The schedule has been released! The schedule has been released! Tentatively! No times have been attached to games yet, but it's not like you had anything important to do on November 10th anyway, so you may as well clear your day in anticipation.
With one big exception, next year's schedule will remind you of last year's schedule. Duke, Northwestern, CSU Bakersfield, George Washington . . . Cal is completing the back half of a few home and away deals, and filling out the rest of the schedule with a few major conference teams and a few lower conference teams. Pretty much what you'd expect after last year.
Now that's a doozy. UConn just won the national title, and they are returning the bulk of the talent that earned them that title. The Huskies are set up to potentially make a run at an undefeated season. Yikes.
Combine that with a game against Duke, and Cal may have the toughest pair of non-conference games in the country. Duke was a top 5 team all of last year before their best player went down with a season-ending injury, and they still managed to make it to the Elite Eight anyway. She'll be back along with just about everybody else, plus another absurdly talented recruiting class. It's perhaps probable that UConn and Duke will start the season ranked 1st and 2nd in the major polls. That's what ESPN is predicting.
After that, no Cal opponent really jumps out at you, but after that, how much star power do you really need?!
As always, here's the standard CGB breakdown of Cal's non-conference schedule based on the likely RPI of Cal's opponents. Cream of the crop games will likely be good for Cal's computer numbers and NCAA resume, win or lose. Solid opponents will help Cal's resume if they win. Victory fodder, like fatty foods, should be limited as much as is reasonable.
Cal's 2013-14 non-conference schedule (Last year's RPI rankings in parenthesis)
Cream of the Crop: UConn (4), Duke (5), @ Georgetown (77), Northwestern (104)
Neither Northwestern nor Georgetown were spectacular teams last year, and Georgetown will be without WNBA draft pick Sugar Rogers. But both are solid mid-majors and thus are reasonably likely to maintain RPIs inside the top 100, and very unlikely to fall outside of, say, the top 150. There's value in beating teams like that, especially on the road.
Solid Opponents: Pacific (47), Wake Forest (164), @ George Washington (154), Idaho (131), Long Beach State (168)
Arguably, I could have placed Pacific into the ‘Cream of the Crop' category, but I think it's extremely unlikely that they repeat last year's unprecedented performance, particularly as they now are in the tougher West Coast Conference. But they could end up being a valuable top 100 win a la St. Mary's in recent years. (On a side note, it's too bad that the Bears aren't playing the Gaels this year, as they were typically a valuable resume win for the Bears.)
Wake Forest and George Washington both have the potential to be valuable wins (Wake Forest because they are in the ACC, George Washington because they have recent history of being an excellent mid-major) but for now they're likely to fall in the category of ‘doesn't hurt, doesn't help.'
It's worth noting that Cal will play either Idaho or Nevada as the 2nd game of a two game pre-season tournament. Idaho was in the NCAA tournament last year, while Nevada finished 7-23, so it's obvious who the preferred opponent is.
Victory Fodder: Lafayette (228), CSU Bakersfield (287), Nevada (294)
If the Bears are lucky, they don't even play Nevada, and as a result have only two games against teams with 200+ RPIs. That's solid.
This is a close to ideal schedule from a computer resume standpoint, and essentially ideal from an entertaining-home-schedule standpoint. My only concern is that Duke and UConn are too good. If Cal managed a split against their two toughest opponents, I would be ecstatic. It's entirely possible that Cal loses both of those games, and then can't record an RPI top 50 win in the non-conference because teams like Northwestern and Georgetown underperform.
But if the Bears are as good as we hope, they will almost certainly enter Pac-12 play with a top 25 RPI and strength of schedule, and they will have been challenged at home and on the road. I'm not about to judge a schedule on its ability to prepare a team for the rest of the season, but as far as I can tell it seems likely to serve in that capacity.
Cal should be favored in every game except against UConn and Duke, so if they hold serve they will be well positioned to enter Pac-12 play in a season that should be a bit more wide-open than last year. With significant roster turnover, that's easier said than done.
The schedule announcement news pushed our post schedule back, but we'll be back next week with our first look at Cal's incoming freshman class. Promise!