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

The American Athletic Conference begins its third season—a campaign that’s a few months removed from two earned NCAA Tournament bids and a year and a half away from Connecticut’s 2014 National Championship—in search of the respect its spin-off, the new Big East, has earned.

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Non-conference scheduling plays a significant role in NCAA Tournament selection and, therefore, national respect. Some members of the American understand this fully. Others, well, they're still scheduling as if they're in the lower-level conferences in which they formerly held membership. The result is an array of inconsistent scheduling philosophies that leave the American sitting outside of the major conference group many of its members feel it should belong to.

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 AAC squads: 24

Road games against non-Power 6 opponents: 13 (Temple at La Salle (Palestra), Temple at Penn, Tulsa at Missouri State, Cincinnati at Bowling Green, USF at Delaware, UCF at Davidson, UCF at Detroit, UCF at Miami U., UCF at Stetson, Tulane at Southern, Houston at Rhode Island, East Carolina at San Diego State, East Carolina at James Madison)

Temple Owls (77)

Puerto Rico Tip-Off: Minnesota (44), Butler (46)/Missouri State (200), Utah (54)/Miami (38)/Mississippi State (193)/Texas Tech (147)
@Wisconsin (2), Villanova (12), North Carolina (13) (Annapolis), La Salle (82) (Palestra), Saint Joseph's (92), Delaware (172), @Penn (268), Delaware State (292), Fairleigh Dickinson (328)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 115.75
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 8th
AAC rank: 1st

Thanks to regular participation in exempt events and the Philadelphia Big 5, Fran Dunphy's Owls pretty consistently have decent non-conference schedules. last season's NCAA snub could be blamed on the weakness of the bottom of the American, who the Owls played a bit more than they would have preferred (UCF, USF, Tulane, and East Carolina twice combined with a 3-5 mark against the league's bid contenders isn't a formula for selection).

In November, the tests will be immediate—North Carolina on Opening Night in Annapolis, Md., followed by a good Puerto Rico Tip-Off field. If the Owls can get past Minnesota in the quarterfinals, games with Butler and Miami or Utahwould more than likely follow. When Temple returns to the Northeast, things quiet down for most of December, except for a daunting trip to Wisconsin on December 5th.

Of course, thanks to the Big 5 schedule, two of the Owls' non-conference matchups don't come until later in the season, with a February 17th home date with Villanova serving as a potential late difference-maker. Given Temple is projected to be a bit down from last season, the Owls' at-large hopes might be fainter than in 2015, but this schedule will give them opportunities to surprise the experts.

Tulsa Golden Hurricane (84)

Paradise Jam: Ohio (136), Indiana State (125)/Norfolk State (217), Florida State (74)/South Carolina (113)/Hofstra (210)/DePaul (164)
Wichita State (9), @Oklahoma State (24), Iona (81), Oregon State (103) (Portland), Oral Roberts (178), @Missouri State (200), Little Rock (228), Northern Arizona (262), Central Arkansas (342)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 146.83
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 40th
AAC rank: 2nd

Frank Haith's Golden Hurricane ended up being snubbed last Selection Sunday mostly because of a weak non-conference slate highlighted by wins over Auburn, Creighton, and UL Lafayette. This effort is considerably better, thanks to a better middle tier.

At the top, Wichita State and Oklahoma State, two teams that cruised past Tulsa last season are back. Beyond that, Iona and an improving Oregon State squad, who the Golden Hurricane face in a semi-away scenario, should provide more punch than expected. On the flip side, Tulsa sits in the weaker half of the Paradise Jam bracket. That means they have a great path to the final, but might not play an at-large prospect until facing Florida State (more likely) or South Carolina in the championship.

This isn't the type of schedule that will guarantee Tulsa an at-large bid, but it should put them in far better bubble position than they found themselves in a season ago.

SMU Mustangs (65) (ineligble)

Las Vegas Classic: Kent State (127), Colorado (67)/Penn State (101)
Gonzaga (6), Michigan (26), @Stanford (35), Yale (123), @TCU (139), Sam Houston State (152), Brown (229), Hampton (266)*, New Hampshire (277), Nicholls State (320)*

Average opponent four-year ranking: 147.25
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 41st
AAC rank: 3rd

With SMU banned from the postseason, we will never find out if this schedule would improve the Mustangs' seeding fortunes over a 2014-15 slate that had some promise, but was derailed by the Ponies' lack of success against it. Their best wins came against a down Michigan and a Wyoming team that needed to win the Mountain West Tournament to qualify.

