Commentary

Memphis, UNC and Tennessee earn As

Originally Published: September 19, 2007
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

Last I checked, Nevada still was looking for a game. But for most of the nation, the schedules are done.

We're not going to break down all 300-plus. That would be, let's just say, a bit insane. So, don't be offended if your team isn't here. This is rather a look at the top-10 teams from my pre-preseason Top 25, a few teams that will be outside the top 10 and a glance at teams that might be on the bubble come March.

Joey Dorsey
AP Photo/Steve KashishianWhen Joey Dorsey is healthy (shoulder), he provides a big-time inside presence.

Let's see how they did in their attempt to set themselves up for a possible NCAA bid or a higher seed, in the part of the schedule the NCAA Tournament selection committee says is in their control (that means conference games are off limits here).

MemphisMemphis
First game: Nov. 5 in the 2K College Hoops Classic (TBD, ESPNU) in Memphis

Taking chances: Coach John Calipari never passes up going to New York. Playing in the 2K College Hoops Classic with Kentucky, Connecticut and Oklahoma (Nov. 15-16, ESPN2) is a quality affair. Accepting an invitation to play USC (Dec. 4, ESPN) in the Jimmy V at MSG is another hot ticket item.

Home slate: This might be the best home schedule of any high-profile team: Georgetown (Dec. 22, ESPN), Arizona (Dec. 29, ESPN2), Gonzaga (Jan. 26, ESPN) and Tennessee (Feb. 23, ESPN). Are you serious? Some schools never get four nonconference home games like that in the same season. Season-ticket holders shouldn't complain one bit.

True road: There is one game and it's at Cincinnati (Dec. 19, ESPN2). That's not bad, considering the Bearcats are in the Big East and were, when the agreement was reached between the two schools, still coached by Bob Huggins.

Lower-profile games: Give Cal credit here. Playing Middle Tennessee State in Nashville (Dec. 15, ESPN2) and playing host to Pepperdine (Jan. 5) are good choices.

Grade: A all the way here for the way the Tigers' aggressively scheduled and weren't afraid to challenge a preseason top-three team.

UCLAUCLA
First game: Nov. 9 versus Portland State

Tournament choice: The Bruins chose wisely in going to the CBE Classic (Nov. 19-20, ESPN/ESPN2/ESPNU). UCLA will play Maryland on the first night and then either Missouri or Michigan State in Kansas City. Plenty of other teams are looking rather weak with their home tournaments. UCLA's decision to go neutral shows Ben Howland's willingness to be challenged early.

Conference decision: The Pac-10/Big 12 Series put Texas at Pauley (Dec. 2) in their scheduling agreement. That's good news for UCLA to get a home game and a quality opponent instead of, let's say, Colorado.

Wooden wild card: Gonzaga says it wanted to get into the Wooden but UCLA wasn't that interested. Well, UCLA chose Davidson, a decision that earns high praise here. Davidson will be a quality mid-major and playing in Anaheim (Dec. 8) should provide an entertaining matchup.

True road: Howland can't get rid of John Beilein. He regrettably agreed to play West Virginia home-and-home two years ago and then lost both games. Now, he still has to coach against Beilein, this time at Michigan (Dec. 22).

Home slate: Eh. George Washington (Nov. 28) should get the Bruins up and down and the season ticket holders do get Texas as part of the home slate. So that's all good, but the rest is all fodder for padding the win total, which is to be expected.

Grade: Solid B. Sure, the Pac-10 is the best conference in the country next season, so UCLA didn't have to go too crazy. But there is a chance that UCLA could play only one high-major team likely destined for the NCAA Tournament (Texas) if UCLA doesn't meet Michigan State in Kansas City.

Roy Hibbert
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesRoy Hibbert (left) and Tyler Hansbrough aren't scheduled to meet this season, but both big men will have their share of nonconference battles.

UNCNorth Carolina
First game: Nov. 14 versus Davidson in Charlotte

Tournament choice: The Tar Heels are off to Las Vegas (Nov. 23-24, ESPNU Friday, ESPN2 Saturday if they win) where, unlike last year's Kansas-Florida game, there is no set marquee matchup. North Carolina has to beat Old Dominion, and Louisville must take out BYU, for the possible top-10 game. In one sense it's a real tournament, but it also leaves some doubt as to whether or not the Tar Heels get the Cards.

