It’s safe to say that the three teams in the Big 12 that should feel somewhat good about making the NCAA Tournament this season are Kansas, Oklahoma State and Baylor. Outside of that, who can tell? That’s what make non-conference schedules so vital to Kansas State, Iowa State or another possible surprise team. My definition of a strong non-conference schedule is one where a team is in a preseason tournament with at least two NCAA-level teams, one or two true road games in difficult environments, and a minimum of one home game against a likely Tournament team. I’m more lenient toward home games because most of them need to be gimme games or are set apart for smaller schools within a state. So from the teams that matter to the teams that won’t, here they are: the good, the bad and the ugly non-conference schedules in this season’s Big 12.
- Kansas: They have the most talented team in the Big 12, but perhaps more importantly, the most difficult non-conference schedule to boot. Luckily for the fifth-ranked Jayhawks, they will participate in a Champions Classic where they will face Duke, ranked one spot ahead of them in the preseason AP poll. A surprising low point on the schedule is the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament. That tournament’s championship game gave us Louisville-Duke last year, a precursor to their eventual Elite Eight match-up. But looking at this year’s field gives the impression that it’s Kansas’ event to lose. The greater litmus test for this team will come between December 7-14. In that span KU will face Colorado, Florida in the Big 12/SEC Challenge, and New Mexico — all away from Allen Fieldhouse. There may not be a more demanding week in non-conference action for any team in America. And on top of that they’ll play Georgetown and San Diego State in the Phog before league play begins. Wouldn’t it be great if all big-time coaches were as ambitious with their scheduling as Bill Self?
- Baylor: The first thing that jumps out immediately is the Bears’ season opener against Colorado. This is an incredible get considering the Buffaloes could very well be the best team Tad Boyle has had in Boulder as well as the fact that it’s an on-campus game. During the week of Thanksgiving, the Bears participate in this year’s EA Sports Maui Invitational, usually perceived as the preseason’s most prestigious tournament. Assuming it wins the whole thing, Baylor would presumably have to go through the likes of Gonzaga and Syracuse to do so — two teams ranked in the AP Top 25. They wouldn’t have much time to regroup, because a little more than a week later, they’ll have a date with top-ranked Kentucky on December 6 in Arlington. After winter break, the Bears will face Northwestern State, a team that won its conference tournament last season and led the nation in scoring. Baylor ends its slate with a game against an Oral Roberts program that has won 20+ games in three of its last four seasons. The Bears make a good case for the toughest non-Big 12 schedule but a lack of true road games hurts them.