Nonconference schedule analysis: MVC

All week, ESPN.com 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.