G'town, Kentucky, Texas top list of toughest nonconference schedules
Georgetown could be a contender or toast before Big East play begins
Texas freshman Cory Joseph will be tested early against top point guards
Duke-Butler clash in championship-game rematch in New Jersey on Dec. 4
Last season, after I ranked the most difficult nonconference schedules, the teams at Nos. 1 and 3 (North Carolina and Texas) imploded, while the teams at Nos. 2, 6 and 7 (Michigan State, Duke and West Virginia) made the Final Four. The lesson, I suppose, is that a tough schedule is a good and vital thing -- but only if you have the right personnel to endure it.
BCS conference teams were the only ones considered for these rankings, because they, unlike the Gonzagas and Butlers of the college hoops world, have the luxury of choice in scheduling. The goal was to look at who's voluntarily putting themselves through the wringer. My criteria for what's tough are, in order: willingness to play legitimate true-road and semi-road games; entries into competitive, neutral-court tournaments; non-gimme home dates; and overall schedule quality.
Will Georgetown, this year's No. 1-ranked team, use its schedule as a springboard for a deep NCAA tournament run ... or simply be exposed before it even hits the Big East?
11/12 at Old Dominion
12/9 at Temple
12/23 at Memphis
11/30 vs. Missouri (in Kansas City)
11/18 vs. Coastal Carolina (Charleston Classic)
11/19 vs. Wofford/USC-Upstate (Charleston Classic)
11/21. vs. N.C. State/East Carolina/George Mason/Charlotte (Charleston Classic)
12/4 vs. Utah State
Bold move by the Hoyas, building a schedule this difficult for their first season without big man Greg Monroe. They're the lone potentially ranked, major-conference team with three true road games and a semi-road game. The trips are hardly easy, either -- visits to the best team in the CAA (Old Dominion), the best team in the A-10 (Temple), the best team in the C-USA (Memphis) and a Big 12 contender (Missouri in Kansas City). Georgetown's multi-team event, the Charleston Classic, isn't a blockbuster, but the bracket should set up a meeting with the best team in the Southern Conference (Wofford) and either the second-best CAA team (George Mason) or an improved N.C. State squad. A home game against WAC favorite Utah State completes a slate of non-BCS all-stars, most of them better than the Ohio team the Hoyas were upset by in the first round of last season's NCAA tournament.
11/19 at Portland
12/4 at North Carolina
12/31 at Louisville
11/22 vs. Oklahoma (Maui Invitational)
11/23 vs. Washington/Virginia (Maui Invitational)
11/24 vs. Michigan State/UConn/Wichita State (Maui Invitational)
12/8 vs. Notre Dame (in Louisville)
12/11 vs. Indiana
12/22 vs. Winthrop
The Wildcats are the only other quality BCS conference team with three true road games. The UNC trip is one of the most-anticipated games of December, while the Portland trip is essentially a recruiting visit: power forward Terrence Jones, the final commitment in Kentucky's loaded 2010 class, is from there, as is Kyle Wiltjer, a likely frontcourt starter when he arrives in 2011. There's plenty of intrigue in a potential second-round meeting with Washington in Maui, now that the 'Cats have two former UW commitments (Jones and the yet-to-be-eligible Enes Kanter) on their roster. If a Kentucky-Michigan State final occurs in Maui, that could push the Wildcat's schedule to No. 1.
12/5 at USC
12/22 at Michigan State
12/18 vs. North Carolina (in Greensboro)
11/18 vs. Illinois (2K Sports College Hoops Classic, New York City)
11/19 vs. Pittsburgh/Maryland (2K Sports College Hoops Classic)
1/4 vs. Arkansas
1/8 vs. UConn
There will be no easing into the point guard position for freshman Cory Joseph. Consider the guards he'll face before Big 12 play begins in earnest: Kalin Lucas (Michigan State), Demetri McCamey (Illinois), Kemba Walker (UConn) and possibly Ashton Gibbs (Pitt), if the Longhorns reach the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic final. All four are legit All-America candidates. There's very little -- if anything -- separating Texas' schedule from Georgetown's and Kentucky's.
12/11 at Pitt
1/22 at UConn
11/24 vs. Wake Forest (NIT Season Tip-Off, New York City)
11/26 vs. Villanova/UCLA (NIT Season Tip-Off)
11/16 vs. Belmont (NIT Season Tip-Off)
11/17 vs. Missouri State/Arkansas State (NIT Season Tip-Off)
12/14 vs. Oakland
12/21 vs. USC
12/23 vs. Belmont
1/5 vs. Memphis
The Vols are doing a veritable tour of the Big East, traveling to Pitt and UConn, and potentially facing Villanova at Madison Square Garden in the NIT Season Tip-Off final. Belmont (whom Tennessee plays twice!), Missouri State and Oakland are all solid mid-major foes, albeit at home, while the Memphis game will make for excellent early-January TV, showcasing three of the nation's best freshmen in the Tigers' Joe Jackson and Will Barton and the Vols' Tobias Harris.
12/1 at Duke
11/23 vs. UConn/Wichita State (Maui Invitational)
11/24 vs. Kentucky/Oklahoma/Virginia/Washington (Maui Invitational)
12/7 vs. Syracuse (Jimmy V Classic, New York City)
12/11 vs. Oakland (Auburn Hills, Mich.)
11/16 vs. South Carolina
12/22 vs. Texas
The Spartans received the toughest draw of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, traveling Duke for a game that could very well feature the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the country. The showdown between Lucas, the nation's best senior point guard, and the Blue Devils' Kyrie Irving, the No. 1 freshman point guard, is a must-see event. Michigan State should get two strong games in Maui, too, against either UConn or Wichita State (the Missouri Valley favorite) in the second round, and Kentucky or Washington in the final.