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2015-16 College Basketball Non-Conference Schedules: The Big 12

While realignment complicated the conference season for most power leagues, the Big 12 now has an expanded 18-game double round-robin schedule—the perfect arrangement for college basketball. With anywhere from 10 to 14 quality games on a Big 12 team’s schedule during any given season, non-conference scheduling varies widely in the loop. Bill Self’s Kansas squad typically plays one of the most difficult November and December slates in the entire country, while teams like Baylor and TCU have the opposite reputation. These patterns look to have held for yet another year, as I’ll illustrate below.

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Teams appear in schedule rank order within the conference. The number in parentheses is the team's four-year pythagorean win percentage ranking out of 351 Division I teams. (Explanation is in the intro to this series.)

Future opponents in bracketed tournaments included in the average opponent four-year ranking are projected by me and bolded. Games scheduled against non-Division I opponents outside of the Maui Jim Maui Invitational (Chaminade) and Great Alaska Shootout (Alaska Anchorage) are assigned a value of 400 when averaged, except for the hosts, who are assigned a 351 value. More info here.

* = game scheduled as part of an exempt tournament

Road games scheduled by Big 12 squads (not including the Big 12/SEC Challenge): 8

Road games against non-Power 6 opponents: 3 (Kansas at San Diego State, Oklahoma at Memphis, Iowa State at Cincinnati)

Kansas Jayhawks (5)

Maui Jim Maui Invitational: Chaminade, UCLA (25)/UNLV (68), Indiana (30)/Vanderbilt (66)/Wake Forest (126)/St. John's (58)
Kentucky (8), Michigan State (10) (Chicago), @San Diego State (18), Harvard (56), Oregon State (103) (Kansas City), UC Irvine (109), Montana (150), Holy Cross (209), Loyola-MD (250), Northern Colorado (259)*

Average opponent four-year ranking: 121.38
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 13th
Big 12 rank: 1st

The Jayhawks' early season schedule might actually be undervalued, as potential Maui Jim Maui Invitational matchups with UCLA and Indiana, a Big 12/SEC Challenge home matchup with Kentucky, the Champions Classic showdown with Michigan State, and contests with Oregon State and UC Irvine might pack a bit more punch than the 4-year pwp rankings indicate. Once again, Bill Self will use November and December to build his squad's confidence—which should already be high after grabbing the gold medal at the Universiade in South Korea over the summer—and computer numbers before they begin their run at yet another Big 12 crown in January.

Oklahoma Sooners (20)

Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic: Washington State (155), Northern Iowa (41)/Hawai `i (143), BYU (37)/New Mexico (57)/Harvard (56)/Auburn (140)
Wisconsin (2), Villanova (12) (Pearl Harbor), Creighton (31), @Memphis (45), @LSU (59), Oral Roberts (178), Incarnate Word (293), McNeese State (302), Central Arkansas (342)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 124.75
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 17th
Big 12 rank: 2nd

The Sooners' will challenge the Jayhawks for that conference championship ... after they make not one, but two trips to Hawai `i in December—for four games that might go a long way to determining their March seeding. Of their mainland contests, most would have been better scheduling moves in other recent seasons—though January 30th's Big 12/SEC tilt at LSU is a notable exception. Still, the visit from Wisconsin is tantalizing even if the Badgers won't quite be as loaded as last season.

Amazingly, there's enough quality on this schedule to overcome three games against teams from the Southland, the third-worst conference on average in the 2012-16 pwp rankings. That's rather impressive.

Texas Longhorns (29)

Battle 4 Atlantis: Texas A&M (85), Gonzaga (6)/Washington (94), Michigan (26)/Connecticut (32)/Syracuse (21)/Charlotte (146)
North Carolina (13), Connecticut (32), @Stanford (35), Vanderbilt (66), Washington (94) (Shanghai), UT Arlington (182), UTSA (252), Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (261)*, Appalachian State (303), Samford (306)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 127.77
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 20th
Big 12 rank: 3rd

It's unlikely, but possible that the Longhorns will pull off an unusual feat in the non-conference portion of their schedule—they could play two opponents twice. Even more impressively, they could play one of those teams, the Washington Huskies, in two different countries in two different hemispheres in a two-week span!

