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Analyzing The Pac-12's Non-Conference Schedules For 2016-17

For the conference to again earn seven bids, a few contenders will have to overcome some bad scheduling choices.

More than half of the Pac-12 reached the 2016 NCAA Tournament, and the conference's lean years of 2010 and 2012 look to now be well off in the distance. At least 10 teams will head into this season thinking they can make the field of 68. However, a few of them could have to do some explaining on Selection Sunday night based on the games they lined up for November and December.

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)
Pac-12 Rank
(out of 12)
Stanford 1.803 +0.397 4 1
Arizona State 1.621 +0.215 22 2
Arizona 1.519 +0.113 42 3
Oregon 1.489 +0.083 48 4
UCLA 1.439 +0.033 58 5
Washington 1.406 0 67 6
Colorado 1.390 -0.016 72 7
California 1.305 -0.101 86 8
USC 1.290 -0.116 90 9
Oregon State 1.187 -0.219 108 10
Utah 1.092 -0.314 130 11
Washington State 1.054 -0.352 131 12
Pac-12 Average 1.383 -0.023 5 of 9*

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

Stanford's schedule—with the second highest average opponent score among the Power 6 conferences—is the only Pac-12 slate in the national top 20. When I first built this post, Oregon was there as well, but as I'll explain in the Ducks' entry, some late changes sunk the league favorite's standing. Arizona State's 22nd-ranked slate might be a bit too much for the Sun Devils handle, while Arizona's should prepare them well for a March run.

Curiously, Washington's score matches the average of the 135 teams I'll cover in this series, while the Pac-12's bottom six teams sit in the second half of the table. Two teams, Utah and Washington State, rank among the bottom half-dozen nationally, something you'd expect out of a rebuilding Cougar squad, but a team with NCAA hopes like the Utes shouldn't be down that far.

Best-Case (Maximum) Schedule Ranking

Team

Opponent Score

Distance From Average
(1.445)

At-Large Pool Rank
(out of 135)
Pac-12 Rank
(out of 12)
Stanford 1.887 +0.443 4 1
Arizona State 1.716 +0.271 17 2
Oregon 1.575 +0.130 42 3
Arizona 1.522 +0.078 50 4
UCLA 1.487 +0.042 59 5
Washington 1.444 -0.001 69 6
Colorado 1.413 -0.032 73 7
California 1.305 -0.139 91 8
USC 1.303 -0.142 93 9
Oregon State 1.187 -0.257 114 10
Washington State 1.127 -0.318 128 11
Utah 1.108 -0.337 131 12
Pac-12 Average 1.423 -0.022 5 of 9*

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

After projecting a run to their respective exempt event championship games, the Cardinal retain their national top five ranking, while the Sun Devils jump into the top 20, thanks to the strength of the two events taking place in the Orlando area in November. The Ducks also see their score rise a bit, thanks to a quality Maui Jim Maui Invitational field. On the other hand the Paradise Jam and Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic fields don't help the Cougars and Utes much, though Wazzu could leave the bottom five with an unexpected run to the final in St. Thomas.

California and Oregon State have round-robin events lined up this fall, so their average opponent score remains the same across all three rankings.

Worst-Case (Minimum) Schedule Ranking

Team

Opponent Score

Distance From Average
(1.360)

At-Large Pool Rank
(out of 135)
Pac-12 Rank
(out of 12)
Stanford 1.663 +0.303 12 1
Arizona State 1.521 +0.161 31 2
Arizona 1.516 +0.156 33 3
UCLA 1.378 +0.018 61 4
Washington 1.368 +0.0082 62 5
Colorado 1.368 +0.0078 63 6
Oregon 1.323 -0.037 73 7
California 1.305 -0.055 78 8
USC 1.277 -0.083 85 9
Oregon State 1.187 -0.173 107 10
Utah 1.035 -0.325 129 11
Washington State 0.986 -0.374 132 12
Pac-12 Average 1.327 -0.030 6 of 9*

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

However, a trip to the AdvoCare Invitational seventh-place game would drop Stanford's average opponent score out of the national top 10, a result that's to be expected with games with Iowa State and Gonzaga being substituted for ones with Indiana State and Quinnipiac. It's a similar story for Arizona State and Oregon, while Arizona's score and ranking rise thanks to the strength of both of their potential second opponents in Las Vegas (Butler or Vanderbilt).

True Road And Non-D1 Games

True Road Games
Scheduled
True Road Games
Scheduled Against
Non-Power 6 Teams
Non-Division I Games
Scheduled
18-20 10-12 7-8


Cal and Washington State are the only Pac-12 members that failed to schedule a true road non-conference tilt this season, while Colorado, Oregon State, and Washington booked three or more. With Oregon's late addition of a game against Western Oregon, half of the conference has a non-Division I game in their lineup, with Utah having two. The Ducks could equal that number with a poor showing in Maui.

