Nonconference schedule analysis: Big 12

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. We began with a look at the Missouri Valley and continue with the Big 12 ...


Toughest: at BYU (Dec. 17), vs. Saint Mary’s in Las Vegas (Dec. 22), vs. West Virginia in Las Vegas (Dec. 23), vs. Mississippi State in Dallas (Dec. 28)

Next-toughest: San Diego State (Nov. 15), at Northwestern (Dec. 4)

The rest: Texas Southern (Nov. 11), Jackson State (Nov. 13), South Carolina State (Nov. 22), UT-Arlington (Nov. 23), Prairie View A&M (Nov. 29), Bethune Cookman (Dec. 14), Paul Quinn (Dec. 19)

Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- Baylor is one of the favorites to win the Big 12, but this was a team that didn’t make the postseason in 2011 and has to play the first five games without Perry Jones III. True road games against likely NCAA bubble teams BYU and Northwestern will be a struggle. Saint Mary’s and West Virginia in Vegas are winnable and should be if we're to take the Bears seriously. A rebuilding SDSU is no given at home, but my favorite game is against MSU in Dallas with Jones III going against Arnett Moultrie and/or Renardo Sidney.


Toughest: at Michigan (Dec. 3)

Next-toughest: Northern Iowa (Nov. 30), Iowa (Dec. 9)

The rest: Lehigh (Nov. 12), at Drake (Nov. 15), Western Carolina (Nov. 20), Northern Colorado (Nov. 22), vs. Providence at South Padre Island, Texas (Nov. 25), vs. Rice at South Padre Island, Texas (Nov. 26), Prairie View A&M (Dec. 6), Central Michigan (Dec. 18), Lipscomb (Dec. 21)

Toughness scale (1-10): 2 -- I’m a little disappointed in this schedule for a Cyclones team that should be a sleeper in the Big 12. The road game at Michigan is by far the toughest. Iowa State doesn’t have a lot of room to work with in terms of an at-large bid. There are in-state games against Iowa, Northern Iowa and Drake, but the Cyclones could have worked harder for another marquee game or a better tourney field. ISU will have to do extremely well in the Big 12 to warrant a bid with this schedule.


Toughest: vs. Kentucky in NYC (Nov. 15), Maui Invitational (Nov. 21-23), Ohio State (Dec. 10)

Next-toughest: Long Beach State (Dec. 6), at USC (Dec. 22)

The rest: Towson (Nov. 11), Florida Atlantic (Nov. 30), South Florida (Dec. 3), Davidson (Dec. 19), Howard (Dec. 29), North Dakota (Dec. 31)

Toughness scale (1-10): 10 -- Kansas has its toughest nonconference schedule under Bill Self with a team that may be his hardest to predict. Kentucky and Ohio State are top-four teams. The Maui Invitational opener is against Georgetown and UCLA awaits if KU beats the Hoyas. The third game could be against Duke, Memphis or Michigan. Long Beach State is picked to win the Big West. Ask Texas about winning at USC and you’ll see how tough that can be. Even a home games against Sun Belt favorite FAU or the Big East’s South Florida shouldn’t be dismissed. Kansas will have a high seed if it plays this schedule well.


Toughest: at Virginia Tech (Dec. 4), vs. West Virginia in Wichita (Dec. 8), vs. Alabama in Kansas City (Dec. 17)

Next-toughest: Diamond Head Classic (Dec. 22-25)

The rest: Charleston Southern (Nov. 11), Loyola (Nov. 14), Maryland Eastern Shore (Nov. 22), George Washington (Dec. 1), North Florida (Dec. 11), Howard (Dec. 31).

Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- I don’t blame Frank Martin for dialing it back a bit since he has a team that is reshuffling. But the Wildcats have a schedule in front of them that it can win and build up equity for a run in the Big 12. West Virginia is a virtual home game for the Wildcats. Alabama is too. Virginia Tech is like Kansas State in that both schools could be better than projected and a road win in Blacksburg would carry weight. The Diamond Head Classic could produce some power-rating pop if KSU beats Southern Illinois and then draws Clemson in round two before possibly playing tourney favorite Xavier in a possible final. Do that and Kansas State’s nonconference schedule rating will increase.


Toughest: vs. Notre Dame in Kansas City (Nov. 21), vs. Villanova in NYC (Dec. 6), vs. Illinois in St. Louis (Dec. 22)

Next-toughest: at Old Dominion (Dec. 30)

The rest: SEMO (Nov. 11), Mercer (Nov. 14), Niagara (Nov. 17), Binghamton (Nov. 27), Northwestern State (Dec. 2), Navy (Dec. 10), Kennesaw State (Dec. 15), William & Mary (Dec. 18)

Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- The Tigers have a solid slate of games for a team that should contend for a top-four finish in the Big 12. Missouri did lose its second-leading scorer Laurence Bowers for the season due to an ACL injury. And the neutral-site games against Notre Dame, Villanova and Illinois will be extremely difficult for Missouri. The road test at Old Dominion in late December comes at a great time for the Monarchs. They are expected to be at full strength at that point. The CBE Classic could produce another gem for the Tigers if they draw one of the Pac-12 favorites in Cal in the second game. Missouri should be an NCAA tourney team and this schedule will help.


