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Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Nonconference schedule analysis: Big East

By Andy Katz

For the rest of the week, ESPN.com will be breaking down the nonconference schedules of each and every team in a dozen leagues. On Tuesday, we began with the ACC, SEC and C-USA. Let's begin Wednesday with the biggest league of them all (for now), the Big East ...

CINCINNATI

Toughest: at Xavier (Dec. 10), Marshall (Nov. 25)
Next-toughest: at Georgia (Dec. 2), at Wright State (Dec. 14), vs. Oklahoma at US Bank Arena in Cincy (Dec. 29)
The rest: Alabama State (Nov. 13), Jacksonville State (Nov. 15), Presbyterian (Nov. 19), Northwestern State (Nov. 21), Miami-Ohio (Nov. 29), Radford (Dec. 17), Arkansas-Pine Bluff (Dec. 21), Chicago State (Dec. 23)
Toughness scale (1-10): 2 -- The Bearcats are a top-25 team but this isn’t a top-25 schedule. Xavier is the best game by far and we can't give the Bearcats too much credit for an annual game against a crosstown rival. Marshall is going to be a challenger in C-USA, but rebuilding OU and Georgia sound good in name only. Cincinnati should be an NCAA team, but it will likely have to earn it in the Big East.

CONNECTICUT

Toughest: Battle 4 Atlantis (Nov. 24-26), Arkansas (Dec. 3), at Tennessee (Jan. 21)
Next-toughest: Harvard (Dec. 8), Fairfield (Dec. 22)
The rest: Columbia (Nov. 11), Wagner (Nov. 14), Maine (Nov. 17), Coppin State (Nov. 20), Holy Cross (Dec. 18)
Toughness scale (1-10): 1 -- The defending national champs and preseason top-four Huskies don’t have a nonconference game against a team that will be ranked in the preseason. Arkansas and Tennessee are name teams from the SEC, but Harvard and Fairfield may prove to be just as difficult. Still, none are locks for the NCAA tournament. The Huskies can hope for strength of scheduling purposes that they get Florida State in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament final after presumably beating Asheville in the Bahamas opener and playing either UCF or Charleston on Day 2. Winning in the Big East will cure the Huskies’ seed issues, but this weak schedule doesn't help.

DEPAUL

Toughest: Old Spice Classic (Nov. 24-27)
Next-toughest: Ole Miss (Dec. 1), Milwaukee (Dec. 5)
The rest: UT-Pan American (Nov. 11), Mississippi Valley State (Nov. 14), at Loyola-Chicago (Dec. 7), Chicago State (Dec. 10), at Northern Illinois (Dec. 14), Arkansas-Pine Bluff (Dec. 17), Cal Poly (Dec. 21)
Toughness scale (1-10): 2 -- The Blue Demons won only one Big East game last season (and seven overall), so putting together a difficult schedule probably wouldn’t have been the smartest thing for Oliver Purnell. DePaul's first-round opponent in Orlando (Minnesota) is a sleeper in the Big Ten, and the rest of the Old Spice field has some sneaky-good teams like Indiana State and Fairfield. So there are other opportunities for DePaul. But this isn’t a postseason team anyway, so the schedule is probably right for the Blue Demons.

GEORGETOWN

Toughest: Maui Invitational (Nov. 21-23), at Alabama (Dec. 1), Memphis (Dec. 22)
Next-toughest: None
The rest: Savannah State (Nov. 12), UNC Greensboro (Nov. 14), IUPUI (Nov. 28), NJIT (Dec. 3), Howard (Dec. 10), American (Dec. 17)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- The Hoyas didn’t choose two of the three toughest games but will benefit from them greatly. Playing Kansas in Maui is a great get to start the event and a win will mean a game against UCLA. The third game should be against a quality opponent with the chances of Duke, Memphis, Michigan or Tennessee awaiting. The Alabama game is in the SEC/Big East Challenge and it’s on the road against a top-25 team. Memphis will be a top-10 team to start the season. The one quirk in the schedule is that there is no middle ground. Georgetown usually has at least one of these games against a team like Old Dominion. Not this season.