It's now time to go team by team.

Team Capsules

Arizona

Arizona Wildcats

Average Opponent Score 1.519 (avg.); 1.522 (max.); 1.516 (min.)
At-Large Pool Ranking 42nd (avg.); 50th (max.); 33rd (min.)
Pac-12 Ranking 3rd (avg.); 4th (max.); 3rd (min.)
Exempt Event* Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational (two at home, two at Las Vegas)
True Home Games
(7)
Semi-Home Games
(0)
True Neutral-Site Games
(4)
Semi-Away Games
(1)
True Away Games
(1)

UC Irvine
New Mexico
Cal State Bakersfield
Texas Southern
Grand Canyon
Northern Colorado*
Sacred Heart*

Santa Clara*
Butler/Vanderbilt*
Michigan State
(Honolulu)
Gonzaga
(Los Angeles)

Texas A&M
(Houston)

Missouri


Even with two awful Las Vegas Invitational home games and a trip to SEC struggler Missouri (closing a poorly-timed, two-year home-and-home series), Sean Miller's squad faces a schedule that's arguably more daunting than last season's. The Wildcats will be tested immediately, thanks to an opening State Farm Armed Forces Classic contest against Michigan State in Hawai'i. Later in the month, Butler or Vanderbilt awaits in Vegas, no matter what happens against former ASU coach Herb Sendek's new charges from Santa Clara, and December brings neutral-site challenges from Gonzaga (a perennial Wildcat opponent of late) and SEC contender Texas A&M.

Arizona can put itself in good position to improve last season's six seed with enough wins and help (particularly from the Cats' opposition on night two of the Las Vegas Invitational).

ASU

Arizona State Sun Devils

Average Opponent Score 1.621 (avg.); 1.716 (max.); 1.521 (min.)
At-Large Pool Ranking 22nd (avg.); 17th (max.); 31st (min.)
Pac-12 Ranking 2nd (avg.); 2nd (max.); 2nd (min.)
Exempt Event* Tire Pros Invitational (three at Lake Buena Vista, Fla.)
True Home Games
(7)
Semi-Home Games
(0)
True Neutral-Site Games
(5)
Semi-Away Games
(0)
True Away Games
(1)

Creighton
New Mexico State
UNLV
Cal Poly
Portland State
The Citadel
Central Arkansas

Northern Iowa*
Oklahoma/Tulane*
Xavier/Clemson/
Davidson/Missouri*
Kentucky
(Paradise Island, Bahamas)
Purdue
(MSG)

San Diego State


House of Sparky's Connor Pelton sent me his thoughts on ASU's 2016-17 non-conference schedule.

Bobby Hurley scheduled aggressively (Texas A&M, at Kentucky, at Creighton, etc.) in his first year with Arizona State, and that approach was continued this season despite having a team that might not improve on its 11th place finish in the Pac-12. The 2017 slate is highlighted by opponents coming via various "Tip-Off's", "Showcases", and "Classics" being held at various locales across the globe, with the best game coming on November 28 against Kentucky in The Bahamas as a part of the Atlantis Showcase. 10 days prior to that trip to paradise, the Sun Devils will open the Puerto Rico Tip-Off (to be played in Orlando due to Zika virus concerns) against a very good Northern Iowa squad and could also face teams like Oklahoma and Xavier in that tournament before leaving the Walt Disney World resort.

An early-December matchup with Purdue awaits Arizona State in New York City for the Jimmy V Classic, starting a four-game stretch which includes three teams (at San Diego State, New Mexico State, and Creighton) coming off NIT bids from a season ago. There are, of course, a couple of RPI-killing opponents that every Pac-12 team must face due to scheduling difficulties. The Citadel and Central Arkansas appear to be the two worst teams on the schedule, but those types of games will serve as a welcome break throughout the ultra-tough non-conference slate that Hurley has pieced together.

Improving upon 2015's 10-3 non-conference record is unlikely, but if the Sun Devils are truly improved, that won't really matter because the results will be more visible once the calendar switches from 2016 to 2017. This is a schedule that should get ASU into the NIT hunt at worst.

