Northwestern released its 2013-2014 non-conference basketball schedule today, filling out in the pieces of what we already knew was a very difficult schedule. One note: NU was originally supposed to play at Butler this year as the back end of a home-and-home series, but the Wildcats' trip to Indianapolis was postponed to 2014, presumably because this year's slate already featured so many marquee away games. The full schedule and our analysis are below, as well as the video announcement.
After Northwestern missed the NCAA Tournament in 2012, Bill Carmody noted that the Wildcats had to improve their non-conference schedule, because that ended up being more important in the selection process than he thought. That improvement started last year, with the additions of games against Stanford and Butler — NU will travel to Stanford this year — and it continues this year with the Las Vegas Invitational, which will likely feature games against UCLA and Missouri.
This might be the most loaded schedule the Wildcats have ever played. Stanford, UCLA and Missouri are all expected to at least compete for the NCAA Tournament, while a game at NC State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge won't be easy, either. Additionally, NU will get DePaul at home, and while the Blue Demons figure to be terrible this year, it's still a game against a Big East opponent.
The Wildcats aren't considered an NCAA Tournament team in the preseason, and given the coaching change, that's understandable. However, Chris Collins' team has the talent to be competitive, and if they can steal a couple wins against Stanford, UCLA, Missouri and NC State, they'll be able to put themselves in the conversation for an NCAA bid once the Big Ten season starts.
Ranking the Toughest Games
1. UCLA — This is assuming NU gets UCLA in the Las Vegas Invitational, but as long as Missouri's athletic department isn't completely out of the loop, it looks like the Wildcats will. Despite the coaching change, UCLA has a strong team returning. Jordan Adams, Kyle Anderson and the Wear brothers will be the stars for an experienced group that should be a solid NCAA Tournament team.
2. Stanford — This finally looks like the year that Stanford will make the NCAA Tournament. Stars Dwight Powell, Chasson Randle, Josh Huestis and Aaron Bright all return, and only one senior — little used guard Gabriel Harris — departs. That's the best combination of experience and talent that the Cardinal have had since the Lopez twins. Add in the fact that this game is on the road, and it will be a difficult one for NU.
3. Missouri — Again, this is assuming Missouri knows what it's talking about — we'll let you know when matchups are officially released. The Tigers lose Phil Pressey, Alex Oriakhi and Laurence Bowers, but they will still have some young talent with Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross returning, along with incoming recruits Jonathan Williams III and Wes Clark, who were both in the ESPN Top 100 and could play right away. NU will be out-matched talent-wise, but if they can use their experience to their advantage in an early-seaosn game, they could come out with a win.
4. NC State — Last year was supposed to be the year for NC State, and the Wolfpack underachieved. Now, they must rebuild. C.J. Leslie and Lorenzo Brown left for the NBA, Richard Howell and Scott Wood graduated, and Rodney Purvis transferred. The only major contributor returning from last year will be T.J. Warren. Expect the Wolfpack to still have a decent team, but they don't look like an NCAA Tournament team.
So where does NU fit in there? It's tough to say, but most observers would put them third or fourth in that group. Since none of those games are at home, the Wildcats aren't likely to be favored in any of them. None of these teams are invincible, so NU could potentially win some of them, but the Wildcats will probably need to win two — a tough task — to warrant NCAA Tournament consideration.
Full 2013-2014 Non-Conference Schedule
Nov. 9 — vs. Eastern Illinois
Nov. 14 — at Stanford
Nov. 17 — vs. Illinois State
Nov. 20 — at UIC
Nov. 22 — Las Vegas Invite Home Game (Chattanooga, Gardner-Webb, IUPUI or Morehead State)
Nov. 25 — Las Vegas Invite Home Game (Chattanooga, Gardner-Webb, IUPUI or Morehead State)
Nov. 28 — at Las Vegas Invite (likely vs. UCLA or Missouri)
Nov. 29 — at Las Vegas Invite (likely vs. UCLA or Missouri)
Dec. 4 — at NC State (ACC/Big Ten Challenge)
Dec. 7 — vs. Western Michigan
Dec. 16 — vs. Mississippi Valley State
Dec. 22 — vs. Brown
Dec. 27 — vs. DePaul