Nonconference schedule analysis: SEC

For the next four days, ESPN.com will be breaking down the nonconference schedules of each and every team in a dozen of the nation's top leagues. We began with ACC and Conference USA and continue now with the SEC.


Toughest: 2K Sports Classic (Nov. 15-16 in NYC), at Cincinnati (Dec. 1), at VCU (Dec. 15)

Next-toughest: South Dakota State (Nov. 9), Dayton (Dec. 5), Mercer (Dec. 22)

The rest: West Alabama (Nov. 11), Charleston Southern (Nov. 23), Lamar (Nov. 27), at Texas Tech (Dec. 19), Mercer (Dec. 22), Tulane (Dec. 30), Oakland (Jan. 5)

The toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- VCU could crack the preseason Top 25 and Cincinnati should definitely be there with the return of Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright. The Tide will face off with Oregon State at the 2K Sports Classic and then either Villanova or Purdue. And there are a few tricky mid-major challengers on the docket.


Toughest: Las Vegas Invitational (Nov. 23-24), Syracuse (Nov. 30), at Michigan (Dec. 8 )

Next-toughest: Oklahoma (Dec. 4)

The rest: Sam Houston State (Nov. 9), Longwood (Nov. 18), Florida A&M (Nov. 20), Alcorn State (Dec. 15), Robert Morris (Dec. 20), Alabama A&M (Dec. 22 in Little Rock), Northwestern State (Dec. 29), Delaware State (Jan. 5)

Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- The Razorbacks’ toughest games are legit. Syracuse and Michigan will challenge for the Big East and Big Ten titles, respectively. And Arkansas isn't leaving Las Vegas without a war, whether it plays Wisconsin or Creighton (Arizona State is the first-round opponent). Oklahoma should be improved, but the rest of the schedule is much weaker.


Toughest: Charleston Classic (Nov. 15-18), Florida State (Jan. 2)

Next-toughest: vs. Illinois (Dec. 29 in Chicago)

The rest: IPFW (Nov. 9), at Boston College (Nov. 21), Rhode Island (Nov. 25), DePaul (Nov. 30), Grambling State (Dec. 11), Furman (Dec. 15), Tennessee Tech (Dec. 18), Winthrop (Dec. 22)

Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- Considering Auburn’s 5-11 SEC record (15-16 overall) last season, the Tigers have a decent nonconference schedule with the proper balance for a program that struggled a season ago. Florida State and Murray State (first-round opponent in Charleston) are valid matchups and a shot at quality wins. Illinois won’t be an easy game in Chicago. And there’s a multitude of possible matchups in the Charleston Classic, including Baylor, Colorado and St. John's.


Toughest: Wisconsin (Nov. 14), at Florida State (Dec. 5), at Arizona (Dec. 15), Kansas State (Dec. 22 in KC)

Next-toughest: vs. Georgetown (Nov. 9 in Jacksonville), UCF (Nov. 23), Marquette (Nov. 29)

The rest: Alabama State (Nov. 11), vs. Middle Tennessee (Nov. 18 in Tampa), Savannah State (Nov. 20), Southeastern Louisiana (Dec. 19), vs. Air Force (Dec. 29 in Sunrise, Fla.), at Yale (Jan. 6)

Toughness scale (1-10): 10 -- More than half of Billy Donovan’s nonconference schedule includes games that the Gators could lose. They’ll face Wisconsin, Georgetown and Central Florida in November. Then, there’s a three-week stretch that includes Marquette, Florida State (road), Arizona (road) and Kansas State (in Kansas City), which would be dangerous for any team in the country. They’ll either hit their stride during that run or they’ll crash.


