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Analyzing The Mountain West's Non-Conference Schedules For 2016-17

The league looks likely to earn just one bid for the second straight season.

Since its establishment in time for the 1999-2000 season, the Mountain West has failed to send multiple teams to the NCAA just twice—its second campaign, when it didn't yet have an automatic bid, and last March. And when you consider that the conference sent five of its then-nine members to the Big Dance in 2013 and three of 11 in 2015, the fall has been a steady one.

Now, scheduling isn't easy for Mountain West members. For starters, power conference teams are reluctant to schedule home-and-home series with its members due to prestige and media rights reasons. Plus, there's a dearth of Division I squads in the Mountain and Pacific Time Zones, as just five of the other 31 conferences in Division I (Big Sky, Big West, Pac-12, WAC, WCC) have a majority of their membership based in those quadrants. Those factors mean that members of a league that was close to power conference consideration a few years ago can't really schedule like one of the nation's elite. And that means things are likely going to get worse before they improve.

For a full explanation of this series' methodology and what these rankings mean (and why certain games appear twice with strikethroughs), check out the intro piece.

Mean Schedule Ranking

Team

Opponent Score

Distance From Average
(1.406)

At-Large Pool Rank
(out of 135)
MW Rank
(out of 11)
New Mexico 1.537 +0.130 38 1
Nevada 1.528 +0.122 41 2
Boise State 1.368 -0.038 75 3
UNLV 1.289 -0.118 91 4
San Diego State 1.283 -0.123 95 5
Fresno State 1.265 -0.142 99 6
Colorado State 1.217 -0.189 105 7
Wyoming 1.184 -0.222 111 8
Utah State 1.138 -0.269 120 9
San José State 1.128 -0.278 122 10
Air Force 0.951 -0.455 135 11
Mountain West average 1.262 -0.144 9 of 9*

* American, A 10, ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, MW, Pac-12, SEC

When accounting for its membership encountering average opposition in bracketed tournaments, the average opponent scores for the Mountain West members rank as the worst among the nine conferences I'm covering separately in this series. Just one team, New Mexico, ranks in the top 40 (though Nevada is close), while Air Force ranks dead last in the standings.

Best-Case (Maximum) Schedule Ranking

Team

Opponent Score

Distance From Average
(1.445)

At-Large Pool Rank
(out of 135)
MW Rank
(out of 11)
Nevada 1.652 +0.208 26 1
New Mexico 1.638 +0.193 31 2
Boise State 1.456 +0.011 65 3
San Diego State 1.326 -0.119 89 4
UNLV 1.303 -0.141 92 5
Fresno State 1.265 -0.180 104 6
Colorado State 1.217 -0.228 108 7
Wyoming 1.216 -0.229 109 8
Utah State 1.160 -0.285 120 9
San José State 1.128 -0.317 127 10
Air Force 0.963 -0.482 134 11
Mountain West average 1.302 -0.143 9 of 9*

* American, A 10, ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, MW, Pac-12, SEC

Two Mountain West members are participating in round-robin events in 2016 (Colorado State and Fresno State), while San José State skips one entirely, so their numbers remain the same in each of the two contingent rankings. Both Nevada and New Mexico would likely see their rankings rise with a trip to the championship game in their respective exempt tournaments, though I think that's a more likely outcome for the Wolf Pack, who have a nice path to the final in a sneaky good Great Alaska Shootout. Boise State would also see a boost, since the Broncos would encounter defending national champ Villanova in a projected Charleston Classic final appearance. Even Air Force would surrender last place to USF with a Savannah Invitational semifinal win over Akron.

