Maybe people are listening? After a 2011-12 season littered with really poor nonconference schedules for name programs, an examination of this season's slates comes up much stronger. It helps to have a heavyweight event like the Battle 4 Atlantis to hook up several elite teams with numerous quality games, but more teams seem to be realizing that you don't have to fill your schedule with sub-250 RPI games in order to rack up wins and get ready for January.
Most of the schedule evaluation rules from last year's column still apply:
1) Any type of punctuation mark (ampersand, apostrophe, hyphen, period)
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.
For this second annual lighthearted look at nonconference scheduling, additional fun categories were added, as needed. Without further ado, a breakdown by category of what's on tap for some big name schools...
I went on a
-- Three States that are not states (Sam Houston, Ball, Coppin)
In Indiana's modest defense, the Kentucky game fell through and the Hoosiers have 2.5 credible games away from Assembly Hall (UCLA or Georgetown and Butler, plus Georgia) as well as hosting North Carolina in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge (which they don't get credit for scheduling, but it's a quality game). They're not the first school to play a handful of decent games surrounded by dreck. But man, throw your home fans a bone. They get to see one decent game before Big Ten play. Not good enough.
This isn't exactly eye-opening, either, for a team that could be ranked in the preseason top five and should be picked to win the ACC this season.
-- Two States that aren't states (Cleveland -- although that's not a walkover game, Norfolk)
The Puerto Rico Tip-Off field isn't particularly strong, although UMass could be testing in a semifinal and a game against Tennessee in the final would be very watchable. UConn on a neutral court sounds better than it is. Same with a home date against Stanford. The Pack travel to Ann Arbor for the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, but don't get credit for actually scheduling that. It's far from total dreck, but it's missing some top-end meat to balance out the dinner-sized salad.
The Orange's context is they lost several key pieces from last season's elite team and they're actually playing two legit road games, even if one's on a boat .Their home schedule is always evaluated on the relative quality of the opponents they drag in, and this year's batch isn't terrible.
-- Two directional modifiers (Eastern Michigan, Central Connecticut)
There's ample other filler in the home schedule, but the Orange do bring in Princeton (post-Harvard scandal Ivy favorite) and the aforementioned 49ers,play Temple at MSG, and head to San Diego State (the boat game) and Arkansas (SEC-Big East Challenge). For a team with numerous guys stepping into new and/or more significant roles, it's fine.
Masters at scheduling a few meaty games surrounded by a veggie platter, the Buckeyes don't disappoint this season. In fairness, given their personnel losses, this feels a lot more right than last season's nonleague schedule.
-- Three States that aren't states (Long Beach, Savannah, Chicago)
Throw in Winthrop and Albany and the home schedule is, umm, mostly vegetarian with the exception of the revenge match with Kansas. Thankfully, the Buckeyes play Marquette and maybe Washington on neutral courts and also drew a trip to Cameron in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
On the surface, a lot of filler and not a ton of marquee fun, but digging deeper, there's enough quality here to satisfy the "should win at home, but fans won't mind paying" test.
-- Two States that are not a state (Jacksonville State, Chicago State)
The trip to North Carolina is the clear headliner, but games against Oregon, Cincinnati/Iowa State, at Cal, at UTEP and Northern Iowa are all very credible. There's also a trip to Portland for Mike Moser's homecoming. Add in the roster overhaul with a lot of new faces ready to play rotation minutes, and this doesn't seem that bad, even for a potential top-15 team.
Any schedule that includes the Battle for Atlantis, Louisville and at Tennessee is clearly acceptable. The Tigers laced the home schedule with some light appetizers, but even that menu has a couple meatier options.
-- One geographic modifier (North Florida)
Add in a home game with Ohio to the Loyola matchup, and those are two credible middleweight matchups after the 4-5 bigger games on the slate. Good enough.
The Jayhawks did what Indiana (and others) should have done: load the schedule with home and quasi-home games, but against capable opposition. KU should handle everyone coming to Allen Fieldhouse, but at least some of the games should be competitive. That's how you treat loyal fans, and the Jayhawks will be well positioned again to land a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs if they come through the Big 12 OK.
-- One directional modifier (Southeast Missouri)
Seriously, how hard is it to limit the roughage? The home slate includes Colorado, Temple, Belmont and Richmond (in a Sweet 16 rematch!). The Jayhawks also play Wazzu, Oregon State, and Texas A&M or Saint Louis in Kansas City, and also play at Ohio State. Great, perfect, fine by me. Nice job, Bill Self.
The Wildcats can't get an A without Indiana on the schedule, regardless of who's to blame and whether John Calipari should care what anyone else thinks in this area. That said, this is a perfectly good schedule, especially given the turnover on the Cats' roster and the (relatively) lesser amount of talent.
