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Analyzing 24 Key Mid-Major Non-Conference Schedules For 2016-17

Can a few of these teams break the pattern of power-conference bid hoarding?

In the first two seasons of the NCAA Tournament's 68-team era, a total of eight teams from outside of the nine conferences I previewed earlier in this series earned at-large bids—three in 2011 and five in 2012. In the four tourneys since, 23 Division I conferences have only snagged six at-large tickets total. Making matters worse, those half-dozen bids have gone to just three teams: Saint Mary's once, BYU twice, and Wichita State three times, including the Shockers' 2016 First Four appearance.

Despite this trend, I've again selected two dozen mid-major squads that could earn bids if the heavens and earth align properly, which is possible in a season that looks to be top-heavy nationally. Still, this post is probably overkill. (But hey, at least you'll get an early idea of teams to watch during the season's final stages.) Note that I didn't get to every possibility and will likely have missed someone important by the time March rolls around (like, oh, Monmouth last season).

This post features four teams from Conference USA; three from each of the Ivy League, Metro Atlantic, Missouri Valley, Sun Belt, and West Coast; two from the Horizon; and one apiece from the Big West, Mid-American, and Southland.

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)
Group Rank
(out of 24)
Long Beach State 2.233 +0.827 1 1
Northern Iowa 1.899 +0.492 2 2
Siena 1.802 +0.396 5 3
Monmouth 1.767 +0.361 8 4
Princeton 1.688 +0.282 14 5
Old Dominion 1.634 +0.228 19 6
UT Arlington 1.597 +0.191 26 7
UAB 1.594 +0.188 27 8
Gonzaga 1.584 +0.178 30 9
Illinois State 1.582 +0.176 31 10
Yale 1.581 +01.75 33 11
Wichita State 1.550 +0.144 34 12
Middle Tennessee 1.536 +0.130 39 13
Stephen F. Austin 1.437 +0.031 59 14
Iona 1.436 +0.030 60 15
Georgia State 1.400 -0.006 69 16
Harvard 1.399 -0.007 70 17
Valparaiso 1.338 -0.068 78 18
Akron 1.332 -0.074 79 19
UTEP 1.309 -0.097 85 20
Saint Mary's 1.279 -0.127 97 21
BYU 1.194 -0.212 107 22
Oakland 1.144 -0.263 118 23
Little Rock 1.126 -0.280 125 24


The mid-majors profiled here don't quite rank from first to last, but it's pretty close. Note that 15 of the 24 teams in this post have average opponent scores that sit in the top half of the 135 Division I teams I've analyzed, and just three rank worse than 100th.

Best-Case (Maximum) Schedule Ranking

Team

Opponent Score

Distance From Average
(1.445)

At-Large Pool Rank
(out of 135)
Group Rank
(out of 24)
Long Beach State 2.233 +0.789 1 1
Northern Iowa 2.010 +0.566 2 2
Siena 1.802 +0.357 8 3
Monmouth 1.767 +0.322 12 4
Princeton 1.688 +0.243 18 5
Old Dominion 1.678 +0.233 20 6
Illinois State 1.661 +0.216 23 7
Gonzaga 1.643 +0.199 29 8
Wichita State 1.611 +0.167 33 9
UAB 1.5970 +0.1523 36 10
UT Arlington 1.5968 +0.1521 37 11
Yale 1.581 +0.136 40 12
Middle Tennessee 1.536 +0.092 48 13
Stephen F. Austin 1.529 +0.084 49 14
Iona 1.509 +0.064 53 15
Georgia State 1.436 -0.008 71 16
UTEP 1.402 -0.043 75 17
Akron 1.400 -0.0447 76 18
Harvard 1.399 -0.0453 77 19
Valparaiso 1.377 -0.068 80 20
Saint Mary's 1.279 -0.166 99 21
Oakland 1.268 -0.177 102 22
BYU 1.196 -0.248 112 23
Little Rock 1.126 -0.319 129 24


Ten of these 24 teams' schedules are already set. Four (the three Ivies and Saint Mary's) are not in an exempt event, while six are in non-bracketed tournaments. Amazingly, Long Beach State remains first nationally in all three rankings despite having a set schedule.

Worst-Case (Minimum) Schedule Ranking

Team

Opponent Score

Distance From Average
(1.360)

At-Large Pool Rank
(out of 135)
Group Rank
(out of 24)
Long Beach State 2.233 +0.873 1 1
Siena 1.802 +0.442 2 2
Northern Iowa 1.781 +0.420 4 3
Monmouth 1.767 +0.407 6 4
Princeton 1.688 +0.328 9 5
UT Arlington 1.597 +0.237 18 6
UAB 1.590 +0.230 20 7
Yale 1.581 +0.221 22 8
Old Dominion 1.567 +0.207 24 9
Middle Tennessee 1.536 +0.176 27 10
Gonzaga 1.486 +01.26 37 11
Wichita State 1.466 +0.106 39 12
Illinois State 1.461 +0.101 40 13
Harvard 1.399 +0.039 56 14
Georgia State 1.364 +0.004 64 15
Stephen F. Austin 1.329 -0.031 70 16
Iona 1.312 -0.049 77 17
Valparaiso 1.300 -0.060 79 18
Saint Mary's 1.279 -0.081 84 19
Akron 1.263 -0.097 92 20
UTEP 1.216 -0.144 100 21
BYU 1.193 -0.168 106 22
Little Rock 1.126 -0.234 119 23
Oakland 1.037 -0.323 128 24


Siena, whose four CBE Hall of Fame Classic opponents are all locked in, jumps into second place in the event each of the 14 teams in bracketed tournaments fall to those events' lowest consolation game. A potential Tulane-Missouri path for UNI with a Tire Pros Invitational quarterfinal loss to Arizona State would drop the Panthers to fourth overall.