Toughest: Legends Classic (Nov. 19-20)

Next-toughest: at South Florida (Nov. 30), at Georgia Tech (Dec. 4), Iona (Dec. 15)

The rest: Jacksonville (Nov. 9), Youngstown State (Nov. 12), Southern Miss (Nov. 15), East Tennessee State (Nov. 23), Mercer (Dec. 18), USC (Dec. 22), Florida A&M (Dec. 29), George Washington (Jan. 4)

Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- The Bulldogs face the national title favorite on a lot of boards when they match up against Indiana in Brooklyn. Georgetown or UCLA will await Georgia the next day. Stan Heath’s South Florida team reached the NCAA tournament last season with the rugged defensive style that will corral most teams, including Georgia.


Toughest: Duke (Nov. 13 in Atlanta), Baylor (Dec. 1), at Notre Dame (Nov. 29), at Louisville (Dec. 29)

Next-toughest: vs. Maryland (Nov. 9 in Brooklyn), Marshall (Dec. 22)

The rest: Lafayette (Nov. 16), Morehead State (Nov. 21), LIU-Brooklyn (Nov. 23), Samford (Dec. 4), Portland (Dec. 8), Lipscomb (Dec. 15), Eastern Michigan (Jan. 2)

Toughness scale (1-10): 9 -- John Calipari recruits big and he plays big, too. His latest one-and-done crew won’t catch any breaks with a neutral-site matchup against Duke in the Champions Classic and a home game against Baylor. In-state rival Louisville could be the favorite to win the national title, plus the Wildcats travel to Notre Dame as part of the SEC/Big East Challenge. Baptism by fire for the youngsters.


Toughest: at Marquette (Dec. 22)

Next-toughest: Seton Hall (Nov. 29)

The rest: UC Santa Barbara (Nov. 9), McNeese State (Nov. 13), Northwestern St. (Nov. 20), Mississippi Valley State (Nov. 24), Chattanooga (Dec. 11), at Boise State (Dec. 14), at UC Irvine (Dec. 18), Houston Baptist (Dec. 28), Bethune-Cookman (Jan. 5)

Toughness scale (1-10): 3 -- This is a rebuilding program’s nonconference schedule. The last thing new coach Johnny Jones needs is for his team to walk into the SEC schedule with a bunch of losses. And this schedule gives the Tigers a chance to succeed prior to their meetings with Kentucky, Florida and the other power brokers in the league. But there’s limited substance here.


Toughest: Maui Invitational (Nov. 19-21)

Next-toughest: at Providence (Dec. 1)

The rest: at Troy (Nov. 9), Florida Atlantic (Nov. 13), Alcorn State (Nov. 27), Texas-San Antonio (Dec. 4), at Loyola-Chicago (Dec. 15), vs. Central Arkansas (Dec. 22 in Jackson, Miss.), Alabama A&M (Dec. 30), New Orleans (Jan. 3)

Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- Rick Ray’s first season doesn’t come with too many early challenges -- and that's probably a good thing. The Bulldogs could get crushed in Maui, opening with North Carolina and facing either Butler or Marquette the next day. There aren't really any heavy hitters after that, though, so the opportunity will be there for some confidence-building wins.


Toughest: Battle 4 Atlantis (Nov. 22-24), at UCLA (Dec. 28)

Next-toughest: vs. Illinois (Dec. 22 in St. Louis), Bucknell (Jan. 5)

The rest: SIUE (Nov. 10), Nicholls State (Nov. 16), Appalachian State (Dec. 1), Southeast Missouri State (Dec. 4), Tennessee State (Dec. 8), South Carolina State (Dec. 17)

Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- Frank Haith’s schedule is anchored by two guarantees: a sexy road matchup against UCLA and three great matchups in the Bahamas. At the loaded Battle 4 Atlantis, the Tigers begin with rising Stanford, then play either Louisville or Northern Iowa and potentially Memphis, VCU, Duke or Minnesota in the third game. That's enough for a significant boost in the schedule rating.


