Ah, the joys of realignment. Creighton’s addition to the Big East means a potential match-up between the Bluejays and Marquette in the Wooden Legacy final. Villanova already plays Xavier twice during conference play but could tip off against Chris Mack’s squad in the Battle 4 Atlantis. And since NYC taxis still feature advertisements proclaiming the Orange as “New York’s College Team,” it feels weird to include Syracuse as a non-conference foe of both the Wildcats and St. John’s.
Losing Pittsburgh, Louisville, Syracuse, and Notre Dame dimmed the Big East’s luster, so the importance of a challenging non-conference slate has been enhanced this season. Creighton and Marquette have several high-profile games on the schedule, and Georgetown will play the potential top team in both the Pac-12 (Oregon) and Big 12 (Kansas). Some Big East squads, though, scheduled as though the conference was still the nation’s toughest, and could suffer if they stumble.
Neutral site tournaments
Creighton in the Wooden Legacy, November 28-December 1: Creighton starts off with Arizona State, and should the Bluejays contain Jahii Carson, the squad faces a loaded field that includes Marquette, San Diego State, George Washington, Miami, and Charleston. A good primer for coach Greg McDermott’s squad.
Georgetown in the Puerto Rico Tip Off, November 21-24: Georgetown is on the wrong side of the tournament. Northeastern, a top team in CAA, is an interesting opening round tilt, but the other two teams — Charlotte and Kansas State — are not expected to make much noise in their respective conferences. If the Hoyas can advance to the final, their chances improve for a marquis game — either Michigan or VCU should roll through that bracket to the championship.
Villanova and Xavier in Battle 4 Atlantis, November 28-30: When this tournament was announced, the attending teams seemed much stronger, but as the season approaches, it appears that demand is less than expected. The resort where the games are being held is offering steep discounts on visits during those three days, and reading between the lines of the recent announcement that North Carolina, Georgetown, UCLA, Florida, Wisconsin, and Butler (among others) will all trek to the Bahamas next year means that the organizers are likely not thrilled with the 2013 participants. A Xavier win against Iowa would certainly boost the Musketeers’ OOC profile, and should Villanova stymie Dunk City, a game against Kansas will help their standing.
Seton Hall in the Coaches vs. Cancer, November 22-23: There aren’t many contests on Seton Hall’s schedule that will protect the team if they falter in Big East play, so the Pirates’ two games in the Coaches vs. Cancer, held at the Barclays Center, are essential. SHU opens with Oklahoma, and coach Kevin Willard has to hope Michigan State defeats Virginia Tech to reach the final — a close game, or a win, against the Spartans would help balance a slate tilted with Mercer, Eastern Washington, and NJIT.
Butler in the Old Spice Classic, November 28-December 1: There are so many unknowns surrounding Butler — what is Brandon Miller’s coaching style? Can a backcourt of Rene Castro, Alex Barlow, and Kellen Dunham run the offense? How much will losing Roosevelt Jones hamstring Butler’s scoring output — that wins against potentially Oklahoma State, Memphis, and LSU would quickly settle those uncertainties.
Marquette, Creighton, and DePaul vs. Arizona State (November 25, 28, and December 6, respectively): Herb Sendek’s squad is popular with the Big East as a non-conference opponent — ASU matches up with Creighton again and potentially Marquette in the Wooden Classic. If the Sun Devils justify the hype that has preceded them this preseason and finish amongst the top of the Pac-12, it will be a scheduling bonus for the trio. However, if ASU topples — other than Jahii Carson, ASU has many offensive unknowns — a win becomes questionable and a loss belies a team’s strength.
St. John’s and Villanova vs. Syracuse (December 15 and 28, respectively): It is still strange to list Syracuse as a non-conference match-up. Both Villanova and St. John’s were particularly poor from deep last season, so this contest will be a good test of possible offensive growth for two teams expected to contend.
Marquette vs. Ohio State and New Mexico (November 16 and December 21, respectively): Marquette will likely be the preseason pick as the Big East’s top team, and coach Buzz Williams has scheduled accordingly. In addition to the aforementioned tilt versus Arizona State and the Wooden Classic’s challenging field, MU plays Ohio State, New Mexico, and Wisconsin. MU has significant backcourt question marks — Williams will either go with the little-tested Derrick Wilson or the raw Duane Wilson — and facing off against Aaron Craft could prove challenging, and there is an aura of intrigue surrounding the New Mexico game, specifically in the frontcourt battle of Davante Gardner and Alex Kirk. There will be no shortage of up-and-unders, spins, and baby hooks when each big takes the court.
Georgetown vs. Oregon and Kansas (November 8 and December 21, respectively): Georgetown will have trouble scoring in the paint without Greg Whittington and potentially Josh Smith, and these two non-conference tilts — the game against the Ducks will be played in Seoul! — could illuminate whether Reggie Cameron is primed to step into Otto Porter’s void. Cameron is the classic John Thompson III big: a 6’7″ forward who is comfortable to work off the bounce 15 feet from the basket but has deep range to extend defenses. It will also be interesting to observe how JTIII intends to stop either Andrew Wiggins or Wayne Selden, the nation’s two most exciting freshmen wings.
Providence vs. Kentucky (December 1): Despite the disparity in amount of top 50 recruits, Providence matches up very well with Kentucky. When Ed Cooley first arrived at PC, there were only two Friars who measured 6’9″ or taller, but now in his third season, Cooley can depend on his biggest roster. Tyler Harris and Carson Desrosiers, 6’9″ and 7′, respectively, are both eligible, and both Kris Dunn and Brandon Austin, a freshman who has drawn raves during the offseason for his athleticism and scoring ability, possess significant size advantages. There is a reason PC is steadily gaining momentum as a Big East contender, and this non-conference game could add some volume to those whispers.
Matt Giles is a reporter for New York Magazine and has contributed to College Basketball Prospectus 2012-13, ESPN the Magazine, ESPN Insider, the New York Times, BuzzFeed, and Salon. You can follow Matt on Twitter @HudsonGiles.