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College Basketball: Power Ranking the 10 Toughest Schedules in November

Scott PolacekFeatured ColumnistNovember 1, 2012

College Basketball: Power Ranking the 10 Toughest Schedules in November

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    The fans may not remember what happens in November by the time March rolls around, but you can bet the NCAA tournament’s selection committee will.

    Strength of schedule plays a large role in determining which bubble teams will be happy come Selection Sunday and which ones will have to pretend they are excited for the NIT. Even the best teams are impacted when it comes to seeding discussions.

    That is why it is important to recognize those teams that accepted the challenge of formulating a difficult and worthy nonconference schedule.

    Yes, I know that the nonconference slate includes more than just the games in that first month, but for now let's take a look at the 10 most treacherous November schedules.

    *Unless otherwise mentioned, the poll rankings of various teams come from the USA Today Coaches Poll.

No. 10 Florida

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    The Florida Gators are ranked No. 10, so it’s only fitting that they are No. 10 on this list.

    Billy Donovan’s squad starts the season off aboard an aircraft carrier against a perennially dangerous Georgetown team. While the Hoyas may not be as strong as in years past, it is still a marquee name in the college basketball world.

    Less than a week later Florida returns home to play Bo Ryan’s No. 21-ranked Wisconsin Badgers. Wisconsin took a hit recently when news broke that Josh Gasser is out for the season, but the Badgers are still a dangerous team that will try to make Florida uncomfortable with their slow pace of play.

    The Gators also play Central Florida and Marquette at home to end November. While there is no more Marcus Jordan on the Golden Knights, Marquette should provide another stiff test for Florida.

No. 9 Michigan State

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    You can make the argument that Michigan State is being somewhat overlooked right now considering all the attention that conference mates Indiana, Ohio State and Michigan have received in the offseason.

    However, if the Spartans are able to navigate their November schedule, they won’t be overlooked anymore.

    Michigan State starts its season with a showdown against Connecticut in the Huskies’ first game without Jim Calhoun. But that’s not the most notable thing about that game because it is being played in Germany as part of the Armed Forces Classic.

    A mere four days later the Spartans return to the states to play Kansas in Atlanta (as in nowhere near their campus).

    Michigan State plays mostly cupcakes after that but finishes the month with a tricky game at Miami.

    The Spartans are on this list primarily because of the difficult traveling that they will do to begin the season. It will probably take a little bit of time for the players to adjust back to a normal schedule, which may not be the best formula for an effective start to a difficult campaign.

    Who knows, they may even fit in a class or two while they are being shipped halfway across the world and then to Atlanta.

No. 8 USC

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    USC is not ranked in either of the preseason polls, and chances are it won’t be after it finishes its treacherous November schedule either.

    The Trojans play a sneaky good Long Beach State team within the first week (in a game that will be much easier for the 49ers than most of their other nonconference showdowns) and then travel to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational.

    USC starts that tournament against Illinois, and if it wins that, it will get No. 24 Texas. If the Trojans continue to win in Maui, they will in all likelihood play against North Carolina, Butler and/or Marquette.

    When USC returns to the mainland, it will host No. 20 San Diego State in a game in which the Aztecs should be considerable favorites.

    Expect a handful of losses for the Trojans within the first month of the schedule.

No. 7 Kentucky

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    Kentucky will find itself atop of plenty of lists this year, but it will have to settle for the seventh spot here. Perhaps if the Wildcats were playing the Hoosiers again this season, they would be higher.

    Alas, Kentucky still has plenty of potential pitfalls on its November slate.

    The Wildcats kick off the year against a Maryland team that isn’t as good as it used to be but is still dangerous. After that, two historically great programs will square off in Atlanta when Kentucky faces off with Duke.

    Potential trap games against Morehead State and Long Island fill out the next week before the Wildcats travel to South Bend to take on No. 23 Notre Dame.

    John Calipari will have a good idea about where his freshman-dominated team stands in terms of the rest of the country by the time November is over.

No. 6 Ohio State

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    Thad Matta has made a routine of mixing in marquee showdowns among the cupcakes of his nonconference schedules.