Note that the scores UTEP and Akron will vary more wildly than others. Both will participate in two bracketed events this year.

True Home And Non-D1 Games

True Home Games
Scheduled Against
Power 6 Teams
Non-Division I Games
Scheduled
5 24-26


As you'd expect, these two dozen teams don't exactly have power conference teams knocking down their doors. So, if they want to pull an upset they're going to have to do it away from home, either in a true road or neutral-site situation.

Only six of the 24 schedules here are free of non-Division I games, and that number would drop by one if Iona meets Alaska Anchorage in the Great Alaska Shootout.

I'll start my team capsules by hitting both 'A' and 'Z.'

Team Capsules

Akrom

Akron Zips

Average Opponent Score 1.332 (avg.); 1.400 (max.); 1.263 (min.)
At-Large Pool Ranking 79th (avg.); 77th (max.); 92nd (min.)
Mid-Major Ranking 19th of 24 (avg.); 16th of 24 (max.); 20th of 24 (min.)
Exempt Event* Savannah Invitational (two at home, two at Savannah, Ga.)
True Home Games
(6)
Semi-Home Games
(0)
True Neutral-Site Games
(3-4)
Semi-Away Games
(0)
True Away Games
(3-4)

Marshall
Georgia Southern*
American
Radford*
Coppin State
Adrian (non-D1)

Air Force*
Mercer/
East Carolina*
UC Irvine
(Sun Bowl Tournament,
El Paso)
UTEP/UMES
(Sun Bowl Tournament,
El Paso)

Gonzaga
Creighton
UTEP/UMES
(Sun Bowl Tournament,
El Paso)
Youngstown State


As I mentioned the Zips and UTEP, a team featured later in this post, are participating in two bracketed tournaments this fall, as the two could meet in the championship game of the Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational in late December. Unfortunately, that event and the Savannah Invitational, the exempt event for Keith Dambrot's squad, won't help much in the event the Zips don't win the MAC Tournament and need an at-large. Only a perfect run through this slate, which would include road wins at Gonzaga and Creighton, could make that a possibility.

BYU

BYU Cougars

Average Opponent Score 1.194 (avg.); 1.196 (max.); 1.193 (min.)
At-Large Pool Ranking 107th (avg.); 112th (max.); 106th (min.)
Mid-Major Ranking 22nd of 24 (avg.); 23rd of 24 (max.); 22nd of 24 (min.)
Exempt Event* MGM Grand Main Event (two at home, two at Las Vegas)
True Home Games
(8)
Semi-Home Games
(0)
True Neutral-Site Games
(3)
Semi-Away Games
(2)
True Away Games
(0)

Colorado
Weber State
Cal State Bakersfield
Coastal Carolina*
Utah Valley
Idaho State
Coppin State*
BYU-Hawai'i
(non-D1)

Saint Louis*
Valparaiso/Alabama*
Utah State
(Salt Lake City)

Illinois
(Chicago)
USC
(Staples Center, Los Angeles)


Coming into the season, the Cougars look like the WCC's third-best team, and this schedule might restrict the conference to two bids (or fewer, I haven't gotten to Saint Mary's yet). Dave Rose's team doesn't play a single true road game and the two semi-road opponents are a complete mystery (Illinois) and likely to take a step or two back (USC). While the home schedule features three 2016 NCAA squads, two of those were automatic qualifiers, and they won't make up for the three worst Division I opponents. All in all, the visit from Colorado and the possible Main Event final with Valpo, a rematch of the pair's NIT semifinal, might have an outsized impact on BYU's March hopes. And that's if the Cougars can grab victories over their main WCC rivals.

Georgia St

Georgia State Panthers

Average Opponent Score 1.400 (avg.); 1.436 (max.); 1.364 (min.)
At-Large Pool Ranking 69th (avg.); 71st (max.); 64th (min.)
Mid-Major Ranking 16th of 24 (avg.); 16th of 24 (max.); 15th of 24 (min.)
Exempt Event* Cancun Challenge (two away, two at Cancun, Mexico)
True Home Games
(5)
Semi-Home Games
(0)
True Neutral-Site Games
(2)
Semi-Away Games
(0)
True Away Games
(5)

Massachusetts
Wright State
Alabama A&M
Thomas (non-D1)
Georgia Southwestern
(non-D1)

NJIT*
Eastern Kentucky/
Idaho State*

Purdue*
Middle Tennessee 
Old Dominion
Mississippi State
Auburn*


Back in March of 2015, Ron Hunter and his son R.J. stole America's hearts, as the 14th-seeded Panthers knocked off Baylor in the NCAA Tournament Round of 64. After going 16-14 and finishing below .500 in the Sun Belt last season in the first year without the younger Hunter, Georgia State is poised to make national noise again. And with UT Arlington and Little Rock also set for quality season, the Sun Belt has a chance at earning multiple bids for the first time since 2008.

