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2015-16 College Basketball Non-Conference Schedules: MVC And A Few Other Mids

There are other mid-major at-large contenders outside of the Atlantic 10, Mountain West, and WCC, with the Missouri Valley leading the way—thanks to 2015 NCAA teams Wichita State and Northern Iowa and two teams that won minor postseason tourneys last season, Loyola-Chicago and Evansville. In the final post of this series, I’ll not only look at the schedules of five Valley contenders but also those of 10 other squads who might have a case on Selection Sunday, though in most of these cases, many things will have to break right.

Kirby Lee-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

Missouri Valley

Northern Iowa Panthers (41)

Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic: Hawai `i (143), Oklahoma (20)/Washington State (155), BYU (37)/New Mexico (57)/Harvard (56)/Auburn (140)
North Carolina (13), Iowa State (15) (Des Moines), Stephen F. Austin (49), @New Mexico (57)*, @Richmond (70), Colorado State (71), @George Mason (156), North Texas (240), @North Dakota (291), Dubuque

Average opponent four-year ranking: 121.69
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 15th

While Ben Jacobson no longer has Seth Tuttle on his roster, his Panthers should still contend in the Valley and for an at-large bid. The latter will definitely be a possibility thanks to a non-conference schedule with very little filler. Not only does UNI play in the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic, but they get Top 5 North Carolina in Cedar Falls and Big 12 title threat Iowa State on a neutral floor in Des Moines. If that wasn't enough, two-time defending Southland champ Stephen F. Austin and Colorado State also visit McLeod, while road trips to New Mexico and Richmond are definite tests.

Northern Iowa will get plenty of opportunities to stay in the national spotlight at a time when mid-majors don't necessarily get them.

Wichita State Shockers (9)

Advocare Invitational: USC (145), Xavier (33)/Alabama (64), Notre Dame (27)/Iowa (23)/Dayton (42)/Monmouth (258)
Utah (54), UNLV (68), New Mexico State (73), @Tulsa (84), @Seton Hall (91), @Saint Louis (111), Nevada (189), Charleston Southern (204), Emporia State

Average opponent four-year ranking: 123.25

Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 16th

The Shockers have certainly gained a lot of national respect—and fear—-as this strong, but slightly underwhelming slate reflects the fact that most power conference squads won't touch them if a trip to Kansas is part of the contract. The Pac-12's Utah and Seton Hall from the Big East are the rare exceptions, though the Utes are a far more likely NCAA team than the Pirates.

And that's why early season tournaments are such a valuable part of college basketball scheduling. Wichita State's regular participation in these tournaments, particularly ESPN-run ones, gives Gregg Marshall's teams many more quality win chances. If the Shockers get past USC in their opener in the Advocare Invitational, they're likely to get two more games against teams that joined them in last season's NCAA field—with a potential Sweet 16 rematch against Notre Dame a championship possibility.

Overall, this schedule should be strong enough to get Wichita State a decent seed, particularly if teams like Seton Hall, UNLV, and Tulsa play to their potential.

Loyola-Chicago Ramblers (191)

Great Alaska Shootout: San Diego (129), Toledo (118)/San Jose State (336), Middle Tennessee (86)/Drexel (168)/UNC Asheville (219)/Alaska Anchorage
@Notre Dame (27), Creighton (31), @New Mexico (57), Cleveland State (114), Toledo (118)*, Southern Illinois (198), UTSA (252), UIC (264), Western Illinois (283), Eureka

Average opponent four-year ranking: 159.77
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 57th

My new neighbors enter this season looking to build on the College Basketball Invitational crown they claimed last spring. However, this schedule will give them limited opportunities to grab the marquee non-conference win they'll likely need to grab a surprise at-large. Those chances both come on the road, barring a renaissance in Creighton's fortunes, as the Ramblers visit both Notre Dame and New Mexico. Loyola's exempt event, the Great Alaska Shootout, doesn't feature a single NCAA contender, but the possibility of two games against MAC contender Toledo might just help Loyola's computer numbers a bit.

Illinois State Redbirds (83)

Cancun Challenge: Maryland (40), Rhode Island (107)/TCU (139)
@Kentucky (8), @San Diego State (18), @Saint Joseph's (92), South Dakota State (100)*, Murray State (102), UAB (132), Morehead State (184), @UIC (264), Tennessee State (290), Houston Baptist (332)*
Quincy

Average opponent four-year ranking: 161.62
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 63rd

Dan Muller's Redbirds nearly made the Valley a three-bid league in 2015, as they pressed Northern Iowa for much of the Arch Madness final a week before Selection Sunday. Illinois State could find itself in a similar position this March, and at least three, and possibly four, games could just propel them into the at-large picture. Of course, it would be an earth-shattering development if the Redbirds returned from road trips to Kentucky and San Diego State with wins, and the same goes for a the possibility of a Cancun Challenge semifinal win over Big Ten favorite Maryland (talk about a weird phrase to type). However, a home game against UAB also has potential, while visits from South Dakota State, Murray State, and a trip to Saint Joseph's should also keep Illinois State's computer numbers in a favorable range.

