UNC, Michigan St. on top again with toughest non-league schedules
Every major-conference team that I'd consider ranking in a preseason top 25 -- well, every team other than
This is an effective way to kill time in the slow buildup to Midnight Madness, plot out viewing/travel plans for November and December, and also drive oneself dizzy from staring at too many HTML tables shaded in alternate grays. What did I learn? To begin, that North Carolina, while it won't be No. 1 in any preseason polls, still deserves to be atop one list:
Last season, when Carolina boasted a starting lineup of three first-round draft picks (
The Tar Heels seem to be overcompensating in 2009-10: Despite a shaky backcourt situation and no real expectations of repeating as national champs, they have the toughest non-conference schedule in the country. They're the only team that's facing three likely preseason top-five foes (home vs. Michigan State, then a trip to Kentucky, and a faux-neutral date against Texas in Cowboys Stadium's basketball test-run for the 2010 NBA All-Star Game). UNC is also a part of one of the toughest multi-team events, the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic in New York, where it'll face the Big Ten's third-best team, Ohio State, and possibly play Pac-10 favorite Cal. Sophomore
The Spartans are the only elite team playing two true road games against top-10 teams (UNC and Texas). Their November opponents aren't bad, either: Florida missed the NCAA tournament last season but should get to the dance with its talent infusion of freshman
The 'Horns made the bold move of scheduling two difficult, true road games after the New Year -- a Jan. 5 trip to Arkansas and a Jan. 23 trip to UConn. They'll get on CBS for the battle with the Huskies, which is the first of a four-game deal. I only wish Texas could go outside the purview of the Big 12 and add a second game with Kansas. That matchup will be a bigger intra-conference game than Duke-UNC this season, and we only get it once, on Feb. 8 in Austin.
When KU senior associate athletic director
The Blue Devils will likely face UConn in the NIT Season Tip- Off Final at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 27, and they have a guaranteed Garden game against Gonzaga on Dec. 19. They're also playing true road games at Wisconsin (for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge) on Dec. 2 and Georgetown on Jan. 30. A home date with Tulsa in the middle of ACC play -- Feb. 25 -- isn't a gimme, either. The Golden Hurricane should be in contention for an at-large NCAA berth out of Conference USA.
The Mountaineers are in the loaded Anaheim Classic along with Texas A&M, Clemson, UCLA, Butler and Minnesota, plus have true road dates scheduled with Purdue (a top-10 team) on Jan. 1 and Cleveland State (last year's Horizon League tournament champ) on Dec. 19. Home games with Ole Miss on Dec. 23 and Ohio State on Jan. 23 are tough as well
This isn't the greatest year to take a road trip to Kansas, but the Wolverines are doing so on Dec. 19, just 10 days after playing a true road game at Utah. They're also punishing themselves by hosting UConn in a nationally televised game on Jan. 17, just three days before a Big Ten road swing through Madison and West Lafayette. ... and by playing in the Old Spice Classic (along with Marquette, Xavier, Florida State and Baylor), the finals of which are just three days before a Dec. 2 home date with Boston College.
The Hoyas have one of the tougher turnarounds I've seen in November or December, playing Butler in the Jimmy V Classic on Dec. 8 in New York, then flying to California to play Washington in the Wooden Classic in Anaheim on Dec. 12. The Huskies should be one of the country's best up-tempo teams with
The Illini only have one true road game (at Clemson for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Dec. 2), but they've put together an ambitious run of neutral and semi-neutral games. They'll play Utah and then (likely) Oklahoma State in Las Vegas over Thanksgiving weekend; Georgia in Duluth, Ga., on Dec. 19; Missouri in St. Louis on Dec. 23; and Gonzaga in Chicago on Jan. 2.
I could only find two legitimate teams who hadn't scheduled a true road game in the non-conference season. They're both from the Big East, and both have a habit of doing this:
Major-conference teams hold all the clout in scheduling, and few are willing to play in mid-major or low-major schools' home gyms. I looked into how these curious matchups came to be:
Mid-majors located in fertile recruiting territories tend to have more luck luring in BCS-conference opponents. Ohio State's trip to Butler was mentioned above, but here are three more prime cases:
• Oklahoma State must be commended for being the only team to play in two different, casino-related events in the same season. On Nov. 27 and 28, the Cowboys are in the Las Vegas Invitational at Orleans Arena, which is adjacent to the Orleans Hotel & Casino ... and on Jan. 2, they're playing Rhode Island in Uncasville, Conn., at Mohegan Sun Casino's arena (which is normally home to the WNBA's Connecticut Sun). However, by failing to a neutral-site game at Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall (home to the Legends Classic and the A-10 tournament), Oklahoma State missed out on completing college hoops' first-ever Casino Slam.