Of the three contenders, the Panthers have the most difficult path to an at-large, since they'll need to do their work away from home. That's primarily due to their placement in the Riviera, or mid-major, Division of the Cancun Challenge, which gives them road games at Purdue and Auburn, along with a pair of games in Mexico that won't move the needle much. But going three-for-three in their non-Cancun road games could keep Georgia State in the national conversation.

Gonzaga

Gonzaga Bulldogs

Average Opponent Score 1.584 (avg.); 1.643 (max.); 1.486 (min.)
At-Large Pool Ranking 30th (avg.); 29th (max.); 37th (min.)
Mid-Major Ranking 9th of 24 (avg.); 8th of 24 (max.); 11th of 24 (min.)
Exempt Event* AdvoCare Invitational (three at Lake Buena Vista, Fla.)
True Home Games
(7)
Semi-Home Games
(0)
True Neutral-Site Games
(2-4)
Semi-Away Games
(1-3)
True Away Games
(0)

San Diego State
Washington
Akron
South Dakota
Bryant
Utah Valley
Mississippi Valley State

Quinnipiac*
Florida/Seton Hall*
Iowa State/
Miami/
Stanford/
Indiana State*
Arizona
(Los Angeles)

Florida/
Seton Hall*
Iowa State/Miami/
Stanford/
Indiana State*
Tennessee
(Nashville)


Peter Woodburn from SB Nation's fantastic Gonzaga blog The Slipper Still Fits offers his thoughts on the Bulldogs' 2016-17 slate.

Gone are the years where Gonzaga would travel anywhere and everywhere to play all teams in the nation. Still, Mark Few consistently schedules a quality non-conference slate, and this year isn't any different. There are enough great matchups for the Zags, it is hard to pick which game will be the best. The AdvoCare Invitational has some star power, but perhaps the best games of the non-conference slate (from the perspective of the national audience), are at home against San Diego State and in Los Angeles against Arizona. The Zags have struggled in the past against both of those teams, and if they ever want to be considered the best team out west, those are two schools to charge through to claim the throne. Of course, for Washingtonians, the biggest game of the non-conference slate is the renewed rivalry against Markelle Fultz and the Washington Huskies.

If Gonzaga puts on a decent showing on its trips to Florida and L.A. and takes care of business at home against the Aztecs and Huskies at home, they'll be sitting pretty heading into WCC play.

Note that Gonzaga won't play a "Battle in Seattle" game this season, ending a run that began in 2003.

Harvard

Harvard Crimson

Average Opponent Score 1.399
At-Large Pool Ranking 70th (avg.); 77th (max.); 56th (min.)
Mid-Major Ranking 17th of 24 (avg.); 19th of 24 (max.); 14th of 24 (min.)
Exempt Event None
True Home Games
(5)
Semi-Home Games
(0)
True Neutral-Site Games
(1)
Semi-Away Games
(0)
True Away Games
(5)

Northeastern
Fordham
Holy Cross
Howard
McGill (non-D1)

Stanford
(Shanghai, China)

Vermont
Houston
Massachusetts
Boston College
Bryant


This season, the Ivy League broke the heart of purists (like me) by announcing its first-ever conference basketball tournament (at least they decided to play it at the Palestra and to restrict the field to the top four). But from a competitive perspective, the decision makes sense—as it increases the chances of an Ivy team earning an at-large. Unfortunately for the Crimson, who won four straight Ivy crowns until Yale ended their run in 2016, they probably will need to rely on the auto bid this time around, as only Houston and Stanford are likely at-large contenders on this limited slate of 11 games.

Illinois St

Illinois State Redbirds

Average Opponent Score 1.582 (avg.); 1.661 (max.); 1.461 (min.)
At-Large Pool Ranking 31st (avg.); 23rd (max.); 40th (min.)
Mid-Major Ranking 9th of 24 (avg.); 7th of 24 (max.); 13th of 24 (min.)
Exempt Event* Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic (one away, three at Honolulu, Hawai'i)
True Home Games
(6)
Semi-Home Games
(0)
True Neutral-Site Games
(2)
Semi-Away Games
(0)
True Away Games
(4)

Saint Joseph's
New Mexico
(MVC/MW)
Fort Wayne
UT Martin
IUPUI
Ferris State
(non-D1)

Utah/San Francisco*
San Diego State/
Stephen F. Austin/
Tulsa/
Southern Mississippi*

Hawai'i*
Tulsa*
Murray State
TCU


In the Missouri Valley, Wichita State and Northern Iowa have received the most national attention of late, and with good reason. But Dan Muller's Redbirds head into this season well positioned to challenge both. As usual, things will have to break right for Illinois State's to be at-large worthy—Saint Joe's, UNM, and Fort Wayne being decent would get the Redbirds off to a great start on that front. But the trip to Honolulu for the Diamond Head Classic could give Illinois State a significant amount of national attention, especially with the dearth of games over the Christmas holiday. If ISU can beat Hawai'i in a true road game, showdowns with Utah and SDSU might just follow. And those matchups might just be the difference between some bubble breathing room and needing to win Arch Madness a week before Selection Sunday.