True road: Roy Williams has never shied away from going on the road. No other potential top-five team is taking as many true road games. North Carolina will play four straight on the road (six in a row away from Chapel Hill when including Las Vegas): at Ohio State in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge (Nov. 28, ESPN), at Kentucky (Dec. 1, ESPN2), at Penn (Dec. 4, ESPN2) and at Rutgers (Dec. 16, ESPN).

Home slate: The Tar Heels didn't pour on the puff teams at all. UC Santa Barbara is a legit Big West title contender (Dec. 22), Nevada (Dec. 27, ESPN2) is still a threat in the WAC, and Kent State (Jan. 2, ESPN) will be a viable champ in the MAC.

Grade: A, but for different reasons than Memphis. UNC didn't get as many high-profile schools on the slate, let alone at home. But taking four straight true road games is impressive, especially when the team is a veteran bunch that can handle such a trip. Playing Davidson yet again, especially this season, to open the schedule will be one of the tougher tests. And then going neutral to Las Vegas for a possible Louisville game makes this schedule one of the best.

KUKansas
First game: Nov. 9 versus Louisiana-Monroe

Tournament choice: Kansas is in the Jayhawk Invitational. What is this? Well, it's essentially three guarantee games against UMKC (Nov. 11), Washburn (Nov. 15) and Northern Arizona (Nov. 21) before facing Arizona (Nov. 25, ESPN) in the Big 12/Pac-10 Challenge. That game was folded into the event.

True road: a At USC (Dec. 2) is a return game from last season. The Jayhawks play at Boston College (Jan. 5, ESPN) in a return game, too. Kansas plays at Georgia Tech (Dec. 18, ESPN). Playing three true road games at all high majors, even if BC is rebuilding, is still pretty good.

Home slate: DePaul (Dec. 8, ESPN) is the best team that comes calling (with the exception of Arizona in the Jayhawk/Big 12/Pac-10 Series). Kansas plays its annual Kansas City game, too, against Ohio (Dec. 15, ESPN2). The rest of the games shouldn't be a problem.

Grade: B. The tournament, outside of Arizona, is rather weak. The road games will challenge the Jayhawks. The Big 12 isn't as deep top to bottom, though.

Rick Pitino
Joe Robbins-US PRESSWIRERick Pitino's Cardinals started the season ranked sixth. This week, they're not ranked and barely receiving votes.

LouisvilleLouisville
First game: Nov. 17 versus Hartford (as part of the Las Vegas Invitational)

Tournament choice: The Cards chose the Las Vegas tournament that might pit them against Carolina (ESPN2 if they reach the final). Still, the Cards did pick up a road game at UNLV (Nov. 21) prior to the tournament' semifinal. That could prove dangerous (remember Michigan State's decision to play at Hawaii before the Maui Invitational? Not a good move). Drawing BYU (Nov. 23) won't be a walk, either.

Home/regional slate: Playing Purdue (Dec. 15) in the John Wooden Tradition in Indianapolis might be more like a home game for nearby Louisville fans. New Mexico State (Dec. 22) is the best team that's coming into Louisville. The rest of the games aren't going to wow anyone.

True road: UNLV is a nice add. Playing at Kentucky (Jan. 5) will be a monster matchup as always, especially in Billy Gillispie's first Commonwealth matchup with Rick Pitino.

Grade: Low B. And it wouldn't be out of the question to drop into the C status. Louisville might only play one NCAA team (Kentucky) if for some reason the Cards don't get Carolina in Las Vegas. If there is a certain matchup with UNC, then the grade improves.

GeorgetownGeorgetown
First game: Nov. 10 versus William & Mary

True road: Once again the Hoyas get plenty of points for taking chances. Georgetown's John Thompson III kept his promise and will still play at Ball State (Nov. 21) despite his brother's charge that he resigned as head coach over a racially charged environment at the school. Georgetown returns to Old Dominion (Nov. 28). The Monarchs beat the Hoyas on G'town's campus last season. Playing at Memphis (Dec. 22, ESPN) was a late pickup to the schedule. But once again that's a bold move by Georgetown to start this series on the road.

