Ranking the best and worst nonconference schedules in college basketball for 2019-20

With the obvious caveat of winning many more games that not, so much of a team's March fate rests on how its coaching staff schedules games for November and December. Nonconference play makes up for roughly 30-35% of a team's schedule, which is discernibly not an insignificant number. 

And while strength of schedule as a metric cannot tell us how good a team is, it can provide important data to determining how we weight one team vs. another, particularly when looking at how teams performed against the top or bottom tiers. Plus, data analysis aside, it's just good for college basketball to have its highest-rated teams challenging themselves and placing themselves in high-profile games in November and December, when college hoops can always use a little more of a PR boost. 

So in advance of the 2019-20 season, I wanted to take a look at how the nonconference schedules of every Major Seven program (AAC, ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC) and see how they stack up against each other, to get an idea of which teams are positioned to better their chances for making the NCAA Tournament. I also included five teams outside the Major Seven structure that made the top 30 of my 1-353 rankings: Gonzaga, Davidson, VCU, Utah State and Saint Mary's. 

I brewed up an admittedly uncomplicated -- but revealing -- formula of six data inputs to determine the strength of each team's "noncon power score." The inputs:

  • Games vs. preseason top-25 KenPom teams (2 points)
  • Games vs. preseason 26-50 KenPom teams (1 point)
  • Road games (2 points)
  • Neutral-court games (1 point)
  • Games vs. 2019 NCAA Tournament teams (0.5 points)
  • Games vs. sub-200 KenPom teams (-1 point)

I put emphasis in this experiment on high- and low-end opponents, leaving the soggy middle (which muddies strength of schedule) almost entirely out of my measurements. 

I didn't stop there. 

You may ask yourself: But what about all those November tournaments? Teams will play against other teams in bracket play and we don't know those matchups. This is true, but in the spirit of tabulating every game of every team's noncon sked, I accounted for every November and December multi-team/bracket event and gave wins to the higher-ranked KenPom team in each matchup. (As these things go, the betting favorite almost always aligns with the KenPom favorite, so this was the most logical workaround.)  

In effect, this gives teams their "most likely" opponents in bracket play.

Of course these days a chunk of nonconference schedules are arranged by TV networks and their cooperation with leagues. So this analysis isn't so much a subjective judgement or arbitration, but rather a big step back and overview at which schools, no matter the reasons or excuses, are situated nicely, just-OK and pretty poorly. 

Remember, this is all just projection and it will definitely be interesting to come back in early March and see how drastically -- or not -- things change. OK, let's first reveal the 11 power-conference teams (there's a tie for 10th) that set up to have the strongest out-of-conference schedules this season. 

Toughest nonconference schedules

Below, the list of 92 teams: 87 from Major Seven conferences in addition to Gonzaga, Davidson, VCU, Utah State and Saint Mary's.

Before you scroll and search, a few notes:

  • The highest noncon score is 18.5, the lowest is -2.5 (eeek, Virginia Tech). The mean is 8.2. The median is 8.5. Most common score is 10; eight schools landed there. 
  • Average number of sub-200 teams scheduled is 4.3. Average number of top-50 teams scheduled is 2.8. 
  • League-wise, the Big East's average noncon power score of 10.7 is best. The worst? Somewhat surprisingly, the ACC at 6.0.
  • Easiest November tour easily goes South Carolina. Six of the first nine games the Gamecocks play come against sub-200 teams. 
  • Though it doesn't come in last, East Carolina takes the cake for truly worst schedule on the list, as its 11 (ELEVEN) games vs. sub-200 KenPom opponents is by far the most.
  • Teams not scheduled to face top-50 competition: ECU, Tulane, Washington State, Vanderbilt, SMU, Boston College.
  • Most combined road+neutral games: Davidson with nine. Then it's Florida, Utah, Kansas, Villanova, Temple and Alabama all with seven. This can really help NCAA Tournament cases down the way, provided enough games are won. 
  • Four highest-rated noncon scores from teams I don't project to make the NCAA Tournament: Butler, Marquette, Temple, Utah.
  • Four lowest-rated noncon scores from teams I do project to make the NCAA Tournament: Notre Dame, Virginia, NC State, Illinois.

