Records in college basketball can be deceiving, because unlike in most professional sports leagues where there is minimal deviation in schedule strength, there is great variance to the level of schedule that teams play each season in college basketball. While some coaches opt to construct beefy nonconference slates meant to to test and showcase their teams and build postseason resumes, others keep it low-key for the sake of building confidence and racking up wins.
We covered some of the toughest nonconference schedules in college basketball last week. But now it’s time to highlight some programs that are taking the easy way out — or perhaps the smart way out — in the season ahead with light nonconference schedules.
It’s likely no coincidence that the three easiest all belong to Big Ten teams. The Big Ten has been a particularly brutal basketball conference the last few seasons, with its 20-game league slate offering little reprieve for struggling teams. For bad teams, that can make racking up victories in nonconference play all the more important. But even good Big Ten teams can get by with mediocre nonconference schedules, because they still have plenty of opportunity to build an NCAA Tournament resume in conference games.
Here is a look at the five easiest nonconference schedules being played by teams from power conferences this season. All rankings of teams outside the AP Top 25 are taken from Matt Norlander’s 1-358 rankings.
Nov. 9: vs. Kansas City — 218
Nov. 12: vs. Western Kentucky (neutral) — 85
Nov. 14: South Carolina or Princeton (neutral) — 129/167
Nov. 19: vs. Purdue Fort Wayne — 280
Nov. 24: vs. Jacksonville — 311
Nov. 30: vs. Pittsburgh — 108
Dec. 5: at Mississippi State — 51
Dec. 14: vs. Texas A&M Corpus Christi — 300
Dec. 22: vs. Green Bay — 318
Dec. 29: vs. Alcorn State — 355
Minnesota’s nonconference schedule is appropriately terrible considering what the Gophers are up against this season. First-year coach Ben Johnson is rebuilding the roster almost from scratch, and this squad needs to sqeak out some victories where it can before the grind of a 20-game Big Ten slate arrives. But when your toughest non-league foe is Mississippi State, you are more or less conceding that building a resume is an irrelevant concept.
Nov. 9: vs. Longwood — 243
Nov. 12: vs. Kansas City — 218
Nov. 16: vs. North Carolina Central — 336
Nov. 18: vs. Alabama State — 348
Nov. 22: vs. Western Michigan — 238
Nov. 26: vs. Portland State — 299
Nov. 29: at No. 25 Virginia
Dec. 9: at Iowa State — 148
Dec. 18: vs. Utah State (neutral) — 58
Dec. 21: vs. Southeastern Louisiana — 233
Dec. 29: vs. Western Illinois — 305
It’s going to take the Hawkeyes a while to adjust to life without 2021 Naismith Player of the Year and program legend Luka Garza. The good news is that they’ll have plenty of time to do that. Iowa opens up with six home games against teams ranked 200 or worse by Norlander. It’s quite likely all six of those games will be in the Quad 4 category by season’s end. Even the “tough” portion of Iowa’s nonconference schedule isn’t that challenging. Virginia is hardly the imposing matchup it was a few seasons ago, and Iowa State is so far down that it won’t be a resume game for the Hawkeyes.
Nov. 10: vs. Lehigh — 278
Nov. 13: vs. Merrimack — 248
Nov. 16: vs. NJIT — 324
Nov. 18: at DePaul — 131
Nov. 22: vs. Lafayette — 273
Nov. 27: at Massachusetts — 121
Nov. 30: vs. Clemson — 65
Dec. 12: at Seton Hall — 37
Dec. 18: vs. Rider — 304
Dec. 23: vs. Central Connecticut State — 345
Dec. 29: vs. Maine — 354
Rutgers built quality resumes the past two seasons, despite playing low-key nonconference schedules. So, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But the Scarlet Knights are established enough at this point to handle a slate that has someone better than Seton Hall serving as the marquee non-league opponent. If nothing else, they could swap out some of the low-level traffic rolling through Piscataway for a few more decent games. As it stands now, Rutgers is likely to play seven Quad 4 games in the nonconference.
Nov. 9: Dartmouth — 282
Nov. 12: Holy Cross — 297
Nov. 14: Fairfield — 294
Nov. 17: at Rhode Island — 93
Nov. 20 vs. Utah (neutral) — 103
Nov. 21: vs. Tulsa OR Rhode Island (neutral) 150/93
Nov. 26: vs. Columbia — 257
Nov. 29: vs. South Florida — 189
Dec. 11: vs. at Saint Louis — 66
Dec. 13 vs. Albany — 268
Boston College is in the same boat as Minnesota, easing in a new coach and revamped roster by playing a light nonconference schedule. It makes sense, because ACC play is going to be an unpleasant grind for the Eagles. Road games against Rhode Island and Saint Louis and a neutral site contest against Utah are at least decent games.
Nov. 9: vs. Northern Illinois — 217
Nov. 11: vs. Northern Arizona — 327
Nov. 15: vs. Texas Southern — 194
Nov. 18: vs. Wyoming — 173
Nov. 22: vs. George Mason (neutral) — 166
Nov. 23: vs. South Dakota State (neutral) — 107
Nov. 24: vs. Nevada (neutral) — 54
Nov. 27: vs. Winthrop — 138
Dec. 12: at No. 1 Gonzaga
Dec. 18: vs. Seattle — 162
Dec. 31: vs. Utah Valley — 263
Washington gets credit for playing Gonzaga, but other than that, it’s a light load for the Huskies. Nine of their 11 nonconference opponents are ranked outside of Norlander’s top 100, and the Zags are the only one in the AP Top 25. Considering this team is coming off a 5-21 season, it makes sense that they would play an easier schedule. Padding the win total is also wise for fifth-year coach Mike Hopkins, who likely doesn’t have a ton of leash left at this point.