Out of their control: The Hoyas didn't have a choice and were sent to Birmingham to play Alabama in the Big East/SEC Invitational (Dec. 5, ESPN). Originally, this looked like a tougher road game. But now that point Ronald Steele is out for the season, the Hoyas shouldn't be as challenged.

Home slate: If you're a Hoya season ticket holder, you might be a bit miffed by the nonconference schedule. The Hoyas play Michigan (Nov. 15, ESPN360.com), but the rest of the home games are just blah. That's OK for the Hoyas considering they have plenty to do on the road prior to the Big East. But the schedule isn't as enticing for those fans looking for high quality nonconference games.

Grade: High C. If the Hoyas weren't playing Memphis then this schedule certainly would take a hit. The Memphis game gets the Hoyas schedule at least a high C. Sure, there are plenty of road trips that are worth praising. But for a team that could be fighting for a top seed in March, there might be only one NCAA team in Memphis on the schedule. That won't help their chances.

Robbie Cowgill
Lisa Blumenfield/Getty ImagesRobbie Cowgill and Wazzu won't be sneaking up on anyone this season.

WazzuWashington State
First game: Nov. 9 versus Eastern Washington

True road: The Cougars traditionally have had to play mid- to low-major road games. So, it's nothing new that Washington State is going to Boise State (Nov. 13) and Idaho State (Dec. 23). That's the reality for the Cougars. Not too many Top 25 teams are going to make a trip to Pullman. The Cougars weren't helped by its own conference when the Pac-10 sent them to Baylor (Nov. 30, ESPNU) for the Big 12/Pac-10 event. The Cougars are a preseason Top 10 team, and they didn't get one of the elite teams out of the Big 12. The best game by far is the road game at Gonzaga (Dec. 5, ESPNU). That's the only Top 25 game on their schedule.

Neutral: Washington State wants to play one game a season in Seattle. The best the Cougars could get was The Citadel (Dec. 20).

Tournament choice: Washington State got out of the Great Alaska Shootout, where possible games against Gonzaga, Texas Tech and Michigan were all looming. Washington State had a chance to play in the Legends event in Newark, N.J. with Texas, Tennessee and West Virginia. Instead, the Cougs chose to stay home and play host to the Hispanic College Fund tournament. On the surface, that's great to get three home games. But Air Force, Mississippi Valley State and Montana (Nov. 23-25) won't help the power rating as much as playing in one of those other events.

Grade: C. The Cougs are going on the road and that will help, assuming they win those games. But this is a veteran team with the ability to win anywhere in the country. Taking at least another chance somewhere would have helped. Of course, the Pac-10 is loaded, so WSU can hope that it will do well enough in league that the nonconference SOS won't hurt them as much. Still, WSU needed to harass the league office to ensure it would have had at the very least a marquee game in the series with the Big 12.

IndianaIndiana
First game: Nov. 12 versus Chattanooga

True road: The Hoosiers are playing one game on an opponent's campus, at Southern Illinois (Dec. 1, ESPNU). This is only occurring because IU cut a football deal with SIU and folded in a basketball series.

Neutral: Indiana chose the Chicago Invitational. On the surface, the tournament looked like a walk, but look deeper and there is at least a potential hiccup or two. The Hoosiers will play host to Longwood (Nov. 18) and UNC Wilmington (Nov. 20). And then, presuming they make it to suburban Chicago, the Hoosiers have to face dangerous mid-major teams Illinois State (Nov. 23) and then either Xavier or Kent State (Nov. 24).

Home slate: The conference slated Indiana with Georgia Tech (Nov. 27, ESPN) in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. That's another bubble team considering the Yellow Jackets lost two first-round draft picks. Indiana does get two more marquee home games against Kentucky (Dec. 8) and Connecticut (Jan. 26) in ongoing home-and-home series. The rest of the games are of the guaranteed sort.

