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

The “new” Big East enters its third season still in search of a true March breakthrough. A few of its teams have built non-conference schedules that just might get them in position to make a statement when the college basketball world is paying the most attention.

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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 East squads (not including the Gavitt Tip-Off Games): 18

Road games against non-Power 6 opponents: 12 (Xavier at Cincinnati, Villanova at Temple, Villanova at Saint Joseph's, Providence at UMass, Providence at Rhode Island, Seton Hall at George Washington, DePaul at Drake, DePaul at UIC, Georgetown at Charlotte, Creighton at Loyola-Chicago, Butler at Cincinnati, St. John's at Fordham

Xavier Musketeers (33)

Advocare Invitational: Alabama (64), Wichita State (9)/USC (145), Notre Dame (27)/Iowa (23)/Dayton (42)/Monmouth (258)
Cincinnati (22), @Michigan (26), Missouri (96), @Wake Forest (126), Auburn (140), Western Kentucky (161), Wright State (180), Miami U (215), Northern Kentucky (297)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 113.25
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 4th
Big East rank: 1st

Chris Mack's squad has a schedule with a significant amount of upside, particularly if the Musketeers can take out Avery Johnson's Alabama on Thanksgiving Day at Walt Disney World. Such a win would set up a semifinal showdown with fellow Sweet 16 team Wichita State and a probable Sunday matchup against one of three quality squads—Notre Dame, Iowa, or Dayton, Xavier's archrivals from their Atlantic 10 days.

Crosstown Classic combatant Cincinnati and the Musketeers' Gavitt Tip-Off Games opponent, Michigan, are the best guaranteed matchups on the slate, but December games against Wake Forest and Auburn have potential. In fact, only one opponent, Northern Kentucky, is really a threat to finish in Division I's bottom third. That math will help Xavier's computer numbers all the way to Selection Sunday.

Villanova Wildcats (12)

NIT Season Tip-Off: Stanford (35), Arkansas (48)/Georgia Tech (106)
@Virginia (4), Oklahoma (20) (Pearl Harbor), @Temple (77), La Salle (82), Akron (89)*, @Saint Joseph's (92), Nebraska (104), Delaware (172), ETSU (248)*, Penn (268), Fairleigh Dickinson (328)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 120.53
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 12th
Big East rank: 2nd

Villanova's schedule might not end up being as strong as it appears at first glance. For starters, the Wildcats' exempt event—the NIT Season Tip-Off—might not feature a NCAA-level team. As for the rest of the schedule, difficult trips to Virginia and Hawai `i to face Oklahoma, are the only surefire opportunities to grab wins against national contenders. Question marks surround Big Five rivals Temple (off an NCAA snub), La Salle (average since a 2013 Sweet 16 run), and Saint Joseph's, while Nebraska disappointed last season.

The biggest plus to this schedule is the relative lack of cupcakes. However, there's just a little more mediocrity than you'd like to see in the slate of a team that earned a top seed in 2015.

Providence Friars (39)

Directv Wooden Legacy: Evansville (135), Arizona (1)/Santa Clara (159), Michigan State (10)/Boise State (55)/UC Irvine (109)/Boston College (122)
Illinois (53), Harvard (56), @UMass (87), @Rhode Island (107), Boston College (122), Rider (179), Brown (229), Bryant (230), NJIT (255), Hartford (274)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 137
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 29th
Big East rank: 3rd

The Friars play a regionally-focused schedule, with a trip to California for the Directv Wooden Legacy their only venture outside of New England before Big East play starts. Probable games against Arizona and Boise State (though Michigan State would await with an unlikely win over the Wildcats in Fullerton) would be the highlights of a schedule that isn't helped by the general weakness of New England hoops at the moment. A December 5th game at Atlantic 10 favorite Rhode Island, a team Ed Cooley's charges defeated by eight in 2014, is the notable exception.

Of course, both Brown and Boston College defeated the Friars last season, so potholes are definitely out there, as any Rhode Islander would know.