Iona

Iona Gaels

Average Opponent Score 1.436 (avg.); 1.509 (max.); 1.312 (min.)
At-Large Pool Ranking 60th (avg.); 53rd (max.); 77th (min.)
Mid-Major Ranking 15th of 24 (avg.); 15th of 24 (max.); 17th of 24 (min.)
Exempt Event* GCI Great Alaska Shootout (one away, three at Anchorage, Alaska)
True Home Games
(2)
Semi-Home Games
(0)
True Neutral-Site Games
(4-5)
Semi-Away Games
(0)
True Away Games
(4-5)

Ohio
NJIT

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

Buffalo/Oakland/
Nevada/

Alaska Anchorage (non-D1)*
Florida State
Nevada*
Delaware
Fairleigh Dickinson


Iona burst Monmouth's bubble by winning the MAAC Tournament final to earn its first NCAA bid since 2012—the season after the Gaels earned a surprise at-large selection with a profile that didn't look worthy at first glance. Road games against FSU and Nevada will be the best chances for Tim Cluess's squad to put themselves on the map, but barring wins in both, this profile looks like it will be a bit too thin.

Little Rock

Little Rock Trojans

Average Opponent Score 1.126
At-Large Pool Ranking 125th (avg.); 129th (max.); 119th (min.)
Mid-Major Ranking 24th of 24 (avg.); 24th of 24 (max.); 23rd of 24 (min.)
Exempt Event* Lone Star Showcase (three at Cedar Park, Texas)
True Home Games
(6)
Semi-Home Games
(0)
True Neutral-Site Games
(3)

Semi-Away Games
(0)

True Away Games
(4)

Tulsa
Idaho
UAPB
Central Arkansas
Central Baptist
(non-D1)
University of the Ozarks (non-D1)

St. Bonaventure*
Pepperdine*
Central Michigan*

Florida
Oral Roberts
Northern Arizona
Central Arkansas


Last season, Chris Beard's squad won 30 games in his first season as a Division I coach, toppling Tulsa and San Diego State on the road before pulling the Sun Belt double and stunning Purdue in the NCAA Tournament. Now he's at Texas Tech and Wes Flanigan has been promoted to the top job just in time for what might be the most competitive Sun Belt basketball season since 2007-08. The Trojans might need to make some noise during their conference slate, as there are some truly awful games among their 13 non-league selections, with Florida and Tulsa the two best at-large bets among the group. The reduction of Little Rock's exempt event from an eight-team bracket to a four-team round-robin wasn't great news, but at least the three opponents that hung around all have decent recent track records.

LBSU

Long Beach State 49ers

Average Opponent Score 2.233
At-Large Pool Ranking 1st (avg.); 1st (max.); 1st (min.)
Mid-Major Ranking 1st of 24 (avg.); 1st of 24 (max.); 1st of 24 (max.)
Exempt Event* Battle 4 Atlantis (two away, two at Fort Myers, Fla.)
True Home Games
(4)
Semi-Home Games
(0)
True Neutral-Site Games
(1)
Semi-Away Games
(1)
True Away Games
(10)

Colorado State
Pepperdine
Cal State L.A. 
(non-D1)
The Master's 
(non-D1)

Binghamton*

Oregon State
(Portland, Ore.)

Kansas
North Carolina
Louisville*
Wichita State*
Texas
UCLA
Washington
New Mexico State
Eastern Michigan
FGCU*


Finally, at almost the midway point of the final entry in this series, we've encountered the top non-conference slate of the 135 I've reviewed. As usual, Dan Monson will run his 49ers ragged during the first two months of the season to prepare them for the Big West campaign, and if they happen to grab a surprise win or three and get into the at-large picture, all the better. Given my scoring system, when you schedule several quality high-major road games, your average score is going to reach well above two, even with two non-D1 teams on the slate.

And yes, you counted correctly. LBSU will play 16 non-conference games and 32 total. That's due to their participation in an exempt event and the addition of an extra game thanks to the NCAA's Hawai'i exemption.

Middle Tenn

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders

Average Opponent Score 1.536
At-Large Pool Ranking 39th (avg.); 48th (max.); 27th (min.)
Mid-Major Ranking 13th of 24 (avg.); 13th of 24 (max.); 10th of 24 (min.)
Exempt Event* Challenge in Music City (one at home, three at Nashville, Tenn.)
True Home Games
(6)

Semi-Home Games
(3)

True Neutral-Site Games
(0)
Semi-Away Games
(0)
True Away Games
(4)

Vanderbilt
Toledo*
Georgia State
Murray State
Tennessee State
Milligan (non-D1)

Evansville*
Toledo*
UNCW*

VCU
Ole Miss
Belmont
South Alabama


After shocking Michigan State in one of the biggest upsets in the history of not only college basketball, but all sports, the Blue Raiders have scheduled like a team aiming for more. Kermit Davis's squad welcomes SEC contender Vandy to the Murphy Center, along with four mid-majors likely to compete for their respective league crowns. Plus, the Blue Raiders get three semi-home games thanks to their exempt event, with the game against CAA favorite UNCW the highlight. Then there are trips to Belmont, Ole Miss, and VCU—all of whom should provide a nice metrics boost. At worst, this schedule will prepare Middle adequately for the C-USA grind. At best, it could set them up for bigger and better things.