Grade: Solid B. Going on the road for another game would be nice, but the one true road game will be an extremely hostile environment in Carbondale, Ill., the Chicago event could be tougher than it seems if Illinois State is as good as those in the Valley project, and the home schedule is littered with big-name teams that should be in the NCAA discussion come March.

Drew Neitzel
Matthew Mitchell/WireImage.comDrew Neitzel and Michigan State have just one true road game but have a ton of quality neutral-site games.

Michigan StateMichigan State
First game: Nov. 13 in the CBE Classic (TBD, ESPNU) in East Lansing, Mich.

True road: The Spartans are playing, like Indiana, just one true road game. They'll face Bradley (Dec. 4, ESPNU) in Peoria, Ill.

Neutral: Michigan State is loading up in this category with games in Kansas City (Nov. 19-20, ESPN/ESPN2/ESPNU) against Missouri and then either Maryland or UCLA, against BYU (Dec. 8) in Salt Lake City (not Provo), and Texas (Dec. 22, ESPN2) in Auburn Hills, Mich.

Home slate: The conferences scheduled N.C. State for East Lansing (Nov. 28, ESPN) in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. None of the other true home games stand out. And while that might be disappointing for the season ticket holders, that's OK considering there are still quality teams on the schedule.

Grade: Tentative C since there are some unknowns on the schedule, like whether or not Michigan State will meet UCLA in Kansas City. Texas should be an NCAA team. But the rest of the folks are clearly not locks to make the field, not even N.C. State. So, we'll have to take a wait-and-see approach as to how many NCAA teams end up on this schedule.

TennesseeTennessee
First game: Nov. 9 versus Temple

True road: The Vols go to Chattanooga (Dec. 4, ESPNU), Xavier (Dec. 22, ESPN) and Memphis (Feb. 23, ESPN).

Neutral: Tennessee is in the Legends Classic in Newark, N.J. with Texas, West Virginia and New Mexico State (Nov. 23-24), heads to Nashville to play Western Kentucky (Dec. 15, ESPNU) and the monster matchup with Gonzaga in Seattle (Dec. 29, ESPN2). That's a total of seven games away from Knoxville. That's not too shabby at all for a top-10 program.

Home slate: If you're a season-ticket holder, then circle Jan. 19. Ohio State will be coming to town. The rest of the home games are pretty uninspiring.

Grade: A-minus. Bruce Pearl deserves plenty of credit for his willingness to take on the Gonzaga game when so many other teams passed on going to Seattle to play the Zags. This schedule ertainly will be challenging for a team that will need to be ready as the target once the SEC begins.

Teams likely to be ranked outside of the top 10

Chase Budinger
AP Photo/John MillerArizona will preview a brutal Pac-10 with one of the toughest nonconference schedules in the country.
Arizona: Lute Olson doesn't need to protect this squad. He loves the marquee matchups. So, it shouldn't be a shock that there are plenty on this schedule at home -- Virginia (Nov. 17), Texas A&M (Dec. 2) in the Big 12/Pac-10 series and decent games against Fresno State (Dec. 16) and San Diego State (Dec. 22). But more impressive are the games away from Tucson -- at Kansas (Nov. 25, ESPN), against Illinois in Chicago (Dec. 8, ESPN), at UNLV (Dec. 19), at Memphis (Dec. 29, ESPN2) and at Houston (Jan. 12, ESPN2). There is plenty here for the Wildcats to be challenged and possibly have one of the top SOS's in March once the Pac-10 is factored.

Gonzaga: The Zags will have plenty of high-profile games yet again with Washington State (Dec. 5, ESPNU), Tennessee (Dec. 29, ESPN2) in Seattle, Connecticut (Dec. 1, ESPN) in Boston, at Saint Joe's (Nov. 29, ESPNU), at Memphis (Jan. 26, ESPN), against Oklahoma (Dec. 20, ESPN2) in Okalahoma City and the three games in the Great Alaska Shootout, beginning Nov. 22 against Western Kentucky in Anchorage (ESPNU). This schedule will provide the Zags with plenty of power-rating points. It will help that the WCC will be a bit better, especially Saint Mary's, but the Zags won't have to worry about much if they can at least hold their own in some of these marquee matchups.

