Punctuation, directionals and fake states: The third-annual nonconference schedule primer
The calendar has hit September, and with the pushing-up of Midnight Madness this season, we're now in the same month college basketball practices officially start. Of course, it's the tip off of games in November that we're really pining for, and this season, with good reason.
The breadth of talent at the top of the expected national polls is excellent, which means there are more opportunities for big-time nonconference matchups. Unfortunately some programs take this missive more seriously than others, which means it's time for the third-annual SI.com lighthearted schedule evaluation column.
Here's a brief primer on how to quickly identify the bad parts of your schedule:
1) Any type of punctuation mark (ampersand, apostrophe, hyphen, period)
2) Any in-state directional or geographic notation
3) Any State that is not actually a state
4) Any affiliation with the RPI-killing SWAC or MEAC
In rare situations, you can schedule a "multiple violator," a team that satisfies more than one of those rules. In those cases, your fans are absolutely certain a well-compensated sacrificial lamb is in town. There are other categories that hint at "buy game mismatch," as well, as you will see below.
Without further ado, here are the major programs doing it right (and not-so-right) with this season's nonconference schedules:
This Is How You Do It
-- One hyphen (Louisiana-Monroe)
-- One State that's not a state (San Diego State, a quality opponent)
Yes, yes, 1,000 times yes. And this schedule was in place before the Jayhawks even knew they were getting Andrew Wiggins, so good on them. Beastly slate. I'm going to watch the heck out of this. Even the "easy" games at home are against quality mids like Iona and Towson. They play Duke in Chicago, play true road games at Colorado and Florida, and also host New Mexico, San Diego State and Georgetown. Love it. Easily the best nonconference schedule in the country. The young, talented Jayhawks will be extremely battle-hardened for the Big 12 race.
-- One hyphen that doubles as a transitional D-I (UMass-Lowell)
-- Two SWAC or MEAC members (South Carolina State, Coppin State)
-- Two overt doses of religion (Houston Baptist, Holy Cross)
The Wolverines bring back plenty from their national final team, and serve up a schedule with many solid meals that enable a handful of wasteful-calorie snack options. The season starts soft, but a trip to Iowa State on Nov. 17 will wake things up in a hurry. Michigan's also in the good Puerto Rico Shootout (everyone wants the rematch with VCU in the semis, right?) and visits Duke in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. Add in a home date with Arizona and a NYC game against Stanford and there's plenty here to chew on for Beilein's boys.
Since the NIT Season Tip-Off takes forever to set all of the preliminary matchups, we can't know that this is complete, but here goes...
-- Two States that aren't states (although Long Beach is always OK and a San Diego State roadie is tough)
-- One directional notation (Northern Arizona)
The second game of the season is at Viejas Arena, so there's very little easing into the pool. Since everyone on Earth is hoping for a Duke-Arizona NIT final at MSG on Nov. 29, it's hard to imagine that the Wildcats' two home games to get to New York will be particularly testing. The Wildcats also host UNLV and play at Michigan before heading into what should be a very strong and deep Pac-12. With a loaded roster, the Wildcats have some solid games and no soft touches early, either. We'll have a good idea at the end of November what kind of potential the Cats have.
-- Two directional notations (Northern Kentucky and Eastern Michigan)
-- Two satellite/hyphens (UNC Asheville and Texas-Arlington)
-- Two states that aren't states (Cleveland State and Boise State, although the latter is quality)
A run at 40-0? Well, that talk could end as early as the third game of the season, when the Wildcats face Michigan State in Chicago. Regardless, this is a nicely balanced nonconference slate for a team with massive expectations but a load of freshmen to groom at the college level. With the Spartans, North Carolina and Louisville, there are three marquee showdowns and only one -- Louisville -- is at Rupp. With Baylor, Boise State and maybe Providence, there are other games that shouldn't be walkovers, either. Throw in the revenge game against Robert Morris and we're set.
-- Two Directional notations (North Florida, Middle Tennessee State)
-- One hyphen (Arkansas-Little Rock)
-- Two SWAC or MEAC members (Southern, Savannah State)
-- One State that's not a state (albeit a credible team in Fresno State)
A healthy amount of salad to nibble on, but enough meat to satisfy hungry Gators, as well. Getting Wisconsin early is nice (and may be before the Badgers get good). The five-game stretch starting Thanksgiving Friday -- Florida State, at UConn, Kansas, Memphis (in NYC), Fresno State (semi-neutral) -- is very good.
-- One directional notation (Eastern Michigan)
-- One altitude notation (High Point)
-- One annual toothpasting (Colgate)
Another year with a true nonconference road game to go with a three-game event in Hawaii? Jim Boeheim, I hardly know you anymore! Jokes aside, there's nothing wrong with this slate for the Orange heading into their debut season in the mega-ACC. The Maui Invitational isn't loaded, but games with Minnesota, Arkansas/Cal and (hopefully) Gonzaga or Baylor are solid enough. Indiana comes to the Dome for a Sweet 16 rematch in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. Cuse also plays nonconference games at St. John's (although the crowd will be plenty Orange) and vs. Villanova, nice nods to the former Big East.