Worst-Case (Minimum) Schedule Ranking

Team

Opponent Score

Distance From Average
(1.360)

At-Large Pool Rank
(out of 135)
MW Rank
(out of 11)
New Mexico 1.429 +0.069 46 1
Nevada 1.422 +0.062 48 2
Boise State 1.322 -0.038 74 3
UNLV 1.274 -0.086 86 4
Fresno State 1.265 -0.096 90 5
San Diego State 1.224 -0.136 96 6
Colorado State 1.217 -0.143 99 7
Wyoming 1.152 -0.208 112 8
San José State 1.128 -0.232 118 9
Utah State 1.115 -0.245 122 10
Air Force 0.939 -0.421 135 11
Mountain West average 1.226 -0.134 9 of 9*

* American, A 10, ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, MW, Pac-12, SEC

On the other hand, the picture would not be so rosy for the Mountain West if all of its members struggle in bracketed events. In particular, the bottom halves of the events New Mexico, Nevada, Boise State, and San Diego State are in feature some brutal opposition from a metrics standpoint. Air Force could even stay on the bottom with a loss to Akron in Savannah, as a game with American Athletic struggler East Carolina would probably follow.

True Road And Non-D1 Games

True Road Games
Scheduled
True Road Games
Scheduled Against
Non-Power 6 Teams
Non-Division I Games
Scheduled
35-37
(5 MVC/MW)
24-26
(5 MVC/MW)
14-15


The Mountain West's 11 members will average a little more than three true road games each, which is slightly more than the number the Atlantic 10's 14 members will. A majority of those will actually come against teams from outside the top six conferences in Division I. Five of those 24 to 26 road games (Nevada and SDSU could play true road games as part of their respective exempt tourneys) will be part of the second year of the second iteration of the Missouri Valley-Mountain West Challenge, an event that could have been boosted by some better scheduling choices this time around.

Eight of the conference's 11 squads already have games with non-Division I squads on the schedule (and a poor showing in the Great Alaska Shootout could push Nevada into one with Alaska Anchorage). Six have more than two on their slates! One of those is the first team I'll cover in the individual analyses.

Team Capsules

Air Force

Air Force Falcons

Average Opponent Score 0.951 (avg.); 0.963 (max.); 0.939 (min.)
At-Large Pool Ranking 135th (avg.); 134th (max.); 135th (min.)
MW Ranking 11th (avg.); 11th (max.); 11th (min.)
Exempt Event* Savannah Invitational (two at home, two at Savannah, Ga.)
True Home Games
(9)
Semi-Home Games
(0)
True Neutral-Site Games
(2)
Semi-Away Games
(0)
True Away Games
(2)

Colorado
Denver
UC Davis
Missouri State
(MVC/MW)
Jacksonville
Stetson*
Florida A&M*
McPherson (non-D1)
Johnson & Wales (non-D1)

Akron*
Mercer/
East Carolina*

New Mexico State
Army West Point


Mountain West Connection's Eli Boettger sent his thoughts on Air Force's non-conference slate.

Air Force's non-conference schedule isn't what you would love to see from a team that has an extremely slim but possible shot at a tournament bid. With only one team (Colorado) on the schedule that made the NCAA Tournament last season, there are very few possibilities of resume boosters for the Falcons. Air Force has ranked 303rd or worse in non-conference schedule rank in each of the last three years, and the trend should continue this season. On a positive note, AFA will be able to rack up a number of wins prior to conference play. With an 18-game league schedule back for the Mountain West, the experience Air Force squad must capitalize on a soft schedule.

In this series, I will review a total of 135 teams. In two of my three metric rankings, Air Force ranks dead last. In the other, only the USF Bulls keep them from the bottom. A weak exempt event field and two non-Division I games do the Falcons in, and that might not just keep them out of the NCAAs but the NIT as well.

Boise St

Boise State Broncos

Average Opponent Score 1.368 (avg.); 1.456 (max.); 1.322 (min.)
At-Large Pool Ranking 75th (avg.); 65th (max.); 74th (min.)
MW Ranking 3rd (avg.); 3rd (max.); 3rd (min.)
Exempt Event* Gildan Charleston Classic (three at Charleston, S.C.)
True Home Games
(6)
Semi-Home Games
(0)
True Neutral-Site Games
(2)
Semi-Away Games
(0)
True Away Games
(4)

SMU
Portland
Cal State Northridge
Idaho State
Presbyterian
Northwest University (non-D1)

Mississippi State/
UCF*
Villanova/
Wake Forest/
UTEP/
Western Michigan*

Oregon
Evansville
(MVC/MW)
College of Charleston*
Loyola Marymount


Eli also had a few things to say about Boise State's more difficult slate.

