Thursday, October 6, 2011
Nonconference schedule analysis: Pac-12
By Eamonn Brennan
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. On Tuesday, we began with the ACC, SEC and C-USA. On Wednesday, we continued with the Big East, Atlantic 10 and Colonial.
On Thursday, we will be devoted to the West, beginning with the Pac-12 ...
Toughest: 2K Sports Classic (Nov. 17-18), at Florida (Dec. 7), vs. Gonzaga in Seattle (Dec. 17)
Next-toughest: San Diego State (Nov. 23), Clemson (Dec. 10)
The rest: Valparaiso (Nov. 7), Duquesne (Nov. 9), Ball State (Nov. 13), at New Mexico State (Nov. 29), Northern Arizona (Dec. 3), Oakland (Dec. 20), Bryant (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- Arizona's schedule isn't loaded, but does have some significant road and quasi-road tests. The first will come at the 2K Sports Classic, where the Wildcats will play St. John's in front of a partisan New York crowd. Depending on the outcome of that game, Arizona will face either Mississippi State or Texas A&M next -- neither of which will be a pushover. The trip to Florida will be the toughest test of Sean Miller's young team, but a northbound plane to Seattle to play Gonzaga won't be a gentle ride either.
Toughest: Old Spice Classic (Nov. 24-27)
Next-toughest: New Mexico (Nov. 18), at Tulsa (Dec. 3)
The rest: Montana State (Nov. 11), Pepperdine (Nov. 15), Nevada (Dec. 7), North Dakota State (Dec. 10), Northern Arizona (Dec. 17), Southern Miss (Dec. 19), Fresno State (Dec. 21)
Toughness scale (1-10): 2 -- And that might be generous. Why? Because the Old Spice Classic field is not all that appealing. If Arizona State tops Fairfield in the opening-round game -- no guarantee -- it'll play either Dayton or Wake Forest in the second round. It would take another win to get a quality high-major opponent -- potentially Minnesota -- anywhere near the docket. New Mexico might be the most talented team on this schedule, but the Sun Devils get that game in Tempe, and a trip to Tulsa is hardly enough to make us swoon. After that, it's home cupcake after home cupcake until Pac-12 play begins. Ew.
Toughest: CBE Classic (Nov. 21-22), at San Diego State (Dec. 4), at UNLV (Dec. 23)
Next-toughest: UC Santa Barbara (Dec. 19)
The rest: UC Irvine (Nov. 11), George Washington (Nov. 13), Austin Peay (Nov. 15), Denver (Nov. 16), McNeese State (Nov. 28), San Jose State (Dec. 7), Jackson State (Dec. 11), Weber State (Dec. 16)
Toughness scale (1-10): 4 -- If it wasn't for the CBE Classic, Cal would be stuck hoping its two marquee road games -- at SDSU and UNLV -- would be enough to gloss over the rest of this paltry slate. As it is, the Golden Bears will play their first CBE game versus Georgia, and the winner of that will face either Missouri -- basically a home team in Kansas City -- or Notre Dame. Still, that's not exactly a murderer's row. Mike Montgomery does deserve credit for being willing to travel to San Diego and Vegas for two tough road games in very difficult environments. Those two games will be crucial to whether the veteran Bears will enter the Pac-12 season with the same dark horse league contender buzz they've spent much of the offseason receiving.
Toughest: Puerto Rico Tip-Off (Nov. 17-20)
Next-toughest: Georgia (Nov. 28), at Colorado State (Nov. 30)
The rest: Fort Lewis College (Nov. 11), at Air Force (Nov. 23), Fresno State (Dec. 7), Wyoming (Dec. 9), CSU Bakersfield (Dec. 19), Texas Southern (Dec. 22), New Orleans (Dec. 28)
Toughness scale (1-10): 2 -- Colorado was one of the last two or three teams to miss out on the NCAA tournament last season, largely because its late run in the Big 12 couldn't eclipse a horrid nonconference RPI in the eyes of the committee. For CU's sake, let's hope this year's tourney bid -- or lack thereof -- is a bit more cut and dry. The good news? The Puerto Rico Tip-Off tips off (ahem) with Wichita State, the Missouri Valley co-favorite and a possible top-25 team, and the rest of the field includes Alabama, Maryland (CU's possible second-round matchups), Iona, Purdue, Temple and Western Michigan. There's some quality in there, and Colorado would be advised to take advantage of it. Because the rest of this schedule is avert-your-eyes bad.