Toughest: Arkansas (Dec. 10), at Cincinnati (Dec. 29)

Next-toughest: 76 Classic (Nov. 24-27)

The rest: Idaho State (Nov. 11), Coppin State (Nov. 18), Sacramento State (Dec. 2), Oral Roberts (Dec. 8), vs. Houston in Oklahoma City (Dec. 17), South Carolina State (Dec. 21), Northwestern State (Dec. 31)

Toughness scale (1-10): 4 -- The trip to Cincinnati will be the toughest game by far. The Bearcats are a legit top-25 team. Arkansas at home will be dicey, too. The 76 Classic is a weak field, but that’s OK for a rebuilding team under first-year coach Lon Kruger. The Sooners draw beatable Washington State in the first round, then could get a crack at MWC co-favorite New Mexico on the second day. The top part of the bracket has Villanova. But even if Saint Louis were to end up being an OU opponent, that would help too. The reality is the Sooners don’t have a postseason team, so this schedule will do them fine.


Toughest: vs. Pittsburgh in NYC (Dec. 10), vs. New Mexico in Oklahoma City (Dec. 17), vs. Alabama in Birmingham (Dec. 21), Virginia Tech (Dec. 31)

Next-toughest: NIT Season Tip-Off (Nov. 15-27), Tulsa (Nov. 30), at Missouri State (Dec. 7)

The rest: Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (Nov. 11), vs. SMU in Dallas (Dec. 28), Langston (Dec. 4)

Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- I really like this schedule for coach Travis Ford. He has a team that is a bit of an unknown in the Big 12. But this slate of games could turn out to be the reason the Cowboys are suddenly in the at-large discussion in March. Play this group well and OSU will greatly benefit. Pitt, New Mexico and Alabama are all serious threats to finish in the top three in their respective conferences. The sleeper situation here is what happens in New York, assuming the Cowboys get to MSG in the NIT Season Tip-Off. Oklahoma State could play Syracuse, George Mason or possibly Virginia Tech, before it meets the Hokies on New Year's Eve.


Toughest: at UCLA (Dec. 3), at North Carolina (Dec. 21)

Next-toughest: Legends Classic (Nov. 19, 21), Temple (Dec. 17)

The rest: Boston U. (Nov. 13), Rhode Island (Nov. 15), Sam Houston State (Nov. 26), North Texas (Nov. 29), UT-Arlington (Dec. 6), Texas State (Dec. 10), Nicholls State (Dec. 13), Rice (Dec. 31)

Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- The Longhorns have two of the tougher true road games in the conference with the trips to UCLA and UNC. Temple is never an easy out, no matter the locale. The Legends Classic starts out with Oregon State at the Meadowlands and then there is the possibility of playing top-10 Vanderbilt, which faces off with NC State. Texas always has had a strong nonconference slate under Rick Barnes and this is no different.


Toughest: 2K Sports Classic (Nov. 17-18), vs. Florida in Sunrise, Fla. (Dec. 17)

Next-toughest: None

The rest: Liberty (Nov. 9), Southern (Nov. 13), Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (Nov. 26), Alcorn State (Nov. 30), Stephen F. Austin (Dec. 3), Sam Houston State (Dec. 7), Louisiana-Monroe (Dec. 10), Rice (Dec. 22), Arkansas Tech (Dec. 29)

Toughness scale (1-10): 3 -- The Aggies do get credit for playing Florida in Sunrise, even if it’s not in Gainesville. The Mississippi State game will be one of the best A&M this season. Two future SEC opponents right there. If the Ags get Arizona instead of St. John’s on the second night in New York, that would help the power-rating even more. Texas A&M is a Big 12 title contender, but the schedule set up by previous coach Mark Turgeon and new coach Billy Kennedy could have been stronger to help the overall at-large profile. There isn't a single true road game on the entire nonconference schedule.


Toughest: Old Spice Classic (Nov. 24-27)

Next-toughest: at TCU (Dec. 6)

The rest: Troy (Nov. 11), North Texas (Nov. 16), Stephen F. Austin (Nov. 20), at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (Dec. 1), Grambling State (Dec. 18), at Oral Roberts (Dec. 22), Cal State-Bakersfield (Dec. 27), Southeastern Louisiana (Dec. 30)

Toughness scale (1-10): 2 -- New coach Billy Gillispie shouldn’t have loaded up the schedule, and he didn't. He is still figuring out this depleted team, this job and the Big 12 again. So it probably wouldn’t have made sense to load up the slate. The Old Spice Classic, which was scheduled long before Gillispie got the job, will be the toughest with an opening-round game against Indiana State and then either DePaul or Minnesota. The third game could be against MAAC co-favorite Fairfield or rebuilding teams Dayton, Arizona State or Wake Forest. Texas Tech isn’t going to the NCAA tournament so the strength of this schedule isn’t as important as seeing gradual improvement throughout the season.