This week, ESPN.com is breaking down the nonconference schedules of each team in nine of the nation’s top leagues. Next up: the Big 12.
Toughest: vs. Colorado (Nov. 8 in Dallas), Maui Invitational (Nov. 25-27), vs. Kentucky (Dec. 6 in Arlington, Texas)
Next-toughest: South Carolina (Nov. 12), Southern (Dec. 22)
The rest: Louisiana-Lafayette (Nov. 17), Charleston Southern (Nov. 20), Hardin-Simmons (Dec. 1), Northwestern State (Dec. 18), Oral Roberts (Dec. 30), Savannah State (Jan. 3)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- The Bears will try to beat Kentucky for the second season in a row when they take on the Wildcats at the mammoth AT&T Stadium -- home of the Dallas Cowboys. Catching a freshman-laden Kentucky squad early in the season is ideal for the Bears. Baylor also will have a chance to avenge last season’s loss to Colorado in the Charleston Classic. Scott Drew’s squad meets the Buffaloes as part of a season-opening tripleheader at American Airlines Center in Dallas. Baylor has an excellent shot of getting to the title game in Maui. The Bears open against Chaminade and will likely face a vulnerable Gonzaga squad (the Zags lost Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris) in the semifinals. A victory in that contest could result in a showdown against Syracuse in the championship game.
Toughest: Michigan (Nov. 17), at BYU (Nov. 20), Iowa (Dec. 13)
Next-toughest: vs. Northern Iowa (Dec. 7 in Des Moines), Diamond Head Classic (Dec. 22-23, 25 in Honolulu)
The rest: UNC-Wilmington (Nov. 10), Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (Nov. 12), UMKC (Nov. 25), Auburn (Dec. 2), Northern Illinois (Dec. 31)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- The Cyclones play just one true road game, but it’s a tough one, as BYU touts one of the best home courts in the country. The Cougars should be pretty salty, too, after reaching the semifinals of the NIT last spring. No game on the schedule, though, jumps out quite like Iowa State’s home tilt with NCAA runner-up Michigan, who returns many of the key pieces from last season’s squad. Hilton Magic will have to be in full effect if the Cyclones, who are incorporating a plethora of new faces, are to have a chance against the Wolverines. Iowa State opens the Diamond Head Classic against George Mason and will likely play either Akron or Oregon State in the semifinals. Don’t be surprised if Fred Hoiberg’s squad ends up in the title game against Boise State.
Toughest: vs. Duke (Nov. 12 in Chicago), at Colorado (Dec. 7), at Florida (Dec. 10), New Mexico (Dec. 14), Georgetown (Dec. 21), San Diego State (Jan. 5)
Next-toughest: Iona (Nov. 19), Battle 4 Atlantis (Nov. 28-30 in Nassau, Bahamas)
The rest: Louisiana-Monroe (Dec. 8), Towson (Nov. 22), Toledo (Dec. 30)
Toughness scale (1-10): 10 -- There may not be a team in America with a slate as difficult as the one staring at Andrew Wiggins and the Jayhawks. Duke and Florida are both top five-caliber teams, and Kansas faces each of them away from home. Even more daunting is that both games occur extremely early in the season, when a team featuring as many as six freshmen in its rotation will still be trying to find itself. New Mexico, Georgetown and San Diego State will each take a minor step back from last season, but they should all still be excellent teams, especially the Lobos. Kansas opens the Battle 4 Atlantis against Wake Forest and will play either USC or Villanova in the second round. Event organizers are surely hoping for a title game featuring the Jayhawks against either Tennessee or Iowa. Even nonconference opponents such as Iona, Towson and Louisiana-Monroe will be in the mix for an NCAA tournament berth.
Toughest: Puerto Rico Tip-Off (Nov. 21-22, 24), vs. Gonzaga (Dec. 21 in Wichita, Kan.)
