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2015-16 College Basketball Non-Conference Schedules: The A 10, Mountain West, And WCC

Once you start looking outside of the Power 6, a team’s at-large odds typically decrease significantly. Naturally, exceptions to this assumption exist, and more often than not, the Atlantic 10, Mountain West, and West Coast conferences have multiple teams in contention for one of the 36 open spots come March. In this post, I’ll look at the non-conference schedules of 15 possible contenders from this trio of leagues.

Bob Donnan-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

Atlantic 10

Rhode Island Rams (107)

Cancun Challenge: TCU (139), Maryland (40)/Illinois State (83)
Providence (39), Iona (81), Valparaiso (90), @Nebraska (104), Cleveland State (114)*, @Old Dominion (133), American (169), Houston (176), Rider (179)*, Holy Cross (209), @Brown (229)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 130.92
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 22nd

Last season, the Rams continued their improvement under Dan Hurley, falling to eventual champion Stanford in the NIT's Round of 16. This year, they're a hot pick to finish near the top of the conference and reach the NCAAs. This schedule will help get them there, not only because of a possible showdown with Top 5 Maryland in Cancun, but due to some sneaky good scheduling.

Contests against Providence, Iona, Valparaiso, and Old Dominion are all good pickups, considering those four squads should put up strong RPI numbers and the three mid-majors will all likely contend for their conference crowns. A trip to Nebraska might have upside too, if the Cornhuskers improve on last year's struggles. Plus, Hurley avoided the bottom third of Division I, limiting games that might act like an anchor on Rhody's hopes.

VCU Rams (17)

2K Classic Benefitting Wounded Warrior Project: Duke (3), Wisconsin (2)/Georgetown (19)
Cincinnati (22), Florida State (74) (Atlanta), @Middle Tennessee (86), Buffalo (88), @Georgia Tech (106), Old Dominion (133), American (169), North Florida (202), Radford (257)*, Liberty (315), Prairie View A&M (323)*

Average opponent four-year ranking: 138.23
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 30th

Shaka Smart may have moved to Texas, but new VCU coach Will Wade will keep HAVOC going. And, other than the bottom three games on this slate, the Rams will definitely be tested, starting with their journey to Manhattan for the 2K Classic during the season's second weekend, where the defending National Champions and either their runners-up or a potent Georgetown team will await in NCAA Tournament-style conditions. The home schedule—anchored by visits from Cincinnati and former CAA rival Old Dominion—deserves praise, as does the rare double road trip to Atlanta to face ACC squads Florida State and Georgia Tech.

This is the type of scheduling that will keep the Rams relevant after a coaching change and prepare them for the grind of the Atlantic 10 season.

George Washington Colonials (76)

Barclays Center Classic: Tennessee (50), Cincinnati (22)/Nebraska (104)
Virginia (4), Seton Hall (91), Penn State (101), Rutgers (163), @DePaul (164), @UCF (192), Lafayette (194), @USF (203), Gardner-Webb (223)*, Army West Point (241)*, Saint Peter's (246)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 145.69
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 37th

Other than a home game against Virginia, a possible Barclays Center Classic final matchup against American co-favorite Cincinnati, and perhaps a visit from Seton Hall, Mike Lonergan stocked up against power conference strugglers when building the Colonials' 2015-16 schedule. That could mean trouble if GW finds itself near the bubble in March. Barring a win over the Cavaliers and Bearcats, the missing "WOW" factor might send the Colonials to the NIT for a second straight season, particularly if they flirt with mediocrity in the conference again.

Dayton Flyers (42)

Advocare Invitational: Iowa (23), Notre Dame (27)/Monmouth (258), Wichita State (9)/Xavier (33)/Alabama (64)/USC (145)
Arkansas (48), @Vanderbilt (66), Alabama (64)*, William & Mary (171), North Florida (202), Miami U (215), Southeast Missouri (234), Chattanooga (243), Furman (330)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 166.58
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 70th

The Flyers' Thanksgiving Day matchup with fellow 2015 NCAA squad Iowa will go a long way to determining the ultimate strength of this schedule. Win it, and games against Notre Dame and either Wichita State or rival Xavier will follow at the Advocare Invitational at Walt Disney World. With a loss, contests against Monmouth and one of Alabama (possibly for the second time in two weeks) or USC will follow.

The first option would be preferable considering Vanderbilt is the only likely at-large contender on the remainder of the slate.

Davidson Wildcats (62)

@North Carolina (13), Pittsburgh (34) (New York)*, @California (75), Mercer (134), @Charlotte (146), Morehead State (184)*, UCF (192), Eastern Washington (205)*, College of Charleston (216), Western Carolina (245)*
Denison

Average opponent four-year ranking: 167.64
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 71st

The Wildcats shocked most observers by winning the Atlantic 10 regular season title in their first attempt, considering most picked them to finish near the bottom after their step up from the Southern Conference. Bob McKillop's team is likely to contend for another league crown, but this schedule might make an at-large case a bit harder to make. Outside of the three games against strong power conference foes—with the Gotham Classic showcase against Pittsburgh the most likely win—there don't appear to be many games that will provide a boost to Davidson's computer numbers.