Monmouth

Monmouth Hawks

Average Opponent Score 1.767
At-Large Pool Ranking 8th (avg.); 12th (max.); 6th (min.)
Mid-Major Ranking 4th of 24 (avg.); 4th of 24 (max.); 4th of 24 (min.)
Exempt Event* Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational (two away, two at Worcester, Mass.)
True Home Games
(4)
Semi-Home Games
(0)
True Neutral-Site Games
(1)
Semi-Away Games
(0)
True Away Games
(6)

Princeton
Drexel
Army West Point
Cornell

South Carolina State*

North Carolina
Syracuse*
Memphis
South Carolina*
Wagner
Holy Cross*


Last season, Monmouth earned national attention, and a place on the bubble, with wins over UCLA, Notre Dame, USC, and Georgetown. However, the Bruins' and Hoyas' struggles ultimately damaged the Hawks' computer numbers, as did some ill-timed losses during the MAAC campaign, capped by that loss to Iona in the conference final. That setback relegated King Rice's team to the NIT.

This time around, the Hawks will have the talent to finish the job, but the schedule might not be as conducive. That's because instead of playing a trio of neutral-site games in the AdvoCare Invitational, Monmouth will instead participate in a five-team round-robin—all away from West Long Branch. The highlight of that event is a game at Syracuse, who qualified for the Big Dance at the Hawks' expense, ending their season in Houston. Do you think the Monmouth bench will be hyped for that game?

Rice's return to Chapel Hill is the other marquee contest on this slate, which also features visits to a South Carolina team likely to be a bit down after a bubble/NIT season of its own and a Memphis squad now coached by Tubby Smith. Considering the rest of the slate isn't all that impressive, Monmouth will need to shock a couple of its high-major opponents and keep its foot on the gas all the way to Selection Sunday to avoid another letdown.

UNI

Northern Iowa Panthers

Average Opponent Score 1.899 (avg.); 2.010 (max.); 1.781 (min.)
At-Large Pool Ranking 2nd (avg.); 2nd (max.); 3rd (min.)
Mid-Major Ranking 2nd of 24 (avg.); 2nd of 24 (max.); 3rd of 24 (min.)
Exempt Event* Tire Pros Puerto Rico Tip-Off (one away, three at Lake Buena Vista, Fla.)
True Home Games
(4)
Semi-Home Games
(0)
True Neutral-Site Games
(4)
Semi-Away Games
(0)
True Away Games
(3)

South Dakota State
George Mason
North Dakota
Coe (non-D1)

Arizona State*
Oklahoma/Tulane*
Xavier/
Clemson/
Davidson/
Missouri*
Iowa
(Des Moines)

North Carolina
Xavier*
Wyoming
(MVC/MW)


The Panthers scheduled just 11 non-conference games, and 29 total, despite their participation in an exempt tournament. I have to suspect their tendency to pull off upsets might have scared some potential opponents off. Still, Ben Jacobson's team will get its chances, with a trips to UNC and Xavier on deck, along with a long weekend in Orlando for the relocated Puerto Rico Tip-Off and the bi-annual showdown with Iowa in Des Moines. The opener at Disney is an intriguing one, with the winner likely to play Oklahoma on day two and one of Xavier, Clemson, or Davidson on day three. But a loss would be potentially devastating for a team like UNI that needs all of the marquee games it can get.

Oakland

Oakland Golden Grizzlies

Average Opponent Score 1.144 (avg.); 1.268 (max.); 1.037 (min.)
At-Large Pool Ranking 118th (avg.); 102nd (max.); 128th (min.)
Mid-Major Ranking 23rd of 24 (avg.); 22nd of 24 (max.); 24th of 24 (min.)
Exempt Event* Great Alaska Shootout (one at home, three at Anchorage, Alaska)
True Home Games
(8)
Semi-Home Games
(0)
True Neutral-Site Games
(2-3)

Semi-Away Games
(0)

True Away Games
(2-3)

Georgia
Northeastern
Western Michigan
Bowling Green
Oral Roberts
Southern Utah
Chicago State
Goshen (non-D1)*

Nevada*
Buffalo/Alaska-Anchorage
(non-D1)
*
Iona/Weber State/
UC Davis/Drake*

Buffalo/Alaska-Anchorage
(non-D1)
*
Michigan State
Robert Morris


Greg Kampe's Golden Grizzlies should be Valparaiso's most serious challenger in the Horizon League, but with this slate they'll have to win Motor City Madness to make the NCAAs. That's unless they make their way through a Great Alaska Shootout field that features some quality mid-majors, beat Georgia at home, and win at Michigan State.

