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2015-16 College Basketball Non-Conference Schedules: The SEC

The Southeastern Conference’s collective March hopes have improved gradually since the league brought former NCAA Tournament guru Greg Shaheen aboard to consult on basketball-related topics, with scheduling at the forefront. In 2015, the SEC sent five teams to March Madness, a jump of two over the league’s 2013 and 2014 totals. The scheduling improvements Shaheen has suggested haven’t become universal across the conference yet. But there’s enough goodness in these slates for further improvement of the SEC’s March fortunes in 2016.

Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

Teams appear in schedule rank order within the conference. The number in parentheses is the team's four-year pythagorean win percentage ranking out of 351 Division I teams. (Explanation is in the intro to this series.)

Future opponents in bracketed tournaments included in the average opponent four-year ranking are projected by me and bolded. Games scheduled against non-Division I opponents outside of the Maui Jim Maui Invitational (Chaminade) and Great Alaska Shootout (Alaska Anchorage) are assigned a value of 400 when averaged, except for the hosts, who are assigned a 351 value. More info here.

* = game scheduled as part of an exempt tournament

Road games scheduled by SEC squads (excluding the SEC/Big 12 Challenge)
: 26

Road games against non-Power 6 opponents: 14 (Auburn at Xavier, Auburn at Coastal Carolina, Florida at Navy, Ole Miss at Memphis, Ole Miss at Southeast Missouri, Ole Miss at Bradley, Arkansas at Dayton, Alabama at Dayton, Alabama at Southern Mississippi, Missouri at Xavier, Mississippi State at UMKC, LSU at Houston, LSU at College of Charleston)

Kentucky Wildcats (8)

Duke (3) (Chicago), @Kansas (5), Louisville (7), Ohio State (11) (Brooklyn), @UCLA (25), Arizona State (72), Illinois State (83), Eastern Kentucky (124), Albany (142)*, Boston U (177)*, Wright State (180), USF (203)* (Miami), NJIT (255)*

Average opponent four-year ranking: 99
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 1st
SEC rank: 1st

Ho-hum. It's just another well-designed John Calipari schedule that mixes showcase games against national powers and non-RPI busting mid-majors. It's precisely the format that will keep the Wildcats near the bracket's top line—as long as 2015-16 is more like 2014-15 than the season before.

Vanderbilt Commodores (66)

Maui Jim Maui Invitational: St. John's (58), Indiana (30)/Wake Forest (126), Kansas (5)/UCLA (25)/UNLV (68)/Chaminade
@Baylor (16), @Texas (29), Dayton (42), @Purdue (60), Stony Brook (119), Western Michigan (128), Detroit (141), Wofford (153), Gardner-Webb (223), Austin Peay (311)*

Average opponent four-year ranking: 102.69
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 2nd
SEC rank: 2nd

The Commodores finished strong last season, winning 21 games, thanks to an NIT quarterfinal run, with a 9-9 SEC mark. With some new additions, Vanderbilt is the trendy pick to finish behind Kentucky in the SEC race. And this non-conference schedule might just get them in position for a protected seed. While the Maui Jim Maui Invitational, with its possible games against Indiana and Kansas or UCLA following an opener against St. John's, deservedly holds the marquee position, games at Baylor,Texas, and Purdue (coach Kevin Stallings' alma mater) and visits from 2015 NCAA entrants Dayton and Wofford will further test the ‘Dores.

Get through those tilts, and Vanderbilt might just be prepared to duel Kentucky for the league crown.

Auburn Tigers (140)

Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic: New Mexico (57), BYU (37)/Harvard (56), Oklahoma (20)/Northern Iowa (41)/Hawai `i (143)/Washington State (155)
Oklahoma State (24), @Xavier (33), Colorado (67), @Middle Tennessee (86), UAB (132), Mercer (134), Northwestern State (181), @Coastal Carolina (195), Georgia Southern (232)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 112.67
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 3rd
SEC rank: 3rd

Bruce Pearl's Tigers look to be at least a year away from NCAA contention, but if they're a bit early, this schedule could earn them some attention in the Committee room.