Butler: The Bulldogs are the hot team to pick in the Horizon and the nonconference schedule should provide them with enough power-rating points again to be a viable at-large team. Butler is in the Great Alaska Shootout (Nov. 21-24, ESPN2/ESPNU/ESPN360) with a lock matchup against Michigan (ESPN2) and with the possibility of facing Gonzaga. Playing Ohio State in Indianapolis (Dec. 1, ESPNU), Florida State (Dec. 15) in Conseco and a road trip to Southern Illinois (Dec. 28, ESPNU) help. There are five other true road games outside the conference. Even though they are mid- to low-major games, they are still on the road and that will help the RPI.

Arkansas: Ronald Steele's injury at Alabama makes Arkansas the chic pick in the SEC West. The Razorbacks are in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off (ESPNU/ ESPN2) and a possible matchup with Providence would benefit the Hogs (Nov. 15-18). Going to Oklahoma (Dec. 15, ESPN2) provides another possible NCAA team. Playing host to Missouri (Nov. 28) and Missouri State (Dec. 3) are solid home dates, but neither is a lock for the tournament. Playing Appalachian State in Little Rock (Dec. 22) is another good nonconference game, but won't turn too many heads in the selection committee room. This schedule needs more pop for the Hogs to be a lock if they get into any trouble in the SEC. The Hogs could have upgraded the schedule a bit more since there is not one game against a team you could say is definitely going to be in the field.

Possible bubble teams

Stephen Curry
AP Photo/Stephan SavoiaDavidson's season ended at the hands of Maryland, but Stephen Curry & Co. will get their chance at the big boys this season.
N.C. State: The Wolfpack have a schedule that might help them get wins, but might not do enough for the power-rating points. They had no choice and got a high-profile road game in Michigan State (Nov. 28, ESPN) in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. And while the Wolfpack are playing road games -- at East Carolina (Dec. 8) and Seton Hall (Dec. 27) -- neither team will be close to NCAA or maybe even NIT worthy. The Wolfpack better hope it gets Villanova in the Old Spice Classic in Orlando (Nov. 25, ESPN2/ESPNU). The best game, outside of Michigan State, is maybe playing Davidson at home (Dec. 21).

Davidson: The Wildcats are doing all they can to improve their power-rating for a possible NCAA at-large berth. Playing Duke (Dec. 1, ESPNU) and North Carolina (Nov. 14, ESPN) at the Bobcats Arena in Charlotte, as well as the N.C. State game and UCLA in the Wooden Classic game in Anaheim (Dec. 8) make Davidson a player in March. Now, if the Wildcats lose all of them, then they might not be as much of an at-large factor. But at least they should be credited for scheduling these games.

Florida: The defending national champs lost their top six players, so it's hard to fault Billy Donovan for going a bit light. The Gators' nonconference schedule doesn't have one team that you can say will be an NCAA team. But there are enough comparable teams on the slate like Florida State (Nov. 23) and a road game at Ohio State (Dec. 22) to keep the power-rating decent. Florida is playing four games away from Gainesville, Fla., but the other three besides Ohio State -- Vermont in Tampa (Nov. 30), Georgia Southern in Jacksonville (Dec. 15) and Temple in Sunrise (Dec. 29) -- shouldn't be too much of a sweat.

Ohio State: The Buckeyes, with a bit more returning talent, should be better than the Gators. So, it's no surprise Ohio State scheduled up more. Playing in the NIT Season Tip-Off could get Ohio State games with Washington, Texas A&M and Syracuse (or Saint Joe's) Nov. 21 and 23 in New York (ESPN/ESPN2), drawing North Carolina in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge (Nov. 28, ESPN) at home was a huge edge for the schedule and playing Butler in Indianapolis Dec. 1 (ESPNU) is also a solid gamble. The Florida game will provide another test. Jotting up to Cleveland State (Dec. 18) for a mid-major road game is another decent way to test this group. The Buckeyes will also travel to take on SEC favorite Tennessee (Jan. 19). This might be one of the best schedules of a team that isn't projected to be a lock for the tourney.