Even with the possibility of four games against various sets of Huskies, the first schedule of the Shaka Smart administration looks like one from the Rick Barnes era. There's a semi-regular matchup against North Carolina as the headliner, a Big 12/SEC visit from Vanderbilt that likely replaces the oomph that the trip to Stanford would have delivered in recent season, a few games against in-state opponents, and a pair of visiting cupcakes from points east.

Oh, there's also the small matter of a reunion with former SWC and Big 12 foe and age-old rival Texas A&M in the Bahamas. That certainly took long enough.

Given the quality of the Big 12 slate, the Horns' non-conference slate strikes a decent balance, especially with the team getting used to a new coach and style.

Iowa State Cyclones (15)

Emerald Coast Classic: Virginia Tech (170), Illinois (53)/UAB (132)
@Cincinnati (22), Iowa (23), Northern Iowa (41) (Des Moines), Colorado (67) (Sioux Falls), @Texas A&M (85), Buffalo (88), North Dakota State (105), Chattanooga (243)*, Coppin State (321), Chicago State (325)*, UAPB (326)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 143.77
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 33rd
Big 12 rank: 4th

The resurgence in Hawkeye State basketball boosts a Cyclone schedule that is highlighted by a trip to Cincinnati and Big 12/SEC Challenge date at Texas A&M. Of course, a potential NCAA rematch lurks in the Emerald Coast Classic final on Thanksgiving weekend, provided Iowa State gets past Virginia Tech and UAB survives Illinois—the more questionable part of the equation. Two other 2015 NCAA participants, Buffalo and North Dakota State, head to Ames, while Chattanooga should contend in the SoCon this time around.

Sure, Steve Prohm's first Iowa State schedule could use a bit more punch, but the Cyclones should still be decently prepared to challenge Kansas and Oklahoma at the top of the Big 12.

Oklahoma State Cowboys (24)

Gildan Charleston Classic: Towson (212), Ole Miss (52)/George Mason (156), Virginia (4)/Seton Hall (91)/Long Beach State (120)/Bradley (239)
Florida (14) (Sunrise), Minnesota (44) (Sioux Falls), Tulsa (84), Long Beach State (120)*, @Auburn (140), Missouri State (200), UT Martin (288), UMKC (301), UAPB (326), Longwood (338)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 163.31
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 65th
Big 12 rank: 5th

While the Cowboys won't play a true non-conference road game until after they play their first such game in conference, they'll make up for that by stocking up on neutral-site and semi-road contests. Travis Ford's team will take on Florida in their own backyard and Minnesota in the, well, same general region of the country. Of course, neither one of those teams is guaranteed to return to the NCAAs, which is a general problem with Oklahoma State's slate. Outside of a possible Charleston Classic championship game against Virginia, the Pokes might not play a likely NCAA Tournament qualifier in November or December.

Therefore, Cowboy fans will have to root for significant improvement in not only their own team, but several others, if they want to break out of the mid-bracket mediocrity of the Travis Ford administration.

Kansas State Wildcats (43)

CBE Hall of Fame Classic: Missouri (96), North Carolina (13)/Northwestern (117)
Ole Miss (52), @Georgia (63), Colorado State (71) (Wichita), @Texas A&M (85), Saint Louis (111), Columbia (157)*, South Dakota (247), North Dakota (291), UMES (305)*, Coppin State (321), South Carolina State (349)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 166.23
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 68th
Big 12 rank: 6th

This might not be the non-conference schedule that resuscitates Bruce Weber's floundering tenure in the Little Apple. Quality wins could be hard to come by, with powerful North Carolina looming in a potential CBE final (if the Wildcats can get past Missouri, not a given even if the Tigers were one of the SEC's worst in 2014-15) and the two likeliest games against potential at-large squads—Georgia and Texas A&M—coming away from the Octagon of Doom.