Evansville Aces (135)

Directv Wooden Legacy: Providence (39), Arizona (1)/Santa Clara (159), Michigan State (10)/Boise State (55)/UC Irvine (109)/Boston College (122)
@Arkansas (48), Belmont (95), @Murray State (102), @Fresno State (138), Norfolk State (217), Southeast Missouri (234), Alabama State (308), Alabama A&M (337), Mississippi Valley State (348), Marian

Average opponent four-year ranking: 194.92
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 97th

The Aces, 2015 CollegeInsider.com Tournament champs, might need to upset Providence Friars on Thanksgiving Day in the Directv Wooden Invitational to build an at-large case, as such a result would probably give them opportunities against Arizona Wildcats and either Michigan State Spartans or Boise State Broncos over the rest of the holiday weekend. While Evansville has some decent opposition lined up, none are real at-large threats (even 2015 NCAA qualifier Arkansas). Plus, three SWAC opponents might collectively act as an anchor on the Aces' computer numbers.

Big West

Long Beach State 49ers (120)

Charleston Classic: Seton Hall (91), Virginia (4)/Bradley (239), Oklahoma State (24)/Ole Miss (52)/George Mason (156)/Towson (212)
@Arizona (1), @Duke (3), San Diego State (18), @Oklahoma State (24)*, @UCLA (25), @Oregon (28), BYU (37), @Colorado State (71), New Mexico State (73), @Pepperdine (162), BYU Hawaii, Tampa

Average opponent four-year ranking: 115.2
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 5th

Given the 49ers last played in the NCAA Tournament in 2012 and failed to post a winning record in each of their last two campaigns, at-large consideration isn't a given. However, a non-conference schedule that features a laundry list of top-quality names gives Long Beach State far more opportunities than any other mid-major is likely to see. And that's with a pair of Division II opponents on the schedule.

UC Irvine Anteaters (109)

Directv Wooden Legacy: Boise State (55), Michigan State (10)/Boston College (122), Arizona (1)/Providence (39)/Evansville (135)/Santa Clara (159)
Sun Bowl Invitational: Sam Houston State (152), UTEP (98)/Norfolk State (217)
@Kansas (5), @Oregon (28), @Saint Mary's (47), New Mexico State (73), @Utah State (116), Santa Clara (159)*, @Pacific (190), @UCF (192), Loyola Marymount (222), Chapman, UC San Diego

Average opponent four-year ranking: 149.63

Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 46th

Last March, the Anteaters gave Louisville all they could handle in their first-ever NCAA game. And with 7'6'' Mamadou Ndiaye occupying the post and a solid backcourt, Irvine will be the favorite to represent the Big West again. Road trips to Kansas, Oregon, and Saint Mary's, and a strong Directv Wooden Legacy field will also give UCI chances at grabbing a marquee non-conference win or two to push them into the at-large picture just in case they can't grab three wins in Anaheim on Selection Weekend.

Cal Poly Mustangs (149)

Maui Jim Maui Invitational on the Mainland: Austin Peay (311), Northern Colorado (259)/UMBC (341)
@UCLA (25)*, @Saint Mary's (47), @UNLV (68)*, @Texas A&M (85), Fresno State (138), @USC (145), IPFW (188), @Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (261), @UTSA (252), Antelope Valley, Cal State Monterey Bay

Average opponent four-year ranking: 198.38

Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 102nd

While the Maui Jim Maui Invitational Mainland bracket games won't help the Mustangs' case at all, they drew road games at UCLA and UNLV as part of the event—a pair of early season upset chances for the squad that might be UC Irvine's biggest threat for the Big West title. Road trips to SEC at-large contender Texas A&M, Saint Mary's, USC, and a home game against Mountain West sleeper Fresno State might also equal quality win chances as Cal Poly moves through its early season slate.

Hawai `i Rainbow Warriors (143)

Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic: Northern Iowa (41), Oklahoma (20)/Washington State (155), BYU (37)/New Mexico (57)/Harvard (56)/Auburn (140)
@Texas Tech (147), Nevada (189)*, Coastal Carolina (195)*, Howard (317), Montana State (319)*, Nicholls State (320), UAPB (326), Mississippi Valley State (348), Hawaii Pacific

Average opponent four-year ranking: 234.42
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 115th

The Rainbow Warriors, competitive in their short Big West tenure, even though they've yet to represent the league in the NCAAs, will almost assuredly need to finally take advantage of their home environment during the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic to have a chance at stealing an at-large. There are too many games against the dregs of the Division I pool to overcome a poor performance in that event.

Conference USA

Old Dominion Monarchs (133)

Hall of Fame Tip-Off: Purdue (60), Florida (14)/Saint Joseph's (92)
@VCU (17), @Richmond (70), @Georgia State (80), Buffalo (88)*, Rhode Island (107), @William & Mary (171), Norfolk State (217), Niagara (249)*, Morgan State (289), Delaware State (292), UMES (305)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 156.69

Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 54th

The Monarchs looked to be on their way to a surprise at-large in 2015, until the rugged Conference USA schedule caught up with them late, with a quarterfinal loss to Middle Tennessee serving as the final nail in ODU's coffin. A visit from Rhode Island, a pair of excursions up to Richmond to face the Spiders and VCU, and a Hall of Fame Tip-Off semifinal with Purdue will help Jeff Jones's squad build a similar profile this time around.

