College Basketball Nation: 2011-12 Nonconference schedule analysis

Nonconference schedule analysis: Others

October, 7, 2011
All week, has been 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. On Wednesday, we continued with the Big East, Atlantic 10 and Colonial.

We devoted Thursday to the West, with the Pac-12, WCC and Mountain West. Friday is all about the Midwest. We began with a look at the Missouri Valley and the Big 12, and finished up with the Big Ten.

Now, in conclusion, let's take a look at six prominent mid-majors from outside the 12 conferences ...


Toughest: Louisville (Nov. 19), at Indiana (Nov. 27), Xavier (Dec. 7), vs. Purdue at Conseco Fieldhouse (Dec. 17), at Gonzaga (Dec. 20)
Next-toughest: at Ball State (Dec. 10), at Stanford (Dec. 22), TBA BracketBuster (home)
The rest: at Evansville (Nov. 12), Chattanooga (Nov. 15), Savannah State (Nov. 21), Gardner-Webb (Nov. 23), Oakland City (Nov. 29)
Toughness scale (1-10): 9 -- A couple of intriguing in-state matchups against Indiana and Purdue will test the Bulldogs, and then there is the road battle with the mid-major darling of old, Gonzaga. Throw in a game at Hinkle against Louisville and a West Coast trip to Stanford, and it’s quite the schedule to prepare Brad Stevens’ team for Horizon League play.


Toughest: BYU (Nov. 11), at Wichita State (Dec. 10), at Mississippi State (Dec. 31)
Next-toughest: at Weber State (Nov. 15), Kent State (Dec. 22)
The rest: Southern Utah (Nov. 19), at Texas A&M-CC (Nov. 22), at Idaho State (Nov. 26), Denver (Nov. 30), at Pacific (Dec. 3), Utah Valley (Dec. 6), Seattle (Dec. 17), Texas-Arlington (Dec. 20), St. Peter’s (Dec. 21), at Seattle (Jan. 19), Montana Tech (Feb. 14), BracketBusters opponent (Feb. 18)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- Stew Morrill did well to schedule a series with Mississippi State, but a trip to Starkville isn’t the only highlight of the Aggies’ schedule. In a rebuilding year for the defending WAC champs, they face Wichita State on the road and have rival BYU coming to the Spectrum for the season opener. The Spectrum is usually wild anyway. When BYU comes to town? Hide the women and children.


Toughest: Battle 4 Atlantis (Nov. 24-26), at Connecticut (Dec. 8 )
Next-toughest: at Vermont (Dec. 1), at Boston College (Dec. 29), George Washington (Jan. 14)
The rest: MIT (Nov. 11), at Holy Cross (Nov. 15), at Loyola Marymount (Nov. 19), Seattle (Dec. 4), at Boston U. (Dec. 10), Florida Atlantic (Dec. 22), Saint Joseph’s (Dec. 31), at Fordham (Jan. 3), at Monmouth (Jan. 10)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- If Jeremy Lin impressed Jim Calhoun, think what this Tommy Amaker team could do. Harvard gets a chance to stun the defending national champion on the road and could face the Huskies earlier in the championship game of the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas. That tournament at the least gets the Crimson a chance to play Utah of the Pac-12 and then either Florida State or UMass.


Toughest: at Duke (Nov. 11), at Memphis (Nov. 15)
Next-toughest: at Marshall (Dec. 19), at Austin Peay (Dec. 21), Marshall (Dec. 29), Austin Peay (Feb. 6)
The rest: Maui Invitational regional (Nov. 19-20), Trevecca Nazarene (Nov. 28), Tennessee State (Dec. 6), at Middle Tennessee (Dec. 13), Troy (Dec. 15), at Miami (Ohio) (Dec. 17)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- This is an exciting schedule. In a season in which Belmont is expected to be dominant again in the Atlantic Sun, it’ll have a chance to play road games against Duke and Memphis by virtue of an invitation to the opening rounds of the Maui Invitational. The Bruins get regional-round games against Towson and either UNC Greensboro or Middle Tennessee. They also play home-and-home against sneaky-good Marshall and Austin Peay.


Toughest: at Minnesota (Nov. 17), at Connecticut (Dec. 22)
Next-toughest: Providence (Nov. 14), Old Spice Classic (Nov. 24-27), vs. Old Dominion in Springfield, Mass. (Dec. 9), at Drexel (Dec. 28)
The rest: vs. Quinnipiac in Uncasville, Conn. (Nov. 11), Holy Cross (Nov. 20), New Hampshire (Dec. 11), at TBA BracketBusters
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- Facing defending national champion UConn, an improved Minnesota team and rising Drexel on the road is a tough task. At the Old Spice Classic, there will be more power-conference competition with Arizona State in the opening round and then either Dayton or Wake Forest. A home game against Providence also should be a good test for where the Stags stand in a season with high expectations.


Toughest: Puerto Rico Tip-Off (Nov. 17-20), at Marshall (Dec. 11), at Richmond (Dec. 14)
Next-toughest: Long Island (Nov. 28), at Vermont (Dec. 17)
The rest: Saint Joseph’s (Nov. 23), at Denver (Dec. 7), at William & Mary (Dec. 21), at Hofstra (Dec. 29), TBA BracketBusters (home)
Nonconference toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- Yes, the Gaels face Purdue and then either Temple or Western Michigan in Puerto Rico. But the real difficulty is in scheduling eight consecutive road games for their entire December slate. Going to Marshall, Richmond and Vermont in consecutive games certainly won’t be easy, and to end November, Iona hosts defending Northeast champion Long Island. Big things are expected of the Gaels this season. We'll see right away whether the hype is justified.


Toughest: at Pittsburgh (Nov. 16), at Louisville (Nov. 28), at Kansas (Dec. 6), at North Carolina (Dec. 10)
Next-toughest: at San Diego State (Nov. 19), Diamond Head Classic (Dec. 22-25)
The rest: Idaho (Nov. 12), Boise State (Nov. 22), at Montana (Nov. 26), BYU-Hawaii (Dec. 2), Eastern New Mexico (Dec. 19), at TBA BracketBusters
Toughness scale (1-10): 10 -- Dan Monson’s team has traditionally played a tough schedule, but this one takes the cake with the 49ers facing a who’s-who of college basketball on the road. They also go to the Diamond Head Classic and draw Xavier in the opening round. Senior-laden Long Beach State has the talent for an upset victory, and at the very least, the schedule prepares it to defend the Big West regular-season title.
All week, has been 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.

We devoted Thursday to the West, with the Pac-12, WCC and Mountain West. Friday is all about the Midwest. We began with a look at the Missouri Valley and the Big 12 and finish up with the Big Ten ...


Toughest: Gonzaga (Dec. 3), vs. UNLV in Chicago (Dec. 17), vs. Missouri in St. Louis (Dec. 22)
Next-toughest: Cancun Challenge (Nov. 22-23), at Maryland (Nov. 29)
The rest: Loyola-Chicago (Nov. 11), SIU Edwardsville (Nov. 14), Lipscomb (Nov. 17), Chicago State (Nov. 27), St. Bonaventure (Dec. 7), Coppin State (Dec. 11), Cornell (Dec. 19)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- This is your standard Illinois schedule. The Illini have a couple of legitimate true road and home challenges, one against Gonzaga and the other in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge at rebuilding Maryland, and the addition of two typical neutral-site games -- the Braggin' Rights rivalry game with Missouri in St. Louis and a quasi-home game against UNLV at the United Center -- mean the schedule isn't totally forgiving. The Cancun Challenge doesn't offer much -- Richmond is the toughest opponent in that tournament -- but even so, the Illini have a handful of chances to prove themselves in challenging situations.


Toughest: at NC State (Nov. 30), Kentucky (Dec. 10)
Next-toughest: Butler (Nov. 27), vs. Notre Dame in Indianapolis (Dec. 17)
The rest: Stony Brook (Nov. 11), Chattanooga (Nov. 13), at Evansville (Nov. 16), Savannah State (Nov. 19), Gardner-Webb (Nov. 21), Stetson (Dec. 4), Howard (Dec. 19), UMBC (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- In recent seasons, as Indiana has struggled, so have its schedules. Few teams played as soft a nonconference slate as Tom Crean's last season. This season, the schedule improves slightly thanks to the return of two traditions: The Hoosier Invitational (featuring that Nov. 27 game vs. Butler) and the revived Crossroads Classic, a rotating four-team competition boasting IU, Purdue, Notre Dame and Butler. There's also the traditional rivalry game with Kentucky, which Indiana is lucky enough to get at home. (Bold prediction: That crowd is going to be crazy.) After that, it's cupcake city. But the schedule has noticeably improved, and maybe that's in line with what Hoosiers fans will expect from their team's performance this year, too.


Toughest: Clemson (Nov. 29), at Northern Iowa (Dec. 6), at Iowa State (Dec. 9)
Next-toughest: vs. Creighton in Des Moines (Nov. 20)
The rest: Chicago State (Nov. 11), North Carolina A&T (Nov. 14), Northern Illinois (Nov. 17), Campbell (Nov. 23), IPFW (Nov. 26), Brown (Dec. 3), Drake (Dec. 17), Central Arkansas (Dec. 19), Boise State (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale (1-10): 2 -- The good news? Iowa won't have to spend much on airfare until the Big Ten season starts. The bad news? The price of air miles may not be worth the ridicule. If you look closely, you'll notice that Iowa's only nonconference games outside of Iowa City will be played ... in Iowa. That's not to say those games don't present some degree of difficulty -- Creighton is on the rise, Iowa State will have its best team in years and UNI is a very difficult place to play. But thanks to a home year in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, the farthest trip the Hawks will make before Dec. 28 is a two-hour ride west on I-80. It's a half-step removed from playing every nonconference game at Carver-Hawkeye.


Toughest: Maui Invitational (Nov. 21-23), at Virginia (Nov. 29)
Next-toughest: Iowa State (Dec. 3)
The rest: Ferris State (Nov. 11), Towson (Nov. 14), Western Illinois (Nov. 17), vs. Oakland in Auburn Hills, Mich. (Dec. 10), Arkansas-Pine Bluff (Dec. 13), Alabama A&M (Dec. 17), Bradley (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- A Big Ten/ACC Challenge matchup with Virginia is intriguing, but this schedule is all about the Maui Invitational. Michigan tips off against Memphis, a talented team garnering top-15 buzz to begin the season. So it won't take much time to see how this Wolverines team will stack up without departed underclassman Darius Morris. If Michigan wins, it's likely to get a rematch of March's NCAA tournament game with Duke, a game that would make this schedule much more difficult by default. Even if that doesn't happen, the Maui field is so loaded that UM could lose out on the two obvious marquee matchups (Duke, Kansas) and still end up playing Tennessee and either UCLA or Georgetown. Now that's a consolation bracket.


Toughest: vs. North Carolina in San Diego (Nov. 11), vs. Duke in New York (Nov. 15), at Gonzaga (Dec. 10)
Next-toughest: Florida State (Nov. 30)
The rest: Texas Southern (Nov. 18), Arkansas-Little Rock (Nov. 20), Milwaukee (Nov. 23), at Eastern Michigan (Nov. 27), Nebraska-Omaha (Dec. 4), Central Connecticut State (Dec. 7), Bowling Green (Dec. 17), UMKC (Dec. 19), Lehigh (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale (1-10): 9 -- Tom Izzo's reputation for scheduling precedes him: He'll play anyone anywhere at any time, even if it might not be the best idea for his team's record. This season is no different. The Spartans open with a much-hyped game against North Carolina on an aircraft carrier off the coast of San Diego. Short of scheduling the Chicago Bulls to a neutral-site game at a forward operating base in Afghanistan, that's taking "play anyone anywhere" to its furthest logical extreme. And if that weren't bad enough, four days later Michigan State travels all the way across the country to play Duke in Madison Square Garden. There is a bit of relief here in the form of seven home cupcakes, but a trip to Spokane and a home game against Florida State round out one of the most difficult and travel-heavy nonconference schedules you'll see this year.


Toughest: Virginia Tech (Nov. 30), USC (Dec. 3)
Next-toughest: Fairfield (Nov. 17), Old Spice Classic (Nov. 24-27)
The rest: Bucknell (Nov. 11), South Dakota State (Nov. 14), Mount St. Mary's (Nov. 21), Appalachian State (Dec. 6), St. Peter's (Dec. 10), Central Michigan (Dec. 13), North Dakota State (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale (1-10): 4 -- The most noticeable aspect of Minnesota's schedule is its lack of true road games. The Gophers won't play in an opponent's home gym until the Big Ten schedule rolls around. Part of that is coincidence (it's Minnesota's turn to host a Big Ten/ACC Challenge game) and part of it is USC's willingness to come to the Twin Cities for a true road game. Either way, it means the Gophers have to do their "road" work in Orlando at the Old Spice Classic, a tournament they should by all rights aspire to win. There simply aren't that many quality teams in the Old Spice this season: If Minnesota keeps winning and seeds hold, the best three opponents they could face are DePaul, Indiana State and, oh, Dayton? Fairfield? Take your pick. Any way you break it down, the schedule's going to be soft.