Three games against MEAC opposition and a pair against Dakota schools that lack "State" in their names certainly don't help matters. To sum it up, November and December will likely leave K-State with too much ground to make up when Big 12 play rolls around.

Texas Tech Red Raiders (147)

Puerto Rico Tip-Off: Utah (54), Miami (38)/Mississippi State (193), Butler (46)/Temple (77)/Minnesota (44)/Missouri State (200)
@Arkansas (48), Richmond (70), South Dakota State (100), Hawai `i (143), Sam Houston State (152), High Point (196), Little Rock (228), UT Martin (288), UAPB (326)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 166.5
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 69th
Big 12 rank: 7th

Tubby Smith is still trying to get his Red Raiders established in the new-look Big 12, and it may take a surprise run through the Puerto Rico Tip-Off for this squad to be taken seriously. Like Oklahoma State, Tech won't play a non-conference road game until after league play starts. (Thanks Big 12/SEC Challenge!) But considering only one of their home games will come against a team with real at-large hopes, Richmond, Texas Tech really needs to shock the Caribbean before Thanksgiving to have any chances of their own.

Baylor Bears (16)

@Oregon (28)*, Stephen F. Austin (49), Georgia (63), Vanderbilt (66), New Mexico State (73), @Texas A&M (85), Northwestern State (181), Texas Southern (208), Arkansas State (213)*, Savannah State (298)*, Prairie View A&M (323), Jackson State (324)*, Hardin-Simmons (Fort Hood)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 177.77
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 84th
Big 12 rank: 8th

The Bears should rank higher than both Texas Tech and K-State. However, three games against SWAC opposition (even if one of those squad is a Texas Southern squad that won at both Kansas State and Michigan State last season), one of the MEAC's weakest teams in Savannah State, and a Division III opponent in Hardin-Simmons hurt, even if that particular game is being played at Fort Hood for noble reasons.

The good news for Scott Drew's team is that the three SEC teams on the slate should all outperform their 4-year pwp rankings and contend for an at-large. Plus, Oregon and Stephen F. Austin should also remain in the NCAA picture, even though both might rank slightly lower than they have in the last two seasons.

West Virginia Mountaineers (51)

Las Vegas Invitational: Richmond (70), San Diego State (18)/California (75)
Virginia (4) (New York), @Florida (14), Eastern Kentucky (124), @Virginia Tech (170), James Madison (225) (Charleston), Marshall (231) (Charleston), ULM (265), Northern Kentucky (297), Stetson (322)*, Bethune-Cookman (331)*, Kennesaw State (347)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 190.38
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 92nd
Big 12 rank: 9th

Trips to Las Vegas, the Jimmy V Classic in New York, and Florida for the Big 12/SEC Challenge bolster a West Virginia schedule that's bottom-heavy. Drawing the two weakest teams in a seriously weak Las Vegas Invitational visitors pool won't help the Mountaineers' computer numbers, but there are up to six other questionable games on the slate that will deflate things a bit more than WVU fans would like.

TCU Horned Frogs (139)

Cancun Challenge: Rhode Island (107), Maryland (40)/Illinois State (83)
Tennessee (50), SMU (65), @Washington (94), South Dakota State (100)*, Colgate (218), Bradley (239), Delaware State (292), Southeastern Louisiana (312), Prairie View A&M (323), Houston Baptist (332)*, Abilene Christian (350)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 197.31
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 100th
Big 12 rank: 10th

This will be Trent Johnson's fourth season in Fort Worth, and this isn't a non-conference schedule that will get his team to the NCAAs for the first time, though it could provide enough wins to make an NIT bid a possibility. Of course, if the Horned Frogs can topple likely NCAA squads Rhode Island and Maryland in Cancun, perceptions will change. It's more likely that the numerous scheduled games against some of Division I's weakest squads will give TCU a decent record at the start of Big 12 play ... with little actual strength behind it to prop up any real hope for the remainder of the season.

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