- Jason King
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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, Missouri Valley, Big 12 and the best of the rest.
Toughest: at Kentucky (Dec. 1), at Gonzaga (Dec. 28)
Next-toughest: Lehigh (Nov. 9), Charleston Classic (Nov. 15-18), Northwestern (Dec. 4), BYU (Dec. 21)
The rest: Jackson State (Nov. 11), Charleston (Nov. 24), Lamar (Dec. 12), USC Upstate (Dec. 17), Hardin-Simmons (Jan. 19)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- Gone are the days of Baylor's being criticized for a weak out-of-conference schedule. For the second straight season the Bears will play one of the most challenging nonleague slates in the Big 12. Kentucky and Gonzaga boast two of the most raucous road environments in the country. Northwestern and BYU will try to avenge last season’s losses to the Bears. The Charleston Classic could be one of the more exciting tournaments of the season with teams such as Colorado, Murray State, St. John’s, Charleston and Dayton.
Toughest: Global Sports Classic (Nov. 23-24 in Las Vegas)
Next-toughest: BYU (Dec. 1), at Iowa (Dec. 4), vs. Drake (Dec. 15 in Des Moines)
The rest: Southern (Nov. 9), Alabama A&M (Nov. 12), Campbell (Nov. 18), North Carolina A&T (Nov. 20), Florida Gulf Coast (Dec. 4), Nebraska-Omaha (Dec. 9), at UMKC (Dec. 19), Yale (Jan. 1)
Toughness scale (1-10): 3 -- Thanks to coach Fred Hoiberg, Iowa State is no longer considered one of the dregs of the Big 12 conference. But next season, there will be no excuse for a nonconference schedule this weak. The Cyclones will play Cincinnati and either UNLV or Oregon in Las Vegas. Those will be fine tests, but Iowa State needs more of them. It’s a problem when Drake is considered one of the top nonleague opponents for a school from a BCS conference.
Toughest: vs. Michigan State (Nov. 13 in Atlanta), at Ohio State (Dec. 22)
Next-toughest: CBE Classic (Nov. 19-20 in Kansas City), Colorado (Dec. 8), Belmont (Dec. 15), Temple (Jan. 6)
The rest: SE Missouri State (Nov. 9), Chattanooga (Nov. 15), San Jose State (Nov. 26), vs. Oregon State (Nov. 30 in Kansas City), Richmond (Dec. 18), American (Dec. 29)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- This season’s nonconference schedule is actually somewhat weak -- but only by Kansas standards. At almost any other school this would be considered a brutal slate. Michigan State and Ohio State could both enter the season ranked in the top 10. Colorado is one of the country’s fastest-rising programs, and Temple coach Fran Dunphy believes this team could be one of his best. There’s a strong chance KU will be playing a dangerous Saint Louis squad in the title game of the CBE Classic after squaring off with Washington State in the opener.
Toughest: vs. Gonzaga (Dec. 15 in Seattle), vs. Florida (Dec. 22 in Kansas City)
Next-toughest: NIT Season Tip-Off (Nov. 12-13 in Manhattan and Nov. 21, 23 in NYC), at George Washington (Dec. 8th)
The rest: North Dakota (Nov. 9), North Florida (Nov. 18), USC Upstate (Dec. 2), Texas Southern (Dec. 18), UMKC (Dec. 29), South Dakota (Dec. 31)
Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- Wildcats fans will have to wait until Big 12 play to watch a good game at Bramlage Coliseum. Unless you count North Texas (a likely opponent in the NIT Season Tip-Off), Kansas State doesn’t face a quality opponent at home. Gonzaga and Florida will be tough tests for a squad that returns just about everyone. Pittsburgh and Michigan are potential opponents in New York.