-- One directional modifier (Eastern Michigan)
There are a few other soft games on the home slate that don't really fit in any of the goofy categories, but they're more than made up for with season-opening neutral-site games with Maryland and Duke, Baylor coming to Rupp, and trips to Notre Dame (in the Big East-SEC Challenge) and Louisville. The bigger story will be next season's nonleague slate, anyway, to see just how seriously Cal wants 40-0.
I've been hard on Duke in the past for its refusal to play anywhere other than Durham or New York City, but there's no legitimate gripe for this season's slate. It's mostly excellent.
-- One geographic modifier (Florida Gulf Coast)
And ... that's it for the fun categories. Duke is in the uber-stacked Battle for Atlantis, drawing Minnesota and then Memphis or VCU the next day. The Blue Devils play Kentucky in Atlanta. They go to East Rutherford to take on Temple. They play a dangerous Davidson team in Charlotte. Ohio State comes to Cameron, as does a Delaware team that could be an early-season buzz team after making the NIT semis in NYC. Bonus points for the exhibition game with Western Washington (direction modifier is voided by the exhibition status), whose
Heaven forbid the Blue Devils get one up on the Heels, UNC has put together a really impressive schedule, especially considering the personnel losses from last season's team. This is a big boy slate, despite filling in some of the categories that typically identify roughage.
-- Two hyphens (Gardner-Webb, Alabama-Birmingham)
The stop in Long Beach on the way out to Maui should be sticky, especially early in the season. The Maui semifinal against Butler or Marquette will be a barnburner. The Heels drew a trip to Indiana in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. They're already playing at Texas and could draw the Horns again in the Maui final. And, oh, yeah, they're hosting UNLV, which is more loaded than the team that mauled a better Carolina team in Vegas last season. The Heels have earned a side salad or two with this "plataforma" dinner.
With only one NCAA tournament win in the last four seasons, Rick Barnes hasn't exactly been overachieving in Austin, but he and the Horns certainly have with this ambitious nonleague schedule. If the young-but-talented Horns can win enough of these, the schedule strength will play great come NCAA seeding time, which could lead to an end to this mini-March slump.
-- Three States that are not states (Fresno, Coppin, Sam Houston)
It's not Texas' fault it got put on the softer side of the Maui bracket; the Horns should find their way past the Silverswords and either USC or Illinois in the semifinal. Throw in a testing final plus games with UCLA (in Houston), Georgetown (in New York), North Carolina and at Michigan State ahead of a tough Big 12 schedule, and Horns fans have a full season's worth of quality action to which to look forward.
I busted on the Cardinals' schedule last season, both incorrectly (somehow initially omitting the Memphis game) and inaccurately, as the lesser part of the slate became good, with multiple teams winning their leagues and propelling the Cards' nonconference SOS to the heavens. This season, I come to praise. This is a very good schedule for a team that should challenge Indiana at the top of the polls. Even the rundown is misleading in categorization...
-- Four directional/state modifiers (Northern Iowa is a challenger in the MVC; Western Kentucky won the Sun Belt bid last season, Florida International is Pitino's son's team, and Miami (Ohio))
Throw in the loaded Battle 4 Atlantis (where Louisville opens with UNI), games at Memphis and College of Charleston, and the home date with Kentucky and the Cards have a slate befitting their team quality.
The Bruins' schedule, albeit with some filler, has a lot of top-end quality to it. It was made assuming Shabazz Muhammad would be eligible. If he misses part/all of the season and/or they can't keep any of their bigs healthy or in shape, this could end up being a rough ride for Ben Howland's crew.
-- Lots of satellites and States that aren't states, but the Bruins get a pass as part of the Cal system (Irvine, Cal Poly, Northridge, Long Beach, Fresno)
Forget the fluff, look at the possible marquee matchups. If the Bruins can handle Georgetown in Brooklyn, there's a strong chance they'll play Indiana the next night. Toss in San Diego State (in Anaheim), Texas (in Houston) and Missouri at home and it's more than enough for a team expected to ride several freshmen for big minutes. It's
As noted by ESPN.com's Eamonn Brennan last week, the Red Raiders don't leave home during nonconference play. No tournament. No neutral-site games. Nothing. Just two solid home games (Arizona and Alabama) surrounded by air. The Red Raiders don't leave the state of Texas until Jan. 16. For a program clearly in transition, the comfort level of this slate may be a big plus. Then again, if they're playing to the level most expect, getting away from United Spirit Arena may not be a bad thing.
The bulk of the nonconference slate is so bad, there needs to be serious double-counting to hit all of the qualifying categories.
-- FIVE SWAC/MEAC schools!!! (Prairie View A&M, Grambling, Jackson State, North Carolina A&T, Florida A&M)