It's fitting that Michigan State will open its season on an aircraft carrier, since the Spartans never shy away from a battle. Tom Izzo's notoriously nasty nonconference schedule is as tough as ever this year, starting with the daunting duo of North Carolina and Duke. And chances are, if you tune into either game, you'll hear plenty of chatter about how these early-season slugfests pay off come March.
Thing is, that's not exactly true.
After talking to coaches from around the country at various levels -- including Izzo, whose program has become the poster child for schedule strength -- and running the stats to match, a couple of things are clear: Despite plenty of squawking to the contrary, a tough nonconference schedule, in and of itself, doesn't make a team battle-tested for the NCAA tourney. And while there are benefits to playing big-time teams early in the season, the virtues vary from program to program and season to season, making scheduling more of an art than a science.