Toughest: Diamond Head Classic (Dec. 22-25 in Honolulu)

Next-toughest: at Middle Tennessee (Dec. 8), at Loyola Marymount (Dec. 19)

The rest: Mississippi Valley State (Nov. 9), Coastal Carolina (Nov. 13), Arkansas-Little Rock (Nov. 16), McNeese State (Nov. 20), Lipscomb (Nov. 23), Rutgers (Dec. 1), ETSU (Dec. 14), Fordham (Jan. 4)

Toughness scale (1-10): 3 -- Not exactly flawless scheduling for Andy Kennedy’s squad, which won’t get a shot at a real quality nonconference win unless it advances in the Diamond Head Classic in December. But other than that potential matchup against San Diego State and a possible tilt against Arizona or Miami in the third game, the Rebels don’t have a schedule that does much for their at-large résumé.


Toughest: at St. John’s (Nov. 29)

Next-toughest: Hoops for Hope Classic (Nov. 24-25 in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico), Clemson (Dec. 2)

The rest: Milwaukee (Nov. 11), Morgan State (Nov. 16), Rider (Nov. 19), Elon (Nov. 21), vs. Missouri State in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (Nov. 24), vs. SMU/UALR in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (Nov. 25), Jacksonville (Dec. 7), Appalachian State (Dec. 19), vs. Manhattan (Dec. 22 in Brooklyn), Presbyterian (Dec. 29), South Carolina State (Jan. 5)

Toughness scale (1-10): 2 -- The Gamecocks didn’t exactly put a gantlet together in Frank Martin’s first season. A road game against a talented St. John’s team in the SEC/Big East Challenge will be tough and a matchup with Missouri State in Mexico is decent, but the rest of the slate is really mediocre. And for a team that won 10 games last season, that’s OK. Now, Martin’s love for rapper Pitbull? That’s not OK.


Toughest: Puerto Rico Tip-Off (Nov. 15-18), at Georgetown (Nov. 30), Memphis (Jan. 4)

Next-toughest: at Virginia (Dec. 5), Wichita State (Dec. 13), Xavier (Dec. 29)

The rest: Kennesaw State (Nov. 9), Oakland (Nov. 26), Presbyterian (Dec. 18), Western Carolina (Dec. 21)

Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- Memphis versus Tennessee will be interesting as usual, but it will be a more even matchup this time. A road game against Georgetown in the SEC/Big East Challenge won’t be easy, either. And the Vols will travel to Virginia in early December. Plus, there’s a strong chance that they’ll face Oklahoma State in Puerto Rico and possibly top-10 NC State in the third game there.


Toughest: CBE Classic (Nov. 19-20 in Kansas City)

Next-toughest: vs. Oklahoma (Dec. 15 in Oklahoma City), at Houston (Dec. 1)

The rest: Louisiana Tech (Nov. 9), Troy (Nov. 12), Prairie View A&M (Nov. 15), Northwestern State (Nov. 26), Stephen F. Austin (Dec. 5), Texas A&M Corpus-Christi (Dec. 18), Southern (Dec. 22), Army (Dec. 29), Houston Baptist (Jan. 4)

Toughness scale (1-10): 4 -- The Aggies could have a tough SEC debut after losing so much talent from last season (see Khris Middleton and Dash Harris). This slate features enough of a cakewalk to build their confidence prior to conference play, although the CBE opener against Saint Louis is top-notch and either Kansas or Washington State awaits.


Toughest: Old Spice Classic (Nov. 22-25), Butler (Dec. 29)

Next-toughest: at Oregon (Nov. 16), Villanova (Dec. 1), at Xavier (Dec. 6)

The rest: Nicholls State (Nov. 10), Alabama A&M (Dec. 15), Cornell (Dec. 17), Middle Tennessee (Dec. 21), William & Mary (Jan. 2)

Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- It’s a transition season for Kevin Stallings’ program, which lost five seniors and a junior. But with matchups against Butler and an underrated Davidson squad in Orlando, plus a possible game against West Virginia and definite games against Oregon and Villanova, this is not necessarily the ideal nonconference schedule for such a young team.