LOUISVILLE

Toughest: Vanderbilt (Dec. 2), Memphis (Dec. 17), at Kentucky (Dec. 31)
Next-toughest: at Butler (Nov. 19), Long Beach State (Nov. 28)
The rest: Tennessee-Martin (Nov. 11), Lamar (Nov. 13), Arkansas State (Nov. 22), Ohio (Nov. 25), IUPUI (Dec. 7), Fairleigh Dickinson (Dec. 10), Charleston (Dec. 20), Western Kentucky (Dec. 23)
Toughness scale (1-10): 9 -- The Cardinals are playing three top-10 teams in Kentucky, Vandy and Memphis. The road game at Butler will be nearly as tough, even though the Bulldogs are in a rebuilding mode for the first time in three years. Long Beach State is the Big West favorite and Charleston, WKU and Ohio are quality mid-majors. Louisville does have the advantage of playing no games farther away than Indianapolis.

MARQUETTE

Toughest: at Wisconsin (Dec. 3), vs. Washington in NYC (Dec. 6), Vanderbilt (Dec. 29)
Next-toughest: Paradise Jam (Nov. 18-21), at LSU (Dec. 19)
The rest: Mount St. Mary’s (Nov. 11), Norfolk State (Nov. 14), Jacksonville (Nov. 28), Green Bay (Dec. 10), Northern Colorado (Dec. 17), Milwaukee (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- The Golden Eagles play a preseason top-10 team in Vandy, a brutal road game against one of the top teams in the Big Ten and a solid neutral-site game against Washington, which should contend again in the Pac-12. The SEC/Big East Challenge game is more than winnable, even on the road, against rebuilding LSU. The problem for Marquette is that the Paradise Jam has a weak field with the next-best team being Virginia.

NOTRE DAME

Toughest: CBE Classic (Nov. 21-22), at Gonzaga (Nov. 30)
Next-toughest: Detroit (Nov. 14), vs. Maryland in Washington, D.C. (Dec. 4), vs. Indiana in Indianapolis (Dec. 17)
The rest: Mississippi Valley State (Nov. 12), Sam Houston State (Nov. 16), Delaware State (Nov. 18), Bryant (Nov. 27), Maine (Dec. 8), Dartmouth (Dec. 10), Sacred Heart (Dec. 19)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- The Irish will have a ton of trouble beating Gonzaga on the road. And the CBE Classic opener will be a chore, facing off with Missouri in Kansas City. It will help the Irish if on the second night in KC they play Pac-12 contender Cal instead of Georgia. Indiana on a neutral court is much more of a big get for the Hoosiers. Maryland is in complete rebuild mode under Mark Turgeon. But overall, the Irish scheduled well for a team that lost quite a bit, including Big East Player of the Year Ben Hansbrough.

PITTSBURGH

Toughest: at Tennessee (Dec. 3), vs. Oklahoma State in NYC (Dec. 10)
Next-toughest: Long Beach State (Nov. 16), at Penn (Nov. 25), vs. Duquesne at CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh
The rest: Albany (Nov. 11), Rider (Nov. 13), La Salle (Nov. 22), Robert Morris (Nov. 27), VMI (Dec. 6), South Carolina State (Dec. 17), Saint Francis-Pa. (Dec. 20), Wagner (Dec. 23)
Toughness scale (1-10): 1 -- The Panthers won the Big East last season and return a core that could challenge for yet another title. So why not a better nonconference slate? The Panthers were expecting an ACC team to play in the Philly HoopGroup Classic but that fell through, leaving them to play host Penn. Winning at Tennessee in the SEC/Big East Challenge won’t be a walk, but the Vols will be picked in the bottom-third of the SEC. Oklahoma State is a decent opponent at the Garden, and neighboring Duquesne always play the Panthers tough. Long Beach presents a decent mid-major challenge. But as a whole, this nonconference schedule is about as bad as it gets for a top-10 program.