Next-toughest: Long Beach State (Nov. 17), Ole Miss (Dec. 5)
The rest: Northern Colorado (Nov. 8), Oral Roberts (Nov. 13), Central Arkansas (Dec. 1), South Dakota (Dec. 10), Troy (Dec. 15), vs. Tulane (Dec. 28 in Brooklyn, N.Y.), George Washington (Dec. 31)
Toughness scale (1-10): 4 -- This is a pretty disappointing slate, especially considering how good the program has been over the past five or six years. Other than a tilt with Gonzaga in Wichita -- which will basically be a K-State home game -- the Wildcats don’t have a single opponent on their nonconference schedule that raises an eyebrow. The one exception would be Ole Miss, but the Rebels lost most of the key players from last season’s NCAA tournament team. The Wildcats open the Puerto Rico Tip-Off against Charlotte and will play either Georgetown or Northeastern the following day. Michigan, VCU and Florida State are on the other side of the bracket, so the potential for a game against another top team exists. Still, the defending regular-season Big 12 co-champs should have scheduled a few more marquee games.
Toughest: vs. Alabama (Nov. 8 in Dallas), Coaches vs. Cancer Tipoff (Nov. 22-23 in Brooklyn, N.Y.)
Next-toughest: vs. George Mason (Dec. 8 in Washington, D.C.), vs. Texas A&M (Dec. 21 in Houston), Louisiana Tech (Dec. 30)
The rest: North Texas (Nov. 11), Idaho (Nov. 13), Arkansas-Little Rock (Dec 29), Mercer (Dec. 2), Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (Dec. 5), Tulsa (Dec. 14), Texas-Arlington (Dec. 17)
Toughness scale (1-10): 3 -- Not a lot of games on this docket that do much for the excite-o-meter. At least not when it comes to nonconference play. That’s probably a good thing for the Sooners, who may be in for a “transition year” following the loss to standouts such as Romero Osby, Steven Pledger, Andrew Fitzgerald and Amath M’Baye. Alabama will be tough to beat, but it’s certainly a game the Sooners could win. Lon Kruger’s squad will also be tested when it travels to Brooklyn for the Coaches vs. Cancer Tipoff. If Oklahoma gets by Seton Hall in the first round, it would likely play Michigan State the following night. Some media outlets have ranked the Spartans No. 1 entering the season.
Toughest: Memphis (Nov. 19), Old Spice Classic (Nov. 28-29, Dec. 1 in Orlando. Fla.), vs. Colorado (Dec. 21 in Las Vegas)
Next-toughest: at South Florida (Nov. 25), South Carolina (Dec. 6), vs. Louisiana Tech (Dec. 14 in Oklahoma City)
The rest: Mississippi Valley State (Nov. 8), Utah Valley (Nov. 12), Arkansas Pine-Bluff (Nov. 15), Delaware State (Dec. 17), Robert Morris (Dec. 30)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- This is definitely an improvement from last season, when the Cowboys earned a ranking of “3” in this category. Like Oklahoma State, Memphis is a potential top-10 team with one of the top backcourts in the country. The two squads could actually end up meeting twice, as Memphis is also in the Old Spice Classic. Oklahoma State opens that tournament against Purdue and will face Butler or Washington State in the next round. Beating Colorado on a neutral court also won’t be easy, especially if talented Buffs guard Spencer Dinwiddie can neutralize Marcus Smart. It still would’ve been nice to see a few more high-profile games -- and a few more true road contests -- for a team that features three potential first-round NBA draft picks.