Toughest: at Arkansas (Dec. 4), Ohio (Dec. 29)
Next-toughest: Old Spice Classic (Nov. 22-25 in Orlando), at Oral Roberts (Nov. 28), vs. Texas A&M (Dec. 15 in Oklahoma City)
The rest: Louisiana-Monroe (Nov. 11), at UT-Arlington (Nov. 16), Northwestern State (Nov. 30), Stephen F. Austin (Dec. 18), Texas A&M Corpus Christi (Dec. 31)
Toughness scale (1-10): 4 -- It’s understandable that Lon Kruger would want to schedule soft as he attempts to rebuild the Sooners’ program. Beating Arkansas in Fayetteville would be a signature win. And although it wouldn’t get much publicity, a victory against D.J. Cooper and Ohio would be impressive, too. Oklahoma opens the Old Spice Classic against UTEP and will likely face Gonzaga in the second round. West Virginia, Davidson and Vanderbilt are also in the field.
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)
Toughness scale (1-10): 3 -- The NCAA tournament selection committee won’t look favorably upon the Cowboys’ nonconference schedule. And it shouldn’t. The Cowboys will play just one road game (against rebuilding Virginia Tech) and only one top-flight opponent at home (Gonzaga). A potential semifinal matchup against Tennessee in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off could be exciting, and NC State might await in the final. Still, for a team with two McDonald’s All-Americans and future first-round draft picks on the roster, Oklahoma State should’ve put more effort into building a better slate.
Toughest: Maui Invitational (Nov. 19-21), vs. Georgetown (Dec. 4 at the Jimmy V Classic in NYC), vs. UCLA (Dec. 8 in Houston), North Carolina (Dec. 19), at Michigan State (Dec. 22)
Next-toughest: Fresno State (Nov. 9)
The rest: Coppin State (Nov. 12), Sam Houston State (Nov. 27), UT-Arlington (Dec. 1), Texas State (Dec. 15), Rice (Dec. 29)
Toughness scale (1-10): 10 -- Rick Barnes has never been accused of scheduling soft, and this season is no different. In fact, the Longhorns might have the most challenging out-of-league slate in the country. UCLA, North Carolina and Michigan State could all start the season in the top 10. After opening the Maui Invitational against Chaminade, the Longhorns will face either USC or Illinois in the second round. Butler, Marquette and North Carolina are also potential opponents in Maui.
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)
Toughness scale (1-10): 1 -- The Big 12’s worst schedule belongs to the league’s worst team (although Texas Tech might have something to say about that). It’s pretty sad when the two toughest opponents on the docket are Houston and Northwestern, the Horned Frogs’ first-round opponent in the South Padre Island Invitational. Surely first-year coach Trent Johnson will improve the schedule next season.
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)
Toughness scale (1-10): 2 -- Unbelievable. The Red Raiders don’t play a single road game in the nonconference, not leaving Lubbock until a Jan. 5 Big 12 opener at TCU. Former coach Billy Gillispie, who resigned because of health reasons in September, used the same strategy during the early stages of his career at Texas A&M and it worked to his benefit. At least Texas Tech has a pair of premier home contests against Arizona and Alabama. Arizona State should also be much improved.
Toughest: at Gonzaga (Nov. 12), vs. Michigan (Dec. 15 in Brooklyn, N.Y.)
Next-toughest: Old Spice Classic (Nov. 22-25 in Orlando), vs. Marshall (Dec. 5 in Charleston, W.Va.), at Purdue (Jan. 19)
The rest: VMI (Nov. 28), Virginia Tech (Dec. 8), at Duquesne (Dec. 11), Oakland (Dec. 19), Radford (Dec. 22), Eastern Kentucky (Dec. 30)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- Transfers Aaric Murray and Juwan Staten will open their Mountaineer careers in one of the toughest road environments in the country (Gonzaga). West Virginia is one of four Big 12 schools playing the Zags. Some analysts predict Michigan will contend for a Final Four berth and Purdue is always competitive. If Bob Huggins’ squad gets by Marist in the first round of the Old Spice Classic, it will play either Vanderbilt or Davidson.