Basketball nonconference analysis: Big 12, Sun Belt


Toughest: Maui Invitational (Nov. 19-21), vs. Georgetown (Dec. 4 at the Jimmy V Classic in New York), vs. UCLA (Dec. 8 in Houston), North Carolina (Dec. 19), at Michigan State (Dec. 22)

Next-toughest: Fresno State (Nov. 9)

The rest: Coppin State (Nov. 12), Sam Houston State (Nov. 27), UT-Arlington (Dec. 1), Texas State (Dec. 15), Rice (Dec. 29)

Here it is, folks -- the nation's toughest nonconference schedule of 2012-13. Maui has quality opponents, as mentioned above, but the Longhorns' schedule is so much more than Maui. Georgetown is a quality neutral-court opponent, UCLA with a full roster is arguably a top-5 team, North Carolina won't be easy to host, and Michigan State is nearly impossible to take down in the confines of the Breslin Center. What's especially interesting about this schedule is where Texas sits in relation to most of the other teams on this list. Duke, UCLA, Memphis, Florida, Kansas -- these are teams expected to contend for (or win) conferences titles, teams with designs on deep tournament runs, teams with tons of talent. The Horns are talented too, of course, but probably not as much as we've grown accustomed to. They're also very young, and few expect them to contend on the national stage this season. But Rick Barnes didn't noticeably lighten the load for his young team. Indeed, this baptism will come by fire.

-- Eamonn Brennan


Toughest: South Florida (Dec. 5), Gonzaga (Dec. 31)

Next-toughest: Puerto Rico Tip-Off (Nov. 15-18), at Virginia Tech (Dec. 1)

The rest: UC Davis (Nov. 9), Portland State (Nov. 25), Missouri State (Dec. 8), Central Arkansas (Dec. 16), UT-Arlington (Dec. 19), Tennessee Tech (Dec. 22)

This nonconference schedule ranks among the worst nationally, especially considering the Cowboys have two McDonald's All-Americans on their roster. There are no true road challenges, the Puerto Rico Tip-Off field is good but not great, and Gonzaga is the only top-25 team anywhere near the slate if the Pokes fall flat in San Juan. This isn't a great nonconference schedule by any metric, but when you take into account Oklahoma State's talent level -- and their chances of playing spoiler in the Big 12 this season -- it is rather blasé.

-- Eamonn Brennan


Toughest: South Padre Island Invitational (Nov. 23-24)

Next-toughest: Houston (Dec. 4), at Tulsa (Dec. 9)

The rest: Cal Poly (Nov. 9), Centenary (Nov. 12), SMU (Nov. 15), Prairie View A&M (Nov. 18), Navy (Nov. 20), Southern Utah (Nov. 29), Southern (Dec. 18), at Rice (Dec. 22), Mississippi Valley State (Dec. 30)

Look, it's hard to fault TCU -- and especially first-year coach Trent Johnson -- for having one of the worst nonconference schedules in the country. Of course the Horned Frogs are scheduling soft. They've been rebuilding for ... forever, basically. But still, we're in high-major territory now. Let this be a friendly reminder that it's time to start scheduling like it.

-- Eamonn Brennan


Toughest: Arizona (Dec. 1), Alabama (Dec. 19)

Next-toughest: Arizona State (Dec. 22)

The rest: Prairie View A&M (Nov. 9), Nebraska-Omaha (Nov. 14), Grambling State (Nov. 20), Jackson State (Nov. 26), Northern Kentucky (Dec. 4), McNeese State (Dec. 16), North Carolina A&T (Dec. 28), Florida A&M (Dec. 31)

Perhaps this is now-deposed Texas Tech coach Billy Gillispie's final legacy at the school: The strategy of somehow getting away with not scheduling any road games whatsoever. Arizona is a quality opponent (if young), and Alabama is fundamentally solid (if somewhat retooling), but other than those two "highlights," most of this schedule comprises low-major guarantee games and few real challenges. Oh, and Arizona State. You get the point.

-- Eamonn Brennan


Toughest: at Creighton (Nov. 9), NIT Season Tip-Off (Nov. 12-23), at Saint Louis (Dec. 5)

Next-toughest: Lehigh (Dec. 20)

The rest: Cameron (Nov. 16), Texas-Arlington (Nov. 28), Louisiana-Lafayette (Dec. 1), Jackson State (Dec. 8), Southeastern Louisiana (Dec. 16)

Toughness scale (1-10): 9 -- Tony Mitchell could lead the Mean Green to a regional round upset of Kansas State in the NIT Season Tip-Off. And if that happens, a matchup with Virginia at MSG could happen, with Michigan or Pitt waiting in the wings. Even if the program stumbles, however, road trips to Creighton and SLU, a pair of top-25 squads, will boost its nonconference schedule in Tony Benford’s first season as head coach. C.J. McCollum and Lehigh come to Denton five days before Christmas for a meaningful mid-major matchup. No complaints for this slate.

-- Myron Medcalf


Toughest: at Kentucky (Dec. 1), at Gonzaga (Dec. 28)

Next-toughest: Lehigh (Nov. 9), Charleston Classic (Nov. 15-18), Northwestern (Dec. 4), BYU (Dec. 21)

The rest: Jackson State (Nov. 11), Charleston (Nov. 24), Lamar (Dec. 12), USC Upstate (Dec. 17), Hardin-Simmons (Jan. 19)

Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- Gone are the days of Baylor's being criticized for a weak out-of-conference schedule. For the second straight season the Bears will play one of the most challenging nonleague slates in the Big 12. Kentucky and Gonzaga boast two of the most raucous road environments in the country. Northwestern and BYU will try to avenge last season’s losses to the Bears. The Charleston Classic could be one of the more exciting tournaments of the season with teams such as Colorado, Murray State, St. John’s, Charleston and Dayton.

-- Jason King


Toughest: at Arkansas (Dec. 4), Ohio (Dec. 29)

Next-toughest: Old Spice Classic (Nov. 22-25 in Orlando), at Oral Roberts (Nov. 28), vs. Texas A&M (Dec. 15 in Oklahoma City)

The rest: Louisiana-Monroe (Nov. 11), at UT-Arlington (Nov. 16), Northwestern State (Nov. 30), Stephen F. Austin (Dec. 18), Texas A&M Corpus Christi (Dec. 31)

Toughness scale (1-10): 4 -- It’s understandable that Lon Kruger would want to schedule soft as he attempts to rebuild the Sooners’ program. Beating Arkansas in Fayetteville would be a signature win. And although it wouldn’t get much publicity, a victory against D.J. Cooper and Ohio would be impressive, too. Oklahoma opens the Old Spice Classic against UTEP and will likely face Gonzaga in the second round. West Virginia, Davidson and Vanderbilt are also in the field.

-- Jason King