Toughest: at USC (Nov. 14), at Creighton (Dec. 4)
Next-toughest: Oregon (Nov. 23)
The rest: South Dakota (Nov. 11), Rhode Island (Nov. 20), South Dakota State (Nov. 26), Wake Forest (Nov. 30), Florida Gulf Coast (Dec. 7), at TCU (Dec. 10), Alcorn State (Dec. 17), Central Michigan (Dec. 20)
Toughness scale (1-10): 3 -- I'll give some props (you know, as the kids say) to the Cornhuskers for being willing to schedule a true road game against a decent opponent. And give the Huskers credit for continuing their series with Creighton; the Bluejays have always had trouble convincing high-major teams to come to town. But other than those two games, this schedule is baby-bottom soft. Everything's at home. Every high-major opponent is beatable. Even the Big Ten/ACC Challenge game will be played in Lincoln against a Wake Forest team coming off an historically bad season. Last season, Doc Sadler's bad nonconference schedule put his team behind the NCAA tournament eight-ball even as the Huskers were making a worthwhile argument in Big 12 play. That may well happen again.


Toughest: Baylor (Dec. 4), at Creighton (Dec. 22)
Next-toughest: Charleston Classic (Nov. 17-20), at Georgia Tech (Nov. 29)
The rest: Texas Pan-American (Nov. 13), Stony Brook (Nov. 25), Mississippi Valley State (Dec. 2), Texas Southern (Dec. 15), Central Connecticut (Dec. 17), Eastern Illinois (Dec. 18)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- Now this is more like it, Wildcats. In recent years, one of the reasons -- among several -- that Northwestern has fallen short of the first NCAA tournament bid in school history is a distinct lack of quality nonconference opponents. That changes this season. The Charleston Classic isn't a loaded field by any means, but Northwestern could emerge with wins over LSU, Tulsa or Western Kentucky, and VCU, Seton Hall, Georgia Tech or St. Joseph's. The biggest eye-opener will come at Welsh-Ryan Arena, when -- and I admit I had to rub my eyes when I first saw this game on the schedule -- Baylor will come to town. The Wildcats' road game at Creighton is a tough one, too. This isn't a Michigan State-level slate, but it's far better than what Northwestern has played in the past few seasons. And that Baylor game should be fascinating.


Toughest: Florida (Nov. 15), Duke (Nov. 29), at Kansas (Dec. 10)
Next-toughest: at South Carolina (Dec. 17)
The rest: Wright State (Nov. 11), Jackson State (Nov. 18), North Florida (Nov. 21), VMI (Nov. 23), Valparaiso (Nov. 25), Texas Pan-American (Dec. 3), South Carolina-Upstate (Dec. 14), Lamar (Dec. 20), Miami (Ohio) (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- Last year, when Jared Sullinger and company steamrolled Florida in Gainesville, we knew for certain Ohio State was a national title contender and force to be reckoned with. We won't need that revelation this time around. Still, OSU has three truly marquee nonconference battles on its docket. Fortunately for the Buckeyes, two -- Florida and Duke -- come at home. The other, a road trip to Lawrence, will pit Sullinger against fellow star big man Thomas Robinson. All three will be must-see TV. This schedule isn't deep, but boy, those games at the top are good.


Toughest: Hall of Fame Tip-Off (Nov. 19-20)
Next-toughest: at Boston College (Nov. 30), Ole Miss (Dec. 4), at Duquesne (Dec. 10)
The rest: Hartford (Nov. 12), Radford (Nov. 14), Long Island (Nov. 16), Youngstown State (Nov. 23), Lafayette (Dec. 7), Mount St. Mary's (Dec. 18), Cornell (Dec. 21)
Toughness scale (1-10): 4 -- At first glance, it doesn't look like much, but that's before you realize the rebuilding Nittany Lions -- with their first-year head coach, Patrick Chambers, and distinct lack of former four-year star Talor Battle -- will face Kentucky in the first round of the Hall of Fame tournament at Connecticut's Mohegan Sun Arena. That one could get ugly. Then it's either Old Dominion or South Florida on day two. A visit to rebuilding BC could just be ugly, period, while a short trip to play a better-than-you-think Duquesne team is tricky. This schedule could be tougher, sure. But for this team, this season, it might already be tougher than required.


Toughest: at Xavier (Dec. 3), vs. Butler in Indianapolis (Dec. 17)
Next-toughest: Puerto Rico Tip-Off (Nov. 17-20), Miami (Fla.) (Nov. 29)
The rest: Northern Illinois (Nov. 11), High Point (Nov. 14), Western Michigan (Nov. 23), Coppin State (Nov. 26), Western Carolina (Dec. 7), Eastern Michigan (Dec. 10)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- The 2011 Puerto Rico Tip-Off is no 2011 Maui Invitational, but there are solid teams in the mix. Purdue will open with MAAC favorite Iona on Nov. 17, could play Temple in the second round and, if seeds hold, get a very solid mark against either top-25 Alabama or reigning NIT champ Wichita State. Then there's the trip to Xavier (brutal) and the meeting with Butler at the Crossroads Classic (only slightly less brutal).


Toughest: at North Carolina (Nov. 30), Marquette (Dec. 3), UNLV (Dec. 10)
Next-toughest: Chicago Invitational Challenge (Nov. 25-26)
The rest: Kennesaw State (Nov. 12), Colgate (Nov. 16), Wofford (Nov. 19), UMKC (Nov. 22), Green Bay (Dec. 7), at Milwaukee (Dec. 13), Savannah State (Dec. 15), Mississippi Valley State (Dec. 23)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- When the Big Ten/ACC Challenge schedule was released, the biggest question was: Who gets to play North Carolina in Chapel Hill? That honor fell to the Badgers, and UW's nonconference schedule immediately went from "pretty tough" to "look out." The other big challenges come at home: Marquette will visit the Kohl Center in the heated in-state rivalry game, and Mountain West co-favorite UNLV will travel to Madison after hosting the Badgers last year. The Chicago Invitational Challenge isn't without its potential, ahem, challenges, particularly if Wisconsin meets BYU. But it's that North Carolina game that sticks out the most. It's going to be a good one.

Nonconference schedule analysis: Big 12

October, 7, 2011
All week, has been 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.

We devoted Thursday to the West, with the Pac-12, WCC and Mountain West. Friday is all about the Midwest. We began with a look at the Missouri Valley and continue with the Big 12 ...


Toughest: at BYU (Dec. 17), vs. Saint Mary’s in Las Vegas (Dec. 22), vs. West Virginia in Las Vegas (Dec. 23), vs. Mississippi State in Dallas (Dec. 28)
Next-toughest: San Diego State (Nov. 15), at Northwestern (Dec. 4)
The rest: Texas Southern (Nov. 11), Jackson State (Nov. 13), South Carolina State (Nov. 22), UT-Arlington (Nov. 23), Prairie View A&M (Nov. 29), Bethune Cookman (Dec. 14), Paul Quinn (Dec. 19)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- Baylor is one of the favorites to win the Big 12, but this was a team that didn’t make the postseason in 2011 and has to play the first five games without Perry Jones III. True road games against likely NCAA bubble teams BYU and Northwestern will be a struggle. Saint Mary’s and West Virginia in Vegas are winnable and should be if we're to take the Bears seriously. A rebuilding SDSU is no given at home, but my favorite game is against MSU in Dallas with Jones III going against Arnett Moultrie and/or Renardo Sidney.


Toughest: at Michigan (Dec. 3)
Next-toughest: Northern Iowa (Nov. 30), Iowa (Dec. 9)
The rest: Lehigh (Nov. 12), at Drake (Nov. 15), Western Carolina (Nov. 20), Northern Colorado (Nov. 22), vs. Providence at South Padre Island, Texas (Nov. 25), vs. Rice at South Padre Island, Texas (Nov. 26), Prairie View A&M (Dec. 6), Central Michigan (Dec. 18), Lipscomb (Dec. 21)
Toughness scale (1-10): 2 -- I’m a little disappointed in this schedule for a Cyclones team that should be a sleeper in the Big 12. The road game at Michigan is by far the toughest. Iowa State doesn’t have a lot of room to work with in terms of an at-large bid. There are in-state games against Iowa, Northern Iowa and Drake, but the Cyclones could have worked harder for another marquee game or a better tourney field. ISU will have to do extremely well in the Big 12 to warrant a bid with this schedule.


Toughest: vs. Kentucky in NYC (Nov. 15), Maui Invitational (Nov. 21-23), Ohio State (Dec. 10)
Next-toughest: Long Beach State (Dec. 6), at USC (Dec. 22)
The rest: Towson (Nov. 11), Florida Atlantic (Nov. 30), South Florida (Dec. 3), Davidson (Dec. 19), Howard (Dec. 29), North Dakota (Dec. 31)
Toughness scale (1-10): 10 -- Kansas has its toughest nonconference schedule under Bill Self with a team that may be his hardest to predict. Kentucky and Ohio State are top-four teams. The Maui Invitational opener is against Georgetown and UCLA awaits if KU beats the Hoyas. The third game could be against Duke, Memphis or Michigan. Long Beach State is picked to win the Big West. Ask Texas about winning at USC and you’ll see how tough that can be. Even a home games against Sun Belt favorite FAU or the Big East’s South Florida shouldn’t be dismissed. Kansas will have a high seed if it plays this schedule well.


Toughest: at Virginia Tech (Dec. 4), vs. West Virginia in Wichita (Dec. 8), vs. Alabama in Kansas City (Dec. 17)
Next-toughest: Diamond Head Classic (Dec. 22-25)
The rest: Charleston Southern (Nov. 11), Loyola (Nov. 14), Maryland Eastern Shore (Nov. 22), George Washington (Dec. 1), North Florida (Dec. 11), Howard (Dec. 31).
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- I don’t blame Frank Martin for dialing it back a bit since he has a team that is reshuffling. But the Wildcats have a schedule in front of them that it can win and build up equity for a run in the Big 12. West Virginia is a virtual home game for the Wildcats. Alabama is too. Virginia Tech is like Kansas State in that both schools could be better than projected and a road win in Blacksburg would carry weight. The Diamond Head Classic could produce some power-rating pop if KSU beats Southern Illinois and then draws Clemson in round two before possibly playing tourney favorite Xavier in a possible final. Do that and Kansas State’s nonconference schedule rating will increase.


Toughest: vs. Notre Dame in Kansas City (Nov. 21), vs. Villanova in NYC (Dec. 6), vs. Illinois in St. Louis (Dec. 22)
Next-toughest: at Old Dominion (Dec. 30)
The rest: SEMO (Nov. 11), Mercer (Nov. 14), Niagara (Nov. 17), Binghamton (Nov. 27), Northwestern State (Dec. 2), Navy (Dec. 10), Kennesaw State (Dec. 15), William & Mary (Dec. 18)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- The Tigers have a solid slate of games for a team that should contend for a top-four finish in the Big 12. Missouri did lose its second-leading scorer Laurence Bowers for the season due to an ACL injury. And the neutral-site games against Notre Dame, Villanova and Illinois will be extremely difficult for Missouri. The road test at Old Dominion in late December comes at a great time for the Monarchs. They are expected to be at full strength at that point. The CBE Classic could produce another gem for the Tigers if they draw one of the Pac-12 favorites in Cal in the second game. Missouri should be an NCAA tourney team and this schedule will help.


Toughest: Arkansas (Dec. 10), at Cincinnati (Dec. 29)
Next-toughest: 76 Classic (Nov. 24-27)
The rest: Idaho State (Nov. 11), Coppin State (Nov. 18), Sacramento State (Dec. 2), Oral Roberts (Dec. 8), vs. Houston in Oklahoma City (Dec. 17), South Carolina State (Dec. 21), Northwestern State (Dec. 31)
Toughness scale (1-10): 4 -- The trip to Cincinnati will be the toughest game by far. The Bearcats are a legit top-25 team. Arkansas at home will be dicey, too. The 76 Classic is a weak field, but that’s OK for a rebuilding team under first-year coach Lon Kruger. The Sooners draw beatable Washington State in the first round, then could get a crack at MWC co-favorite New Mexico on the second day. The top part of the bracket has Villanova. But even if Saint Louis were to end up being an OU opponent, that would help too. The reality is the Sooners don’t have a postseason team, so this schedule will do them fine.


Toughest: vs. Pittsburgh in NYC (Dec. 10), vs. New Mexico in Oklahoma City (Dec. 17), vs. Alabama in Birmingham (Dec. 21), Virginia Tech (Dec. 31)
Next-toughest: NIT Season Tip-Off (Nov. 15-27), Tulsa (Nov. 30), at Missouri State (Dec. 7)
The rest: Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (Nov. 11), vs. SMU in Dallas (Dec. 28), Langston (Dec. 4)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- I really like this schedule for coach Travis Ford. He has a team that is a bit of an unknown in the Big 12. But this slate of games could turn out to be the reason the Cowboys are suddenly in the at-large discussion in March. Play this group well and OSU will greatly benefit. Pitt, New Mexico and Alabama are all serious threats to finish in the top three in their respective conferences. The sleeper situation here is what happens in New York, assuming the Cowboys get to MSG in the NIT Season Tip-Off. Oklahoma State could play Syracuse, George Mason or possibly Virginia Tech, before it meets the Hokies on New Year's Eve.


Toughest: at UCLA (Dec. 3), at North Carolina (Dec. 21)
Next-toughest: Legends Classic (Nov. 19, 21), Temple (Dec. 17)
The rest: Boston U. (Nov. 13), Rhode Island (Nov. 15), Sam Houston State (Nov. 26), North Texas (Nov. 29), UT-Arlington (Dec. 6), Texas State (Dec. 10), Nicholls State (Dec. 13), Rice (Dec. 31)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- The Longhorns have two of the tougher true road games in the conference with the trips to UCLA and UNC. Temple is never an easy out, no matter the locale. The Legends Classic starts out with Oregon State at the Meadowlands and then there is the possibility of playing top-10 Vanderbilt, which faces off with NC State. Texas always has had a strong nonconference slate under Rick Barnes and this is no different.