PROVIDENCE

Toughest: at Fairfield (Nov. 14), South Padre Invitational (Nov. 25-26)
Next-toughest: at South Carolina (Dec. 1), Boston College (Dec. 8), at Rhode Island (Dec. 23)
The rest: Fairleigh Dickinson (Nov. 12), Florida A&M (Nov. 19), Southern (Nov. 22), Holy Cross (Nov. 29), Brown (Dec. 5), Bryant (Dec. 10), New Hampshire (Dec. 20)
Toughness scale (1-10): 4 -- The Friars do have a difficult slate for a team that won four Big East games and 15 overall and now has a new coach in Ed Cooley. Iowa State should be a sleeper in the Big 12 and Northern Iowa is never an easy out. Those will be games in South Padre Island, Texas. Cooley also has to go back to Fairfield, where he built a nice MAAC program. Winning at South Carolina and Rhode Island won't be easy, but both programs are in transition at the moment, as is Boston College.

RUTGERS

Toughest: at Miami-Fla. (Nov. 15), Florida (Dec. 29)
Next-toughest: Cancun Challenge (Nov. 22-23), LSU (Dec. 3), Princeton (Dec. 7)
The rest: Dartmouth (Nov. 11), Sacred Heart (Nov. 17), Hampton (Nov. 20), UMBC (Nov. 28), Monmouth (Dec. 12), vs. Stony Brook in NYC (Dec. 17), NJIT (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- The Scarlet Knights have one elite game on the schedule, Florida at home. The road game at Miami, which won’t have injured forward Reggie Johnson, doesn’t look as imposing now, but is still a tall order for an upstart team like Rutgers. The key for this schedule will be beating Illinois State to potentially get Illinois in the second game in Cancun (the Illini would have to beat Richmond). That would enhance the power rating for a schedule that could help the Knights be a postseason team with a decent Big East showing.

ST. JOHN’S

Toughest: 2K Sports Classic (Nov. 17-18), at Kentucky (Dec. 1), at Duke (Jan. 28), UCLA (Feb. 18)
Next-toughest: at Detroit (Dec. 5)
The rest: William & Mary (Nov. 7), Lehigh (Nov. 9), UMBC (Nov. 13), St. Francis-N.Y. (Nov. 22), Northeastern (Nov. 26), Fordham (Dec. 17), Texas-Pan American (Dec. 21)
Toughness scale (1-10): 10 -- Give coach Steve Lavin credit. This is the toughest schedule in the Big East and one of the hardest in the country. The Red Storm play true road games against top-10 teams Kentucky and Duke and also get two of the favorites in the Pac-12 at Madison Square Garden. The Johnnies will face off with Arizona in the first game of the 2K Sports Classic and either Texas A&M or Mississippi State awaits the next day. Going to Detroit, one of the favorites in the Horizon League, is similar to last season’s trip to Saint Mary’s -- a dangerous road game that could be a plus for strength of schedule. Oh, and the Red Storm are basically made up entirely of freshmen, making this schedule even tougher.

SETON HALL

Toughest: Charleston Classic (Nov. 17-20), at Dayton (Dec. 21)
Next-toughest: Auburn (Dec. 2), Wake Forest (Dec. 10)
The rest: St. Francis-N.Y. (Nov. 12), Yale (Nov. 22), Saint Peter’s (Nov. 26), NJIT (Dec. 6), Mercer (Dec. 18), at Longwood (Dec. 23)
Toughness scale (1-10): 2 -- The Pirates scheduled down and they should since Seton Hall is in a rebuilding mode and was five games under .500 at the end of the season. The Charleston Classic has a slew of teams that are reshuffling and after opening against VCU, the next round would be against either Georgia Tech or Saint Joseph’s. Auburn and Wake Forest are expected to again struggle and there's no excuse for losing either one of those games.