The bottom four games of Oakland's home slate really pull the Grizzlies' overall numbers down.

ODU

Old Dominion Monarchs

Average Opponent Score 1.634 (avg.); 1.678 (max.); 1.567 (min.)
At-Large Pool Ranking 19th (avg.); 20th (max.); 24th (min.)
Mid-Major Ranking 6th of 24 (avg.); 6th of 24 (max.); 9th of 24 (min.)
Exempt Event* Battle 4 Atlantis (three at Paradise Island, Bahamas)
True Home Games
(6)
Semi-Home Games
(0)
True Neutral-Site Games
(3)
Semi-Away Games
(0)
True Away Games
(3)

VCU
Georgia State
William & Mary
James Madison
Dartmouth
Howard

Louisville*
Wichita State/LSU*
Michigan State/
Baylor/
VCU/St. John's*

Richmond
Rhode Island
Towson


Even after the graduation of some key performers from a squad that knocked off Oakland in the first-ever Vegas 16 final, the Monarchs should challenge for the Conference USA title. And if Jeff Jones' squad can acquit itself well against this schedule, they could find themselves in the at-large picture. Now, with Louisville looming in the Battle 4 Atlantis quarterfinals, I wouldn't expect too much out of the Monarchs' trip to the Bahamas. But visits from VCU and Georgia State and road games against two Atlantic 10 contenders will give ODU four opportunities to pick up wins with real potential. However, with the top of C-USA looking a stronger than it has since 2011 and 2012, the Monarchs will likely need to pull a surprise or two in league play to truly contend for one of the 36 at-larges.

Princeton

Princeton Tigers

Average Opponent Score 1.688
At-Large Pool Ranking 14th (avg.); 18th (max.); 9th (min.)
Mid-Major Ranking 5th of 24 (avg.); 5th of 24 (max.); 5th of 24 (min.)
Exempt Event None
True Home Games
(4)
Semi-Home Games
(0)
True Neutral-Site Games
(1)
Semi-Away Games
(1)
True Away Games
(7)

Saint Joseph's
Cal Poly
Hampton
Rowan (non-D1)

California
(Honolulu)

Hawai'i
(Pearl Harbor)

VCU
BYU
Monmouth
Bucknell
Lehigh
Lafayette
Liberty


With some solid performances away from home, the Tigers could very well put themselves in position for an at-large heading into the inaugural Ivy League Tournament on Selection Weekend. That's because Princeton will take on five potential bubble competitors during the season's opening weeks, with only a game against Saint Joe's coming at Jadwin Gym. The Ivy favorite's showdown against Cal in the Pear Harbor Invitational looks to be the most important game among the 12, though a visit from Monmouth is also highly intriguing.

SMC

Saint Mary's Gaels

Average Opponent Score 1.279
At-Large Pool Ranking 97th (avg.); 99th (max.); 84th (min.)
Mid-Major Ranking 21st of 24 (avg.); 21st of 24 (max.); 19th of 24 (min.)
Exempt Event None
True Home Games
(8)
Semi-Home Games
(0)
True Neutral-Site Games
(1)
Semi-Away Games
(0)
True Away Games
(2)

UC Irvine
UT Arlington
Western Kentucky
Nevada
Texas A&M-Corpus Christi
San José State
South Carolina State
Prairie View A&M

UAB
(Las Vegas)

Dayton
Stanford


In 2015-16, Saint Mary's tied Gonzaga for the WCC regular season crown and fell to the Bulldogs in the conference final, racking up a 27-5 record heading into Selection Sunday. After a nervous wait for the Selection Show and its eventually-leaked bracket, the Gaels ended up in the NIT, thanks in large part to a weak non-conference schedule. While this year's slate has some potential—with the two road games, the matchup with UAB in Vegas, and the home games against UC Irvine, UT Arlington, and Nevada standing out most—I don't think this slate is improved enough to really help Randy Bennett's squad. The bottom three home games, in particular, could damage Saint Mary's metrics heading into league play.

Siena

Siena Saints

Average Opponent Score 1.802
At-Large Pool Ranking 5th (avg.); 8th (max.); 2nd (min.)
Mid-Major Ranking 3rd of 24 (avg.); 3rd of 24 (max.); 2nd of 24 (min.)
Exempt Event* CBE Hall of Fame Classic (three away, one at home)
True Home Games
(3)
Semi-Home Games
(1)
True Neutral-Site Games
(0)
Semi-Away Games
(0)
True Away Games
(7)

Vermont
Cornell
UAPB*

Bucknell
(Glens Falls, N.Y.)

Kansas*
George Washington*
St. Bonaventure
Albany
Hofstra
FGCU
UNC Asheville*


Siena heads into this season as Monmouth's most likely challenger for the MAAC title. While the Saints probably won't be able to shock the nation like the Hawks did last season, they'll be well prepared for the conference's final 20-game double-round-robin grind. But to threaten for an unlikely at-large, Jimmy Patsos' squad is going to have to pull off some significant road upsets, with two CBE Classic road games against Kansas and GW serving as the highest-value targets.