Cal

California Golden Bears

Average Opponent Score 1.305
At-Large Pool Ranking 86th (avg.); 91st (max.); 78th (min.)
Pac-12 Ranking 8th (avg.); 8th (max.); 8th (min.)
Exempt Event* California MTE (four at home)
True Home Games
(9)
Semi-Home Games
(1)
True Neutral-Site Games
(2)
Semi-Away Games
(0)
True Away Games
(0)

Virginia
UC Irvine
South Dakota State
Louisiana Tech*
Wyoming
Cal Poly
UC Davis
Southeastern Louisiana*
Alcorn State*

San Diego State
(Sacramento)

Seton Hall
(Honolulu)
Princeton
(Honolulu)


Last season, the Golden Bears traveled to both Charlottesville (an OT loss) and Laramie (an OT win). This time around they'll Virginia and Wyoming will return the favor. The visit from the Cavaliers is the most important game on a Cal schedule that doesn't include a single true road game. A two-game trip to Hawai'i for the Pearl Harbor Invitational sees Cuonzo Martin's squad miss the Rainbow Warrior team that eliminated them from last season's NCAAs. However, with the defending Big West champs ineligible for this postseason, facing Princeton and Seton Hall will be far more helpful for the Bears, as will a showdown in Sacramento with Mountain West favorite SDSU.

Still, the overall home schedule and the lack of a true road game might limit California's ceiling come seeding time.

Colorado

Colorado Buffaloes

Average Opponent Score 1.390 (avg.); 1.413 (max.); 1.368 (min.)
At-Large Pool Ranking 72nd (avg.); 73rd (max.); 63rd (min.)
Pac-12 Ranking 7th (avg.); 7th (max.); 6th (min.)
Exempt Event* Legends Classic (two at home, two at Brooklyn)
True Home Games
(8)
Semi-Home Games
(0)
True Neutral-Site Games
(2)
Semi-Away Games
(0)
True Away Games
(3)

Xavier
Colorado State
Wofford
ULM*
Eastern Washington
Sacramento State
Seattle*
Fort Hays State (non-D1)

Notre Dame*
Texas/
Northwestern*

BYU
Portland
Air Force


Much like Cal welcomes a potential one seed contender to campus this fall, Colorado will do the same when Xavier makes the trip to Boulder on December 7th. That showdown with the Musketeers and a trip to Brooklyn for the Legends Classic are the main highlights of a slate that sees the Buffaloes play an odd trio of true road games. BYU will be a good test as always, but CU will be the best team—by far—that bid sleeper Air Force faces in the early season. Depending on their path through the Wooden Legacy, the same could apply to Portland, and that trip could hurt the Buffs more than help.

Tad Boyle's club should again get itself enough decent victories to put itself into the NCAA hunt heading into conference play, but they're probably going to have to equal or better last year's 10-8 Pac-12 mark to actually get there.

Oregon

Oregon Ducks

Average Opponent Score 1.489 (avg.); 1.575 (max.); 1.323 (min.)
At-Large Pool Ranking 48th (avg.); 42nd (max.); 73rd (min.)
Pac-12 Ranking 4th (avg.); 3rd (max.); 7th (min.)
Exempt Event* Maui Jim Maui Invitational (one at home, three at Lahaina, Hawai'i)
True Home Games
(8)
Semi-Home Games
(1)
True Neutral-Site Games
(2-3)
Semi-Away Games
(0-1)
True Away Games
(1)

Valparaiso
Boise State
Alabama
Fresno State
Montana
Army West Point*
Savannah State
Western Oregon (non-D1)

UNLV
(Portland)

Georgetown*
Wisconsin/
Tennessee*
North Carolina/
Connecticut/
Oklahoma State/
Chaminade
(non-D1)
*

North Carolina/
Connecticut/
Oklahoma State/
Chaminade
(non-D1)*

Baylor


When I first started building these posts, Oregon had built itself a nice 11-game non-conference schedule that ranked among the Pac-12 and nation's best. Then the Ducks decided that quantity, and the prospect of two extra home dates, was better than quality. So, games against Savannah State and Western Oregon made a late appearance and Oregon's average scores and rankings plummeted.

Even with those two awful games included, there's still quite a lot to like on Dana Altman's slate: the Maui Invitational (where Oregon will be expected to reach the final), a visit from Valparaiso (Boise State and Alabama might not be as good as last year, so I'll withhold judgment on them), and a trip to Baylor. Those games and the Pac-12 slate together should keep the Ducks in the hunt for a return to the top line.