But there's a series of ifs involved in that scenarios. First and foremost are the question marks surrounding the teams in the Tigers' half of the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic bracket. Will Harvard be their usual strong selves even without Siyani Chambers on the roster? Is New Mexico ready to return to contention after a rare down year? Can Auburn avoid a consolation bracket trip that's likely to include a game against Washington State, likely the Pac-12's worst team?

As for the stateside portion of the schedule, a Big 12/SEC Challenge matchup against Oklahoma State will be a tough test, as will an early trip to Xavier. But the three opponents just below those two in quality—Colorado, Middle Tennessee, and UAB—likely won't be in the Musketeers' and Cowboys' class.

A road trip to former coach Cliff Ellis' Coastal Carolina is a nice story—and a possible trap, since the Chanticleers have won the Big South Tournament two seasons in a row.

Texas A&M Aggies (85)

Battle 4 Atlantis: Texas (29), Gonzaga (6)/Washington (94), Michigan (26)/Connecticut (32)/Syracuse (21)/Charlotte (146)
Iowa State (15), Baylor (16), Kansas State (43), @Arizona State (72), Cal Poly (149), FGCU (167), USC Upstate (173), UNC Asheville (219), Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (261)*, Southeastern Louisiana (312)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 121.69
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 14th
SEC rank: 4th

An injury to Danuel House torpedoed the Aggies' NCAA chances late in the game in 2015, but he's back, and A&M is too ... with a schedule that is improved over an OK 2014-15 slate.

It's a slate that includes four Big 12 reunions, including a long-awaited one with archrival Texas. That will take place at the Battle 4 Atlantis, and if the Aggies can topple the Longhorns, the doors are opened to potential schedule-boosters against Gonzaga and one of the three likely NCAA contenders in the bracket's other half (sorry Charlotte).

A trip to Arizona State, a squad A&M edged at home last season and possible mid-major contenders Cal Poly, Florida Gulf Coast, and USC Upstate will help keep Billy Kennedy's team's computer numbers in a healthy range.

Florida Gators (14)

Hall of Fame Tip-Off: Saint Joseph's (92), Purdue (60)/Old Dominion (133)
@Michigan State (10), Oklahoma State (24) (Sunrise), @Miami (38), West Virginia (51), Richmond (70), Florida State (74), Vermont (97)*, FGCU (167), @Navy (310), Jacksonville (318), N.C. A&T (329)*

Average opponent four-year ranking: 126.15
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 19th
SEC rank: 5th

Billy Donovan may be coaching the Oklahoma City Thunder now, but he left one last quality schedule for his replacement, former Louisiana Tech coach Mike White. The Gators will open a home-and-home series with Michigan State and wrap one up with Miami. West Virginia visits Gainesville for the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, as does an improved Florida State team, who edged Florida in Tallahassee last December. Plus, if the Gators can get past Saint Joseph's in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off's semifinals, a matchup with 2015 NCAA participant Purdue would await in the final.

In his first season, White will be challenged to get the Gators back to the NCAAs after a year away, but his predecessor sure gave him a path that will help him reach that goal.

Georgia Bulldogs (63)

@Baylor (16), Kansas State (43), Clemson (78), @Seton Hall (91), Murray State (102), Georgia Tech (106), Robert Morris (165), Oakland (174), High Point (196), Winthrop (227), Chattanooga (243)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 131
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 23rd
SEC rank: 6th

The Bulldogs are the lone Power 6 team not participating in an exempt tournament this season, as they withdrew from the Men Who Speak Up Main Event. As a result, Mark Fox's team has a non-conference slate that will make a return trip to the NCAAs a little more difficult.

The fact is there is just one likely NCAA entrant on the Bulldogs' non-league lineup, Baylor. And the two won't meet until the SEC/Big 12 Challenge on January 30th. In other words, Georgia fans need to hope for rebound seasons from Kansas State, Clemson, and Seton Hall to make November and December salvageable.