Toughest: 2K Sports Classic (Nov. 17-18), vs. Florida in Sunrise, Fla. (Dec. 17)
Next-toughest: None
The rest: Liberty (Nov. 9), Southern (Nov. 13), Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (Nov. 26), Alcorn State (Nov. 30), Stephen F. Austin (Dec. 3), Sam Houston State (Dec. 7), Louisiana-Monroe (Dec. 10), Rice (Dec. 22), Arkansas Tech (Dec. 29)
Toughness scale (1-10): 3 -- The Aggies do get credit for playing Florida in Sunrise, even if it’s not in Gainesville. The Mississippi State game will be one of the best A&M this season. Two future SEC opponents right there. If the Ags get Arizona instead of St. John’s on the second night in New York, that would help the power-rating even more. Texas A&M is a Big 12 title contender, but the schedule set up by previous coach Mark Turgeon and new coach Billy Kennedy could have been stronger to help the overall at-large profile. There isn't a single true road game on the entire nonconference schedule.


Toughest: Old Spice Classic (Nov. 24-27)
Next-toughest: at TCU (Dec. 6)
The rest: Troy (Nov. 11), North Texas (Nov. 16), Stephen F. Austin (Nov. 20), at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (Dec. 1), Grambling State (Dec. 18), at Oral Roberts (Dec. 22), Cal State-Bakersfield (Dec. 27), Southeastern Louisiana (Dec. 30)
Toughness scale (1-10): 2 -- New coach Billy Gillispie shouldn’t have loaded up the schedule, and he didn't. He is still figuring out this depleted team, this job and the Big 12 again. So it probably wouldn’t have made sense to load up the slate. The Old Spice Classic, which was scheduled long before Gillispie got the job, will be the toughest with an opening-round game against Indiana State and then either DePaul or Minnesota. The third game could be against MAAC co-favorite Fairfield or rebuilding teams Dayton, Arizona State or Wake Forest. Texas Tech isn’t going to the NCAA tournament so the strength of this schedule isn’t as important as seeing gradual improvement throughout the season.

Nonconference schedule analysis: MVC

October, 7, 2011
All week, has been 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.

We devoted Thursday to the West, with the Pac-12, WCC and Mountain West. Friday is all about the Midwest. Let's begin with a look at the Missouri Valley...


Toughest: Chicago Invitational Challenge (Nov. 25-26), at Michigan (Dec. 22)
Next-toughest: at George Washington (Dec. 15), at Drexel (Dec. 17), BracketBusters (home)
The rest: UMKC (Nov. 13), Southeast Missouri State (Nov. 16), North Dakota (Nov. 19), Wofford (Nov. 22), at Wyoming (Dec. 3), Northeastern (Dec. 6), Western Carolina (Dec. 20)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- The Braves get the boost from their Chicago Invitational opponent -- Wisconsin -- giving coach Geno Ford at least two top-25 opponents (Michigan being the other) in his first year at Bradley. The I-95 corridor trip to George Washington and Drexel also should be good tests, and the BracketBuster looms in February.


Toughest: at San Diego State (Nov. 30), Northwestern (Dec. 22)
Next-toughest: at Iowa (Nov. 20), Nebraska (Dec. 4), at Saint Joseph’s (Dec. 10), at Tulsa (Dec. 19), BracketBusters (home)
The rest: Dale Howard Classic (Nov. 11-13), Campbell (Nov. 25), Houston Baptist (Dec. 17)
Toughness scale (1-10): 3 -- The Bluejays will be a hot sleeper pick this season, but they haven’t exactly built a schedule to match their reputation. There are no games here that will test how this team compares with its BCS brethren. Creighton, in fact, ought to be favored against the likes of Iowa and Nebraska. Northwestern is a decent test and the road trip to SDSU is part of the MWC/MVC Challenge. The BracketBuster could be entertaining, but even that lacks huge punch as the Bluejays drew a home game. The Dale Howard isn’t exactly classic, either -- with North Carolina A&T and Chicago State as the early opponents.


Toughest: Iowa State (Nov. 15), Paradise Jam (Nov. 18-21)
Next-toughest: Air Force (Dec. 3), at Iowa (Dec. 17), at BracketBusters
The rest: Cal State Northridge (Nov. 26), at Boise State (Nov. 30), Eastern Michigan (Dec. 8), Central Arkansas (Dec. 21)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- With Ole Miss in the first game of the Paradise Jam and perhaps Marquette next, this schedule at least has potential. An improving Iowa State team adds some meat, as does a BracketBuster game on the road.


Toughest: Butler (Nov. 12), at North Carolina (Dec. 6)
Next-toughest: Indiana (Nov. 16), BracketBusters (home)
The rest: Oakland City (Nov. 19), at Illinois Chicago (Nov. 23), Alabama State (Nov. 29), TCU (Dec. 3), North Carolina A&T (Dec. 10), Tennessee Tech (Dec. 17), at Miami (Ohio) (Dec. 20)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- The Purple Aces open their new downtown arena in style, bringing Butler to town. It doesn’t get any easier after that, with a much-improved Indiana team in town four days later. And then there’s that little December trip to Chapel Hill. That’s a pretty nice schedule for an Evansville team that returns eight of its top players but still won just 16 games a season ago.


Toughest: Cancun Challenge (Nov. 17-23)
Next-toughest: at Morehead State (Dec. 7), BracketBusters (home)
The rest: at Fresno State (Nov. 11), Bethune-Cookman (Nov. 27), Chicago State (Nov. 30), UNC-Wilmington (Dec. 3), Norfolk State (Dec. 18), Arkansas-Little Rock (Dec. 20)
Toughness scale (1-10): 3 -- Granted, the Redbirds are still in growing-pain mode, but this isn’t going to do much to impress anyone. The Cancun Challenge -- with Rutgers in the first game in Mexico and either Richmond or Illinois after -- is decent. Otherwise, a home BracketBuster is really the only big game on Illinois State’s slate.


Toughest: Old Spice Classic (Nov. 24-27), at Vanderbilt (Dec. 17)
Next-toughest: Ball State (Nov. 18), at BracketBusters
The rest: Eastern Illinois (Nov. 11), at Louisiana-Monroe (Nov. 14), Green Bay (Nov. 21), at Boise State (Dec. 3), Maryville (Dec. 10), Louisiana-Monroe (Dec. 21)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- The Sycamores upset their way into the NCAA tournament last season. They could earn their way in this season, particularly with a good showing at the Old Spice in Orlando. Indiana State gets Texas Tech in the first round there, with a potential strength-of-schedule pop from Minnesota in the next game. Going to Vanderbilt and a road BracketBuster will only improve their reputation. The lone question mark: a home-and-home with Louisiana-Monroe. Really?


Toughest: at New Mexico (Dec. 3), Oklahoma State (Dec. 7), Las Vegas Classic (Dec. 22-23)
Next-toughest: at Nevada (Nov. 11), at Arkansas State (Nov. 15), Tulsa (Nov. 26), BracketBusters (home)
The rest: Emporia State (Nov. 19), at Oral Roberts (Nov. 30)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- Kyle Weems will certainly have plenty of opportunities to showcase his talent, particularly in Las Vegas, where the Bears face West Virginia and Saint Mary’s. Traveling to The Pit is never fun, and will be even less so this season with the loaded Lobos and Drew Gordon. Nevada and Arkansas State could finish atop their leagues, too.


Toughest: at Saint Mary’s (Nov. 15), at Iowa State (Nov. 30)
Next-toughest: at Old Dominion (Nov. 12), Iowa (Dec. 6), at BracketBusters
The rest: South Padre Island Invitational (Nov. 20-26), Colorado State (Dec. 3), Milwaukee (Dec. 10), Loras (Dec. 19), Ohio (Dec. 20)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- The Panthers get a higher grade here for the sheer logistical tap dance they’ll perform to open the season. Northern Iowa travels to Norfolk to face Blaine Taylor’s always-reliable Old Dominion team, then hopscotches the country for a 2 a.m. ET tilt against Saint Mary’s in the Tip-Off Marathon. And it’s not like the Panthers are traveling from Chicago. Getting anywhere from Cedar Falls isn’t easy. The South Padre Island Invitational lacks a little luster -- with Northern Colorado, Western Carolina, Rice and Providence making up the field -- but an away BracketBuster could be huge for a team expected to challenge in the Valley.


Toughest: at Western Michigan (Dec. 11), Diamond Head Classic (Dec. 22-25)
Next-toughest: Saint Louis (Nov. 15), at BracketBusters
The rest: Ohio Dominican (Nov. 12), at Northeastern (Nov. 19), Chicago State (Nov. 25), Western Kentucky (Dec. 7), at Northern Illinois (Dec. 17), Southern Illinois-Edwardsville (Dec. 19)
Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- The pressure is on the Salukis to get back to their glory days. Some wins here would surely help. Diamond Head offers some good head-turning opportunities, with SIU opening against Kansas State and getting either Clemson or UTEP in the next game. Western Michigan is loaded, and Rick Majerus finally has a full roster at SLU.


Toughest: Puerto Rico Tip-Off (Nov. 17-20), UNLV (Dec. 4)
Next-toughest: UAB (Nov. 25), at Tulsa (Dec. 7), at BracketBusters
The rest: Charleston Southern (Nov. 13), Cal State Fullerton (Dec. 1), Utah State (Dec. 10), Chicago State (Dec. 14), Newman University (Dec. 19)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- This isn’t a bad schedule but for the Shockers, NIT winners a season ago and potential top-25 team this season, but it’s a little light. The Puerto Rico Tip-Off could help. Wichita State gets to go after a BCS scalp in Colorado to start and a game against either Maryland or Alabama will give a real pop to the strength-of-schedule rating. UNLV at home provides a great opportunity to turn some heads, and a road BracketBuster game could be huge.

Nonconference schedule analysis: MWC

October, 6, 2011
For the rest of the week, 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.

We are devoting Thursday to the West, with the Pac-12, WCC and now the new-look Mountain West ...


Toughest: Colorado (Nov. 23), at Gonzaga (Dec. 22)
Next-toughest: Cable Car Classic (Dec. 29-30)
The rest: All-Military Classic (Nov. 11-12), Western State (Nov. 18), at Drake (Dec. 3), Wright State (Dec. 7), Arkansas-Pine Bluff (Dec. 10), Maryland-Eastern Shore (Dec. 17), Johnson & Wales (Jan. 3), Chicago State (Jan. 6), Texas-Pan American (Jan. 9)
Toughness scale (1-10): 4 -- Air Force has a chance to rack up early wins with this schedule, but can it do well against better competition? The Falcons get Colorado at home and go to Gonzaga. At the Cable Car Classic, they play Wagner and then either Santa Clara or Eastern Michigan. They also host the All-Military Classic and play Army, followed by either The Citadel or VMI.


Toughest: at Long Beach State (Nov. 22), at LSU (Dec. 10), at Iowa (Dec. 22)
Next-toughest: Utah (Nov. 16), Portland (Dec. 7), at Idaho (Dec. 31)
The rest: Colorado Christian (Nov. 11), Cal State Northridge (Nov. 19), Northern Illinois (Nov. 26), Drake (Nov. 30), Indiana State (Dec. 3), Idaho State (Dec. 5), at Denver (Dec. 17), Fresno State (Dec. 19), at Fresno State (Jan. 2)
Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- In the Broncos’ first season in the Mountain West, they play some former WAC foes, some rebuilding power-conference teams, and have a road game against Big West favorite Long Beach State. There are no overly exciting opponents, but then again, all of them are beatable. There are also few cupcakes on the schedule, which is a welcome sight. Leon Rice’s team is set up to do well with this slate.


Toughest: NIT Season Tip-Off (Nov. 14-16), at Duke (Dec. 7)
Next-toughest: Southern Miss (Nov. 19), Colorado (Nov. 30), at Northern Iowa (Dec. 3), Sun Bowl Invitational (Dec. 28-29)
The rest: Montana (Nov. 11), Texas Southern (Dec. 19), at Northern Colorado (Dec. 22), Nebraska-Omaha (Jan. 7), Denver (Jan. 11)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- The Rams will have an early chance to shine if they can knock off SMU and then take out either Fresno State or host Stanford to advance to New York in the NIT Season Tip-Off. That would mean a game against probably Oklahoma State and then either Syracuse, Virginia Tech or George Mason. They’ll also get to play at UTEP in the Sun Bowl Invitational before playing either Jacksonville State or Arkansas-Pine Bluff. And can Tim Miles’ team go to Duke and shock the world? It's not likely, but the national TV exposure certainly won't hurt.


Toughest: 76 Classic (Nov. 24-27), at USC (Dec. 10), at Oklahoma State (Dec. 17)
Next-toughest: at Arizona State (Nov. 18), Missouri State (Dec. 3), at New Mexico State (Dec. 28), Saint Louis (Dec. 31)
The rest: New Orleans (Nov. 11), New Mexico State (Nov. 16), Idaho State (Nov. 30), Montana State (Dec. 20), UMKC (Dec. 22), Houston Baptist (Jan. 3), North Dakota (Jan. 7)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- The Lobos have a chance to make it a memorable time at the 76 Classic, which is set up for them to meet Villanova in the final if they can beat Santa Clara and then either Oklahoma or Washington State. It’s difficult to schedule teams to come into The Pit, so often home games include lesser competition. But Steve Alford gets bonus points for going on the road against USC and Oklahoma State.