-- Two geography/directional notations (Florida Atlantic, Eastern Michigan)
-- Two satellite/hyphens (UNC Asheville, Gardner-Webb)
-- Plus either a State that's not a state (Norfolk State) or a directional notation (East Carolina) in NIT
The Blue Devils do similar things every year: Load up on games at Cameron and favorable neutral sites. They don't play a true nonconference road game, but they'll rack up RPI points once again. I like that they open at home with Davidson and then face Kansas in Chicago. No warmups there. The interim phase until the potential NIT final with Arizona is soft. They play Michigan at home in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge and face UCLA in New York City. There's enough to chew on, albeit with a bit too much roughage and no true road tests until they head to the Joyce Center on Jan. 4 (circle the upset possibility there, despite the students being away on break).
Wish It Was Better, But Still Passable
-- One State that's not a state (McNeese State)
-- One directional notation (North Florida)
-- One dose of religion (Mount St. Mary's)
The Spartans annually are among the better schedulers in the nation, but this season is not up to their typical insane standards. They'll make up for it with another tough Big Ten schedule, but the November/December games are lacking the normal oomph overall. There's a lot of cannon fodder at home early and the Coaches vs. Cancer possibilities (Virginia Tech and then Oklahoma or Seton Hall) fail to titillate. The Spartans do play Kentucky early and get North Carolina at home in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. They also sneak in a pre-Super Bowl game in NYC against Georgetown, so there's some stuff to watch. Maybe not enough, though, for an expected Final Four contender.
-- One religious experience (Holy Cross)
-- Three hyphens/satellites (Alabama-Birmingham, UNC Greensboro, UNC Wilmington)
-- One directional modifier that's also a transitional D-I (Northern Kentucky)
-- One team coached by Rick Barnes (Texas)
Assuming the Heels get Louisville in the Hall of Fame final at Mohegan Sun, they'll have games against the top three teams in most people's preseason polls. They're also at Michigan State and home to Kentucky, and maybe it's a bit unfair to mark them down with that trio of games. It's the rest of the slate that's not good enough, though. It will be fun to see Oakland and @DarthBader3 open the season in Chapel Hill, but what's there really to get excited about after the three monster matchups?
Not good enough, given context
-- Two directional notations (Southern Miss and Western Kentucky)
-- Two satellite/hyphens (Missouri-Kansas City and Louisiana-Lafayette)
-- One school that sounds like an airport (Florida International)
With what the Cards have coming back and with them being forced to spend a season in American Athletic purgatory, this nonconference schedule should have been better. They're going to manhandle a lot of teams before March. The Cardinals need to assume/hope they'll draw North Carolina in the final at Mohegan Sun because other than the scheduled Kentucky game, there's not a lot here. League games at Memphis and UConn (perhaps with others) won't be easy, but overall, this feels a little light for a team that could repeat as national champs.
-- One State that's not a state that's also an SWAC or MEAC (Morgan State)
-- Two directional notations (North Florida, Central Connecticut State)
-- One hyphen (Louisiana-Monroe)
-- One guy (Bryant)
A pretty disappointing schedule for a team that brings back a lot of talent and could be better than last season even with the loss of Deshaun Thomas. The Buckeyes play one true road game -- a quality test at Marquette -- and get Notre Dame in NYC (along with Maryland at home), but there's really not much for the home fans to get excited about until the new year. The Schott schedule is loaded with teams that have very little shot.
-- A Valley that's not the Missouri (Utah Valley)
-- Another Valley that's not the Missouri (Mississippi Valley State)
-- A hyphen (Arkansas-Pine Bluff)
-- A third SWAC or MEAC member (Delaware State)
-- One directional notation (South Florida)
The Cowboys should have a fairly gaudy record heading into a relatively down year in the Big 12. There is a lot of filler in this slate and not very much top-end quality. They could end up with two games against Memphis should they both reach the Old Spice Classic final. The game in Vegas against Colorado is a good one. And ... ummm ... well, they play Kansas twice. Not a great showcase for Smart and Co.
-- Three States that aren't states (Sacramento State, Weber State, Morehead State)
-- One dreaded SWAC/ampersand combo (Prairie View A&M)
-- Two hyphens/satellites (Tennessee-Chattanooga, UC Santa Barbara)New Mexico wasn't able to put killer nonconference schedules together under Steve Alford, which was mostly understandable. His first one at UCLA, though, isn't good at all. Games at Missouri and vs. Duke at MSG help, but the Las Vegas Invitational is pretty much a waste of four games. Northwestern as easily the best opponent in a MTE? Yuck. Another Travis Bader alert, though! The Golden Grizz hit Pauley on Nov. 12, four days after playing at the Dean Dome.