    This year the Buckeyes will start their season aboard the USS Yorktown in the Carrier Classic against the likes of Marquette. The Golden Eagles lost a lot of their talent from a year ago, but they are still a dangerous Big East team.

    Ohio State plays Rhode Island a week later, and a win there would likely match the Buckeyes up against Washington. The Huskies are the defending Pac-12 champions and will be looking for a headline-grabbing win for their conference.

    The cherry on top of Ohio State’s November schedule is its trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Duke, which has a treacherous nonconference slate of its own, will be looking for some revenge after last season’s beatdown in Columbus.

No. 5 Marquette

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    Marquette, Ohio State’s opponent for the Carrier Classic, finds itself one spot higher than the Buckeyes partially because the Golden Eagles are playing Ohio State and the Buckeyes are playing against Marquette.

    But the Golden Eagles have plenty of other challenges after that first game.

    Marquette is part of the Maui Invitational and will start off the tournament against the perennially tricky Butler Bulldogs. If the Eagles can win that, they will battle No. 12 North Carolina.

    Finally, the Golden Eagles finish their month with a trip to Gainesville to battle the No. 10 Florida Gators.

    All of Marquette’s young talent will get somewhat of a baptism by fire throughout a difficult November slate.

No. 4 Georgetown

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    Georgetown is one of the best college basketball programs in the history of the sport. Unfortunately for their fans, the Hoyas have taken a step back the past couple years.

    Well, if Georgetown can find a way to win its games in the first month of the season, it will once again find itself ranked highly in the polls.

    The Hoyas start the year with a showdown with Florida aboard a boat outside of Jacksonville. A mere 10 days later, Georgetown kicks off the Legends Classic with a battle against UCLA and its superstar freshmen.

    If the Hoyas can find a way to win that one, they will probably see the nation’s top-ranked team in Indiana.

    Finally, Georgetown finishes its November schedule against a Tennessee team that finds itself in a similar boat as the Hoyas—trying to rack up quality wins to once again climb in the polls.

No. 3 Long Beach State

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    Long Beach State does it every year when it comes to scheduling.

    If this post was a power ranking of the best nonconference schedules, the 49ers would probably be in the top spot (they take trips to Syracuse, UCLA and Ohio State in December).

    Don’t worry though, Long Beach will still be challenged plenty of times in November.

    The 49ers play on the road in four of their first six games. What’s more, one of those two home games is against the North Carolina Tar Heels.

    Long Beach State sandwiches that North Carolina game in between road trips to USC and Arizona.

    The 49ers will certainly be ready for conference play by January.

No. 2 Minnesota

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    The Big Ten is arguably the best conference in the country, so it might make sense for its teams to play somewhat of a lighter nonconference schedule to avoid racking up too many losses.

    Someone forgot to tell that to Tubby Smith and Minnesota.

    The Gophers take a trip to Tallahassee to play the No. 24 Florida State Seminoles to finish their month. They also battle an underrated Richmond squad out of the always dangerous Atlantic 10.

    However, it is the matchups in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament that puts Minnesota’s schedule this high on the list.

    The Gophers start the tournament with a showdown against the Duke Blue Devils and will then play Memphis or VCU depending on the outcomes of the first games.

    There is also a real possibility that Minnesota will find itself lining up against Missouri or Louisville later on in the tournament.

    If the Gophers can find a way to win the majority of these November games, they should find themselves in the Top 25 come conference play.

No. 1 Duke

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    The good news about Duke being on top if you are a Blue Devil hater is the fact that it will have plenty of chances to lose.

    However, knowing Coach K and the Dukies, they will probably be winning a lot more of those games than they drop.

    The Blue Devils have a showdown in Atlanta against the defending national champion Kentucky Wildcats within the first week of the season. After that, they go to the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament where they will start with Minnesota and have potential games against Louisville, Missouri and/or Memphis.

    Duke then finishes out its treacherous November schedule with a rematch in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge with the Ohio State Buckeyes. The Crazies at Cameron Indoor Stadium will certainly be doing their best to prevent another 22-point loss.

    Perhaps the most worrisome thing about this difficult schedule for Duke fans is the health concerns surrounding the team. Marshall Plumlee and Seth Curry are both battling injury, which will make this slate even tougher.

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