Toughest: at Baylor (Nov. 15), Creighton (Nov. 30), at Arizona (Nov. 23), Cal (Dec. 4),
Next-toughest: USC (Nov. 17), Long Beach State (Nov. 19), at UC Santa Barbara (Nov. 26)
The rest: Bryant (Nov. 11), Southern Utah (Nov. 12), UC Davis (Nov. 13), at San Diego (Dec. 7), UC Riverside (Dec. 19), Elon (Dec. 22), Redlands (Dec. 30), San Diego Christian (Jan. 5), Chicago State (Jan. 10)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- The rebuilding Aztecs have some tough tests ahead of them, including road games against Baylor (as part of the Tip-Off Marathon) and defending Pac-10 champion Arizona. Cal, Creighton and Long Beach State are looking like NCAA tournament-quality teams in the preseason. The Aztecs did struggle mightily to fill out their home schedule with top-notch competition after November, so it should be interesting to see how prepared they are for Mountain West play.


Toughest: Paradise Jam (Nov. 18-21), at USC (Nov. 19)
Next-toughest: at Evansville (Dec. 3), Texas Tech (Dec. 6), Nebraska (Dec. 10), Tulsa (Dec. 31)
The rest: Florida Gulf Coast (Nov. 11), Austin College (Nov. 14), at Houston (Nov. 26), Lamar (Nov. 30), Grambling (Dec. 22), Rice (Jan. 4), Texas-Pan American (Jan. 11), at SMU (Feb. 8)
Toughness scale (1-10): 3 -- The most difficult game here might come in the opening round of the Paradise Jam against Virginia before moving on to play either Drexel or Norfolk State. That’s what the Horned Frogs have set up in the year before they’re expected to depart for the Big 12. One would hope the strength of schedule will drastically improve going forward.


Toughest: Las Vegas Invitational (Nov. 25-26), at Wichita State (Dec. 4), at Wisconsin (Dec. 10), at Illinois (Dec. 17), Cal (Dec. 23)
Next-toughest: Nevada (Nov. 14), at UC Santa Barbara (Nov. 30)
The rest: Grand Canyon (Nov. 11), Canisius (Nov. 17), Morgan State (Nov. 20), Cal Poly (Nov. 22), Cal State San Marcos (Dec. 7), UTEP (Dec. 14), Louisiana-Monroe (Dec. 19), Central Arkansas (Dec. 28), at Hawaii (Dec. 31), at Cal State Bakersfield (Jan. 5)
Toughness scale (1-10): 9 -- If it gets past USC, UNLV could very well play No. 1 North Carolina at the Las Vegas Invitational (assuming the Tar Heels beat South Carolina). What an atmosphere that would be. That’d be the highlight of a schedule that also includes difficult road games against Wisconsin, Wichita State, Illinois and UCSB. It’s a slate that certainly boosts the Rebels’ at-large chances.


Toughest: at Colorado (Dec. 9), at Denver (Dec. 19)
Next-toughest: Northern Colorado (Nov. 15)
The rest: at Green Bay (Nov. 19), South Dakota (Nov. 22), Portland State (Nov. 25), Maryland-Eastern Shore (Nov. 26), Louisiana Tech (Nov. 27), Utah Valley (Nov. 30), Bradley (Dec. 3), UC Irvine (Dec. 13), Sioux Falls (Dec. 16), at Idaho State (Dec. 22), at Utah Valley (Jan. 3), Idaho State (Jan. 9)
Toughness scale (1-10): 2 -- The one power-conference team the Cowboys play (Colorado) is in for a rebuilding year. Among the other opponents are eight that had losing records last season. Before Mountain West play begins, there won’t be much reason to watch outside of the intrigue that is Larry Shyatt’s return to Laramie.

Nonconference schedule analysis: WCC

October, 6, 2011
For the rest of the week, 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.

We are devoting Thursday to the West, beginning with the Pac-12 and now continuing with the newly expanded West Coast Conference ...


Toughest: Chicago Invitational Challenge (Nov. 25-26), Baylor (Dec. 17), at Virginia Tech (Jan. 25)
Next-toughest: at Utah State (Nov. 11), vs. Oregon in Salt Lake City (Dec. 3), UC Santa Barbara (Dec. 22)
The rest: BYU-Hawaii (Nov. 15), Longwood (Nov. 18), Prairie View A&M (Nov. 22), vs. Northern Arizona in Prescott Valley, Ariz. (Nov. 30), Weber State (Dec. 7), at Utah (Dec. 10), Buffalo (Dec. 20), Cal State San Marcos (Dec. 27)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- BYU begins its season at Utah State's raucous Spectrum and also has a late-January date at Virginia Tech. In between, the Cougars host Baylor, play rising Oregon in Salt Lake and also head to the Chicago Invitational Challenge, where there is a game against Nevada and a likely date with Wisconsin if BYU takes care of business in the first game. It’s not always easy to get an at-large bid out of the WCC, but this nonconference schedule certainly gives Dave Rose’s team a chance.


Toughest: at Illinois (Dec. 3), Michigan State (Dec. 10), vs. Arizona in Seattle (Dec. 17), at Xavier (Dec. 31)
Next-toughest: Washington State (Nov. 14), Notre Dame (Nov. 30), Butler (Dec. 20)
The rest: Eastern Washington (Nov. 11), vs. Hawaii in Vancouver, British Columbia (Nov. 19), Western Michigan (Nov. 26), Oral Roberts (Dec. 15), Air Force (Dec. 22), Longwood (Feb. 27)
Toughness scale (1-10): 9 -- As usual, the Zags aren't afraid to play anyone this season. The refreshing part for Gonzaga fans is that some big-time programs are headed to Spokane, including Michigan State, Notre Dame and Butler, along with the traditional rivalry game with Washington State, which arrives for the ESPN Tip-Off Marathon. That Battle In Seattle with Zona should be fun and road trips to Illinois and Xavier will provide brutal environments, but Gonzaga has usually been bold about playing wherever it can find good competition. Mark Few gets creativity points too for getting center Robert Sacre a hometown game in Vancouver.


Toughest: at UCLA (Nov. 11), at Florida State (Dec. 18)
Next-toughest: Harvard (Nov. 19), Saint Louis (Nov. 29), North Texas (Dec. 4)
The rest: Middle Tennessee (Nov. 13), at Idaho State (Nov. 23), Northern Arizona (Nov. 26), Columbia (Dec. 2), La Sierra (Dec. 3), Idaho State (Dec. 10), at Morgan State (Dec. 21), Vanguard (Dec. 27), TBA BracketBusters (home)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- LMU has a record number of home games this season, including ones against rising mid-majors Harvard and North Texas. It has difficult road games across town at UCLA for the season opener and also a nationally televised return trip to Florida State. The Lions need a bounceback after a disappointing 2010-11 season, and this schedule certainly offers the opportunity for statement wins.


Toughest: at Arizona State (Nov. 15), at UCLA (Nov. 28), vs. Washington State in Seattle (Dec. 22)
Next-toughest: Hawaii (Dec. 3)
The rest: Pomona-Pitzer (Nov. 12), at Cal State Bakersfield (Nov. 19), Central Michigan (Nov. 21), at UT-San Antonio (Nov. 26), at Northern Arizona (Dec. 7), Cal State Northridge (Dec. 10), Montana State (Dec. 18), at Seattle (Feb. 16)
Toughness scale (1-10): 4 -- The Waves play three Pac-12 teams away from home, including the always-difficult trip to UCLA. That’s balanced out with a mix of mid-majors at home and on the road. It’s a schedule that should give first-year coach Marty Wilson and his team some confidence heading into WCC play.


Toughest: at Washington (Nov. 14), at Kentucky (Nov. 26)
Next-toughest: Washington State (Nov. 20), at UC Santa Barbara (Nov. 22), at Saint Louis (Dec. 3), at Nevada (Dec. 22)
The rest: vs. Florida Atlantic in Seattle (Nov. 12), vs. Georgia State in Seattle (Nov. 13), Lewis & Clark (Nov. 29), at Boise State (Dec. 7), Ohio (Dec. 10), Montana (Dec. 17), at Utah (Dec. 19)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- The return trip to Kentucky is the highlight of the schedule, but where the difficulty lies is in the overall quality of the opponents. The Pilots play road games against rising programs such as UC Santa Barbara, Nevada, Saint Louis and Boise State. Home games against Ohio, Montana, and a game against Florida Atlantic in Seattle won’t be easy. There are also three Pac-12 opponents on the schedule.


Toughest: vs. Baylor in Las Vegas (Dec. 22)
Next-toughest: Northern Iowa (Nov. 14), at Denver (Nov. 23), vs. Missouri State in Las Vegas (Dec. 23)
The rest: Shamrock Classic (Nov. 27-28), at Cal Poly (Dec. 3), Jackson State (Dec. 13), Bethune-Cookman (Dec. 17), Kennesaw State (Dec. 19), Eastern Washington (Dec. 20), at TBA BracketBusters (road)
Toughness scale (1-10): Incomplete -- Saint Mary’s has only officially released a partial schedule, so this list was compiled in conjunction with some of their opponents announcing games. The highlights for the Gaels are opening the season with a late-night affair against Northern Iowa for the Tip-Off Marathon and playing Baylor and Missouri State on consecutive days in Vegas. SMC is also hosting an event on campus that includes Weber State, Jacksonville State and San Francisco State.


Toughest: San Diego State (Dec. 7), at Stanford (Dec. 17)
Next-toughest: Montana (Nov. 20), UC Santa Barbara (Dec. 13)
The rest: Stephen F. Austin (Nov. 14), San Diego Christian (Nov. 16), vs. New Orleans in New Orleans (Nov. 25), vs. Alcorn State in New Orleans (Nov. 26), at Tulane (Nov. 27), at UC Irvine (Dec. 3), Maine (Dec. 10), vs. South Alabama in Las Vegas (Dec. 22), at Cal State Bakersfield (Feb. 18)
Toughness scale (1-10): 3 -- San Diego had to redo the early part of its schedule after the cancellation of the Rainbow Classic and is now headed to New Orleans for the three-game Hoops for Hope Classic at Tulane. The Toreros also host a crosstown game against San Diego State as well as solid mid-major teams in Montana and UC Santa Barbara.


Toughest: Great Alaska Shootout (Nov. 23-26), at Montana (Dec. 1)
Next-toughest: at Seattle (Nov. 19)
The rest: North Dakota State (Nov. 11), Northern Arizona (Nov. 12), Louisiana-Lafayette (Nov. 13), San Jose State (Nov. 16), Pacific Union (Dec. 4), Pacific (Dec. 10), Menlo College (Dec. 17), at Holy Cross (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale (1-10): 1 -- Rex Walters said he and school administrators decided it wasn’t in the best interest of the program to play guarantee games. That’s one reason why rising San Francisco won’t be facing any power-conference teams. With few possibilities for notable nonconference wins, the Great Alaska Shootout becomes important. Assuming it gets past Dartmouth, USF could play Murray State in the second round, with New Mexico State and Southern Miss lurking on the other side of the bracket.


Toughest: 76 Classic (Nov. 24-27), at Washington State (Dec. 11)
Next-toughest: at UC Santa Barbara (Nov. 15)
The rest: UC Merced (Nov. 11), San Jose State (Nov. 19), Cal State Northridge (Dec. 3), Pacifica (Dec. 13), Pacific (Dec. 17), at Houston Baptist (Dec. 21), Eastern Michigan (Dec. 29), Air Force (Dec. 30)
Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- The 76 Classic presents a big opportunity for Kerry Keating’s team to do some damage and open some eyes. The Broncos have an opening-round game against MWC contender New Mexico and then face either Oklahoma or Washington State. They also have road trips to Washington State and UC Santa Barbara. The rest of the schedule gives them an opportunity to go into WCC play with momentum.
The rest of the schedule gives them an opportunity to go into WCC with momentum.
For the rest of the week, 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.
For the rest of the week, 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 and the Atlantic 10 and now wrap up the day with the Colonial Athletic Association ...


Toughest: at Villanova (Nov. 18), Temple (Dec. 30)
Next-toughest: at Boston U. (Nov. 30), La Salle (Dec. 19), BracketBusters (home)
The rest: at Radford (Nov. 11), Cornell (Nov. 22), Lafayette (Nov. 26), at Penn (Dec. 7), at Delaware State (Dec. 10), at Howard (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- The Blue Hens do have a pair of big challenges -- or, put more appropriately, big opportunities -- in the form of a trip to Villanova and a home game against Temple. The strength of those games alone is enough to nudge them above some of their other conference mates. But if those opportunities are lost, Delaware won't have many chances to impress.


Toughest: Paradise Jam (Nov. 18-21), Princeton (Dec. 10), Fairfield (Dec. 28)
Next-toughest: at Rider (Nov. 15), at Saint Joseph's (Nov. 30), at BracketBusters (road)
The rest: at Niagara (Dec. 13), Bradley (Dec. 17), at Binghamton (Dec. 22), St. Francis-Pa. (Dec. 31)
Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- Much of this schedule's toughness will weigh on how far Drexel advances at the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands. If the Dragons can get past Norfolk State and Virginia/TCU in the second round, they could come up against a ranked Marquette team (or Ole Miss). If that game doesn't happen, at least Drexel has games against good mid-majors in Fairfield and Princeton. There's also a TBA road BracketBusters opportunity in February.


