While the only big-name opponent coming to Connecticut to face the UConn men’s basketball team in the non-conference this season is Oklahoma State, Dan Hurley still was able to put together a solid non-conference schedule, more so than in previous seasons.
Excluding the 2020-21 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2022-23 slate is Hurley’s fourth schedule that he has put together as UConn’s head coach. The Huskies will always play strong opponents in the annual exempt event in which they play, which in this case is the Phil Knight Invitational, guaranteeing a game against Oregon, a top-100 KenPom team, in addition to one of Alabama and Michigan State, both NCAA Tournament squads a year ago.
Hurley’s crew will also face one of Iowa State, North Carolina, Portland and Villanova in its final game. Portland was the only one of those four to not make the NCAA Tournament, while North Carolina and Villanova both made the Final Four.
Including the average of potential opponents for each game in the Phil Knight Invitational, but not transitioning Division I member Stonehill, the average KenPom ranking of these teams at the end of the previous season is 135, which is 25 spots higher than the 2019-20 schedule, a slate that featured two extra games due to the American Athletic Conference’s 18-game conference schedule. Last year’s docket featured an average ranking of 194.
Last year’s performance is certainly not the best measure of current-season opponent strength, but this demonstrates that Hurley is trying to play a more compelling schedule.
The 2021-22 season featured a mix of the bottom 75 teams in Division I at home and elite competition either at a neutral site or on the road. The best team the Huskies played at home was LIU, which finished No. 235 in KenPom. Aside from Binghamton, which was at No. 290, the remaining four home dates featured sub-300 opponents. Meanwhile, the road and neutral portion was comprised entirely of top-100 competition.
While most of the big games this year will again come as part of Big East play, the team’s strength of schedule metrics should be better, which may help come seeding for the NCAA Tournament.
While the non-Oklahoma State home games are not going to feature any heavyweight bouts, it should not feature many anchors to strength of schedule. While Stonehill will write its first Division I chapter against the Huskies, the only other sub-250 team on the schedule is Delaware State. Hurley has made an attempt to face HBCUs over the past couple of years, facing off against three last year, and elevating these types of programs is a valuable use of a schedule spot, particularly if the remaining games are used wisely, which they seem to have been this year.
Buffalo and UNC Wilmington were both inside the top 150 last season and Boston University has been a frequent regional foe in recent years with respectable results. These come in conjunction with a true road game against Florida and a potential trio of top-100 competition games at the Phil Knight Invitational.
UConn should still come away, at worst, 6-1 from its home non-conference games, but facing teams like Buffalo and UNC Wilmington, rather than Binghamton and CCSU, should better prepare the team for Big East play and could set it up for future success.