Nonconference schedule power scores

TeamT25T50NCAATRoadNeutralSub-200NONCON SCORE
Seton Hall 4 6 7 3 3 4 18.5
Florida 3 5 3 2 5 2 16.5
UNC 4 4 6 2 4 3 16
Kansas 3 5 4 2 5 3 16
Cincinnati 3 4 6 2 4 2 16
Davidson 2 2 3 5 4 4 15.5
Purdue 3 6 4 2 3 3 15
Alabama 1 4 4 3 4 2 15
Tennessee 3 6 7 2 3 5 14.5
Michigan St 4 4 5 2 4 4 14.5
Butler 4 5 7 2 3 5 14.5
Wisconsin 3 5 4 2 3 3 14
Villanova 3 3 4 3 4 5 13
Washington 3 4 5 0 5 2 12.5
Marquette 2 5 5 2 3 4 12.5
Temple 2 4 2 3 4 5 12
Utah 2 2 5 2 5 4 11.5
Oregon 2 5 5 1 3 3 11.5
Michigan 3 6 5 1 3 5 11.5
Kentucky 4 4 5 1 3 4 11.5
Creighton 3 3 4 2 2 3 11
Arizona St 1 4 4 2 4 4 11
UConn 3 4 5 1 4 5 10.5
Texas 2 4 3 2 3 4 10.5
Miami 1 2 3 2 4 3 10.5
Iowa St 2 4 5 2 3 5 10.5
FSU 3 4 3 2 3 5 10.5
Xavier 1 4 2 2 3 3 10
Okla St 0 2 4 3 3 3 10
Iowa 1 3 4 2 3 3 10
Gonzaga 3 4 4 3 3 8 10
Georgia Tech 1 3 2 2 3 2 10
Colorado 1 2 4 2 4 3 10
Auburn 0 3 4 1 4 1 10
Arizona 2 4 4 1 4 4 10
Oklahoma 0 2 3 3 3 3 9.5
Missouri 1 3 3 3 3 5 9.5
Miss St 2 3 5 1 4 4 9.5
DePaul 1 2 5 4 0 4 9.5
Baylor 2 4 3 1 5 5 9.5
VCU 2 3 4 2 2 4 9
Ohio St 3 5 4 1 2 5 9
Houston 0 2 2 3 3 3 9
Duke 2 3 4 1 3 3 9
Cal 1 2 2 2 3 2 9
Wake Forest 1 3 1 2 3 3 8.5
Utah St 1 3 3 1 5 4 8.5
Providence 2 3 1 2 4 5 8.5
Minnesota 1 3 1 2 2 3 8.5
LSU 1 3 3 2 3 4 8.5
West Virginia 1 2 2 3 3 5 8
Maryland 2 3 2 1 3 3 8
Louisville 3 3 4 1 2 4 8
K-State 1 1 4 2 4 4 8
USC 1 3 3 2 4 6 7.5
UCF 2 2 1 2 3 4 7.5
Memphis 1 3 3 2 2 4 7.5
Texas A&M 2 5 2 0 4 5 7
Saint Mary's 0 1 4 2 4 4 7
Georgetown 0 3 2 2 2 3 7
Arkansas 0 2 2 3 1 3 7
Wichita St 2 3 5 1 2 5 6.5
Georgia 1 2 3 2 3 5 6.5
USF 1 1 4 0 5 3 6
Texas Tech 2 4 3 1 4 8 5.5
TCU 1 4 1 1 2 4 5.5
Syracuse 0 2 3 1 2 2 5.5
Stanford 2 3 3 1 3 6 5.5
South Carolina 1 2 3 3 2 8 5.5
UCLA 1 2 2 1 4 5 5
Oregon St 1 2 2 2 3 6 5
Northwestern 0 2 2 2 2 4 5
Tulsa 0 2 1 4 0 6 4.5
Ole Miss 0 3 1 2 3 6 4.5
Illinois 1 2 1 2 1 4 4.5
NC State 1 3 2 2 1 6 4
Boston College 0 0 2 2 1 2 4
SMU 0 0 2 4 0 6 3
Nebraska 0 1 2 2 3 6 3
Washington St 0 0 1 2 4 6 2.5
Virginia 1 1 3 1 2 5 2.5
Clemson 0 1 3 1 2 4 2.5
St. John's 1 1 2 0 3 4 2
Penn St 0 1 2 1 2 4 2
Indiana 1 3 1 0 2 5 1.5
Tulane 0 0 2 1 5 7 1
Notre Dame 1 2 2 1 1 6 1
Pitt 0 1 2 1 2 6 0
Rutgers 1 1 1 1 1 6 -1.5
ECU 0 0 1 3 3 11 -1.5
Vanderbilt 0 0 2 1 1 6 -2
Virginia Tech 1 1 1 0 3 8 -2.5
CBS Sports Senior Writer

Matt Norlander is a national award-winning senior writer who has been with CBS Sports since 2010. This is his 10th season reporting on college basketball for CBS. He also covers the NBA Draft, the Olympics... Full Bio

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