You won't find many teams in the country with non-conference schedules as treacherous as Boise State's. The Broncos—which lost nearly its entire nucleus this spring—are very young and will be challenged with a non-conference slate that calls for over 10,000 miles in total travel. Boise State has stops in South Carolina (Charleston Classic), Oregon, and Indiana (Evansville) as well as a home matchup against SMU. If one thing is for certain, it's that head coach Leon Rice wants to form a camaraderie for his inexperienced team by testing them early and often this season.

Now, the Broncos' bottom four games drag their numbers down a bit. But when you consider the talent Leon Rice lost off a squad that disappointed in not reaching the NCAAs, this slate could indeed put BSU behind the eight ball early.

Colorado St

Colorado State Rams

Average Opponent Score 1.217
At-Large Pool Ranking 105th (avg.); 108th (max.); 99th (min.)
MW Ranking 7th (avg.); 7th (max.); 7th (min.)
Exempt Event* California MTE (four at home)
True Home Games
(9)
Semi-Home Games
(1)
True Neutral-Site Games
(0)
Semi-Away Games
(0)
True Away Games
(3)

Wichita State
(MVC/MW)
New Mexico State
Loyola Marymount
Northern Colorado
UMES*
Southeastern Louisiana*
Alcorn State*
Arkansas-Fort Smith (non-D1)
Fort Lewis
(non-D1)
*

Kansas State
(Denver)

Stanford
Colorado
Long Beach State


I'm not 100% sure on this, but since the Rams have 13 non-conference games scheduled, they must be participating in an exempt event. Based on their opponents, I suspect they're in the Cal-anchored event that also features the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs. However, CSU plays neither, with one of their two D2 opponents filling the fourth game slot that the Golden Bears or Bulldogs should. And that's a shame. Replace one of those D2 games with Cal or La. Tech and this schedule, which already has some high points (Wichita State in Fort Collins and those three tantalizing road games), becomes that much more solid. If the Rams get themselves into contention, they could find themselves in serious trouble from an at-large perspective because of this slate.

Fresno St

Fresno State Bulldogs

Average Opponent Score 1.265
At-Large Pool Ranking 99th (avg.); 104th (max.); 90th (min.)
MW Ranking 6th (avg.); 6th (max.); 5th (min.)
Exempt Event* Oregon State MTE (three games at home, one away)
True Home Games
(6)
Semi-Home Games
(0)
True Neutral-Site Games
(0)
Semi-Away Games
(0)
True Away Games
(6)

Cal Poly
UTSA*
Lamar*
Prairie View A&M*
Menlo (non-D1)
Holy Names
(non-D1)

Oregon
Marquette
Oregon State*
Cal State Bakersfield
Pacific
Drake
(MVC/MW)


The defending Mountain West Tournament champions will likely have to follow that path again, thanks to a November and December that features a half-dozen awful home games and three potentially brutal away trips. On the other hand, if they Bulldogs sweep those games in Corvallis, Eugene, and Milwaukee, they'll earn some national attention. But that's asking for a lot.

Nevada

Nevada Wolf Pack

Average Opponent Score 1.528 (avg.); 1.652 (max.); 1.422 (min.)
At-Large Pool Ranking 41st (avg.); 26th (max.); 48th (min.)
MW Ranking 2nd (avg.); 1st (max.); 2nd (min.)
Exempt Event* GCI Great Alaska Shootout (one at home, three at Anchorage)
True Home Games
(5)
Semi-Home Games
(0)
True Neutral-Site Games
(4-5)
Semi-Away Games
(0)
True Away Games
(3-4)

Iona*
Oregon State
UC Irvine
Pacific
Loyola Marymount

Oakland*
Buffalo/Alaska Anchorage
(non-D1)
*
Iona/
Weber State
UC Davis/
Drake*
UC Santa Barbara
(Las Vegas)
Towson
(Las Vegas)

Saint Mary's
Washington
Bradley
(MVC/MW)
Buffalo/Alaska Anchorage
(non-D1)
*


Brandon Blake from MWCConnection passed along this preview of the CBI Champion Wolf Pack's roster and early-season schedule.