As for getting through the league schedule without picking up any bad losses, that's a different story.

UAB Blazers (132)

Emerald Coast Classic: Illinois (53), Iowa State (15)/Virginia Tech (170)
Stephen F. Austin (49), Georgia State (80), @Illinois State (83), @Auburn (140), USC Upstate (173), @USF (203), Seattle (254), @Troy (284), Jacksonville State (294)*, Alabama State (308)*
Hiwassee

Average opponent four-year ranking: 191.62

Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 94th

Jerod Hasse's Blazers shocked the country last March by dumping three seed Iowa State out of the NCAAs in the Round of 64—a game that turned out to be Fred Hoiberg's final one in Ames. The two may be reunited in the Emerald Coast Classic final in the Florida Panhandle on Thanksgiving weekend, if UAB can topple Illinois in the event's semifinals. That's a big ask, but the Blazers might need to grab a win over the Fighting Illini to have an at-large chance in March. Games with Stephen F Austin, Illinois State, and maybe even defending Sun Belt tourney champ Georgia State should help UAB's chances, as would some improvement from Auburn, but the rest of the non-conference slate will only weigh the Blazers down.

Horizon

Valparaiso Crusaders (90)

@Oregon (28), Iona (81)*, Belmont (95), @Belmont (95), @Oregon State (103)*, @Rhode Island (107), @Indiana State (125), IPFW (188), Missouri State (200), @Ball State (286), @Chicago State (325), Indiana Kokomo*, Trinity Christian*

Average opponent four-year ranking: 187.15
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 91st

If you combine this non-conference schedule with the typical quality of the Horizon League, the Crusaders might just be able to knick an at-large should they fail to win the conference's automatic bid in Detroit in March. Road games against Oregon, Oregon State, and Rhode Island combined with a visit from Iona (a team that would build a schedule just like this) and home-and-home series with OVC Tournament champion Belmont might give Valpo a strong computer profile come March. Their chances can only improve if they actually manage to win some of these ambitious matchups.

Metro Atlantic

Iona Gaels (81)

@Tulsa (84), Akron (89) (Las Vegas), @Valparaiso (90)*, @Oregon State (103)*, @Rhode Island (107), UC Santa Barbara (121) (Las Vegas), Drexel (168), Delaware (172), Texas Southern (208), Fairfield (244), @Marist (272)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 150.73

Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 48th

The Gaels remained in the at-large picture until the end last season and grabbed a bid back in 2012 by playing schedules resembling this one. Tim Cluess attempts to limit his team's encounters with low-quality opposition, while adding games against teams that won't necessarily be world beaters, but will remain in the RPI Top 150. This particular slate, featuring road games with Valparaiso, Oregon State (both part of the Beavers' exempt tournament), Rhode Island, and Tulsa, along with a pair of neutral-site games in Las Vegas against Akron and UC Santa Barbara, might end up being Cluess's masterpiece. There's a pretty good chance it will keep Iona's computer numbers in bid range all the way up until the day of reckoning.

Mid-American

Akron Zips (89)

@Villanova (12)*, @Arkansas (48)*, @Green Bay (79)*, Iona (81) (Las Vegas), Cleveland State (114) (Kent), UC Santa Barbara (121) (Las Vegas), Charleston Southern (204)*, @Marshall (231), Lipscomb (287), Coppin State (321), Bethune-Cookman (331), South Carolina State (349)
Hiram

Average opponent four-year ranking: 198.31

Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 101st

The Zips had a bit of a down season in 2014-15, but still managed to win 21 games, due in no small part to an unexpected run to the MAC semifinals. They'll likely be a threat for the conference title again, and this non-conference slate gives them a sliver of hope for an at-large. That's due in no small part to their games in Las Vegas against Iona and UCSB, and a decent draw in their four NIT Season Tip-Off games, though they have to play Villanova, Arkansas, and Green Bay away from Rhodes Arena. On the flip side, a trio of games against mid-table MEAC teams might hurt.

Central Michigan Chippewas (197)

Gulf Coast Showcase: Weber State (183), Drake (199)/Western Kentucky (161), Pepperdine (162)/Milwaukee (206)/Murray State (102)/Duquesne (185)
@BYU (37), @William & Mary (171), Texas Southern (208), Jacksonville State (294), McNeese State (302), @Grand Canyon (307), Howard (317), Alma, Aquinas, Lourdes

Average opponent four-year ranking: 257.08

Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 116th

The Chippewas will enter the 2015-16 season favored to repeat as regular season MAC champions. With that in mind, it's disappointing that this schedule isn't a bit more ambitious. Central Michigan will be favored to win its exempt event, the Gulf Coast Showcase, but none of their opponents is likely to count as a quality win at the end of the season. Indeed, only a road trip to BYU holds that potential for Keno Davis' squad. Three games against non-Division I opposition also loom as missed opportunities.

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