Oregon St

Oregon State Beavers

Average Opponent Score 1.187
At-Large Pool Ranking 108th (avg.); 114th (max.); 107th (min.)
Pac-12 Ranking 10th (avg.); 10th (max.); 10th (min.)
Exempt Event* Oregon State MTE (four at home)
True Home Games
(7)
Semi-Home Games
(1)
True Neutral-Site Games
(1)
Semi-Away Games
(0)
True Away Games
(4)

Fresno State*
Kent State
UTSA*
Lamar*
Savannah State
Prairie View A&M*
Southern Oregon (non-D1)

Long Beach State
(Portland)

Portland
(Moda Center, Portland)

Tulsa
Mississippi State
Charlotte
Nevada


Last season, the Beavers reached the field of 68 despite severe criticism of their non-conference schedule. Look for much of the same in February and March of 2017, though three of Oregon State's four road games (2016 NCAA entrant Tulsa, Miss. State, and MW contender Nevada) have potential to turn out better than they appear here. The same goes for the contest with Big West favorite Long Beach State in Portland. As for the rest of the slate, there's not all that much there.

Stanford

Stanford Cardinal

Average Opponent Score 1.803 (avg.); 1.887 (max.); 1.663 (min.)
At-Large Pool Ranking 4th (avg.); 4th (max.); 12th (min.)
Pac-12 Ranking 1st (avg.); 1st (max.); 1st (min.)
Exempt Event* AdvoCare Invitational (three at Lake Buena Vista, Fla.)
True Home Games
(6)
Semi-Home Games
(0)
True Neutral-Site Games
(2-3)
Semi-Away Games
(1-2)
True Away Games
(2)

Saint Mary's
Colorado State
Weber State
Idaho
Cal State Northridge
Cal State East Bay (non-D1)

Iowa State/
Indiana State*
Gonzaga/
Florida/
Seton Hall/
Quinnipiac*
Harvard
(Shanghai, China)

Miami*
Gonzaga/
Florida/
Seton Hall/
Quinnipiac*

Kansas
SMU


Johnny Dawkins has left the Farm, and his replacement, former UAB coach Jerod Haase, has a schedule that at worst should help the Cardinal return to the NIT for the first time since their 2015 title, if not the NCAAs (which Stanford last qualified for in 2014). Not only will the Cardinal have the chance to avenge losses to SMU and Saint Mary's, but they'll also get to visit their coach's alma mater, Kansas.

Opening Night will feature a unique challenge, a game against Ivy contender Harvard in the second-ever Division I game played in China. Not long afterward, Stanford heads to Florida, where a Thanksgiving Day showdown with Miami could set up a productive holiday weekend. And even though the three worst home games drag this schedule down a bit, visits from Saint Mary's, CSU, and Big Sky power Weber State could help in the long run.

UCLA

UCLA Bruins

Average Opponent Score 1.439 (avg.); 1.487 (max.); 1.378 (min.)
At-Large Pool Ranking 58th (avg.); 59th (max.); 61st (min.)
Pac-12 Ranking 5th (avg.); 5th (max.); 4th (min.)
Exempt Event* Directv Wooden Legacy (one at home, two at Fullerton, Calif., one at Anaheim, Calif.)
True Home Games
(8)
Semi-Home Games
(2-3)
True Neutral-Site Games
(1-2)
Semi-Away Games
(0)
True Away Games
(1)

Michigan
UC Santa Barbara
Long Beach State
Western Michigan
San Diego
Pacific
Cal State Northridge*
UC Riverside

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

Texas A&M/
New Mexico/
Virginia Tech/
Cal State Northridge*
Ohio State
(Las Vegas)

Kentucky


In 2015, the Bruins were amazingly inconsistent in their non-conference performance—the same team that stunned Kentucky at Pauley and Gonzaga in Spokane managed to lose its opener to Monmouth and go 1-2 in the Maui Invitational—on their way to recording a 15-17 mark and 6-12 Pac-12 record. Last season did little to boost Steve Alford's standing with UCLA fans, and things could get trickier this time around. Those top three home games are all difficult (yes, even the Big West ones), while the Bruins have to travel to Rupp Arena this time around. Then there's the Wooden Legacy. When UCLA last participated in the tournament's forerunner in Anaheim back in 2009, it went 0-3, and a 14-18 campaign resulted—one that started Ben Howland's slow slide out of Westwood.

Keep an eye on those three games in Fullerton and Anaheim. If there's trouble in Orange County, another frustrating season could be in the offing.

USC

USC Trojans

Average Opponent Score 1.290 (avg.); 1.303 (max.); 1.277 (min.)
At-Large Pool Ranking 90th (avg.); 93rd (max.); 85th (min.)
Pac-12 Ranking 9th (avg.); 9th (max.); 9th (min.)
Exempt Event* Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic (two at home, two at Las Vegas)
True Home Games
(8)
Semi-Home Games
(1)
True Neutral-Site Games
(2)
Semi-Away Games
(0)
True Away Games
(2)

SMU
UC Santa Barbara
Pepperdine
Montana
Omaha
Cornell*
Troy*
New Orleans

BYU
(Staples Center, Los Angeles)

Missouri State*
Wyoming/DePaul*

Texas A&M
San Diego


Last March, Andy Enfield got the Trojans back to the NCAAs for the first time in five years. A return trip might not be in USC's future, however, thanks to some roster attrition. Other than the top two home games, the visit to College Station, and a semi-home game against BYU at Staples, there isn't much on this schedule that will help USC make an early case for itself. That goes for the Trojans' exempt event as well, since their semifinal opponent might be the best team they play in Vegas over Christmas week.

