BC basketball's tough nonconference slate

It might be football season, but thanks to an NCAA rule change, Steve Donahue and his college basketball coaching brethren can start working on the hardwood earlier than ever before.

The new rule states college hoops teams now can start practice 42 days before their first game, which for Boston College is Nov. 8. That means Donahue could get his Eagles on the court as soon as Friday.

There's plenty of work to be done before the season tips off at Providence.

ESPN Insider recently ranked the toughest nonconference schedules in college hoops for the 2013-14 season. BC came in at No. 4 in that exercise.

"This one shocked me, and I had to take a second look," ESPN Insider Jeff Goodman wrote. "However, there aren't a lot of cupcakes on the 13-game nonleague slate."

BC will play at Auburn, Harvard, Providence, Purdue and USC, and faces off with UConn, UMass and VCU on neutral courts.

After he heard the highlights of the Eagles' nonconference schedule at the Coaches vs. Cancer Tip-off Breakfast on Thursday morning to promote the Nov. 10 tripleheader at TD Garden -- with BC taking on UMass, BU taking on Northeastern and Harvard taking on Holy Cross -- new Celtics coach (and former Butler coach) Brad Stevens had to weigh in.

"Most of these guys need to fire the guys that are scheduling their games," he joked. "Just an FYI. Steve, I don't know about that schedule. I thought you were gonna keep going, Steve. I was like, 'Goll-y, what are you doing?'"

Donahue was asked about his team's stiff nonleague slate.

"I believe a team with an overall losing record can make the NCAA tournament now," he said. "Now that sounds crazy, but with these mega-conferences now ... "

Donahue believes some of the beefed-up conferences will be so brutal that a strong nonconference performance might be enough to boost a team with a so-so conference record into the postseason.

"When a 9-7 Boise State from the Mountain West makes the NCAA tournament and an 11-7 Virginia from the ACC doesn't, I think in my position, I gotta wake up," Donahue said. "And that's what we did. We analyzed really our schedule. ... I don't want to be 12-1 [in the nonconference] with an RPI in triple digits and then have to win 13 games in the ACC."

And then there's the entertainment factor, which can't be dismissed.

"The other reason for me is I want to attract as many teams as we can that will excite our fan base," the BC coach said.

It's not like the rest of the Eagles' schedule is getting any easier, as Goodman noted Thursday morning.

"You've got [to be], I think, finally maybe going into the year feeling comfortable with what you have in terms of talent and depth," Goodman, the event emcee, said. "And now the ACC rewards you by adding Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame. Three perennial top-25 programs."

"Louisville next year," Donahue added.

"Louisville next year," Goodman agreed, as the audience laughed, "but we won't get ahead of ourselves."

"It's in my mind, trust me," Donahue said, drawing more laughs.

"I thought you guys take it one day at a time, one game at a time?" Goodman joked.

"I try," Donahue said.

It's just that in college basketball these days, it's not always possible to focus on only the here and now. After all, there's a lot to look forward to.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.