Toughest: NIT Season Tip-Off (Nov. 14-25), at Virginia (Dec. 6)
Next-toughest: Rhode Island (Nov. 11), at Florida Atlantic (Nov. 19), Bucknell (Nov. 30), Duquesne (Dec. 21), at Charleston (Dec. 30), BracketBusters (home)
The rest: at Radford (Dec. 10), Manhattan (Dec. 23)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- Credit the Patriots: They were able to convince some decent opponents, including Rhode Island and Duquesne, to come to Fairfax this season. But really, this schedule's main feature is the NIT Season Tip-Off -- which will pit Mason against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg assuming GMU can get past FIU and Tech beats Monmouth. If the Patriots survive that game and seeds hold, they would likely meet Syracuse in Madison Square Garden, followed by a game against probably either Stanford or Oklahoma State. Regardless of what happens, getting the state's two bellweather schools -- UVa and Va Tech -- on the schedule is extremely meaningful to Mason fans.


Toughest: at Washington (Nov. 12)
Next-toughest: vs. Portland in Seattle (Nov. 13), vs. Florida Atlantic in Seattle (Nov. 14), Rhode Island (Dec. 10), BracketBusters (home)
The rest: McNeese State (Nov. 18), at Samford (Nov. 22), Liberty (Nov. 26), at South Carolina State (Nov. 29), Florida International (Dec. 1), at Utah Valley State (Dec. 17), Georgia Southern (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale (1-10): 3 -- First-year coach Ron Hunter's regular-season debut comes at Washington in the Basketball Travelers Invitational. It's an arrangement so brutal it makes you want to grant the Panthers some measure of schedule clemency. After the trio of games in Seattle are done, though, the rest of Hunter's schedule isn't all that fearsome. But to be fair, this is a struggling CAA program with a new coach, scattered fan interest and a walk-up gym. Its schedule shouldn't be tough.


Toughest: at Oregon State (Nov. 16), at Rhode Island (Nov. 25), vs. Boston U. in Kingston, R.I. (Nov. 27), Iona (Dec. 29)
Next-toughest: Long Island (Nov. 11), vs. Cleveland State in Kingston, R.I. (Nov. 26), BracketBusters (home)
The rest: St. Francis-N.Y. (Nov. 19), Florida Atlantic (Nov. 22), at Wagner (Dec. 6), Manhattan (Dec. 10), Binghamton (Dec. 17), Colgate (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale (1-10): 4 -- Hofstra may get some so-so matchups out of the TicketCity Legends Classic, the "tournament" in which it travels to Oregon State on Nov. 16 and makes a three-day stand in Rhode Island late in the month. And the Beavers can be tough in Corvallis. But the rest of Hofstra's schedule -- and this is probably a good thing, given the loss of star Charles Jenkins to the NBA draft this summer -- offers little to get excited about, except for perhaps a home BracketBusters matchup.


Toughest: Kent State (Dec. 6), UCF Holiday Classic (Dec. 29-30)
Next-toughest: at La Salle (Nov. 19), vs. Rider in Philadelphia (Nov. 25), at Penn (Nov. 26), at George Washington (Dec. 22), at East Tennessee State (Jan. 30), at BracketBusters (road)
The rest: Canisius (Nov. 13), Robert Morris (Nov. 22), The Citadel (Dec. 19), Hampton (Jan. 9)
Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- Make no mistake, this is hardly a murderers' row of opponents. What is it? A decent-but-hardly-great assemblage of games against decent-but-hardly-great squads. La Salle, Robert Morris, Rider, Kent State, George Washington -- none of these is a marquee opponent, but taken together, JMU's schedule doesn't look so bad. And down in Orlando, Fla., the Dukes will face Rhode Island and possibly homestanding UCF in the second game.


Toughest: at Maryland (Nov. 13), at Dayton (Nov. 19)
Next-toughest: Marshall (Nov. 22), at Wake Forest (Dec. 21)
The rest: Davidson (Nov. 26), at Toledo (Nov. 30), at Illinois State (Dec. 3), at Liberty (Dec. 6), Campbell (Dec. 19), Furman (Dec. 30), at BracketBusters (road)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- It's not really the opponents that make this schedule tough. It's the travel. Wilmington opens on the road at Maryland and follows it with a trip to Dayton. A sneaky tough Marshall team will be waiting for the Seahawks upon their return, and beginning on Nov. 30, UNCW will spend the next two weeks on the road (with a conference opener at VCU mixed in). That's a lot of road work, and it could result in some tough losses before the New Year arrives.


Toughest: at St. John's (Nov. 26), at NC State (Dec. 22)
Next-toughest: at Boston U. (Nov. 11), at La Salle (Nov. 30), Princeton (Dec. 18), at Vermont (Dec. 30), BracketBusters (home)
The rest: at UMass (Nov. 14), Southern Illinois (Nov. 19), at Bradley (Dec. 6), at Louisiana Tech (Dec. 20)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- Similar to Wilmington, the opponents might not merit a high score, but the logistics do. Of the Huskies' 10 nonconference games, only two (Southern Illinois, Princeton) will be played at home (in addition to the February BracketBusters game). The rest require constant travel and hostile crowds and, yes, taking on some solid teams in big, unforgiving environments. Like, say, Madison Square Garden. Maybe you've heard of it?


Toughest: Hall of Fame Tipoff (Nov. 19-20), at Richmond (Dec. 20), Missouri (Dec. 30)
Next-toughest: Northern Iowa (Nov. 12), Long Island (Nov. 14), at Fairfield (Dec. 9), at UCF (Dec. 17), at BracketBusters (road)
The rest: Howard (Nov. 16), Vermont (Nov. 23), East Carolina (Nov. 29), VMI (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale (1-10): 9 -- This might be the toughest schedule in the CAA this season, and it's tougher than it looks on first glance. The Hall of Fame tournament in Connecticut will begin with South Florida, and if that's a win, mighty Kentucky almost certainly awaits. Combine that tourney with the games at Richmond and Fairfield and home tilts with LIU, UNI and that huge opportunity with Missouri, and you get a schedule worthy of ODU's designs on consistent NCAA tournament competition.

Toughest: at Kansas (Nov. 11), at Michigan (Nov. 14), vs. Belmont in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (Nov. 19), at Virginia (Dec. 30)
Next-toughest: Oregon State (Nov. 26), at UMass (Nov. 30), at BracketBusters (road)
The rest: Virginia State (Nov. 6), vs. UNC Greensboro/Middle Tennessee in Murfreesoboro, Tenn. (Nov. 20), La Salle (Dec. 7), UMBC (Dec. 10), at Coppin State (Dec. 14), Manhattan (Dec. 20), Vermont (Dec. 23)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- Towson's early November slate -- part of the qualifying rounds of the EA Sports Maui Invitational -- includes trips to Kansas, Michigan and Belmont, a three-game road stand you wouldn't wish on any team, let alone one that finished 4-26 last season. Ouch.


Toughest: Charleston Classic (Nov. 17-20), at Alabama (Nov. 27), Richmond (Dec. 10)
Next-toughest: at Western Kentucky (Nov. 23), vs. George Washington in Washington, D.C.'s Verizon Center (Dec. 4), UAB (Dec. 20), at Akron (Dec. 29), BracketBusters (home)
The rest: Saint Francis-Pa. (Nov. 11), South Florida (Nov. 30), at UNC Greensboro (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- The road to another miraculous March run begins in earnest on Nov. 17, when VCU will face Seton Hall in the Charleston Classic. Depending on each team's performance, the Rams could face either Georgia Tech or Saint Joseph's in the second round, followed by a meeting with either LSU, Tulsa, Northwestern or Western Kentucky. That's not the most loaded tournament field of all time, but combined with VCU's other nonleague home tests (Richmond, UAB) and that trip to see former coach Anthony Grant at Alabama, it's a solid schedule overall.


Toughest: at St. John's (Nov. 7), at Missouri (Dec. 18)
Next-toughest: Richmond (Nov. 30), Iona (Dec. 21), at BracketBusters (road)
The rest: at Hampton (Nov. 12), Liberty (Nov. 14), vs. Lehigh in Lynchburg, Va. (Nov. 18), vs. Eastern Kentucky in Lynchburg (Nov. 19), at Liberty (Nov. 20), at Howard (Nov. 26), Wesley College (Dec. 15), at Miami-Ohio (Dec. 29)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- The Tribe get a bunch of their nonconference work from the 2K Sports Classic, in which they'll play St. John's and a handful of so-so opponents in Lynchburg, Va. There are other challenges here, as you can see, with a trip to Missouri looming especially large. The Tribe will have to make the most of their biggest games, especially those at home versus Richmond and Iona, to make waves in what could be another down season.

Nonconference schedule analysis: A-10

October, 5, 2011
For the rest of the week, will be breaking down the nonconference schedules of each and every team in a dozen different leagues. Tuesday, we began with the ACC, SEC and C-USA. Wednesday, we continued with the Big East and now it's time to move on to the Atlantic 10 ...


Toughest: Miami (Dec. 22), at Arkansas (Dec. 28), at Memphis (Dec. 31)
Next-toughest: at Lamar (Nov. 19), at Wright State (Nov. 26), Davidson (Dec. 10)
The rest: North Carolina Central (Nov. 11), at Central Michigan (Nov. 15), East Tennessee State (Nov. 22), at East Carolina (Dec. 3), at Radford (Dec. 6), Coppin State (Dec. 19), Kennesaw State (Jan. 18)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- For a team that won just 10 games last season, this is a pretty hefty slate. Second-year coach Alan Major does have four returning starters, so if they can weather this schedule and use it to prepare for the conference season, the 49ers could be the better for the early tough run.


Toughest: Old Spice Classic (Nov. 24-27), Alabama (Dec. 7)
Next-toughest: at Murray State (Dec. 4), Seton Hall (Dec. 21), Ole Miss (Dec. 30)
The rest: Western Illinois (Nov. 12), at Miami-Ohio (Nov. 15), UNC Wilmington (Nov. 19), Buffalo (Nov. 30), Alabama State (Dec. 7), South Carolina Upstate (Dec. 11), Florida International (Dec. 17), Illinois-Chicago (Dec. 23)
Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- The Flyers did little to help their NCAA cause last year with a so-so schedule, and this one follows suit. It's not a bad schedule, but it doesn't help that the Old Spice field is fairly weak, with an opener against rebuilding Wake Forest and a second-round game against either Arizona State or Fairfield. There is a new coach in place and certainly holes to fill with the loss of Chris Wright, but for a team with the rep that Dayton has, this slate should have a little more meat. Almost makes you feel like Bama is a must-win if UD is to be in the bubble discussion.


Toughest: at Arizona (Nov. 9), vs. Pittsburgh in CONSOL Energy Center (Nov. 30)
Next-toughest: vs. Akron in Valparaiso, Ind. (Nov. 19), at Valparaiso (Nov. 20), at Western Michigan (Dec. 17), at George Mason (Dec. 21)
The rest: Green Bay (Nov. 13), District of Columbia in Valparaiso, Ind. (Nov 18), Louisiana-Lafayette (Nov. 26), Tennessee Tech (Dec. 3), Robert Morris (Dec. 6), Penn State (Dec. 10), Bowling Green (Dec. 28), Houston Baptist (Dec. 31)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- Ron Everhart has put together a nice challenge for a team that will be without its best player this season. The Dukes open at Arizona, plus face city rival Pitt in the Penguins’ downtown arena. What really adds teeth to this schedule are the mid-majors Duquesne has added -- Western Michigan will be on most sleeper lists this season, fellow MAC squad Akron will challenge for another NCAA bid and George Mason is George Mason.


Toughest: at Syracuse (Nov. 12), at St. John’s (Dec. 17), Harvard (Jan. 3)
Next-toughest: Lehigh (Dec. 1), Georgia Tech (Dec. 29)
The rest: Binghamton (Nov. 18), Loyola-Chicago (Nov. 26), Colgate (Nov. 29), Hampton (Dec. 5), at Manhattan (Dec. 7), at Monmouth (Dec. 10), at Siena (Dec. 12), Texas State (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- Give Tom Pecora credit -- he’s not shying away from the task of rebuilding the Rams. This schedule is tough but manageable. Syracuse and St. John’s might be tall orders.Lehigh, Hampton and Harvard are favorites in their respective leagues, but those could be winnable games for a Fordham team that has four starters back and a solid New York-flavored recruiting class.


Toughest: at Cal (Nov. 13), at Kansas State (Dec. 1), vs. VCU in Washington, D.C.'s Verizon Center (Dec. 4), at Syracuse (Dec. 10)
Next-toughest: vs. Detroit in Bowling Green, Ohio (Nov. 21), vs. Austin Peay in Bowling Green, Ohio (Nov. 22), UAB (Dec. 28)
The rest: at Bowling Green (Nov. 23), Loyola-Md. (Dec. 7), Bradley (Dec. 15), James Madison (Dec. 22), Delaware State (Dec. 31)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- The Colonials have the players to vie for their first NCAA tournament bid since 2007 and smartly put together a schedule that could give them the proper bonus points. New coach Mike Lonergan, with help from leading scorer Tony Taylor, has plenty of big names to gun for, plus some high-level mid-majors that could add to GW's cred, too.


Toughest: at Villanova (Nov. 15), at Pittsburgh (Nov. 22)
Next-toughest: vs. Rider at the Palestra (Nov. 26), at Central Connecticut State (Dec. 22), Boston U. (Dec. 29)
The rest: Lafayette (Nov. 11), James Madison (Nov. 19), vs. Robert Morris at the Palestra (Nov. 25), Northeastern (Nov. 30), Bucknell (Dec. 3), at Towson (Dec. 7), Army (Dec. 10), at Delaware (Dec. 19), Hartford (Dec. 31), at Penn (Jan. 10)
Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- If Villanova were more of a surefire top-25 team, this number would be higher. But since the Wildcats are something of a question mark, their Big 5 rival Explorers suffer the consequences. There are some decent mid-majors on the slate -- and playing at Pitt is obviously brutal -- but without Aaric Murray (transferred to West Virginia), John Giannini could be forgiven for not scheduling too boldly.