Ole Miss Rebels (52)

Charleston Classic: George Mason (156), Oklahoma State (24)/Towson (212), Virginia (4)/Seton Hall (91)/Bradley (239)/Long Beach State (120)
@Kansas State (43), @Memphis (45), Louisiana Tech (69), Georgia State (80), UMass (87) (Springfield), Northwestern State (181), Georgia Southern (232), @Southeast Missouri (234), @Bradley (239)*, Troy (284)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 135.77
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 26th
SEC rank: 7th

Like Georgia, the Rebels need to hope for some resurgence from their marquee non-conference opponents—Kansas State (again) and Memphis. Unlike the Bulldogs, Ole Miss can help its own cause by taking care of business in the Charleston Classic. A matchup with Oklahoma State would likely follow a quarterfinal win over A10 struggler George Mason. Win that semifinal and a matchup with Virginia would follow.

Given some of the teams on the lower part of the Rebels' list of opponents, Andy Kennedy's squad might want to plan on a fruitful trip to South Carolina if they want to dance in March.

Arkansas Razorbacks (48)

NIT Season Tip-Off: Georgia Tech (106), Villanova (12)/Stanford (35)
@Dayton (42), Akron (89)*, @Wake Forest (126), Mercer (134) (North Little Rock), Evansville (135), Texas Tech (147), Northwestern State (181), North Florida (202), Charleston Southern (204)*, Southern (242), Tennessee Tech (267)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 145.15
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 36th
SEC rank: 8th

The Razorbacks have a similar schedule to the one that earned them a five seed in 2015, though this time around they'll have to defeat stronger versions of Wake Forest and Dayton on the road. Arkansas will also get an opportunity at amarquee win, as they'll likely meet Villanova in the NIT Season Tip-Off final in Brooklyn if they get past Georgia Tech in the semifinals.

Akron, Mercer, and North Florida are three mid-majors who might both give the Hogs trouble while boosting their computer numbers as the season rolls on.

Alabama Crimson Tide (64)

Advocare Invitational: Xavier (33), Wichita State (9)/USC (145), Notre Dame (27)/Iowa (23)/Dayton (42)/Monmouth (258)
Oregon (28) (Birmingham), @Dayton (42)*, New Mexico (57), @Clemson (78), @Southern Mississippi (137), UL Lafayette (144), Norfolk State (217), Winthrop (227), Jacksonville State (294), Kennesaw State (347)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 154.38
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 53rd
SEC rank: 9th

Avery Johnson's first Alabama schedule is certainly one that will need him to hit the ground running. OK, maybe not for the opener against A-Sun struggler Kennesaw State Owls, but a trip to Dayton for the Tip-Off Marathon follows. Sun Belt favorite UL Lafayette then visits Tuscaloosa a little less than a week before the Tide heads to Walt Disney World for a loaded Advocare Invitational, where the Flyers' old rivals, Xavier, will await in the quarterfinals.

Things quiet down from there, with the exception of a trip to Clemson (or at least the Tigers' temporary Greenville haunt) and a semi-home game with Oregon in Birmingham.

This would be a decent schedule for a team ready to make the NCAA leap, but might be a bit much for a rebuilding job.

Missouri Tigers (96)

CBE Hall of Fame Classic: Kansas State (43), North Carolina (13)/Northwestern (117)
@Arizona (1), @Xavier (33), North Carolina State (36), Illinois (53) (St. Louis), Wofford (153)*, Arkansas State (213), Northern Illinois (237), Omaha (269), Savannah State (298), UMES (305)*, UAPB (326)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 160.31
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 58th
SEC rank: 10th

Kim Anderson's dream job has been a nightmare experience so far, and this season might not improve matters. Not only are there difficult road trips to Arizona and Xavier on the Tigers' slate, but a home date with North Carolina State and a possible matchup against North Carolina in Kansas City (provided Mizzou gets past Kansas State in a semifinal featuring a pair of former Big 12 rivals) are there too. Beyond those games, the traditional Braggin' Rights matchup with Illinois, and a home game with defending SoCon champion Wofford, Missouri likely won't have much to hang its hat on in the off chance it gets near the bubble.