This season, the Wolverines are back and so is Gonzaga, though SMU will welcome both to Moody Coliseum this go-round. The two road games this time are Stanford and TCU, with neither likely to be an at-large candidate. The same criticism applies to all three squads Larry Brown's squad could potentially face in December's Las Vegas Classic.

Honestly, were the Mustangs eligible, the best case scenario would be similar bracket position this March, both due to the slate and the relative value of each game within it.

Cincinnati Bearcats (22)

Barclays Center Classic: Nebraska (104), George Washington (76)/Tennessee (50)
Iowa State (15), @VCU (17), @Xavier (33), Butler (46), @Bowling Green (148), Robert Morris (165), Norfolk State (217), Western Carolina (245), Morgan State (289), Southeastern Louisiana (312)*, UAPB (326)*

Average opponent four-year ranking: 151.31
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 49th
AAC rank: 4th

With the Bearcats' exempt event, the Barclays Center Classic, not featuring any real worldbeaters (but a good amount of potential, especially out of potential final opponent George Washington), Mick Cronin did a decent job of picking up some marquee games to make up for the Brooklyn event's shortcomings. Naturally, the Crosstown Showdown game with Xavier is must-see TV, but home games with Big 12 contender Iowa State and Big East bully Butler along with a road trip to VCU should all provide a nice computer number boost.

And that boost might be necessary to get the Bearcats closer to the 5 seed they earned in 2014 than last season's 8, given the quality of the seven lowest-ranked teams on the slate, especially the two Barclays home opponents, who have consistently been among Division I's worst teams over the past four years.

USF Bulls (203)

Kentucky (8) (Miami)*, North Carolina State (36), George Washington (76), @Seton Hall (91), @South Carolina (113), UAB (132), Albany (142)*, @Delaware (172), Boston U (177)*, NJIT (255)*, Troy (284), Savannah State (298), Jacksonville (318)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 161.69
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 64th
AAC rank: 5th

More than likely, Orlando Antigua's Bulls aren't going to be in the NCAA picture this season. But this is the type of schedule that will one day get them back in the bid conversation—the similarities to one Antigua's mentor John Calipari would construct are striking. Not coincidentally, the highlight of USF's November and December is a Hoophall Invitational showcase game against Kentucky on Thanksgiving weekend in Miami. The half-dozen games that follow the contest against the Wildcats on the list all feature teams that will, at worst, contend for a mid-major auto bid. (And you can argue that DelawareBoston U., and NJIT will do the same in their conferences.)

Memphis Tigers (45)

Ohio State (11) (Miami)*, Oklahoma (20), Ole Miss (52), Louisiana Tech (69)*, Manhattan (110), @South Carolina (113), Southern Mississippi (137), UT Arlington (182)*, Southeast Missouri (234), Southern (242), IUPUI (313), Nicholls State (320), Grambling State (351)*

Average opponent four-year ranking: 165.69
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 67th
AAC rank: 6th

2015 saw the Tigers fail to earn an NCAA bid for the first time since 2010, so the pressure is on Josh Pastner, whose teams honestly haven't done much when they have qualified for the Big Dance. The path to an at-large for Memphis is a bit trickier in the American, and Pastner hasn't really adjusted to that reality yet. Yes, there are three power conference opponents on the schedule, but only two—Ohio State and Oklahoma—look like guaranteed quality win opportunities. The two SEC opponents, Ole Miss and South Carolina, might end up joining the Tigers on the bubble.

The rest of the opposition should provide wins and little else, even though Louisiana Tech should again contend in Conference USA, Southern Miss. will likely be among that loop's worst. In other words, if Memphis wants to make its NCAA drought short, it needs to pull some upsets in its marquee games.