Toughest: Battle 4 Atlantis (Nov. 24-26), at Miami-Fla. (Dec. 3)
Next-toughest: at Boston College (Nov. 21), Davidson (Dec. 22), Central Connecticut State (Dec. 28)
The rest: Elon (Nov. 11), Northeastern (Nov. 14), NJIT (Nov. 17), Towson (Nov. 30), at East Carolina (Dec. 6), vs. Siena in Springfield, Mass. (Dec. 9), Quinnipiac (Dec. 17)
Toughness scale (1-10): 4 -- This isn’t an overly ambitious schedule, but for where Derek Kellogg’s Minutemen are right now, that’s understandable. UMass is getting better but hasn’t yet fully arrived. Certainly this slate could move up the meter if the Minutemen could somehow upset Florida State in the Bahamas and move along in the Battle 4 Atlantis, where they'll face either Harvard or Utah in the second game.


Toughest: at George Mason (Nov. 11), at Texas (Nov. 15), Virginia Tech (Dec. 7)
Next-toughest: at Nebraska (Nov. 20), Boston U. (Nov. 26), Providence (Dec. 23), UCF Holiday Classic (Dec. 29-30), at Boston College (Jan. 2)
The rest: Hofstra (Nov. 25), Cleveland State (Nov. 27), at Brown (Nov. 30), Maine (Dec. 4), at Georgia State (Dec. 10), Yale (Dec. 18)
Toughness scale: 6 -- This would have been a heckuva schedule a year ago -- back when Texas was prowling in the top 10, Norris Cole was at Cleveland State, Charles Jenkins was at Hofstra and Boston College was surprising folks in the ACC. This season, though, the Rams are the unfortunate recipients of good teams in rebuilding years. This is still an impressive schedule, though. Give Rhody credit for the late addition of George Mason for the opener.


Toughest: Cancun Challenge (Nov. 22-23), at VCU in Richmond Coliseum (Dec. 10), Iona (Dec. 14), Old Dominion (Dec. 20), at UCLA (Dec. 23)
Next-toughest: at Davidson (Nov. 14), at Wake Forest (Dec. 3)
The rest: American (Nov. 11), Hampton (Nov. 17), Sacred Heart (Nov. 19), at William & Mary (Nov. 30), at Bucknell (Dec. 17), Liberty (Dec. 28), UNC Greensboro (Dec. 30)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- The trip to Cancun brings a game against Illinois and either Rutgers or Illinois State on the second day. Davidson, Iona and ODU have the potential to be the Spiders of this season -- March Madness darlings that stun more than a few people. Big brownie points to Chris Mooney for taking his team across the country for a date with a very good UCLA team. And of course there’s the real highlight -- the intra-city game against VCU, the city of Richmond's other Cinderella story from last season.


Toughest: Charleston Classic (Nov. 17-20), at Iona (Nov. 23), Creighton (Dec. 10), Villanova (Dec. 17), at Harvard (Dec. 31)
Next-toughest: at Western Kentucky (Nov. 11), Drexel (Nov. 30), Boston U. (Dec. 7)
The rest: Penn State (Nov. 26), at American (Dec. 4), Coppin State (Dec. 21), Morgan State (Dec. 28), at Penn (Jan. 21)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- This is about on par for a St. Joe’s team that is trying to regain its footing after some precipitous freefalling. The Hawks are still young, so a crazy schedule could have ruined their confidence. This is manageable, winnable but also has enough teams with NCAA tournament potential -- Creighton, Villanova, Iona, Drexel, Boston University, Morgan State and Harvard -- to get the proper strength of schedule boost. The Charleston Classic isn't stacked, but the opener against Georgia Tech is a good test and either Seton Hall or VCU will await on the second day.


Toughest: Washington (Nov. 20), at New Mexico (Dec. 31)
Next-toughest: 76 Classic (Nov. 24-27)
The rest: Tennessee State (Nov. 11), at Southern Illinois (Nov. 15), at Loyola Marymount (Nov. 29), Portland (Dec. 3), Vermont (Dec. 7), Illinois-Springfield (Dec. 10), Alabama State (Dec. 17), Arkansas State (Dec. 22), Texas Southern (Dec. 27)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- Have to give credit to anyone willing to travel across the country for a New Year’s Eve trip. Extra credit when that trip takes you to a serious contender like New Mexico at a very serious place like the Pit. Would be nice if there were a little more of a smattering of good mid-majors to compliment the two heavy hitters, but the 76 Classic offers a decent field that begins with rebuilding BC and likely continues with Villanova on the second day if the Billikens take care of business. Either Oklahoma, Santa Clara, Washington State or New Mexico await on the third day.


Toughest: at Virginia Tech (Nov. 27), at Illinois (Dec. 7), vs. NC State in Rochester, N.Y. (Dec. 20)
Next-toughest: at Cleveland State (Nov. 18)
The rest: Cornell (Nov. 11), at Siena (Nov. 21), Arkansas State (Dec. 1), at Buffalo (Dec. 3), Canisius (Dec. 10), St. Francis-Pa. (Dec. 23), at Niagara (Dec. 30)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- Big things could be coming to Olean, thanks to NBA prospect Andrew Nicholson. Though Virginia Tech and Illinois aren’t tops in their leagues, the fact that the Bonnies are traveling for those games will make all the difference in the world if this team is in the mix down the stretch. Four mid-major road games could also quietly help the power rating.


Toughest: Puerto Rico Tip-Off (Nov. 17-20), Villanova (Dec. 10), at Texas (Dec. 17), Duke (Jan. 4)
Next-toughest: Maryland (Jan. 21)
The rest: at Penn (Nov. 14), at Bowling Green (Nov. 27), Central Michigan (Dec. 3), at Toledo (Dec. 7), at Rice (Dec. 19), Buffalo (Dec. 28), at Delaware (Dec. 30)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- Fran Dunphy has never been afraid of a tough schedule, and this is another example. Though some of its best games are in Philly, Temple serves itself well by going to Austin for a mid-December game with Texas. This rigorous slate could jump even higher if the Owls move on in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, where TU opens with Western Michigan, faces a tough second game against Purdue or Iona and a third game against probably either Alabama or Wichita State.


Toughest: at Vanderbilt (Nov. 28), Purdue (Dec. 3), at Butler (Dec. 7), Cincinnati (Dec. 10), Gonzaga (Dec. 31), at Memphis (Feb. 4)
Next-toughest: Georgia (Nov. 25), Oral Roberts (Dec. 18), Diamond Head Classic (Dec. 22-25)
The rest: Morgan State (Nov. 11), IPFW (Nov. 15), Miami-Ohio (Nov. 18)
Toughness scale (1-10): 10 -- Chris Mack is either insane or a genius. Come March, we’ll know which one. He has a first-class team with a first-class nonconference schedule. The fact that there are just three games in “the rest” category says it all. After those initial three games, X faces off with five straight NCAA tourney teams from last season (UGA, Vandy, Purdue, Butler and Cincinnati), then gets Summit League favorite ORU, then a trip to Hawaii to face off with Big West favorite Long Beach State and likely Clemson or Kansas State eventually. Oh, and then the Musketeers come back stateside for a New Year's Eve date with Gonzaga. That is some 10-game stretch. Throw in the February trip to Memphis and you have yourself a battle-tested group for March.

Nonconference schedule analysis: Big East

October, 5, 2011
For the rest of the week, 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 ...


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Nonconference schedule analysis: C-USA

October, 4, 2011

Toughest: at Old Dominion (Nov. 29)
Next-toughest: vs. Appalachian State in Charlotte (Nov. 22), Charlotte (Dec. 3), UMass (Dec. 6)
The rest: Milligan (Nov. 11), at Campbell (Nov. 14), Coker (Nov. 17), Chowan (Nov. 26), at UNC Greensboro (Dec. 16), Coastal Carolina (Dec. 19), Gardner-Webb (Dec. 22), North Carolina Central (Dec. 29), UVA-Wise (Dec. 31)
Toughness scale (1-10): 1 -- Can it be anything else? There are three schools on here that I'm guessing most college basketball fans have never even heard of. The Pirates won 18 games and made the postseason in 2011 -- one would think the schedule could be beefed up just a bit. Playing two A-10 teams isn’t bad and it helps that both are at home. But there are really no serious challenges after Dec. 6. This has the look of a CIT-worthy schedule.


Toughest: vs. Arkansas in Little Rock (Nov. 18), LSU (Nov. 29)
Next-toughest: vs. Oklahoma in Oklahoma City (Dec. 17), Oakland (Nov. 22)
The rest: Grambling (Nov. 12), Utah Valley (Nov. 14), TCU (Nov. 26), Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (Dec. 3), at Texas State (Dec. 6), UTSA (Dec. 10), Rogers State (Dec. 21), North Carolina A&T (Dec. 28), Texas State (Dec. 30)
Toughness scale (1-10): 3 -- The Cougars did a good job of trolling for higher-level teams that are rebuilding or in transition. Playing Arkansas is a quality game and it’s technically on a neutral court. Houston won 12 games last season and James Dickey will need to show improvement before a loaded recruiting class comes in next season. This schedule should help rack up the W's at the very least.


Toughest: at Cincinnati (Nov. 25), at Syracuse (Dec. 6) vs. West Virginia in Charleston, W.Va. (Jan. 18)
Next-toughest: Ohio (Nov. 30), Iona (Dec. 11), Belmont (Dec. 19), Akron (Jan. 1)
The rest: Alabama State (Nov. 11), Jacksonville State (Nov. 13), Northwestern State (Nov. 19), at UNC Wilmington (Nov. 22), High Point (Dec. 17), West Virginia Tech (Dec. 21)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- Coach Tom Herrion, who said he has a team that could challenge for the C-USA title, did a tremendous job of putting together a schedule that could garner an at-large berth if the Herd do their part. Playing three Big East teams -- all away from home -- will not only give Marshall a chance at quality wins, but also boost the nonconference RPI. There are also a lot of sneaky-good mid-major opponents in here that will help the schedule strength, such as Iona, Ohio, Akron and Belmont, which MU plays twice.


Toughest: Maui Invitational (Nov. 21-23), at Louisville (Dec. 17), at Georgetown (Dec. 22), Xavier (Feb. 4)
Next-toughest: Belmont (Nov. 15), Austin Peay (Dec. 3), at Miami-Fla. (Dec. 6), Tennessee (Jan. 4)
The rest: Jackson State (Nov. 28), Murray State (Dec. 11), Lipscomb (Dec. 19), Robert Morris (Dec. 29), Charlotte (Dec. 31)
Toughness scale (1-10): 9 -- The Tigers can edge this to a 10 if they end up playing Duke in the semifinals of the Maui Invitational and then possibly Kansas or UCLA on Day 3. The road games at Louisville, Georgetown and Miami are all big-time tests, and playing Xavier and Belmont at home will be two of the toughest games at FedExForum all season. This is the kind of schedule Memphis has to play.


Toughest: South Padre Invitational (Nov. 25-26), Temple (Dec. 19), at Texas A&M (Dec. 22), at Texas (Dec. 31)
Next-toughest: at TCU (Jan. 4)
The rest: New Orleans (Nov. 12), Southern (Nov. 17), Maryland-Eastern Shore (Nov. 20), Florida A&M (Nov. 22), at Houston Baptist (Nov. 30), St. Thomas (Dec. 3), Louisiana College (Dec. 14), Lamar (Dec. 17), Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (Dec. 28)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- Rice won just five games in Conference USA last season and 14 overall, so this is a heck of a challenging schedule for these guys. The Owls play road games against Big 12 contenders Texas A&M and Texas, have to face Northern Iowa and sneaky sleeper Iowa State on a neural court and get a rare home game against a possible top-25 opponent in Temple -- a battle of the Owls!


Toughest: NIT Season Tip-Off (Nov. 14-25), vs. Oklahoma State in Dallas (Dec. 28), at Ole Miss (Jan. 3)
Next-toughest: TCU (Feb. 8)
The rest: McMurry (Nov. 11), Florida Gulf Coast (Nov. 19), Georgia Southern (Nov. 27), at Arkansas-Little Rock (Dec. 4), at Southeast Missouri State (Dec. 19), Dallas Christian (Dec. 22), Louisiana Tech (Dec. 31)
Toughness scale (1-10): 4 -- The Mustangs could see this scale jump up a few more notches if they beat Colorado State in the NIT opener and then take out host Stanford to get to New York for the NIT semis. Do that and suddenly SMU will be a player into the winter and the games against Oklahoma State and Ole Miss become relevant. But that's asking a lot of a team that's expected to finish in the bottom half of C-USA.


Toughest: at Colorado State (Nov. 19), Ole Miss (Dec. 17), at Arizona State (Dec. 19), South Florida (Dec. 22)
Next-toughest: at Denver (Nov. 17), Great Alaska Shootout (Nov. 24-26), New Mexico State (Dec. 4), at South Alabama (Dec. 7).
The rest: Spring Hill (Nov. 12), at South Alabama (Dec. 7), Louisiana Tech (Dec. 10), Belhaven (Dec. 27), Alcorn State (Dec. 29), at McNeese State (Dec. 31)
Toughness scale (1-10): 4 -- Coach Larry Eustachy said this could be his best team in Hattiesburg. If that’s the case, then a schedule upgrade would've been useful. The four toughest games come against teams that probably aren’t getting close to the NCAAs. The Great Alaska Shootout is weak, and the potential second-round opponent (New Mexico State) is a team USM already has scheduled anyway. The best they can do in the final is San Francisco or Murray State. Let's be frank: the Golden Eagles will have a hard time getting an at-large bid from this schedule.