SFA

Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks

Average Opponent Score 1.437 (avg.); 1.529 (max.); 1.329 (min.)
At-Large Pool Ranking 59th (avg.); 49th (max.); 70th (min.)
Mid-Major Ranking 14th of 24 (avg.); 14th of 24 (max.); 16th of 24 (min.)
Exempt Event* Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic (three at Honolulu, Hawai'i)
True Home Games
(5)
Semi-Home Games
(0)
True Neutral-Site Games
(2-3)
Semi-Away Games
(0)
True Away Games
(4-5)

UAB
Longwood
Northeastern State (non-D1)
Centenary (non-D1)
LSU Shreveport (non-D1)

Tulsa*
San Diego State/
Southern Mississippi*
Utah/Illinois State/
Hawai'i/
San Francisco*

Utah/Illinois State/
Hawai'i/

San Francisco*
Kentucky
Arkansas
ULM
Rice


Last season, the Lumberjacks fell a bucket short of a trip to the Sweet 16. But the offseason was not kind to the boys from Nacogdoches, who saw three key contributors, most prominently Thomas Walkup, graduate and coach Brad Underwood take his talents to Stillwater. Former Texas A&M assistant Kyle Keller will attempt to extend SFA's NCAA streak to four, and even with the presence of three non-D1 opponents on the Jacks' non-conference slate, they'll be well tested. Naturally, road trips to Kentucky and Arkansas stand out, but Christmas week in Hawai'i will provide SFA with its best chances to grab quality non-conference wins. Still, the Lumberjacks will likely require the Southland auto bid.

UAB

UAB Blazers

Average Opponent Score 1.594 (avg.); 1.597 (max.); 1.590 (min.)
At-Large Pool Ranking 27th (avg.); 36th (max.); 20th (min.)
Mid-Major Ranking 8th of 24 (avg.); 10th of 24 (max.); 7th of 24 (min.)
Exempt Event* CBE Hall of Fame Classic (two at home, two at Kansas City, Mo.)
True Home Games
(7)
Semi-Home Games
(0)
True Neutral-Site Games
(2)
Semi-Away Games
(1)
True Away Games
(3)

Auburn
Southern
Furman*
Troy
Alabama A&M
UAPB*
Miles (non-D1)

Georgia/
George Washington*
Saint Mary's
(Las Vegas)

Kansas*

Texas
Stephen F. Austin
Memphis


The Blazers, an NIT squad last March, are the best team that will visit Stephen F. Austin this season, and they'll look to repeat their 10-point home win of a year ago. That trip to Texas is one of two UAB will make in its first campaign under new coach Robert Eshan, as the C-USA favorite will also travel to Austin as part of an ambitious non-conference slate that also includes an appearance in the CBE Classic in Kansas City. That pre-Thanksgiving showcase will give the Blazers a chance to get themselves on the national radar early in the season, as they'll take on Kansas in its literal backyard, with a game against either Georgia or GW, probable NCAA contenders both, on the following night.

On the flip side, other than the game with Auburn, UAB should roll through its home schedule easily. If it can't do some damage away from Bartow Arena, they'll once again need to win the C-USA Tournament, which will again be played near campus at the Legacy Arena.

UTA

UT Arlington Mavericks

Average Opponent Score 1.597
At-Large Pool Ranking 26th (avg.); 37th (max.); 18th (min.)
Mid-Major Ranking 7th of 24 (avg.); 11th of 24 (max.); 6th of 24 (min.)
Exempt Event* Golden Gopher Showcase (two at home, two away)
True Home Games
(4)
Semi-Home Games
(0)
True Neutral-Site Games
(0)
Semi-Away Games
(0)
True Away Games
(9)

Texas Southern
Mount St. Mary's*
St. Francis (Ill.)
(non-D1)*
UT Dallas (non-D1)

Texas
Saint Mary's
Arkansas*
Minnesota*
FGCU
Fordham
Loyola Marymount
North Texas
Bradley


Last November and December, the Mavericks captured the college basketball world's attention and imagination with wins at Ohio State and Memphis and by pushing big brother Texas to OT. But then star forward Kevin Hervey blew out his knee and their fortunes faded, with losses in the Sun Belt semifinals and quarterfinals of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament capping the end of a good, but not great season.

Hervey is back and expectations are high, with at least a Sun Belt title expected in the Metroplex. This time around, UTA again makes the trip to Austin, along with ones to Moraga, Fayetteville, and Minneapolis, with the latter two part of the Mavericks' exempt tournament. While the home games and bottom four road games aren't exactly awesome, there's enough here for Scott Cross' team to get back in the national consciousness again and to prepare themselves for the Sun Belt season.