Connecticut Huskies (32)

Battle 4 Atlantis, Michigan (26), Syracuse (21)/Charlotte (146), Gonzaga (6)/Texas (29)/Texas A&M (85)/Washington (94)
Ohio State (11), Georgetown (19), @Texas (29), Maryland (40) (New York), New Hampshire (277), Sacred Heart (279), Central Connecticut State (314), Furman (330)*, Maine (335), UMass Lowell (340)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 171.62
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 77th
AAC rank: 7th

UConn is another team whose non-conference slate partially cost it an NCAA bid in 2015. Kevin Ollie's 2015-16 effort is a substantial improvement—thanks to the addition of home-and-home series with Ohio State and Georgetown, the conclusion of one with Texas, and a Jimmy V Classic date with Big Ten favorite Maryland. But the Huskies can further boost their chances with three solid performances at the Battle 4 Atlantis. Defeating Michigan in the quarterfinals is vital, as a reunion with Syracuse is preferable to a consolation bracket matchup with C-USA struggler Charlotte.

A productive trip to the Bahamas and admirable performances (a split perhaps) in UConn's four marquee games should keep the half-dozen awful games on the Huskies' slate out of the Committee's deliberations.

UCF Knights (192)

@Davidson (62), George Washington (76), UMass (87), UC Irvine (109), @Detroit (141), @Miami U (215), UIC (264), FAU (276), UNC Greensboro (304), @Stetson (322), Bethune-Cookman (331)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 198.82
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 103rd
AAC rank: 8th

The Knights are the only AAC team not participating in some sort of exempt event this season, which makes a schedule that already serves as a dividing line between the American teams serious about basketball success and those less so look even weaker. Other than hosting a pair of Atlantic 10 contenders and the defending Big West Tournament champions, this schedule hoists a white flag over UCF's at-large hopes before the first game—on the home court of the best team on the slate, Davidson—even tips off.

Tulane Green Wave (233)

@North Carolina (13), Stephen F. Austin (49)*, Georgia Tech (106), Mercer (134)*, Southern Mississippi (137), @Mississippi State (193), Drake (199), @Southern (242), Appalachian State (303)*, Liberty (315)*, Prairie View A&M (323), New Orleans (333), Alabama A&M (337)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 206.46
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 110th
AAC rank: 9th

Do you know who Tulane's head coach is? Did you even remember that Tulane has a basketball team (if you aren't a fan of an AAC school)?

This is the type of schedule that should give the Green Wave eight wins heading into league play and likely some false hopes about their ability to compete when there. This would continue a pattern encountered in 2011 (a 12-3 start that resulted in a 13-17 record), 2012 (11-2 became 15-16), 2013 (12-3 turned into a 19-14 and a CIT bid), 2014 (8-7 stayed roughly consistent at 17-17 and a CBI bid), and 2015 (13-5 and a 4-2 league start ended with a thud at 15-16).

In other words, the Green Wave might indeed have postseason hopes with this slate, just not for the four-letter tournament that everyone pays attention to.

The answer to question one is Ed Conroy.

Houston Cougars (176)

Global Sports Classic: Grand Canyon (307), Wyoming (99)/Marshall (231)
LSU (59), Murray State (102), @Rhode Island (107), North Carolina Central (112)*, ULM (265), Eastern Illinois (282)*, Nicholls State (320), Prairie View A&M (323), UTRGV (334), Florida A&M (345)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 221.17
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 111th
AAC rank: 10th

The Cougars couldn't even get themselves into an exempt event with a possible at-large team. There's very little attractive about Kelvin Sampson's second Houston schedule other than a home upset opportunity against LSU and trip to Rhode Island.

Look for Houston to rack up double-digit wins before AAC play begins and for that progress to be exposed as a mirage during the final two months of the season.

East Carolina Pirates (201)

Las Vegas Invitational: Little Rock (228), Stetson (322)/Bethune-Cookman (331)
@San Diego State (18)*, @California (75)*, Charlotte (146), USC Upstate (173), College of Charleston (216), @James Madison (225), UNC Wilmington (238), FAU (276), N.C. A&T (329), South Carolina State (349), Grambling State (351)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 226.62
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 113th
AAC rank: 11th

While Houston's exempt tournament is bad, at least they're a host school. The Pirates, further illustrating the differing respect levels the country has for the American's members, have to travel to California and San Diego State as part of the Las Vegas Invitational, before playing two bad teams in that event's lower bracket. With the Golden Bears and Aztecs the only at-large contenders on the Pirates' schedule, Jeff Lebo's team should be yet another carrying many wins into conference play. But it will be another house of cards that will fall once December turns into January and February.

At least ECU cut down on its addiction to games against non-Division I opponents this season. The Pirates will play no such team this year, down from two in 2014-15 and an astounding four in each of the two seasons before.

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