Toughest: at Syracuse (Dec. 22), Georgia Tech (Dec. 3)
Next-toughest: at Wofford (Dec. 6)
The rest: Alabama A&M (Nov. 11), Nicholls State (Nov. 15), Maryland-Eastern Shore (Nov. 18), at Navy (Nov. 22), Alcorn State (Nov. 25), New Orleans (Nov. 26), San Diego (Nov. 27), Southern (Nov. 30), Macmurray (Dec. 10), Jacksonville State (Dec. 11), at Texas-Pan American (Dec. 31)
Toughness scale (1-10): 3 -- The road game at Syracuse raises the level for this nonconference slate and going to Wofford won’t be an easy chore at all. Being able to host an ACC school (Georgia Tech) in tiny Fogelman Arena is a coup, but this isn’t exactly a top-level schedule. This is built for a team that won three conference games last season.


Toughest: Charleston Classic (Nov. 17-20), at Missouri State (Nov. 26), at Oklahoma State (Nov. 30), Wichita State (Dec. 7), Creighton (Dec. 19),
Next-toughest: Arizona State (Dec. 3), at TCU (Dec. 31)
The rest: Arkansas-Little Rock (Nov. 11), Southeastern Louisiana (Nov. 13), at Jackson State (Nov. 22), UT Arlington (Dec. 17), Mercer (Dec. 28)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- Tulsa coach Doug Wojcik did a solid job of putting together a postseason schedule for a team that finished tied for second last season with UTEP. The Golden Hurricane host the two best teams in the Missouri Valley (Creighton and Wichita State) and travel to play the defending league champ (Missouri State). Oklahoma State is clearly a rigid road challenge and getting a Pac-12 program (ASU) to come to Tulsa is a nice addition. As for the Charleston Classic, it could pit Tulsa against Northwestern or LSU in the second round if it gets past Western Kentucky.


Toughest: Creighton (Nov. 16), at Wichita State (Nov. 25), at VCU (Dec. 20), at Florida (Jan. 3)
Next-toughest: Murray State (Nov. 20), at Kent State (Dec. 3), at George Washington (Dec. 28)
The rest: Troy (Nov. 22), UT Martin (Nov. 27), at South Alabama (Nov. 30), Middle Tennessee (Dec. 7), Jacksonville (Dec. 22), Alabama A&M (Dec. 31)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- The Blazers have a top-10 game at Florida and then play the co-favorites in the Missouri Valley Conference, with one of the games on the road in Wichita. Playing four more road games, including at VCU, helps the power-rating.


Toughest: at Florida State (Nov. 14), Battle 4 Atlantis (Nov. 24-26), Old Dominion (Dec. 17)
Next-toughest: UCF Holiday Classic (Dec. 29-30)
The rest: St. Thomas (Nov. 12), High Point (Nov. 18), Hartford (Dec. 3), Bethune Cookman (Dec. 10), North Carolina A&T (Dec. 13), at Louisiana-Lafayette (Dec. 21), Palm Beach Atlantic (Jan. 30)
Toughness scale (1-10): 4 -- Central Florida could end up seeing this number rise if it beats Charleston and ends up playing Connecticut in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis tourney in the Bahamas. Either Rhode Island or James Madison could be dangerous at the UCF Holiday Classic and ODU is always tough. The Knights couldn’t capitalize on beating Florida last season, so taking out FSU early would be looked upon skeptically -- but they'll take it nonetheless.


Toughest: at Oregon (Nov. 29), at UNLV (Dec. 14), Diamond Head Classic (Dec. 22-25)
Next-toughest: at New Mexico State (Nov. 19), New Mexico State (Dec. 11), Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational
The rest: UTSA (Nov. 11), UC Riverside (Nov. 13), Stephen F. Austin (Nov. 26), Southern (Dec. 17), McNeese State (Dec. 19)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- Tim Floyd may benefit greatly from this schedule if some of these teams excel as predicted. Oregon could be a top-four team in the Pac-12, UNLV is a co-MWC title contender and Clemson should be a top-half ACC team. The Miners open with the Tigers out in Honolulu and play either Kansas State or Southern Illinois in the second game. A rising program in Colorado State is a good opponent to bring to the Sun Bowl Invitational. Then again, UTEP lost quite a bit, so this schedule might end up just being meaningless on Selection Sunday.

Nonconference schedule analysis: SEC

October, 4, 2011
For the rest of the week, will be breaking down the nonconference schedules of each and every team in a dozen different leagues. We began with the ACC and will continue later today with Conference USA. For now, the SEC ...


Toughest: Puerto Rico Tip-Off (Nov. 17-20), Georgetown (Dec. 1), vs. Kansas State in Kansas City (Dec. 17), vs. Oklahoma State in Birmingham (Dec. 21)
Next-toughest: Oakland (Nov. 14), VCU (Nov. 27), at Dayton (Dec. 7), Detroit (Dec. 11), at Georgia Tech (Jan. 3)
The rest: North Florida (Nov. 11), Alabama A&M (Nov. 23), Jacksonville (Dec. 29)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- Anthony Grant puts his team in a great position for a big year with this schedule. The Crimson Tide shouldn't be on the bubble, but unlike last season, if they are then it won't be because of a cushy nonconference slate. There are more quality opponents than cupcakes, and yet there is not a team the Tide is overmatched against. It all starts in Puerto Rico, where Alabama opens with Maryland and then either MVC co-favorite Wichita State or Colorado. A potential matchup with Purdue or Temple could await in the final.


Toughest: at Connecticut (Dec. 3), Michigan (Jan. 21)
Next-toughest: Oakland (Nov. 16), at Oklahoma (Dec. 10)
The rest: USC Upstate (Nov. 11), vs. Houston in Little Rock (Nov. 18), Utah Valley (Nov. 22), Grambling State (Nov. 26), Mississippi Valley State (Nov. 30), Southeastern Louisiana (Dec. 17), Eastern Kentucky (Dec. 20), Louisiana Tech (Dec. 22), Charlotte (Dec. 28), Texas Southern (Dec. 30), Savannah State (Jan. 3)
Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- Mike Anderson hopes to bring excitement back to Fayetteville, and it helped that he was able to schedule another program with a championship legacy in Michigan for a game after the start of SEC play. By then, the Razorbacks should have had time to learn a new system and gotten thrown into the fire at defending champion UConn.


Toughest: Diamond Head Classic (Dec. 22-25), at Florida State (Jan. 4)
Next-toughest: at Seton Hall (Dec. 2), South Florida (Dec. 14)
The rest: McNeese State (Nov. 11), Kennesaw State (Nov. 14), Nicholls State (Nov. 25), Arkansas-Pine Bluff (Nov. 28), North Florida (Dec. 17), Florida A&M (Dec. 19), Georgia Southern (Dec. 30), Bethune-Cookman (Jan. 2)
Toughness scale (1-10): 2 -- The Tigers will play Hawaii and either Xavier or Long Beach State in the first two days of the Diamond Head Classic, but the challenging games are few and far between, which is probably a good things for a rebuilding AU program. The two Big East opponents are expected to finish in the bottom third of the league and FSU will be no doubt looking for revenge after being stunned by the Tigers last season.


Toughest: at Ohio State (Nov. 15), at Syracuse (Dec. 2), Arizona (Dec. 7), vs. Texas A&M in Sunrise, Fla. (Dec. 17), Florida State (Dec. 22)
Next-toughest: vs. Rider in Jacksonville (Dec. 9), at Rutgers (Dec. 29), UAB (Jan. 3)
The rest: Jackson State (Nov. 11), North Florida (Nov. 17), vs. Wright State in Tampa (Nov. 21), Jacksonville (Nov. 25), vs. Stetson in Orlando (Nov. 28), Mississippi Valley State (Dec. 19), Yale (Dec. 31)
Toughness scale (1-10): 10 -- It's hard to give this schedule anything but a 10 isn't it? Billy Donovan is challenging his team in a big way, with Florida having road games against probable top-five teams in Ohio State and Syracuse to start the season. Like the Gators, Arizona, FSU and future SEC foe Texas A&M are teams with a chance to do something special this season. That’s quite a collection of teams from across the country for the defending SEC champs to play against.


Toughest: CBE Classic (Nov. 21-22), at Xavier (Nov. 25), Cincinnati (Dec. 2)
Next-toughest: at Colorado (Nov. 28), Georgia Tech (Dec. 7), at USC (Dec. 17)
The rest: Wofford (Nov. 11), Bowling Green (Nov. 13), South Dakota State (Nov. 16), Mercer (Dec. 20), Furman (Dec. 23), Winthrop (Dec. 27), Delaware State (Dec. 30)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- The CBE Classic gives the Bulldogs an opportunity to measure themselves in Kansas City against a veteran Cal team and then either Missouri or Notre Dame. It won’t be easy to pick up road wins against Top-25 Xavier or across the country at USC. Cincinnati is another ranked team and playing in the thin air of Boulder will be a challenge. This schedule gets it done. Will the Dawgs survive?


Toughest: vs. Kansas in NYC (Nov. 15), North Carolina (Dec. 3), Louisville (Dec. 31)
Next-toughest: Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off (Nov. 19-20), St. John’s (Dec. 1), at Indiana (Dec. 10)
The rest: Marist (Nov. 11), Radford (Nov. 23), Portland (Nov. 26), Chattanooga (Dec. 17), Samford (Dec. 20), Loyola-Md. (Dec. 22), Lamar (Dec. 28), vs. Arkansas-Little Rock in Louisville (Jan. 3)
Toughness scale (1-10): 9 -- The UNC and Louisville games at Rupp will be a pair of marquee matchups that should get college basketball fans everywhere excited. The Champions Classic matchup with fellow blue blood Kansas is a headliner at the Garden, and a visit to Assembly Hall to play a rising Indiana team should be intriguing. The Wildcats get Penn State and either Old Dominion or South Florida at the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut and also play a St. John’s team loaded with talented freshmen.


Toughest: Marquette (Dec. 19), Virginia (Jan. 2)
Next-toughest: Charleston Classic (Nov. 17-20), at Rutgers (Dec. 3), at North Texas (Dec. 22)
The rest: Nicholls State (Nov. 12), at Coastal Carolina (Nov. 15), South Alabama (Nov. 23), at Houston (Nov. 29), Boise State (Dec. 10), UC Irvine (Dec. 15), Grambling (Dec. 29)
Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- The Marquette and Virginia games are at home and give the Tigers a prime opportunity to prove they can bounce back after two straight disastrous seasons. At the Charleston Classic, LSU plays Northwestern and then either Tulsa or Western Kentucky. (Either VCU, Seton Hall, Georgia Tech or St. Joe's will be the third opponent.) Road tests against Rutgers and North Texas are tricky-but-winnable games. This schedule gives Trent Johnson’s team a reasonable chance to rack up wins, and for a program coming off consecutive 11-wins seasons, it needs them to build confidence.


Toughest: 2K Sports Classic (Nov. 17-18), West Virginia (Dec. 3), vs. Baylor in Dallas (Dec. 28)
Next-toughest: North Texas (Nov. 27), at Detroit (Dec. 17), Utah State (Dec. 31)
The rest: Eastern Kentucky (Nov. 7), Akron (Nov. 9), South Alabama (Nov. 12), Louisiana-Monroe (Nov. 21), Tennessee-Martin (Nov. 25), Troy (Dec. 10), Florida Atlantic (Dec. 13), vs. Northwestern State in Jackson (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- The Bulldogs’ hectic schedule backfired last season while this year’s is set up to give them a chance to shine. The 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer features an opener against Texas A&M and then either Arizona or St. John’s at Madison Square Garden. There's a home game against Bob Huggins' crew, a neutral-site game against Baylor, which many consider the Big 12 favorite, and chance to go against sleeper teams Detroit on the road and Utah State at home. Now Rick Stansbury’s team just has to come through.


Toughest: Paradise Jam (Nov. 18-22), Miami (Nov. 25)
Next-toughest: at Penn State (Dec. 4), at Southern Miss (Dec. 17), at Dayton (Dec. 30)
The rest: Louisiana-Monroe (Nov. 11), Grambling (Nov. 14), at DePaul (Dec. 1), Mississippi Valley State (Dec. 10), Louisiana-Lafayette (Dec. 14), vs. Middle Tennessee in Southaven, Miss. (Dec. 21), SMU (Jan. 3)
Toughness scale (1-10): 3 -- There’s not much to get excited about here. At the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands, the Rebels open with Drake and then play either Marquette or Winthrop. Virginia and Drexel are among the teams on the other side. There are road games against Penn State, Southern Miss and Dayton, but all three of those teams are rebuilding. A trip to Chicago to take on DePaul at least gets Ole Miss to a destination city.


Toughest: Las Vegas Invitational (Nov. 25-26), at Clemson (Dec. 4), Ohio State (Dec. 17)
Next-toughest: Providence (Dec. 1)
The rest: Western Carolina (Nov. 11), at Elon (Nov. 15), Tennessee State (Nov. 20), Mississippi Valley State (Nov. 22), Presbyterian (Dec. 13), Southeastern Louisiana (Dec. 21), Wofford (Dec. 28), USC Upstate (Dec. 31), South Carolina State (Jan. 3)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- South Carolina has difficult matchups against two of the top teams in the nation when it goes up against North Carolina in Las Vegas and hosts Ohio State. But outside of that second game in Las Vegas against either UNLV or USC, the only other time the Gamecocks leave the state is by traveling to Elon. It doesn’t help, though, that leading scorer Bruce Ellington is expected to miss most of the nonconference schedule while playing football.


