Nonconference schedule analysis: MWC

For the rest of the week, ESPN.com will be breaking down the nonconference schedules of each and every team in a dozen different leagues. On Tuesday, we began with the ACC, SEC and C-USA. On Wednesday, we continued with the Big East, Atlantic 10 and Colonial.

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.