SOUTH FLORIDA

Toughest: Hall of Fame Tipoff (Nov. 19-20), at VCU (Nov. 30), at Kansas (Dec. 3)
Next-toughest: at Auburn (Dec. 14), , at Southern Miss (Dec. 22)
The rest: Vermont (Nov. 12), Marist (Nov. 14), Florida Southern (Nov. 16), Georgia Southern (Nov. 23), Florida Atlantic (Nov. 26), Florida A&M (Dec. 11), Cleveland State (Dec. 19)
Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- The Bulls have some legit road games, notably at Kansas and also against VCU and a Southern Miss team that Larry Eustachy insists is his best. The Old Dominion game at the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut comes at a good time since the Monarchs won’t be at full strength. Beat ODU and USF will get Kentucky, which should beat Penn State in the other matchup. South Florida won only three Big East games last season, meaning this schedule is more than enough for a team in transition.

SYRACUSE

Toughest: NIT Season Tip-Off (Nov. 14-25), Florida (Dec. 2)
Next-toughest: Marshall (Dec. 6), George Washington (Dec. 10), at NC State (Dec. 17)
The rest: Fordham (Nov. 12), Colgate (Nov. 19), Eastern Michigan (Nov. 29), Bucknell (Dec. 20), Tulane (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale (1-10): 4 -- The Orange were fortunate that the SEC/Big East Challenge slated the Gators to come to the Carrier Dome. That alone helps bump up the strength of schedule for a team that should challenge for the Big East and national title. The true road game at rebuilding NC State will be a tough go. Marshall is a serious threat to challenge for second place in C-USA. The unknown here is the NIT Season Tip-Off. Syracuse will get to New York, but who will the Orange play? Will the Orange get George Mason or Virginia Tech? Will it be Oklahoma State in the final? Can Stanford escape Colorado State or SMU? The strength of the NIT semis is still to be determined.

VILLANOVA

Toughest: 76 Classic (Nov. 24-27), vs. Missouri in NYC (Dec. 6), at Temple (Dec. 10)
Next-toughest: at Saint Joseph’s (Dec. 17)
The rest: Monmouth (Nov. 11), La Salle (Nov. 15), Delaware (Nov. 18), Penn (Dec. 3), Boston U. (Dec. 13), American (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale (1-10): 3 -- The Wildcats have a tough game against Missouri on a neutral court that will be much more advantageous for Villanova. The Big Five games are always grueling, but the strength of schedule will need a boost from the 76 Classic. After dispatching of UC Riverside, the Cats should hope to play A-10 sleeper Saint Louis in the second round and co-MWC favorite New Mexico in a potential final. Do that and the strength of schedule will jump a bit.

WEST VIRGINIA

Toughest: at Mississippi State (Dec. 3), vs. Kansas State in Wichita (Dec. 8), Las Vegas Classic (Dec. 22-23)
Next-toughest: Miami (Dec. 10), vs. Marshall in Charleston, W.Va. (Jan. 18)
The rest: Oral Roberts (Nov. 11), Kent State (Nov. 15), Alcorn State (Nov. 17), vs. Morehead State in Charleston, W.Va. (Nov. 22), Akron (Nov. 28), Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (Dec. 17), Tennessee Tech (Dec. 19)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- The Mountaineers have a strong schedule if these teams play up to their potential. Baylor, which WVU will face in Vegas, is a legit Big 12 favorite. Mississippi State could be an SEC top-four team if Renardo Sidney and Arnett Moultrie get along well on the court. Marshall is a challenger in C-USA. Kansas State and Miami have the potential to push for an NCAA bid. And facing Missouri State on a neutral court is a dangerous game for a West Virginia team that should again be in position for an NCAA bid.