Toughest: Maui Invitational (Nov. 21-23), Pittsburgh (Dec. 3), at Memphis (Jan. 4), Connecticut (Jan. 21)
Next-toughest: at Oakland (Nov. 28), at Charleston (Dec. 14)
The rest: UNC Greensboro (Nov. 11), Louisiana-Monroe (Nov. 16), Austin Peay (Dec. 10), UNC Asheville (Dec. 20), East Tennessee State (Dec. 23), The Citadel (Dec. 29), Chattanooga (Jan. 2)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- Bruce Pearl always put together some of the toughest nonconference schedules in the country and things will be no different for the Vols in the first year of Cuonzo Martin. But are the Volunteers up to the task in a rebuilding year? They get defending national champion UConn and Big East powerhouse Pitt at home. At a stacked Maui Invitational, Tennessee gets none other than Duke in the opening game, followed by either Michigan or Memphis, a young and talented team that the Vols also have to play on the road in early January.


Toughest: Oregon (Nov. 11), Legends Classic (Nov. 19, 21), Xavier (Nov. 28), at Louisville (Dec. 2), at Marquette (Dec. 29)
Next-toughest: Cleveland State (Nov. 13), Bucknell (Nov. 15), Indiana State (Dec. 17)
The rest: Monmouth (Nov. 25), at Davidson (Dec. 7), Longwood (Dec. 19), Lafayette (Dec. 21), Miami-Ohio (Jan. 2), Middle Tennessee (Jan. 28)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- This schedule should prepare Vanderbilt for SEC and postseason play while also setting up Kevin Stallings’ team for favorable NCAA tournament seeding. The Commodores have road games against Big East contenders Louisville and Marquette. They host A-10 favorite Xavier and Pac-12 sleeper Oregon. At the Legends Classic in New Jersey, they play North Carolina State and either Texas or Oregon State. Even mid-major opponents Cleveland State, Bucknell and Indiana State are coming off either NCAA or NIT appearances.

Nonconference schedule analysis: ACC

October, 4, 2011
For the rest of the week, will be breaking down the nonconference schedules of each and every team in a dozen leagues. Let's begin with the ACC ...


Toughest: 76 Classic (Nov. 24-27), Harvard (Dec. 29)
Next-toughest: UMass (Nov. 21), Boston University (Dec. 3), Stony Brook (Dec. 11), Rhode Island (Jan. 2)
The rest: New Hampshire (Nov. 14), at Holy Cross (Nov. 18), Penn State (Nov. 30), Bryant (Dec. 18), at Providence (Dec. 8), Sacred Heart (Dec. 21)
Toughness scale (1-10): 3 -- Steve Donahue can be forgiven for a less-than-overwhelming schedule, with all five of his top scorers gone. But the facts are the facts. There are some nice mid-majors here -- Boston U. and Stony Brook could potentially win in Chestnut Hill -- but hanging your hat on the top team in the Ivy League isn’t going to turn a lot of heads. Yes, there are Big Ten and Big East foes but retooling Penn State and Providence don’t exactly move the needle. Out in Anaheim at the 76 Classic, BC will likely open as an underdog to Saint Louis and will play either Villanova or UC Riverside in the second game.


Toughest: at Arizona (Dec. 10), Diamond Head Classic (Dec. 22-25)
Next-toughest: Charleston (Nov. 19), at Iowa (Nov. 29), South Carolina (Dec. 4)
The rest: Gardner-Webb (Nov. 11), at The Citadel (Nov. 16), Coastal Carolina (Nov. 22), Furman (Nov. 25), Winthrop (Dec. 17), Alabama State (Dec. 19), East Tennessee State (Jan. 1)
Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- Kudos to Brad Brownell for taking his Tigers to Arizona for a road game, but after that not a whole lot of excitement. If Clemson advances in the Diamond Head Classic (the Tigers open against rebuilding UTEP), Kansas State likely awaits in the second round and either Xavier or Long Beach State await as possibilities in the title game.


Toughest: vs. Michigan State in NYC (Nov. 15), Maui Invitational (Nov. 21-23), at Ohio State (Nov. 29), vs. Washington in NYC (Dec. 10), at Temple (Jan. 4)
Next-toughest: Belmont (Nov. 11), Western Michigan (Dec. 30), Colorado State (Dec. 7), St. John’s (Jan. 28)
The rest: Presbyterian (Nov. 12), Davidson (Nov. 18), UNC Greensboro (Dec. 19), Pennsylvania (Jan. 1)
Toughness scale (1-10): 9 -- The Blue Devils are not only dancing with the best of the blue bloods, but they're tangoing with some of the better mid-majors. Count Belmont, Western Michigan and even Davidson among the Cinderella sleepers this season. Bonus points to Duke for playing tough games away from Cameron -- in New York and Philadelphia and, most impressively, in Columbus (although that's part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, so we'll give the Blue Devils half-credit). The real kick here, of course, comes from the loaded Maui field, in which Duke opens with rebuilding Tennessee but then faces the Memphis/Michigan winner and potentially Kansas or UCLA in the championship game.


Toughest: Battle 4 Atlantis (Nov. 24-26), at Michigan State (Nov. 30), at Florida (Dec. 22)
Next-toughest: UCF (Nov. 14), Princeton (Dec. 30)
The rest: Jacksonville (Nov. 11), Stetson (Nov. 16), South Alabama (Nov. 20), Charleston Southern (Dec. 5), UNC Greensboro (Dec. 11), Loyola Marymount Dec. 18), Auburn (Jan. 4)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- A lot of eyes will be watching the Seminoles this season, seeing whether the preseason excitement is warranted after the surprise Sweet 16 run. This schedule will help clear the issue. Two tough road games -- in East Lansing and Gainesville -- will be stiff tests obviously. The rest of the schedule, on the surface, looks just OK. But Florida State, after opening with UMass down in the Bahamas, will potentially face Harvard and UConn in its next two games. That would be quite a one-two punch in back-to-back games.


Toughest: Charleston Classic (Nov. 17-20), Northwestern (Nov. 29), Alabama (Jan. 3)
Next-toughest: at Georgia (Dec. 7)
The rest: Florida A&M (Nov. 11), Delaware State (Nov. 14), Siena (Nov. 23), at Tulane (Dec. 3), at Savannah State (Dec. 10), Alabama A&M (Dec. 19), Mercer (Dec. 22), at Fordham (Dec. 29)
Toughness scale (1-10): 4 -- This is a good schedule to allow Brian Gregory to ease into things in Atlanta. Plenty of winnable games to pad the record and grow the confidence. A fairly difficult draw in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge with Northwestern helps add a boost, as does a date with an Alabama team expected to make some noise in the SEC. The Charleston Classic isn't as strong as in the past. St. Joe’s will be tricky in the opener and either VCU or Seton Hall awaits in the second game. And keep this in mind: The Jackets will be sort of nomads this season. Alexander Memorial Coliseum is undergoing massive renovations, so Tech will play its home games in nearby Gwinnett and at the Hawks' Philips Arena.


Toughest: Puerto Rico Tip-Off (Nov. 17-20), Illinois (Nov. 29), at Temple (Jan. 21)
Next-toughest: vs. Notre Dame in Washington, D.C. (Dec. 4)
The rest: UNC Wilmington (Nov. 13), Florida Gulf Coast (Nov. 25), Mount St. Mary’s (Dec. 7), FIU (Dec. 14), Radford (Dec. 23), Albany (Dec 28), Samford (Dec. 31), Cornell (Jan. 3)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- Not a bad slate for the Terps’ new boss, Mark Turgeon. Maryland gets a tough opening draw (Alabama) in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off and will face either Wichita State or Colorado on the second day. Purdue, Temple, Iona and Western Michigan are on the other side of the bracket. All offer some potential bonus strength of schedule points. Even without, Illinois will be a top-half of the Big Ten team and Temple will battle Xavier for the A-10 title.


Toughest: at Purdue (Nov. 29), Memphis (Dec. 6), at West Virginia (Dec. 10)
Next-toughest: at Ole Miss (Nov. 25), Appalachian State (Dec. 30)
The rest: Tennessee Tech (Nov. 11), Rutgers (Nov. 15), North Florida (Nov. 19), Florida Gulf Coast (Nov. 22), UMass (Dec. 3), vs. Florida Atlantic in Sunrise, Fla. (Dec. 17), at Charlotte (Dec. 22), vs. UNC Greensboro (Jan. 2)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- If the Hurricanes are a bubble team, this schedule is decent enough to give them an argument come Selection Sunday. But since plenty of the teams involved could be bubble-dwellers themselves, Miami is going to need to win more than it loses. Memphis is obviously the highlight here and if Robbie Hummel is Robbie Hummel for Purdue, that could be a pretty valuable road game.


Toughest: vs. Michigan State in San Diego (Nov. 11), Wisconsin (Nov. 30), at Kentucky (Dec. 3)
Next-toughest: at UNC Asheville (Nov. 13), Las Vegas Invitational (Nov. 25-26), Long Beach State (Dec. 10), Appalachian State (Dec. 17), Texas (Dec. 21)
The rest: Mississippi Valley State (Nov. 20), Tennessee State (Nov. 22), Evansville (Dec. 6), Nicholls State (Dec. 19), Elon (Dec. 29), Monmouth (Jan. 1)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- The title favorite starts things out in style with a game on the USS Carl Vinson against Michigan State. Then there's the ACC/Big Ten Challenge matchup against Wisconsin, and folks already are wondering if the game in Lexington isn’t a preview of the national championship game. Texas is a bit of an unknown with all of its freshmen, but Asheville and Appalachian State are considered favorites in their leagues. Out in Vegas, assuming they dispatch of South Carolina, the Heels will likely face off with UNLV in its home city (the Rebels play USC).


Toughest: Legends Classic (Nov. 19, 21), Syracuse (Dec. 17)
Next-toughest: UNC Asheville (Nov. 11), Princeton (Nov. 16), Indiana (Nov. 30), at Stanford (Dec. 4), vs. St. Bonaventure in Rochester, N.Y. (Dec. 20)
The rest: Morehead State (Nov. 13), Elon (Nov. 25), NC Central (Dec. 11), Northeastern (Dec. 22), Campbell (Dec. 29), Western Carolina (Dec. 31), Delaware State (Jan. 4)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- Good thing Mark Gottfried has decent players to work with. He’s going to need them. Syracuse and Vanderbilt are guaranteed preseason top-10 teams. The Pack host the Orange and face off with the Dores in East Rutherford, N.J., where they'll play either Texas or Oregon State the next day. Indiana and St. Bonaventure are gunning for their best seasons in years and Johnny Dawkins finally has a decent roster at Stanford.


Toughest: Michigan (Nov. 29), George Mason (Dec. 6), at Oregon (Dec. 18)
Next-toughest: Paradise Jam (Nov. 18-21), at LSU (Jan. 2)
The rest: South Carolina State (Nov. 13), Winthrop (Nov. 15), Green Bay (Nov. 25), Longwood (Dec. 3), at Seattle (Dec. 21), Maryland-Eastern Shore (Dec. 27), Towson (Dec. 30)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- This may not be the toughest nonconference schedule out there, but it’s good enough to give the Cavaliers a boost come March should they be in consideration for a bid. Big bonus points to Tony Bennett for taking his team cross-country for a game against Oregon. Truth be told, hardly anyone does that anymore. The Cavs open with TCU at the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands and Drexel and Marquette offer good potential matchups there.


Toughest: NIT Season Tip-Off (Nov. 14-25), at Minnesota (Nov. 30), at Oklahoma State (Dec. 31)
Next-toughest: St. Bonaventure (Nov. 27), Kansas State (Dec. 4), BYU (Jan. 25)
The rest: East Tennessee State (Nov. 12), Monmouth (Nov. 14), at Rhode Island (Dec. 7), Norfolk State (Dec. 11), Campbell (Dec. 17), North Florida (Dec. 19), Eastern Michigan (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- This is a tough one to judge because so much could happen in the NIT Tip-Off. Presuming the Hokies get past Monmouth, they would likely face George Mason and down the road, Syracuse at Madison Square Garden. On the surface, this is certainly an improvement for Seth Greenberg's program. Road games at Minnesota and Oklahoma State are no easy chore in those arenas, and while Kansas State and BYU might be slightly rebuilding, those are still two commendable home games. Bottom line: If the Hokies again fail to make the NCAA tourney, the schedule itself shouldn't be the reason.


Toughest: Old Spice Classic (Nov. 24-27), Richmond (Dec. 3)
Next-toughest: at Nebraska (Nov. 30), at Seton Hall (Dec. 10)
The rest: Loyola-Md. (Nov. 11), Georgia Southern (Nov. 16), North Carolina Central (Nov. 20), at High Point (Dec. 7), Gardner-Webb (Dec. 18), UNC Wilmington (Dec. 21), Yale (Dec. 29), Wofford (Jan. 2)
Toughness scale (1-10): 3 -- Jeff Bzdelik is trying to build the Demon Deacons from the bottom up, so he’s understandably building the schedule in similar increments. This isn’t an NCAA tournament schedule but neither is Wake an NCAA tournament team. There’s not a whole lot of bump with the Old Spice trip to Orlando. Wake opens with Dayton and will face either Fairfield or Arizona State in the second game. Potential third-game opponents are Texas Tech, Indiana State, Minnesota and DePaul.