The Nevada Wolf Pack went 24-13 last season and second year head coach Eric Musselman returns four players with starting experience but loses a pair of key contributors in point guard Marqueze Coleman and versatile guard Tyron Criswell. But return four starters in Cameron Oliver, DJ Fenner, Elijah Foster and Lindsey Drew and they bring in transfer players in Marcus Marshall, Leland King and Jordan Caroline.

The mix of returning talent and seasoned transfers will be needed as the Wolf Pack will try to get thru a difficult schedule that includes non-conference games against Washington, Oregon State and Saint Mary's. Also the Wolf Pack's conference schedule early on is tough as they face SDSU and New Mexico in the first two weeks of the season. The Wolf Pack roster I think is capable of navigating through this schedule as it should give Nevada's RPI a big boost as it looks to return to the postseason in March.

I'm very curious to see how Nevada does against this schedule, which features a surprisingly good mix of teams that should provide a boost on the metrics front while serving as potential bubble opposition later in the season. On the other hand, getting Bradley in the MVC/MW Challenge isn't ideal.

New Mexico

New Mexico Lobos

Average Opponent Score 1.537 (avg.); 1.638 (max.); 1.429 (min.)
At-Large Pool Ranking 38th (avg.); 31st (max.); 46th (min.)
MW Ranking 1st (avg.); 2nd (max.); 1st (min.)
Exempt Event* Directv Wooden Legacy (two at Fullerton, Calif., one at Anaheim, Calif.)
True Home Games
(6)
Semi-Home Games
(0)
True Neutral-Site Games
(1-3)
Semi-Away Games
(0-2)
True Away Games
(3)

New Mexico State
UTEP
Idaho State
Houston Baptist
UAPB
Abilene Christian

Virginia Tech*
Texas A&M/
Cal State Northridge*
UCLA/
Dayton/
Nebraska/
Portland*

Texas A&M/
Cal State Northridge*
UCLA/
Dayton/
Nebraska/
Portland*

Arizona
New Mexico State
Illinois State
(MVC/MW)


The strongest schedule in the Mountain West belongs to the Lobos, who have spent two seasons in the NCAA Tournament wilderness. Head coach Craig Neal is under pressure to contend for a bid, along with the conference crown. To get back into the at-large picture, New Mexico must grab wins in Orange County over Thanksgiving weekend (note that the Lobos dropped to the losers' bracket with a quarterfinal loss to Santa Clara in their last appearance in 2011), while putting up decent showings in Tucson and Normal when December rolls around. The home slate won't provide enough heft alone.

SDSU

San Diego State Aztecs

Average Opponent Score 1.283 (avg.); 1.326 (max.); 1.301 (min.)
At-Large Pool Ranking 95th (avg.); 89th (max.); 96th (min.)
MW Ranking 5th (avg.); 4th (max.); 6th (min.)
Exempt Event* Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic (three at Honolulu)
True Home Games
(5)
Semi-Home Games
(0)
True Neutral-Site Games
(2-3)
Semi-Away Games
(1)
True Away Games
(3-4)

Arizona State
San Diego
Alabama State
Savannah State
San Diego Christian
(non-D1)

Southern Mississippi*
Stephen F. Austin/
Tulsa*
Utah/
Illinois State/
Hawai'i/
San Francisco*

California
(Sacramento)

Gonzaga
Utah/
Illinois State/
Hawai'i/
San Francisco*
Loyola of Chicago
(MVC/MW)
Grand Canyon


MWCConnection.com's mightyaztecs provides a quick look at SDSU's schedule.