Utah

Utah Utes

Average Opponent Score 1.092 (avg.); 1.108 (max.); 1.035 (min.)
At-Large Pool Ranking 130th (avg.); 131st (max.); 129th (min.)
Pac-12 Ranking 11th (avg.); 12th (max.); 11th (min.)
Exempt Event* Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic (three at Honolulu, Hawai'i)
True Home Games
(8)
Semi-Home Games
(0)
True Neutral-Site Games
(2-3)
Semi-Away Games
(0)
True Away Games
(1-2)

Butler
UC Riverside
Utah Valley
Montana State
Coppin State
Prairie View A&M
Northwest Nazarene
(non-D1)
Concordia (Ore.)
(non-D1)

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

Xavier
Illinois State/
Hawai'i*


Thanks to the lack of a neutral-site game with Duke and the suspension of the BYU series, Larry Krystkowiak's 2016-17 non-conference slate is considerably weaker than last year's version. Other than the Diamond Head Classic and two games against Big East foes, this lineup is amazingly weak. The trip to Xavier looks particularly important given the overall weakness of the eight-game home schedule.

In other words, don't expect this schedule to get the Utes to another three seed.

Washington

Washington Huskies

Average Opponent Score 1.406 (avg.); 1.444 (max.); 1.368 (min.)
At-Large Pool Ranking 67th (avg.); 69th (max.); 62nd (min.)
Pac-12 Ranking 6th (avg.); 6th (max.); 5th (min.)
Exempt Event* Global Sports Classic (two at home, two at Las Vegas)
True Home Games
(7)
Semi-Home Games
(0)
True Neutral-Site Games
(1-2)
Semi-Away Games
(1)
True Away Games
(2-3)

Yale
Long Beach State
Western Michigan
Nevada
Cal Poly
Cal State Fullerton*
Northern Arizona*

Western Kentucky*
UNLV/TCU*

Seattle
(KeyArena)

Gonzaga
UNLV/TCU*
TCU


At the end of January, the Huskies looked to be set to end an NCAA drought that dates back to 2011. Then Washington managed to win just four of its last 11 Pac-12 games, tournament included. Combine that with a soft non-conference schedule and it's no surprise Lorenzo Romar's team ended up in the NIT. Even with the return of the Gonzaga series, this year's slate might not improve the Huskies' prospects. A relatively weak Global Sports Classic field packs little punch, especially if Washington ends up having to play TCU twice, while the four top home games could all trip the Huskies up.

Note that I'm counting the Huskies' game at Seattle as a semi-road game even though it will be played on the Redhawks' home court. While Seattle should be more familiar with the environment than Washington, don't expect them to have the crowd's whole support.

Wazzu

Washington State Cougars

Average Opponent Score 1.054 (avg.); 1.127 (max.); 0.986 (min.)
At-Large Pool Ranking 131st (avg.); 128th (max.); 132nd (min.)
Pac-12 Ranking 12th (avg.); 11th (max.); 12th (min.)
Exempt Event* U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam (three at St. Thomas, V.I.)
True Home Games
(7)
Semi-Home Games
(1)
True Neutral-Site Games
(3)
Semi-Away Games
(1)
True Away Games
(0)

Santa Clara
Idaho
Sacramento State
Utah Valley
Montana State
San José State
New Orleans

Central Washington (non-D1)
(Kennewick, Wash.)

Creighton*
North Carolina State/
Montana*
Ole Miss/
Saint Joseph's/
Loyola of Chicago/
Oral Roberts*

Kansas State
(Kansas City)


With Ernie Kent's Cougars ending last season with 17 straight losses, this schedule is as unimpressive as you'd expect. Making matters worse, Wazzu was paired with one of the stronger entrants in the Paradise Jam—Creighton. So, barring an upset, the Cougs will be headed to the consolation bracket with the prospect of departing the Caribbean with two or three losses. On the other hand, the home games provide plenty of chances for Kent's squad to grab some wins and confidence heading into what could be another Pac-12 meat grinder.

Tomorrow, I'll wrap up my look at individual conferences by turning my attention to the SEC.

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