Richmond Spiders (70)

Las Vegas Invitational: West Virginia (51), California (75)/San Diego State (18)
@Florida (14), Northern Iowa (41), @Wake Forest (126), Old Dominion (133), @Texas Tech (147), James Madison (225), Stetson (322)*, Bethune-Cookman (331)*, Longwood (338), Presbyterian (339)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 173.75
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 82nd

While the Spiders face a quartet of Division I's worst (with two of those teams assigned as part of the Las Vegas Invitational), the rest of their schedule has some promise. Of course, some of that is predicated on their potential opponents answering some questions: Will Florida be improved in Mike White's first season? What about Wake Forest in Danny Manning's second? Will Northern Iowa be a national contender after Seth Tuttle's graduation? Is ODU again a threat in Conference USA? Who are the real contenders in the Las Vegas Invitational field?

If some of those inquiries are answered in the affirmative, Chris Mooney has a slate that will hold up well should Richmond do its part this season.

Mountain West

New Mexico Lobos (57)

Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic: Auburn (140), BYU (37)/Harvard (56), Oklahoma (20)/Northern Iowa (41)/Hawai `i (143)/Washington State (155)
Northern Iowa (41)*, @Purdue (60), New Mexico State (73), @New Mexico State (73), @USC (145), Oral Roberts (178), Loyola-Chicago (191), Texas Southern (208), Rice (273), Nicholls State (320)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 136.92

Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 28th

Moving to the Mountain West, the Lobos, who uncharacteristically stumbled to a losing record last time around, have a schedule that might just get them right back into the NCAA hunt. Besides a trip to Honolulu for a challenging Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic, a visit to Purdue and home game against Northern Iowa look like the main highlights. But the annual home-and-home with archrival New Mexico State, trip to USC, and visit from Loyola-Chicago might all be nice profile boosts in the end.

Once again, a team's quarterfinal in an exempt event will go a long way to determining a slate's actual value. In the case of New Mexico, defeating Auburn—not a sure thing by any means—would more than likely set up a semifinal against BYU, more of an NCAA threat than a shorthanded Harvard team that isn't the overwhelming Ivy favorite for the first time in a few seasons. Win that and a final against a strong Oklahoma squad on Christmas night would cap proceedings.

On a trio of days with little to no other action, such a path would get Craig Neal's squad right back in the national conversation.

Boise State Broncos (55)

Directv Wooden Legacy: UC Irvine (109), Michigan State (10)/Boston College (122), Arizona (1)/Providence (39)/Evansville (135)/Santa Clara (159)
@Arizona (1)*, Oregon (28), @Montana (150), @Portland (158), UC Davis (207), Loyola Marymount (222), Bradley (239), Northern Arizona (262), Concordia (Oregon), Willamette

Average opponent four-year ranking: 171.15
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 76th

Leon Rice has built the Broncos into 2016's presumptive Mountain West favorite, but Boise State has a slate that might put them in First Four range should they fail to claim the conference's auto bid.

Now this isn't necessarily the Broncos' fault, as the strength of non-Pac-12 Western basketball is at an ebb. So, outside of a trip to Arizona and visit from Oregon, there aren't many quality win opportunities in a regionally-focused schedule. The Directv Wooden Legacy provides some hope, however, particularly if BSU gets past Big West favorite UC Irvine on Thanksgiving in Fullerton.

UNLV Runnin' Rebels (68)

Maui Jim Maui Invitational: UCLA (25), Kansas (5)/Chaminade, Indiana (30)/Vanderbilt (66)/Wake Forest (126)/St. John's (58)
@Arizona (1), @Wichita State (9), Oregon (28) (MGM Grand Garden), Arizona State (72), Cal Poly (149)*, South Dakota (247), @UC Riverside (278), Southern Utah (327), Prairie View A&M (323), New Mexico Highlands

Average opponent four-year ranking: 179.69

Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 88th

The Runnin' Rebels haven't made the NCAA Tournament since 2013, but they have the schedule to potentially get back there, even if they fall into the Maui Jim Maui Invitational consolation bracket. That scenario, which I've projected, would likely result in games against host Chaminade and ACC second-division squad Wake Forest. But trips to Arizona and Wichita State and visits from Oregon, Arizona State, and likely Big West contender Cal Poly would provide enough of a boost to make up for a less than ideal Hawaiian slate. Of course, being able to win some of those games would help Dave Rice's squad and job prospects just a bit more.