The Aztecs are feeling the bite of missing the NCAA tournament last year. A weak out of conference record and a poor Mountain West Conference doomed the Aztecs to the NIT. Last year's squad lost three players 6-8 or taller and will look to improve with a brand new frontline. Zylan Cheatham and Malik Pope return and will partner with a mix of redshirt freshman Nolan Narain, graduate transfer Valentine Izundu, and incoming freshman Jalen McDaniels in order to replace the hole left behind by Skylar Spencer and Angelo Chol.

This year the Aztecs will have a few big games that they will need to win in order to ensure another trip to the postseason, Their first opportunity to get a big win will be at Gonzaga, a team that matches the Aztecs perimeter play, while holding an advantage down low. After that the Aztecs will face two Pac-12 teams that while formidable, lack the depth of San Diego State. A neutral game against Cal and a home game versus Arizona State should give the Aztecs two opportunities to get some quality wins. Finally there isn't any reason that Steve Fisher and company shouldn't win the Diamond Head Classic, adding a couple more wins. While the frontcourt will require some imaginative alignments, the Aztecs are deep. This year they should once again make a run to the NCAA tournament.

When I first put this post together a couple of weeks ago, the Aztecs' schedule ranked anywhere from 15-20 spots higher than it currently does. But SDSU added a home game against Savannah State not too long ago, and that sunk the Aztecs' metrics. Still, the top of the schedule gives Steve Fisher's squad plenty of chances to build a profile—particularly if it can get a showdown with Utah in Honolulu on Christmas night. Arizona State taking a step forward and Cal remaining in the NCAA picture would help too.

SJSU

San José State Spartans

Average Opponent Score 1.128
At-Large Pool Ranking 122nd (avg.); 127th (max.); 118th (min.)
MW Ranking 10th (avg.); 10th (max.); 9th (min.)
Exempt Event None
True Home Games
(7)
Semi-Home Games
(0)
True Neutral-Site Games
(0)
Semi-Away Games
(0)
True Away Games
(4)

Denver
Portland
Bowling Green
Santa Clara
Southern Utah
West Coast Baptist (non-D1)
Life Pacific
(non-D1)

Saint Mary's
Montana
Washington State
Idaho


MWCConnection.com's SpartaRises sent me this preview of SJSU's November and December plans.

The San José State men's basketball team will play seven of its 11 non-conference games inside The Event Center during the 2016-17 season. The conference portion of the schedule makes it 16 home contests for the Spartans, the most in over two decades. Coach Dave Wojcik pushed to improve the strength of schedule for the Spartans with away games at St. Mary's (11/22) and at Washington State (11/27) while bringing Santa Clara (12/3) and Bowling Green (12/18) to the Event Center. This will be a great opportunity for the Spartans to elevate their game in preparation for a competitive conference schedule. This will be Wojcik's chance to show what he can do with a team he has recruited and trained over the passed few seasons. With a very young pool of talent, it will be interesting to see if they will continue to build on last year's success and an improvement in their overall record.

The Spartans, the lone Mountain West team skipping an exempt event this season, will look to build on a 9-22 and 4-14 mark in their fourth campaign in the conference. And considering they quadrupled their win total from their first two MW seasons in 2016-17, there's the feeling better days are ahead in San José. With this schedule, a winning non-conference mark and hope for a minor postseason tournament both move into the frame for the Spartans, though true contention is still a ways down the road.

UNLV

UNLV Runnin' Rebels

Average Opponent Score 1.289 (avg.); 1.303 (max.); 1.274 (min.)
At-Large Pool Ranking 91st (avg.); 92nd (max.); 86th (min.)
MW Ranking 4th (avg.); 5th (max.); 4th (min.)
Exempt Event* Global Sports Classic (four at home)
True Home Games
(9)
Semi-Home Games
(1)
True Neutral-Site Games
(0)
Semi-Away Games
(1)
True Away Games
(2)

Kansas
Washington/
Western Kentucky*
TCU*
Southern Illinois
(MVC/MW)
Incarnate Word
UC Riverside
South Alabama
Cal State Fullerton*
Northern Arizona*

Duke
(T-Mobile Arena,
Las Vegas)

Oregon
(Portland)

Arizona State
Southern Utah


These thoughts on UNLV's slate are courtesy MWCConnection's EaNicoleMadrigal.