UTEP

UTEP Miners

Average Opponent Score 1.309 (avg.); 1.401 (max.); 1.216 (min.)
At-Large Pool Ranking 85th (avg.); 75th (max.); 100th (min.)
Mid-Major Ranking 20th of 24 (avg.); 17th of 24 (max.); 21st of 24 (min.)
Exempt Event* Gildan Charleston Classic (three at Charleston, S.C.)
True Home Games
(7)
Semi-Home Games
(0)
True Neutral-Site Games
(2-3)
Semi-Away Games
(0)
True Away Games
(2-3)

New Mexico State
Akron/UC Irvine
(Sun Bowl Tournament)
Northwestern State
Northern Arizona
UMES
(Sun Bowl Tournament)
Southeastern Louisiana
Louisiana College (non-D1)

Wake Forest*
Villanova/
Western Michigan*
Boise State/
Mississippi State Bulldogs/
College of Charleston/
UCF*

Boise State/
Mississippi State/
College of Charleston/
UCF*
New Mexico
New Mexico State


While the Miners aren't going to be in the same class in the preseason rankings as the other three C-USA teams I've profiled here, they'll have a chance to get themselves some attention during the season's first full week. That's because a win for Tim Floyd's team over Wake Forest in the Charleston Classic quarterfinals a week before Thanksgiving, would almost assuredly guarantee a game with defending National Champion Villanova the next day.

Unfortunately for UTEP, a loss to the Demon Deacons would send it to the consolation bracket, which would further damage an already soft schedule. At that point, the previous paragraph, and indeed the Miners' inclusion on this list, becomes a waste of pixels.

Valpo

Valparaiso Crusaders

Average Opponent Score 1.338 (avg.); 1.377 (max.); 1.300 (min.)
At-Large Pool Ranking 78th (avg.); 80th (max.); 79th (min.)
Mid-Major Ranking 18th of 24 (avg.); 20th of 24 (max.); 18th of 24 (min.)
Exempt Event* MGM Grand Main Event (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)

Rhode Island
Indiana State
Santa Clara
Ball State
Coppin State*
Southern Utah*
Chicago State
Trinity Christian
(non-D1)

Alabama*
BYU/Saint Louis*

Kentucky
Oregon
Missouri State


Last March, Valparaiso made it all the way to the NIT championship game after being one of the first four teams left out of the NCAA field. This season, which happens to be Matt Lotich's first in charge after Bryce Drew's departure for Vanderbilt, brings high hopes, especially with the return of forward Alec Peters for his senior season. And that's reflected in a schedule that features road trips to two likely Top 5 teams, Kentucky and Oregon, and a winnable exempt tournament in the MGM Grand Main Event. Plus, Rhode Island, an A 10 contender the Crusaders defeated in Kingston last November (albeit without the injured E.C. Matthews) visits the ARC.

While the rest of the home slate is unimpressive, there should be enough here to keep Valpo in the hunt, should another Horizon League Tournament failure occur in March.

Wichita St

Wichita State Shockers

Average Opponent Score 1.550 (avg.); 1.611 (max.); 1.466 (min.)
At-Large Pool Ranking 34th (avg.); 33rd (max.); 39th (min.)
Mid-Major Ranking 12th of 24 (avg.); 9th of 24 (max.); 12th of 24 (min.)
Exempt Event* Battle 4 Atlantis (one at home, three at Paradise Island, Bahamas)
True Home Games
(7)
Semi-Home Games
(1)
True Neutral-Site Games
(3)
Semi-Away Games
(1)
True Away Games
(1)

Tulsa
South Dakota State
Long Beach State*
Saint Louis
UMES
South Carolina State
Southern Nazarene (non-D1)

Oklahoma State
(InTRUST Bank Arena, Wichita)

LSU*
Louisville/
Old Dominion*
Michigan State/
Baylor/
VCU/St. John's*

Oklahoma
(Oklahoma City)

Colorado State
(MVC/MW)


Gregg Marshall has a rebuilding job ahead of him after the graduation of the most successful senior class in Shocker history. But even with significant roster changes, Wichita State will still have an excellent chance to make it to March Madness for the sixth straight year, thanks in no small part to this schedule. While the Shockers' non-conference lineup isn't as daunting as it could be, there are still plenty of highlights—with the Battle 4 Atlantis and a semi-road game with similarly-rebuilding Oklahoma the most prominent. This isn't a slate that will get Wichita State an unexpected top-four seed, but it should give Marshall's team enough of a boost heading into what should be yet another rough-and-tumble Valley campaign.

yale

Yale Bulldogs

Average Opponent Score 1.581
At-Large Pool Ranking 33rd (avg.); 40th (max.); 22nd (min.)
Mid-Major Ranking 11th of 24 (avg.); 12th of 24 (max.); 8th of 24 (min.)
Exempt Event None
True Home Games
(6)
Semi-Home Games
(0)
True Neutral-Site Games
(0)
Semi-Away Games
(0)
True Away Games
(7)

Albany
Lehigh
Delaware
Hartford
Central Connecticut State
Mitchell (non-D1)

Virginia
Pittsburgh
Temple
Washington
Vermont
Bryant
Sacred Heart


The Bulldogs head into the 2016-17 season as a contender for an Ivy title, even if Makai Mason is the lone primary contributor returning from last season's squad that fell to Duke in the NCAA Second Round. Thanks to four difficult road games, Yale should be able to keep its computer numbers in good position, even though the results might not show in its win-loss record. If the young Bulldogs surprise early, they'll get themselves into the hunt, but an Ivy Tournament title is their probable path to a second consecutive NCAA bid.

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