Top fast-starting contenders

Indiana should get to league play undefeated; Pitt positioned to rebound

Updated: October 8, 2012, 12:34 PM ET
By John Gasaway | Basketball Prospectus
Tom CreanAP Photo/Michael ConroyWhat will Tom Crean have to say if the Hoosiers reach Big Ten play without a loss?

When it comes to scheduling, there is no "right" way to do it, particularly if you're a major-conference coach. Some programs like to stay home and load up on the easy opponents; others like to test their team early by going on the road and playing the toughest opponents available. Mid-major programs have to fret about crafting a schedule that will boost their RPI, but the major-conference powers (and "high-mid-majors" such as UNLV -- see below) have the luxury of using the schedule simply to develop their team the way they see fit.

Today I want to look at which of the nation's (likely) top teams for 2012-13 have created schedules that give them a good shot at getting off to a fast start in November and December. Then on Tuesday, I'll analyze the other side of that coin and consider which contenders have positioned themselves for a very tough early season.

One thing to note when we talk about "easy" nonconference schedules: A top team's likelihood of running the table is not necessarily the same thing as its statistical strength of schedule. Obviously a team facing several opponents that might end up near the bottom of the RPI runs the danger of having a "low" nonconference SOS. (I'm looking at you, Missouri.) But whether you're playing an opponent that's ranked No. 225 or No. 325, you're still very likely to win. The larger question, of course, is how many good teams do you play, and where do you play them?

So with that in mind, and based on what we think we know today, here are the top teams I think will generate the "They're on a roll!" buzz early in the 2012-13 season:


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