Toughest: vs. SMU (Nov. 8 in Dallas), at Washington State (Nov. 24)
Next-toughest: Great Alaska Shootout (Nov. 27, 29-30), at Mississippi State (Dec. 5)
The rest: Longwood (Nov. 12), Abilene Christian (Nov. 19), Texas Pan-American (Dec. 15), Grambling State (Dec. 19), Tulsa (Dec. 21), Texas Southern (Dec. 29)
Toughness scale (1-10): 3 -- This would be a terrible schedule for a program that was experiencing a moderate amount of success. But considering TCU won just two Big 12 games last season, this is the perfect slate for the Horned Frogs as they try to rebuild. Second-year coach Trent Johnson didn’t schedule the type of Top-25 squads that will shatter his team's confidence. But he also didn't produce a schedule so weak that it wouldn’t challenge his team as it continues to grow. SMU could contend for an NCAA tournament berth and, even though Washington State has struggled in recent seasons, Pullman is a difficult place to play. Tulsa and Texas Southern are both solid teams, and Mississippi State was making huge strides at the end of last season.
Toughest: CBE Classic (Nov. 25-26 in Kansas City), at Temple (Dec. 7), at North Carolina (Dec. 18), Michigan State (Dec. 21)
Next-toughest: Mercer (Nov. 8), Vanderbilt (Dec. 2)
The rest: Stephen F. Austin (Nov. 15), UT-Arlington (Nov. 29), Texas State (Dec. 14), Rice (Dec. 30)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- Rick Barnes always puts together one of the toughest schedules in the country, and this season is no exception. Michigan State is an NCAA title contender, North Carolina could open the season in the top 10, and Temple is never easy to beat on the road. The Longhorns will also play high-scoring BYU in the CBE Classic, and with a win, would likely be pitted against Final Four participant Wichita State in the title game. But Texas lost its top four scorers from last seasons’s 16-18 squad and didn’t recruit as well as it has in years past. In other words, this is the worst possible season to be playing such a grueling schedule. It’ll be interesting to see if the Longhorns (and Barnes) can survive.
Toughest: at Alabama (Nov. 14), at Arizona (Dec. 3), LSU (Dec. 18), at Arizona State (Dec. 21)
Next-toughest: South Dakota State (Nov. 21), Legends Classic (Nov. 25-26 in Brooklyn, N.Y.)
The rest: Houston Baptist (Nov. 8), Northern Arizona (Nov. 11), Texas Southern (Nov. 18), Texas-San Antonio (Nov. 29), Central Arkansas (Dec. 15), Mount St. Mary’s (Dec. 30)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- First-year coach Tubby Smith can’t be pleased with the schedule he inherited from former Red Raiders coach Chris Walker. This is way too difficult of a slate for a program that’s in rebuilding mode. It clearly wasn’t thought out well at all. True road games against Alabama, Arizona and Arizona State and a home tilt with a vastly improved LSU squad? That’s a daunting chore, especially considering TTU is in the Legends Classic with quality opponents such as Pittsburgh, Stanford and Houston. Texas Tech returns nearly all of its key pieces from last season and could make some huge strides under Smith. Unfortunately, the Red Raiders’ confidence could take a hit before Big 12 play ever begins.
Toughest: at Missouri (Dec. 5), Gonzaga (Dec. 10), Purdue (Dec. 22)
Next-toughest: at Virginia Tech (Nov. 12), Cancun Challenge (Nov. 26-27), vs. Marshall (Dec. 14 in Charleston, W. Va.)
The rest: Mount St. Mary’s (Nov. 8), Duquesne (Nov. 17), Georgia Southern (Nov. 21), Presbyterian (Nov. 23), Loyola (Dec. 2), William & Mary (Dec. 29 in Charleston, W. Va.)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- The 2012-13 season was one of the worst of Bob Huggins’ career, but the Mountaineers are hoping a standout recruiting class led by power forwards Devin Williams and Elijah Macon -- as well as the return of leading scorer Eron Harris -- helps change their fortunes. There are certainly some opportunities to build confidence early. Missouri and Gonzaga are both incorporating new pieces and may not be crisp in early December. Purdue should be improved, but West Virginia will have revenge on its mind after last season’s 79-52 embarrassment in West Lafayette, Ind. West Virginia opens the Cancun Challenge against Old Dominion and could play Wisconsin the following day.