Toughest: at Vanderbilt (Nov. 11), vs. BYU in Salt Lake City (Dec. 3)
Next-toughest: at Nebraska (Nov. 23), Virginia (Dec. 18)
The rest: Eastern Washington (Nov. 17), Southeast Missouri State (Nov. 20), UTEP (Nov. 29), Fresno State (Dec. 10), Portland State (Dec. 12), North Carolina Central (Dec. 20), Prairie View A&M (Dec. 21), Stephen F. Austin (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- Opening the season in a tough gym at top-10 Vandy is alone worthy of a few points on the toughness scale, and a trip to Salt Lake to play BYU is a neutral-site game in name only. Oregon also travels to Nebraska, which could be tricky, and home games against UTEP and fellow sleeper Virginia aren't gimmes. Meanwhile, the Global Sports Hoops Showcase -- in which UO will host Prairie View A&M, North Carolina Central and Stephen F. Austin -- looks like three easy wins on paper, because it will be. What a showcase it'll be!
Toughest: Legends Classic (Nov. 19, 21)
Next-toughest: Montana (Dec. 4)
The rest: CSU Bakersfield (Nov. 12), West Alabama (Nov. 14), Hofstra (Nov. 16), at Towson (Nov. 26), Idaho (Dec. 9), Illinois-Chicago (Dec. 13), Howard (Dec. 15), Portland State (Dec. 18), at Chicago State (Dec. 21)
Toughness scale (1-10): 2 -- That's eight less than the number of wins Oregon State's two non-Legends Classic road opponents won combined last season. (Towson won four games; Chicago State won six.) Needless to say, the Beavers aren't going to be road warriors. Fortunately, Craig Robinson's team does have at least two games against quality opponents at the Legends Classic in Jersey. The first comes against Texas; the second will pit the Beavers with either NC State or Vanderbilt. That's something, at least, but it's not enough to draw the eye away from how laughable the rest of these fixtures are. Then again, considering how many of these type of opponents OSU has lost to lately, there's probably no one laughing in Corvallis.
Toughest: NIT Season Tip-Off (Nov. 14-25), Butler (Dec. 22)
Next-toughest: NC State (Dec. 4)
The rest: Central Arkansas (Nov. 11), at UC Davis (Nov. 18), Pacific (Nov. 28), at Seattle (Dec. 1), San Diego (Dec. 17), Bethune-Cookman (Dec. 19)
Toughness scale (1-10): 3 -- Stanford is the host of the NIT Season Tip-Off West Regional, which pits it first against Fresno State and then the winner of Colorado State-Southern Miss. Those latter two are decent, so there's no guarantee the Cardinal will even make it to New York. If they do, Stanford would likely face Oklahoma State in the semifinal and either Syracuse, Virginia Tech or George Mason in the next game. The rest of the schedule, with the exception of a nice December home date with Butler, is undeniably weak. But for a rebuilding program in need of confidence, maybe that's not the worst thing in the world.
Toughest: Maui Invitational (Nov. 21-23), Texas (Dec. 3), at St. John's (Feb. 28)
Next-toughest: Richmond (Dec. 23)
The rest: Loyola Marymount (Nov. 11), Middle Tennessee (Nov. 15), Pepperdine (Nov. 28), Penn (Dec. 10), Eastern Washington (Dec. 14), UC Davis (Dec. 17), UC Irvine (Dec. 20)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- Two things save this from being a mediocre schedule: A late February game at St. John's and one of the more loaded Maui Invitational fields we've ever seen. UCLA opens against Chaminade, but will play the winner of Georgetown-Kansas in the second round, followed by a matchup against the other side of the bracket, against probably either Duke, Memphis or Michigan (all top-25 squads). Either way, the Bruins are practically guaranteed to get two quality games in Hawaii. UCLA won't stretch its legs on the road again until February, but will get a tough game from Texas in the Los Angeles Sports Arena, the program's temporary home (along with Anaheim's Honda Center) while Pauley Pavilion undergoes a massive renovation.
