Duke. Pretty big deal, that.
Washington will trek to New York City Dec. 10 to take on the Blue Devils in Madison Square Garden. Just four days prior, the Huskies hoopsters will play Marquette and aptly named coach Buzz Williams in MSG.
Fair or not, those two games will define the non-conference schedule for the Huskies next season. The rest of Washingtons pre-Pac-12 schedule, released Tuesday, leaves a line of whackable moles. You know, three-word schools with a direction or state in the name.
South Dakota State. Cal State Northridge. Houston Baptist; good lord.
The annual release of Washingtons schedule coincides with caterwauling about how lightweight non-conference foes are. This years schedule is standard for Washington, and other power conference schools.
The Huskies inability to push past the Sweet 16 or second round is supposedly tracked back to their non-conference schedule, though evidence is scant that one has anything to do with the other.
Lets use last season as a microcosm. The Final Four participants, plus Washington, are ideal.
Butler made its second consecutive championship game appearance. Its consistent success makes non-conference scheduling a conundrum. The Bulldogs cant drag any power school to their gym, so its off to neutral sites to tangle with the more prestigious haves.
Butler was 9-3 in non-conference play. Three of those games were true road games, four on neutral floors, five at home. The Bulldogs faced four 2011 tournament teams in those 12.
National champion Connecticut went with the most arrogant scheduling road possible. It played 10 non-conference games, seven at home and three on a neutral floor in Maui. Zero true road games. It faced two teams that made the NCAA Tournament. That pansy scheduling didnt affect their tournament play.
The northeast Huskies won the Maui Invitational after Jim Calhoun spent the first media session explaining how terrible his team was — aside from Kemba Walker, whom he labeled pretty good at times.
But Calhoun also offered some prescience that day.
We need to find out who we are, what we are, Calhoun said.
He found an answer to both. A really good team with bad grades that cheated in the past, thus making it one of the most embarrassing national champions ever.
Of the Final Four teams, Kentucky played the the most similar non-conference schedule to Washington.
Caliparis crew played eight home games, three true road games and three neutral games (Maui), to finish 12-2. The Wildcats faced five tournament teams in that stretch.
Then theres Virginia Commonwealth. Its schedule exemplifies the life of a college basketball have-not who will receive nothing from the haves. Too risky for the big wigs.
After finishing 27-9 in 2009-10 — and playing in the RPI-barraging Colonial Athletic Association — the Rams played four road games and three neutral court games during 2010-11 non-conference play. One of those neutral-court games was a tight win over UCLA in MSG, for which the Pac-10 was derided. “Conference is down again” came the screams. May have been true, but losing to VCU was no indicator of such a declaration.
Just five home games countered the plentiful travel by the Rams. VCU finished 9-3.
Washington was 9-3 in 12 non-conference games. Seven were at home, three neutral (Maui) and two on the road. But only one was a legit road game, at Texas A&M. Playing Seattle U at KeyArena barely counts.
That added up to the Huskies losing in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last year. Did non-conference matter then? Or was it the three future NBA players who started for North Carolina?
Surely the Maui environment helped the youngsters learn. That was three days of ferocious basketball, particularly the game against Kentucky.
Playing Marquette in MSG this year will be good for competition. Facing Duke is an exceptional public relations bonus in addition to Washington players facing a top 10 team.
College basketball scheduling is the first major move of the season for any coach. Weighing confidence versus competition is always a challenge. Determining how much your club can take versus what it needs to learn is a hypothetical preseason exercise. The expected level of conference play is another pressing factor.
This schedule is standard for Washington under Lorenzo Romar. Huskies fans shouldnt have a problem with it. Teams evolve so much from November to March that four road games versus two prior to conference play has little influence.
But this schedule can help the Huskies influence the Pac-12s dented rep. Back-to-back wins on national television by Washington would do wonders.
Otherwise, this schedule is rinse and repeat. And thats fine.
Follow Todd on Twitter at @Todd_Dybas