One of the best parts of every college basketball season are the exciting nonconference games the fans get to see.
Whether it’s through various early season tournaments, conference challenges, or games scheduled between two schools, we always get some intriguing match-ups and atmospheres that remind us of the NCAA tournament.
The 2013-14 college basketball season will be no different. Many of the top teams in the country are scheduled to play each other and these games will be great early indicators of the squads with the most potential to cut down the nets at the end of the season.
Let’s take a look at the ten college basketball teams with the toughest nonconference schedules. The following list is no particular order.
As they do every season, the Blue Devils will play marquee opponents at neutral sites and also host some NCAA tournament teams at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Everyone will point to the big showdowns against Kansas, UCLA, Michigan and a potential NIT Season Tip-Off Championship game against Arizona. But the Blue Devils also open the season against Davidson and could face a very talented Norfolk State in the second round of the NIT Season Tip-Off.
Facing six potential NCAA tournament teams is a great way for Mike Krzyzewski to prepare his team for what should be very deep and talented ACC this season.
Playing against Kansas at the United Center in Chicago and UCLA in Madison Square Garden will also give the Blue Devils some exposure to Final Four-type atmospheres.
Kentucky enters the season as the No. 1 ranked team in the country, and the Wildcats will have plenty of opportunities to show they’re deserving of that ranking with their early season schedule.
John Calipari’s highly-touted freshman class will get great chances to shine in the spotlight with Kentucky having marquee games against Michigan State, North Carolina and Louisville. Barring any bizarre upsets, the game between Kentucky and Michigan State should feature the top two ranked teams in the country.
The Wildcats also have some interesting match-ups against Baylor and Providence, two teams that have the potential to be very dangerous this season. The four-game stretch where Kentucky faces Providence, Baylor, Boise State and North Carolina will reveal a great deal about this team.
Kentucky also has a chance for some revenge for last season’s loss against Robert Morris as the two team face off in Rupp Arena on November 17.
Assuming North Carolina faces Louisville in the championship game of the Hall of Fame Tipoff, the Tar Heels will play the top three ranked teams in the country in their nonconference schedule.
Add in the fact that North Carolina will play No. 4 ranked Duke twice during conference play, and the Heels should be plenty battle tested for the postseason.
North Carolina gets the benefit of hosting Kentucky in Chapel Hill, but Roy Williams will have to take his team on the road when it faces Michigan State in the ACC-B1G Challenge on December 4. The Tar Heels will also face some unique challenges with games against Davidson and Belmont, two teams that have a history of being giant killers.
A key to how the Heels fare during the nonconference schedule will be the status of P.J. Hairston, who will likely be suspended for a portion of the season due to his offseason legal issues.
John Beilein loses the national player of the year to the NBA and follows it up by having his team play one of the most difficult schedules in college basketball.
Not only will the Wolverines face the gauntlet of the Big Ten Conference, they’ll also have nonconference showdowns with Duke and Arizona. Michigan will also play in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, which includes Georgetown, Kansas State and VCU in the tournament field.
A trip to Iowa State on November 8 could be treacherous, and Stanford would love to get the upset when the two teams square off in Brooklyn on December 21.
Coming off an appearance in the national championship game, John Beilein has elevated Michigan back into the discussion of college basketball’s elite teams. It’s good to see he’s not afraid to schedule appropriately.
It could be a rocky start for the Jayhawks because of their incredibly difficult schedule and the transition of so many new players into the lineup, but it’s clear Bill Self is setting this team up for postseason success.
The Jayhawks will face five potential Sweet 16 teams in Duke, New Mexico, Florida, Georgetown and San Diego State. Add a road trip to Colorado and the Battle 4 Atlantis, where Kansas could face Tennessee, Villanova or Iowa, and it’s arguably the toughest non-conference schedule in the country.
For an inexperienced roster, it’s a great move by Bill Self to put his players in difficult environments early in the season to help them adjust to their new roles and get used to the pressure.
There will also be plenty of opportunities for Andrew Wiggins to announce his arrival to the college basketball world.
San Diego State head coach Steve Fisher deserves credit for making the most of the Aztecs' opportunity to play some tough opponents before the MWC season.
The Aztecs will travel to Kansas to take on the Jayhawks in one of the toughest venues in sports, and they’ll also host Arizona in what should be a very intriguing game.
Games against Arizona and Kansas give San Diego State two final four-type opponents and two teams that will likely be ranked in the Top 10 at the time of the game.
San Diego State is also playing in the Wooden Classic, where it will be in the field with Creighton and Arizona State, two other teams likely to reach the NCAA tournament. The Aztecs are doing their part to get rid of the reputation that Mountain West teams build their records by scheduling easy wins.
At first glance, it doesn’t look like Tennessee has a particularly demanding schedule. Don’t be misled.
The Volunteers are part of the Battle 4 Atlantis field, which also includes Iowa, UTEP, Xavier and Kansas. If Cuonzo Martin can guide his team to the championship game of this early season tournament, Tennessee will likely face the Jayhawks.
The Vols also have road trips scheduled to Xavier and Wichita State, two very difficult places to win. Throw in a game against a Virginia team, who could be a sleeper to win the ACC championship, and Tennessee will have its hands full in the nonconference portion of its schedule.
Many are picking the Vols to be one of the best teams in the SEC this year. How they perform early in the season will give a good indication of their readiness to become relevant in the conference again.
Florida plays UConn, Kansas and Memphis over a three-week stretch in December, and there’s a chance none of those games will even be the toughest nonconference contest on Florida’s schedule.
A trip to the Kohl Center to take on the Wisconsin Badgers on November 12 also looms on the schedule for the Gators. The Kohl Center is always one of the most hostile environments in America and the Badgers play extremely well at home.
Billy Donovan also scheduled some interesting games that could replicate a second round NCAA tournament opponent for his team, with games against Middle Tennessee and Richmond.
While some elite teams rarely schedule tough nonconference games on the road, the Gators deserve credit for taking trips to UConn and Wisconsin.
Colorado’s weak nonconference scheduling cost the team a spot in the NCAA tournament two years ago, but the Buffaloes shouldn’t have any trouble with that based on this year’s schedule.
Colorado will face Baylor in Dallas, Oklahoma State in Las Vegas, and also host Kansas and Harvard in Boulder.
The Buffaloes will also have tricky road games against Colorado State and Air Force.
The Buffaloes may struggle against these top teams, but it’s a great step for them to show they are willing to accept the challenge of playing tougher programs. And the NCAA selection committee will likely take note of it later in the season.
Arizona has been mentioned as an opponent for many of the other teams on this list, so it makes sense for the Wildcats to also have a spot in the discussion.
Sean Miller has a team with the potential to reach the final four this season, and he’ll get an opportunity to see what his club needs to work on to reach that goal by facing Michigan in Ann Arbor and a potential matchup against Duke in Madison Square Garden.
The possibility of Aaron Gordon of Arizona and Jabari Parker of Duke squaring off against each other in New York City could be the best one-on-one battle between two freshmen this season.
The Wildcats will also have the challenging task of playing against San Diego State in Viejas Arena, where the fans will be crazy over the opportunity to knock off the highly ranked Wildcats.
What other teams have difficult nonconference schedules? Share your thoughts in the comments section.