Seton Hall Pirates (91)

Gildan Charleston Classic: Long Beach State (120), Virginia (4)/Bradley (239), Oklahoma State (24)/Ole Miss (52)/George Mason (156)/Towson (212)
Wichita State (9), Georgia (63), @George Washington (76), @Rutgers (163), USF (203), Wagner (214), Dartmouth (226), Saint Peter's (246), Troy (284)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 138.33
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 31st
Big East rank: 4th

Kevin Willard, most likely coaching for his job, has a similar schedule to the one that got last year's Pirates off to a 10-2 start into the NCAA frame, all before things got ugly—with the Pirates finishing a disappointing 16-15. Visits from Wichita State and Georgia squads that handed the Hall its only two 2014-15 non-conference losses provide a pair of chances at redemption. Possible games with Virginia and Oklahoma State and Ole Miss in Charleston give the Pirates a chance to grab some surprising quality wins before Thanksgiving arrives, though a quarterfinal against Long Beach State could derail those plans. George Washington is a solid road trip.

With six winnable games in New Jersey, there could (again) be real hope in South Orange when January arrives if Seton Hall can replicate its two-loss November and December this time around.

DePaul Blue Demons (164)

Paradise Jam: South Carolina (113), Florida State (74)/Hofstra (210), Tulsa (84)/Indiana State (125)/Ohio (136)/Norfolk State (217)
@Stanford (35), George Washington (76), @Penn State (101), Northwestern (117), Western Michigan (128), @Drake (199), Little Rock (228), @UIC (264), Chicago State (325)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 144.33
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 34th
Big East rank: 5th

Dave Leitao, the last coach to get DePaul to the NCAA Tournament, is back, and he is working with a schedule that ... probably won't get the Blue Demons to the Promised Land. There are a lot of power conference name brands on this schedule, but a visit from the Atlantic 10's George Washington is the closest thing DePaul has to a guaranteed game against an NCAA hopeful. The Blue Demons' exempt event, the Paradise Jam, has some promise, as South Carolina and, more certainly, Florida State should be improved and I wouldn't expect much of a drop-off from a Tulsa team that nearly qualified out of the American in 2015.

Beyond those games, however, there's not much that will get the Committee's attention come March.

Georgetown Hoyas (19)

2K Sports Classic Benefitting Wounded Warrior Project: Wisconsin (2), Duke (3)/VCU (17)
Syracuse (21), Connecticut (32), @Maryland (40), @Charlotte (146), UNC Asheville (219), Brown (229), Bryant (230)*, UNC Wilmington (238), Radford (257)*, Monmouth (258), UMES (305)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 153.38
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 50th
Big East rank: 6th

The Hoyas' schedule, while quite top-heavy, is one of the most intriguing in the country because of the teams that make it so. Georgetown participates in the most-loaded four-team November tournament, the 2K Classic—where the Hoyas could face both of 2015's National Finalists. Then, the three best games on GU's slate outside of that event all see John Thompson III's team renewing old acquaintances—former Big East archrivals Syracuse and Connecticut and neighbors Maryland, a long pined for matchup that the Gavitt Tip-Off Games finally made reality. See, conference realignment was good for something!

Beyond those five games ... well, at least Saint Leo isn't on the schedule.

Creighton Bluejays (31)

Men Who Speak Up Main Event: Rutgers (163), Clemson (78)/UMass (87)
@Oklahoma (20), @Indiana (30), Arizona State (72), Nebraska (104), @Loyola-Chicago (191), Texas Southern (208)*, North Texas (240), UTSA (252)*, Western Illinois (283), Coppin State (321)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 163.5
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 66th
Big East rank: 7th

In 2014-15, the Bluejays crashed to earth in their first Doug McDermott-less season, but this schedule could get them back on a winning track before their third Big East campaign. The Men Who Speak Up Main Event is an exempt event Creighton could sweep through, given the strength of the opposition. While it would be too much to ask for wins at Oklahoma and Indiana, home games against Arizona State and Nebraska are far more favorable. A trip to CBI champion Loyola-Chicago is a possible trap, but there rest of the schedule features winnable games that should give Greg McDermott's squad confidence and real NIT hopes.

