louisville is a big-time matchup with a top-5 opponent, the trip to Tennessee won't exactly be a picnic, and there are potential mid-major conference winners sprinkled throughout. This schedule will test Memphis' talented group early and often.
Toughest: at Temple (Nov. 22), at Texas (Dec. 29), at Harvard (Jan. 5)
Next-toughest: Anaheim Classic (Nov. 23-25)
The rest: St. Thomas (Nov. 10), St. Edward's (Nov. 14), Houston Baptist (Dec. 1), LIU-Brooklyn (Dec. 12), Hartford (Dec. 15), Chicago State (Dec. 19), TCU (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- The Owls remain a rebuilding entity (especially without Arsalan Kazemi), but their schedule doesn't reflect it -- this is a pretty brutal slate, all things considered. Those road dates are really tough, and the Anaheim Classic has Xavier, Saint Mary's, Cal and Drexel in its field.
Next-toughest: at Utah (Dec. 18), Cable Car Classic (Dec. 21-22), Wyoming (Jan. 2)
The rest: Loyola Marymount (Nov. 11), at TCU (Nov. 15), at Texas State (Nov. 17), Alcorn State (Nov. 19), Rider (Nov. 21), Hoops For Hope Classic (Nov. 24-25), at Hofstra (Dec. 1), at Rhode Island (Dec. 15), Furman (Dec. 30)
Toughness scale (1-10): 2 -- Southern Methodist had a huge offseason, hiring the legendary Larry Brown and a coterie of well-respected assistants. In a year, it will join the Big East. Big things are happening. If you didn't know any better, though, this schedule could convince you otherwise. It is awful.
Toughest: at Georgia (Nov. 15), at Arizona (Dec. 4)
Next-toughest: at New Mexico State (Dec. 1), at Georgia State (Dec. 18), Wichita State (Dec. 22)
The rest: Western Kentucky (Nov. 10), Legends Classic (Nov. 19-21), Denver (Nov. 27), at Louisiana Tech (Dec. 8), Grambling State (Dec. 15), at Morehead State (Dec. 28), William Carey (Dec. 31), Dillard (Jan. 3)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- Southern Miss' schedule isn't the toughest you'll ever see, but it does have plenty to recommend it. There are the actual challenges involved, of course. But more than that, it's a schedule tailor-made for RPI exploitation. From the no-risk road games at high majors to the collection of top mid-major teams to the Division II games (which don't count against the RPI) versus William Carey and Dillard, you can just about guarantee the Golden Eagles (as in 2011-12) will again maintain a solid RPI figure.
Toughest: at Alabama (Dec. 30)
Next-toughest: at Georgia Tech (Nov. 9), at Nebraska (Nov. 21)
The rest: Bethune Cookman (Nov. 13), Nebraska-Omaha (Nov. 16), Chicago State (Nov. 18), Southern (Nov. 24), Loyola-La. (Nov. 27), Navy (Dec. 1), Nicholls State (Dec. 4), at San Diego (Dec. 8 ), Texas-Pan American (Dec. 19), Pepperdine (Dec. 20), Hofstra (Dec. 22), Wofford (Jan. 5)
Toughness scale (1-10): 4 -- Third-year coach Ed Conroy is working hard to turn Tulane around. For now, though, this is still a young team, one that will take its lumps on the road at the high-major foes you see listed above. This is a solid slate, relative to where the Green Wave are right now.
Toughest: at Creighton (Dec. 19), Florida State (Dec. 29 in Sunrise, Fla.)
Next-toughest: at Wichita State (Nov. 28), at Oral Roberts (Dec. 22)
The rest: LSU-Shreveport (Nov. 11), NUCDF Basketball Tournament (Nov. 15-17), Jackson State (Nov. 21), Stephen F. Austin (Nov. 24), Missouri State (Dec. 5), TCU (Dec. 8), Arkansas-Little Rock (Dec. 15), Buffalo (Jan. 2)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- The Golden Hurricane are under new management in former Kansas assistant Danny Manning's first season, but the schedule doesn't betray a desire to flatter with a padded win total. Playing Creighton on the road and Florida State on a neutral site is a challenging twosome, and winning at Wichita State and Oral Roberts is never easy.
Toughest: at Creighton (Nov. 14), at North Carolina (Dec. 1)
Next-toughest: at Middle Tennessee (Dec. 5), at Rutgers (Dec. 16), at Dayton (Jan. 5)
The rest: Young Harris College (Nov. 10), Navy (Nov. 18), Prairie View A&M (Nov. 20), South Padre Island Tournament (Nov. 23-24), at Troy (Nov. 27), South Alabama (Dec. 8), Louisiana-Monroe (Dec. 20), Northeastern (Dec. 29), Georgia Southern (Jan. 2)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- Like the aforementioned Golden Hurricane, UAB has a new, first-time head coach in charge. Also like Tulsa, UAB's schedule is hardly easy, in part because (also like Tulsa), UAB will travel to Creighton early in the season -- not to mention to UNC and harder-than-they-look road trips to Middle Tennessee, Rutgers and Dayton.
Toughest: at South Florida (Nov. 10), at Florida (Nov. 23), Miami (Dec. 18), South Florida (Jan. 2)
Next-toughest: Middle Tennessee (Nov. 20), UCF Holiday Tournament (Dec. 28-29), at Old Dominion (Dec. 14)
The rest: Alabama State (Nov. 13), Savannah State (Nov. 18), Florida Tech (Dec. 1), Bethune Cookman (Dec. 12), Stetson (Dec. 21), Florida A&M (Jan. 5), Georgia Southwestern (Feb. 26)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- Florida, Miami and two games against the lockdown defense of South Florida constitute a hearty slate of high-major foes here, but some toughness points are deducted because the Knights will leave the state of Florida just once (to play at Old Dominion) in the entire first two months of the season.
Toughest: at Arizona (Nov. 15), Old Spice Classic (Nov. 22-25), UNLV (Dec. 17), Oregon (Dec. 19)
Next-toughest: Oral Roberts (Nov. 9), New Mexico State (Nov. 28), at New Mexico State (Feb. 23)
The rest: Idaho (Dec. 8), Don Haskins Invitational (Dec. 22-23), Cameron (Dec. 28), Houston Baptist (Jan. 14)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- Tim Floyd's team is still unusually young -- he incorporated 10 newcomers last season, as the Miners finished 15-17 -- so it's fair to expect this team to take its lumps in what is a truly challenging schedule. The Old Spice Classic guarantees a game against Oklahoma and two more matchups in a field that includes Clemson, Gonzaga, Davidson, Vanderbilt and West Virginia.