San Diego State Aztecs (18)

Las Vegas Invitational: California (75), West Virginia (51)/Richmond (70)
Kansas (5), @Utah (54), Illinois State (83), @Long Beach State (120), San Diego (129) (Petco Park), East Carolina (201)*, Little Rock (228)*, Grand Canyon (307), Nicholls State (320), Biola, San Diego Christian

Average opponent four-year ranking: 184
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 90th

The Aztecs have become the Mountain West's top program, and they'll have a possible quartet of marquee games on their slate—provided they and West Virginia win their respective Las Vegas Invitational semis on Thanksgiving weekend. Combine those four matchups with potential quality win opportunities against Illinois State and the barnstormers of modern college basketball, Long Beach State, and you have a schedule that's half admirable and half regrettable, especially since two non-Division I opponents are on the slate, with Biola being almost as much of a mystery team as the St. Katherine squad SDSU defeated by 83 two seasons ago.

Colorado State Rams (71)

Corpus Christi Coastal Challenge: Portland (158), UTEP (98)/Southern Illinois (198)
@Northern Iowa (41), Kansas State (43) (Wichita), @Colorado (67), Long Beach State (120), USC Upstate (173), Oakland (174)*, Loyola Marymount (222), @Northern Colorado (259), Abilene Christian (350)*
Arkansas-Fort Smith, Regis

Average opponent four-year ranking: 192.69
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 95th

The Rams were snubbed on Selection Sunday last season, and if Larry Eustachy's team finds itself in a similar bubble predicament this march, this schedule probably won't result in a changed outcome. A road trip to Northern Iowa is only likely quality win chance available for Colorado State, barring improvement out of Kansas State and Colorado. A weak Corpus Christi Coastal Challenge slate won't provide much help either, even if the Rams win the trophy.

Fresno State Bulldogs (138)

@Arizona (1), @Oregon (28), San Francisco (115)*, Evansville (135), Pepperdine (162), @Cal Poly (149), Pacific (190), Cal State Bakersfield (253), @Rice (273)*, Delaware State (292)*, Lamar (300)*, Master's College, Pacific Union

Average opponent four-year ranking: 207.54
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 107th

The Bulldogs have been tabbed as a potential Mountain West sleeper this season, but they might have to rack up quality wins during conference play to earn an at-large bid. Victories at Arizona and Oregon are possible, if unlikely season-changers, and home games with Evansville and Pepperdine and a trip to Cal Poly might not move the needle enough for the Selection Committee.

Utah State Aggies (116)

@Duke (3), @BYU (37), North Dakota State (105)*, UC Irvine (109), @Weber State (183), @Missouri State (200), Utah Valley (295), Idaho State (309)*, UTRGV (334)*, Adams State, Union (Tennessee)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 215.91

Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 109th

Stew Morrill retired after last season, so new coach Tim Dureya will attempt to lead the Aggies back to the NCAA Tournament. Once again, Mountain West wins might be vital for Utah State's hopes, as other than a longshot win chance at Duke (maybe all the Blue Devil starters get sick pregame?), an in-state showdown with BYU, and visits from UC Irvine and North Dakota State, there aren't many profile-builders on this slate.

West Coast Conference

Gonzaga Bulldogs (6)

Battle 4 Atlantis: Washington (94), Texas (29)/Texas A&M (85), Michigan (26)/Connecticut (32)/Syracuse (21)/Charlotte (146)
Arizona (1), UCLA (25), Pittsburgh (34) (Okinawa), Tennessee (50) (Seattle), @SMU (65), Montana (150), @Washington State (155), Mount St. Mary's (211)*, Northern Arizona (262), St. Martin's

Average opponent four-year ranking: 115.54
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 6th

Morrill's alma mater, a two seed in 2015, has a schedule that should help get them at least that high in 2016. Not only does Gonzaga go to the Bahamas for a loaded Battle 4 Atlantis, but two of the Pac-12's best, Arizona and UCLA, make the trip to Spokane. Plus, the Bulldogs open the season with a tricky Pitt team in the Armed Forces Classic and travel to SMU for a game that still counts even if the Mustangs will sit the NCAAs out.

Interestingly, trip to the Metroplex fills the Zags' traditional late-season non-conference slot for which SMU's AAC rivals Memphis provided the opposition in many recent seasons.

BYU Cougars (37)

Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic: Harvard (56), New Mexico (57)/Auburn (140), Oklahoma (20)/Northern Iowa (41)/Hawai `i (143)/Washington State (155)
@Utah (54), @Colorado (67), Belmont (95), Utah State (116), @Long Beach State (120), Weber State (183) (Salt Lake City), Central Michigan (197), Utah Valley (295), Mississippi Valley State (348), Adams State

Average opponent four-year ranking: 161.38
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 61st

If the Cougars want to avoid the First Four in 2016, they might just have to beat Gonzaga and pick up some wins at the Diamond Head Classic. Otherwise, there might not be enough at-large-level opposition—other than a trip to archrival Utah—to stand out amongst the bubble crowd. Still, games against Belmont, Utah State, Long Beach State (at the Walter Pyramid), and Central Michigan might combine to give BYU's computer numbers a nice boost that will keep them in the picture.

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