Butler Bulldogs (46)

Puerto Rico Tip-Off: Missouri State (200), Temple (77)/Minnesota (44), Utah (54)/Miami (38)/Mississippi State (193)/Texas Tech (147)
@Cincinnati (22), Tennessee (50), Purdue (60) (Indianapolis), Indiana State (125), VMI (285), SIU Edwardsville (296), IUPUI (313), Southern Utah (327), The Citadel (343)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 179.33
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 88th
Big East rank: 8th

Chris Holtzmann will hope his second season at the helm at Hinkle Fieldhouse starts off a lot like his first—with some wins from an exempt tournament in a tropical locale. The Puerto Rico Tip-Off field isn't anywhere near as loaded as last season's Battle 4 Atlantis, where the Bulldogs finished third, but a 3-0 run with a championship game win over either Utah or Miami (especially if its the former) would be a great way to head into Thanksgiving.

Butler might need those three wins, simply because the bottom of the schedule is filled with five low-quality opponents, with a visit to Cincinnati and Crossroads Classic showdown with resurgent Purdue are the remaining highlights. You can also bet the Bulldogs will want to get revenge over Tennessee, thanks to a 67-55 loss in Knoxville one season ago.

St. John's Red Storm (58)

Maui Jim Maui Invitational: Vanderbilt (66), Indiana (30)/Wake Forest (126), Kansas (5)/UCLA (25)/UNLV (68)/Chaminade
Syracuse (21), South Carolina (113) (Uncasville, Conn.), Rutgers (163), St. Francis-Brooklyn (186), Wagner (214), @Fordham (221), Niagara (249), NJIT (255), Incarnate Word (293), UMBC (341)*

Average opponent four-year ranking: 199.92
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 104th
Big East rank: 9th

Chris Mullin's first St. John's schedule should see the Red Storm pick up some wins over some blah opposition and some lumps against quality squads. The Big East reps seem ticketed for the Maui Jim Maui Invitational's 7th place game, though a possible consolation semifinal against Danny Manning's Wake Forest Demon Deacons would be an intriguing matchups of teams helmed by 80s college hoops legends. Later, Syracuse will visit their second home—Madison Square Garden—smarting from last year's home loss to the Johnnies, while a matchup with South Carolina at the Mohegan Sun is one of the more odd intersectional matchups of 2015-16.

But those are the nicest things I can say about a slate that's definitely one of a rebuilding team.

Marquette Golden Eagles (61)

FanDuel Legends Classic: LSU (59), North Carolina State (36)/Arizona State (72)
@Wisconsin (2), Iowa (23), Belmont (95)*, IUPUI (313)*, Stetson (322), Jackson State (324), Chicago State (325), Maine (335), San Jose State (336), Presbyterian (339), Grambling State (351)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 222.77
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 112th
Big East rank: 10th

Marquette should be entering its next phase of rebuilding, maybe with NCAA thoughts, but the schedule Steve Wojchieowski put together for his crew resembles one more appropriate for a team with absolutely zero confidence. There are eight teams on this schedule with four-year pwp rankings below 300.

Remember there are 351 teams in Division I this season.

The worst decision to me is the game against Stetson, which takes place in the middle of the Big East season.

Making matters worse, the five quality games on the schedule are all doozies—Wisconsin in Madison, LSU's Ben Simmons' first real national showcase in the semifinals of the FanDuel Legends Classic, a difficult second night opponent in that event (though the Golden Eagles did beat Arizona State last season in Milwaukee), Iowa in the Gavitt Tip-off Games, and a tricky Opening Night matchup against OVC Tourney champ Belmont.

But those eight awful games aren't going away. Barring a stupendous run through the Big East, NIT thoughts might have to motivate Marquette this season.

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