By Jeff Griffith (@Jeff_Griffith21)
(Ed. Note: This story is part of CoBL’s “Prepping for Preps” series, which will take a look at many of the top high school programs in the region as part of our 2022-23 season preview coverage. The complete list of schools previewed thus far can be found here.)
With college hoops season just more than a month away and non-conference schedules locked in across the city’s men’s and women’s Division I programs, the 2022-23 season is starting to zoom into focus.
Highlighted by early-season tournaments and a slew of high-profile road games, here’s our ranking of City Six men’s non-conference slates:
2021-22 Finish: (24-9, 15-4 Big East, NCAA Tournament Round of 32)
2021-22 Final NET Ranking: 70
Average Final NET of 2022-23 Non-Conference Opponents: 127
Villanova and head coach Denise Dillon, above, have a strong slate of non-conference games coming off an NCAA appearance in 2021-22. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Between a quartet of road games to open the season, a neutral site matchup with a fellow 2022 NCAA Tournament side, and a strong field at the Wildcats’ early-season tournament, Villanova’s non-conference schedule tops the city’s charts.
Villanova won’t play a single home game until Dec. 2 — seven games deep into its season.
Two of the Wildcats’ first four road games are against Philadelphia opponents, but a visit to Princeton, which reached the second round of the 2022 tourney, serves as an early test. The two met in last year’s season opener, with the Tigers winning by 17.
The Wildcats will face more than their fair share of challenges at the Gulf Coast Showcase in Naples, Florida. They’ll open against Belmont, which also won its first NCAA Tournament game last season; follow-up opponents have the potential to feature Baylor, Michigan, South Florida and Georgia Tech, all of which reached last year’s big dance.
Dec. 18 serves as the last of many major non-conference tests for Villanova, when the ‘Cats face off with Iowa State in Uncasville, Connecticut, as part of the Invesco QQQ Basketball Hall of Fame Women’s Showcase. The Cyclones earned a No. 3 seed and a trip to the Sweet 16 in the 2022 NCAA Tournament.
2021-22 Finish: (13-15, 8-8 American)
2021-22 Final NET Ranking: 118
Average Final NET of 2022-23 Non-Conference Opponents: 139
Temple, Penn and Saint Joseph’s all have comparable non-conference schedules in terms of NET ranking, but the Owls’ takes the cake on the basis of its upper-echelon opponents.
Two matchups in particular stick out on Temple’s schedule. The first, Princeton, will play host to the Owls in the season’s opener, Nov. 7. The Tigers, who, as previously mentioned, were an NCAA Tournament team in 2021-22, ranked No. 20 in last year’s final NET.
Just five spots behind Princeton in said NET rankings sat Temple’s final non-conference opponent, Ole Miss, whom the Owls will host Dec. 21. The Rebels went 23-9 a year ago and earned an NCAA Tournament No. 7 seed.
Other eye-catching matchups include a back-to-back pair of Big East opponents; Temple will host Georgetown on Nov. 12, before traveling to Queens to face St. John’s on Nov. 16.
2021-22 Finish: (12-14, 7-7 Ivy)
2021-22 Final NET Ranking: 167
Average Final NET of 2022-23 Non-Conference Opponents: 136
The Quakers’ women’s and men’s schedules have a very similar strength in terms of difficulty — plenty of road games.
For the Penn women, six of their first seven contests of the season are true road games. Of those six, two are against 2021-22’s NET Top 100: Northwestern and USC.
Penn’s matchup with USC serves as part of a two-game road trip out west just prior to Thanksgiving weekend. The Quakers will pay a visit to San Francisco, which went 17-16 last season, before traveling south to face off with the Trojans.
4. Saint Joseph’s
2021-22 Finish: (13-17, 7-8 Atlantic 10)
2021-22 Final NET Ranking: 159
Average Final NET of 2022-23 Non-Conference Opponents: 131
While Saint Joseph’s average ranking of opponents is slightly above that of Temple and Penn, its schedule lacks the same quantity of high-powered matchups and true road games. That said, the Hawks will be plenty challenged in their 2022-23 non-conference.
The two main highlights of St. Joe’s non-conference schedule are a pair of road games — one slated for Nov. 20 at Vanderbilt and the other slated for Dec. 10 at Villanova. The Commodores went just under .500 in 2021-22, but finished among the NET Top 75. The Hawks also have true road games scheduled against North Florida and Rider.
St. Joe’s non-conference schedule wraps up just before Christmas with the Hawk Classic, an early-season tournament hosted at Hagan Arena. The field includes Wright State — the Hawks’ first opponent — Eastern Michigan and James Madison.
5. La Salle
2021-22 Finish: (16-12, 9-6 Atlantic 10)
2021-22 Final NET Ranking: 147
Average Final NET of 2022-23 Non-Conference Opponents: 185
La Salle will be challenged right off of the bat when it plays three consecutive true road games. The Explorers, in the span of six days, will visit Howard, Sacred Heart and Niagara before their November 15 home opener against Drexel.
La Salle won’t spend much time at home, though, with a quick turnaround to Alaska for the Great Alaska Shootout. The opponents scheduled for the event — Pepperdine, followed by either UC Riverside or Alaska Anchorage — aren’t necessarily headliners, but a trip to Alaska is no small task even so.
The Explorers have just four home games out of the 14 total on their non-conference schedule. Right after their return from Alaska, they’ll make the two-hour drive to visit Lafayette for a Nov. 22 contest.
After a Dec. 5 road game at Temple, La Salle’s toughest opponents await at the tail end of the non-conference season; the Explorers will go on the road to play a pair of 2022 NCAA Tournament teams, South Florida (Dec. 17) and Villanova (Dec. 21).
2021-22 Finish: (28-6, 16-2 Colonial, WNIT Quarterfinals)
2021-22 Final NET Ranking: 89
Average Final NET of 2022-23 Non-Conference Opponents: 209
Like La Salle, Drexel plays plenty of its non-conference games on the road. The Dragons don’t play quite as many games away from home — six out of 11 — but five of those are all in a row, with four of those five being out of state.
After four straight games in Pennsylvania — three at home and one at La Salle — to start the season, Drexel goes on its five-game road stand, starting with Buffalo, which finished NET No. 64 and reached the NCAA Tournament a year ago.
Drexel will also face Longwood, St. Joe’s, Yale and Dartmouth away from home before returning to the Daskalakis Athletic Center for its final two non-conference games.
The Dragons’ only Power 5 opponent, Penn State, comes to Philadelphia Dec. 18. The Nittany Lions went 11-18 in 2021-22.