Tennessee Volunteers (50)

Barclays Center Classic: George Washington (76), Cincinnati (22)/Nebraska (104)
Gonzaga (6) (Seattle), @Butler (46), @Georgia Tech (106), @TCU (139), UNC Asheville (219), Gardner-Webb (223)*, Marshall (231), Army West Point (241)*, ETSU (248), FAU (276), Tennessee State (290)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 169.62
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 73rd
SEC rank: 11th

The first Tennessee schedule of the Rick Barnes era is a bit lighter than his last few ones at Texas, but there are still a few bright spots in a slate designed to get a Volunteer team short on experience some wins and confidence before January. Tennessee will likely struggle in the Barclays Center Classic and a trip to Seattle to take on Gonzaga in their annual game there might be a considered a tactical error. And it's unlikely that the Vols will defeat Butler for a second season in a row, since playing the Bulldogs in Hinkle is a whole different proposition than getting them at Thompson-Boling.

Beyond those four contests, Tennessee will just be focusing on building toward a brighter future in an increasingly tough conference.

South Carolina Gamecocks (113)

Paradise Jam: DePaul (164), Florida State (74)/Hofstra (210), Tulsa (84)/Indiana State (125)/Ohio (136)/Norfolk State (217)
Memphis (45), St. John's (58) (Uncasville, Conn.), @Clemson (78), Drexel (168), Oral Roberts (178), USF (203), Norfolk State (217)*, Western Carolina (245), Lipscomb (287), Francis Marion

Average opponent four-year ranking: 172.46
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 80th
SEC rank: 12th

The Gamecocks are yet another SEC team that could make a leap to contention this season. However, unless Memphis, Clemson, and St. John's make a similar jump, South Carolina's non-conference slate might do them more harm than good come March.

A strong run through the Paradise Jam could provide a bit of a bump, particularly if the Gamecocks can defeat DePaul and, far more importantly, Florida State in the first two rounds.

LSU Tigers (59)

FanDuel Legends Classic: Marquette (61), North Carolina State (36)/Arizona State (72)
Oklahoma (20), Wake Forest (126), American (169), @Houston (176), Oral Roberts (178), North Florida (202), @College of Charleston (216), Gardner-Webb (223), South Alabama (270)*, McNeese State (302), Kennesaw State (347)*

Average opponent four-year ranking: 178.92
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 86th
SEC rank: 13th

The Bayou Bengals will be one of the more talked about teams in the country this season. That will be due to the presence of Ben Simmons, one of the most versatile players to enter American college basketball in recent times, and the rest of a highly-touted recruiting class, not this non-conference schedule.

With LSU's best projected non-league game not coming until Oklahoma visits Baton Rouge on January 30th, a possible NCAA Tournament rematch with N.C. State looms as the most interesting game the Tigers will play in November and December. This is precisely the type of schedule that will plant Johnny Jones' team in a 7/10 or 8/9 game ... or worse ... should they again exhibit the maddening inconsistency displayed in recent SEC campaigns.

Mississippi State Bulldogs (193)

Puerto Rico Tip-Off: Miami (38), Utah (54)/Texas Tech (147), Butler (46)/Temple (77)/Minnesota (44)/Missouri State (200)
@Florida State (74), North Carolina Central (112), Eastern Washington (205), Texas Southern (208), Tulane (233), Southern (242), Northern Colorado (259), UT Martin (288), @UMKC (301)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 179.25
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 87th
SEC rank: 14th

Ben Howland is yet another new coach in the SEC this season, and barring some upsets in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, this is yet another schedule that's building toward the future. Honestly, it's probably a good thing the Bulldogs are playing N.C. Central, Eastern Washington, and Texas Southern this season, instead of last.

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