The UNLV Runnin' Rebels take on their most challenging non-conference schedule in recent memory this season with the most green collection of players in recent memory. Even though they will likely cruise through the first couple of games, their home match-up against UC Riverside should be challenging. They will face another Big West team at the Thomas and Mack a few days later in Cal State Fullerton and that should also be a good test. If their roster can handle the mid-majors, the Rebs at least can give a decent showing to what will prove to be their most difficult line-up of games, highlighted by: at Arizona State, Duke, at Oregon, and Kansas. Look for returners Jaylen Poyser and Dwayne Morgan to have a major impact on the maturity of this fresh bunch. If the Rebs could make any gains for their post-season hopes, they will have to win 2 of those 4 critical match-ups.

Not only does new coach Marvin Menzies get to welcome both Kansas and Duke to Vegas, but the Runnin' Rebels also host the Global Sports Classic, which they last participated in back in 2012 (losing to Oregon and defeating Iowa State). This time, UNLV has a decent shot at grabbing two wins, as they should be able to take care of TCU in the semifinals, with Washington then likely awaiting in the final. That could be a crucial game for the bubble if the Rebels grow up quickly.

Utah St

Utah State Aggies

Average Opponent Score 1.138 (avg.); 1.160 (max.); 1.115 (min.)
At-Large Pool Ranking 120th (avg.); 120th (max.); 122nd (min.)
MW Ranking 9th (avg.); 9th (max.); 10th (min.)
Exempt Event* Cancun Challenge (two at home, two at Cancun, Mexico)
True Home Games
(7)
Semi-Home Games
(0)
True Neutral-Site Games
(3)
Semi-Away Games
(0)
True Away Games
(2)

Indiana State
(MVC/MW)
Weber State
NJIT*
Idaho State*
New Orleans
Bristol (non-D1)
Great Falls (non-D1)

Purdue*
Texas Tech/
Auburn*
BYU
(Salt Lake City)

UC Irvine
Utah Valley


While UNLV will play in a home exempt event, Utah State hits the road for a tournament for the first time since 2008. That trip takes them to Cancun, where the Aggies look to be the fourth-best team in the Riviera Division. Other than those two games and a matchup with in-state rival BYU in Salt Lake City, there's not much on this schedule that will get Tim Duryea's team much national attention.

Wyoming

Wyoming Cowboys

Average Opponent Score 1.184 (avg.); 1.216 (max.); 1.152 (min.)
At-Large Pool Ranking 111th (avg.); 109th (max.); 112th (min.)
MW Ranking 8th (avg.); 8th (max.); 8th (min.)
Exempt Event* Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic (two at home, two at Las Vegas)
True Home Games
(8)
Semi-Home Games
(0)
True Neutral-Site Games
(2)
Semi-Away Games
(0)
True Away Games
(3)

Northern Iowa*
(MVC/MW)
South Dakota State
Montana
Denver
Cornell*
Troy*
Western State
(non-D1)
Colorado Christian
(non-D1)

DePaul*
USC/
Missouri State*

California
Montana
Pacific


After going 14-18, Larry Shyatt retired from the sideline in Laramie, with assistant Allen Edwards promoted to replace him. Edwards will have his work cut out for him, thanks in part to a difficult first schedule that features at least three 2016 NCAA teams—possibly four if the Cowboys meet USC in their second game in Las Vegas—along with a non-conference home-and-home series with Big Sky contender Montana. Expect Wyoming to struggle a bit, but to possibly get enough experience to shock some teams during Mountain West play.

We stay out West for tomorrow's post, which will focus on the Pac-12.

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