Wisconsin: The Badgers have plenty of hot spots on the schedule with games at Duke (Nov. 27, ESPN) in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, Texas (Dec. 29, ESPN2) and home games against Georgia (Nov. 24) and Marquette (Dec. 8, ESPN2). Wisconsin is also continuing to play mid-majors on the road. They're going to UW-Milwaukee (Dec. 12). There is plenty here for the Badgers to help their SOS come March.

Rick Barnes
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesRick Barnes has never shied away from challenging his teams with a tough nonconference schedule.

Texas: The beauty of Rick Barnes, outside of his quick wit, is his willingness to play anyone at anytime. Texas is in the Legends Classic in Newark (Nov. 23-24) with Tennessee, West Virginia and New Mexico State. Texas is also playing Michigan State (Dec. 22, ESPN2) in Auburn Hills, Mich., playing host to Wisconsin (Dec. 29, ESPN2), playing UCLA (Dec. 2) in the Big 12/Pac-10 event. In addition, the Longhorns welcome a possible NCAA team in Saint Mary's (Jan. 5). This is more than enough to get Texas in the good graces of the committee.

Kansas State: Frank Martin will have his hands full, but that's a good thing. Kansas State will give itself an opportunity to make the tourney with this schedule, playing in the Old Spice Classic (Nov. 22-25, ESPN2/ESPNU) against George Mason and then either Central Florida or Villanova in the second game. K-State clearly was placed in the tougher bracket. Playing Oregon at home in the Big 12/Pac-10 series is a huge get (Nov. 29, ESPN2) since the Ducks are a likely NCAA Tournament team. Getting Cal in a return game from a year ago (Dec. 9) is another possible NCAA team. Going to Xavier (Dec. 31, ESPNU) adds another NCAA-type team and going to New York for the Jimmy V against Notre Dame (Dec. 4, ESPN) is yet another possible NCAA game prior to the Big 12.

Southern Illinois: Chris Lowery tried to get quality games but couldn't manage many. He still did get into the ESPN tournament in Anaheim (Nov. 23-25, ESPN2/ESPNU) with a possible date against USC. Playing Indiana at home (Dec. 1, ESPNU) through a football agreement is huge for this program. Going to Saint Louis (Dec. 15, ESPNU), and playing host to Saint Mary's (Dec. 11), Western Kentucky (Dec. 22) and Butler (Dec. 28, ESPNU) gives the Salukis a few games against possible NCAA teams.

VCU: Anthony Grant struggled, like Lowery, to get quality games off previous NCAA success. Still, VCU is in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off (Nov. 15-18) that includes a possible matchup with Miami in the second round after a game with Houston. Playing Maryland in D.C. at the BB&T (Dec. 2) is a quality, power-rating game. But that's it. The Rams do go to Hampton (Nov. 29) and Bradley (Dec. 22), but neither team is expected to be in the tourney.

Saint Joseph's: If there is one team that could upset the NIT Season Tip-Off plan of having Syracuse, Washington, Texas A&M and Ohio State in New York it is Saint Joe's. Syracuse was the only one of the four host teams that has a legit contender to beat it in the first two games. The Hawks likely would play Syracuse (Nov. 13, ESPN) if it beats Fairleigh Dickinson. Saint Joe's could get plenty of power points in New York if it advances. But the Hawks also have quality games against Gonzaga (Nov. 29, ESPNU), at Creighton (Dec. 9) and, of course, the Big Five game against Villanova (Feb. 4) at the Palestra. The Hawks play six games outside Philadelphia with the possibility of two more if they get to New York.

Providence: The Friars are a trendy NCAA pick, but the schedule could have been better. PC plays in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off (Nov. 15-18, ESPNU/ESPN2) and playing Arkansas in the second round would help. The Friars will also travel for games against BC in Boston (Dec. 1, ESPN Classic), at URI (Dec. 4) and against South Carolina (Dec. 6, ESPN2) in Philadelphia in the Big East/SEC Invitational. Florida State comes to Providence Dec. 22. There isn't one team on the schedule that you're certain will be in the field. Depending on what happens in the Big East, this could be an issue come selection time.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com