Since most of this coming season's non-conference schedules have finally been released, it's a good time to assess whose slates are the most daunting and who didn't challenge themselves enough. Yahoo Sports will go league-by-league the next two weeks. Up next: The Big East.
Toughest non-league schedule: Georgetown
Between the rivalry games and the quality of the opponents, Georgetown has one of the nation's most fun non-conference schedules. The Hoyas will play a quintet of marquee games, none more hotly anticipated than the renewal of a long-dormant regional rivalry against a Maryland team expected to begin the season in the top five nationally.
While the visit to Maryland could be the most nationally relevant game on Georgetown's schedule, two matchups with longtime former Big East rivals will probably be even more meaningful to Hoyas fans. On Dec. 5, Georgetown hosts hated Syracuse for the first time since the Orange bolted for the ACC. On Jan. 23, the Hoyas visit UConn for the first time since the breakup between the Big East and American Athletic Conference.
The excitement for those games makes it easy to forget Georgetown will also take part in one of the better preseason tournaments in November. The Hoyas open with Wisconsin on Nov. 20 in the 2KSports Classic and meet either reigning national champion Duke or VCU two nights later.
Easiest non-league schedule: DePaul
Can anyone really blame DePaul for not loading its non-conference schedule with formidable teams the way some of its Big East peers did? After all, first-year coach Dave Leitao inherits a program that hasn't produced a winning season since 2007 and has compiled a 22-122 league record in the past eight seasons.
The toughest games on DePaul's schedule are all against teams considered fringe NCAA tournament contenders entering the season — Stanford, Northwestern, Penn State and George Washington to name a few. The Blue Demons will also take part in the Paradise Jam, where they will open with South Carolina and could see Florida State later in the tournament.
All in all, it's really not a terrible schedule. It's just clearly the weakest one in a league where most everyone else scheduled at least two or three top 50-caliber foes for November and December.
Team taking the biggest risk with its schedule: Marquette
For a program with a rich tradition and a chance to contend for an NCAA bid this season, Marquette's non-conference schedule is awfully conservative. Eight of the Golden Eagles' 13 non-conference opponents are small-conference lightweights who lost at least 20 games last season and are unlikely to crack the RPI top 200 next season.
What that means is the success of Marquette's non-conference season depends on two things: 1. That the other five opponents are good enough to provide chances for quality wins. 2. That the Golden Eagles capitalize on a few of those opportunities. The five remaining games on the schedule are a difficult road game at in-state rival Wisconsin, home games against Iowa and Belmont and neutral-court contests against LSU and either Arizona State or NC State.
How many of those games Marquette can win will probably depend on how quickly its strong freshman class can elevate a team that went 13-19 a year ago. Forward Henry Ellenson and guard Haanif Cheatham are among a group of freshmen that will bolster a roster that also includes center Luke Fischer and guards Duane Wilson and JaJuan Johnson.
Three Big East non-conference games to watch:
1. Georgetown at Maryland, Nov. 17: In-state foes Maryland and Georgetown haven't scheduled one another in a regular season game since 1993, a 22-year hiatus caused by bickering over where the next game should be played. The timing of the revival of the rivalry is fortuitous, however, with the Terps a contender to begin the season No. 1 in the polls and the Hoyas likely to begin the season in the Top 25.
2. Villanova at Virginia, Dec. 19: Two potential top 10 teams who have both won more than 60 games the past two seasons meet in Charlottesville the week before Christmas. Villanova enters the season as the Big East favorite thanks to the arrival of elite freshman guard Jalen Brunson, the return of standouts Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu and the breakout potential of rising junior Josh Hart. Virginia returns the core of last year's ACC title team besides high-scoring Justin Anderson and defensive standout Darion Atkins.
3. Syracuse at Georgetown, Dec. 5: At a time when numerous historic rivalries have disappeared because of conference realignment, Syracuse and Georgetown have ensured theirs won't be one of them. This is the start of a four-game series between the two longtime rivals. Syracuse is hoping for a bounce-back season after a self-imposed postseason ban ended all hope of an NCAA bid last year, while Georgetown should contend in the Big East behind star D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera and talented sophomores Isaac Copeland and L.J. Peak.
Game that should have been scheduled but wasn't: Creighton-Wichita State
Once the Missouri Valley Conference's marquee rivalry, this series vanished when Creighton left for the Big East. That's a shame because restarting it this season could have been good for both parties. Creighton would have added a top 15 opponent with whom its fans are already very familiar. Wichita State would have another quality opponent willing to play a home-and-home series, something that has not been easy for the Shockers to find despite their recent rise in stature.
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