Toughest: at San Diego State (Nov. 17), Las Vegas Invitational (Nov. 25-26), at Minnesota (Dec. 3), Kansas (Dec. 22)
Next-toughest: New Mexico (Dec. 10), Georgia (Dec. 17)
The rest: CS Northridge (Nov. 11), Nebraska (Nov. 14), Cal Poly (Nov. 19), Morgan State (Nov. 22), at UC Riverside (Nov. 30), TCU (Dec. 19)
Toughness scale (1-10): 9 -- Good or bad, Kevin O'Neill's teams are frequently lauded for their toughness. In 2011-12, his schedule deserves the same treatment. There's little to criticize here: USC is willing to go play quality teams on the road (at SDSU, at Minnesota) and bring them to the Galen Center (Kansas, New Mexico), and will play essentially a road game vs. UNLV in the first round of the Las Vegas Invitational before taking on either North Carolina or South Carolina. There is nary a cupcake to be seen. The Trojans might take a bruising by the time conference play starts, especially without the injured Jio Fontan, but O'Neill's willingness to go anywhere and play anyone is downright refreshing.
Toughest: Battle 4 Atlantis (Nov. 24-26), BYU (Dec. 10)
Next-toughest: at Weber State (Dec. 22)
The rest: San Diego Christian College (Nov. 14), at Boise State (Nov. 16), Montana State (Nov. 19), at Fresno State (Dec. 3), Cal State Fullerton (Dec. 7), Idaho State (Dec. 16), Portland (Dec. 19)
Toughness scale (1-10): 2 -- With the exception of the heated rivalry game with BYU -- which first-year head coach Larry Krystkowiak is fortunate enough to have at home this season -- Utah's only notable non-league contests will come in late November in the Bahamas. Utah opens the Battle 4 Atlantis (a tournament apparently named in one of your 13-year-old sister's text messages) with Harvard, followed by a matchup with either Florida State or UMass. If the Utes make an unlikely progression to the final, they could face UConn, but that seems -- how to put this politely -- unlikely. You can't blame the Utes; Krystkowiak is trying to build for the future and the team was decimated with player defections. But that doesn't make the schedule any less ugly.
Toughest: vs. Marquette in NYC (Dec. 6), vs. Duke in NYC (Dec. 10)
Next-toughest: at Saint Louis (Nov. 20), at Nevada (Dec. 2)
The rest: Georgia State (Nov. 12), Florida Atlantic (Nov. 13), Portland (Nov. 14), Houston Baptist (Nov. 25), UC Santa Barbara (Dec. 16), South Dakota State (Dec. 18), Cal State Northridge (Dec. 22), Seattle (Jan. 10)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- First, let's give some credit to Washington for scheduling a pair of tricky road tests in St. Louis and Reno. Sure, SLU (Lorenzo Romar's old team) and Nevada aren't Kentucky and North Carolina, but they could present challenges. Besides, it's always good to see a high-major man up a bit. Also nice to see a cross-country trip to the Big Apple, where the Huskies will face off with Marquette in the Jimmy V Classic and then stick around for the Blue Devils a few days later. Fans in Seattle might be a little bummed that there's exactly zero marquee home games in the nonconference, though. That's sort of disappointing.
Toughest: at Gonzaga (Nov. 14), 76 Classic (Nov. 24-27)
Next-toughest: at Portland (Nov. 20), Santa Clara (Dec. 11)
The rest: Sacramento State (Nov. 17), Grambling (Nov. 30), Eastern Washington (Dec. 3), at Idaho (Dec. 7), Western Oregon (Dec. 18), vs. Pepperdine in Seattle (Nov. 22)
Toughness scale (1-10): 3 -- Just a few years ago, Wazzu's schedule would have looked much better, if only for one reason: Oklahoma used to be good. Now that the Jeff Capel's former program has fully imploded, Washington State's best chance of nonconference heft -- the 76 Classic -- looks a little bit more paltry. If the Cougars top OU in the first round, they'll probably face Mountain West co-favorite New Mexico (or Santa Clara) in the second round. Villanova is among the teams on the other side of the bracket, but this is unquestionably a rebuilding season in Pulllman, so the chances are slim that game ever happens.