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Analyzing The American Athletic's Non-Conference Schedules For 2016-17

As usual, there's a gap in quality between this conference's basketball powers and the schools added to this conference for football purposes.

The American, one of the two conferences born from the original Big East's velvet divorce after the 2012-13 academic year, still looks an odd group to most fans nationally, at least geographically. But there continues to be a difference in how its 11 members' administrations and fan bases view men's basketball in the sporting landscape. As a result, there's a significant disparity in non-conference scheduling between those schools where basketball has historically been the number one sport and those where it's just a way to kill time before spring practice.

That's a problem for a conference that's in search of more respect nationally—and the NCAA Tournament at-large bids that are likely to follow. But there are signs that the league's usual lightweights are upping their scheduling, which could lead to both better performance on the court and improved computer numbers off it.

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.

Update 10/05/2016: Due to the late addition of Albany to SMU's schedule, I've adjusted the numbers from those originally published on October 3rd.

Update 10/06/2016: I mistakenly counted Virginia's game with UNCG as a home game, when it's an away game. Therefore, I've had to adjust the Cavaliers' scores and overall rankings and means accordingly.

Update 10/07/16: I didn't include Villanova's January home game with Virginia in the original Big East post, so the rankings and averages have been updated yet again.

Update 10/10/16: While finishing the Mountain West post, I noticed that San Diego State added a home game against Savannah State since I first started it. Therefore, scores and rankings have been updated as a result.

Update 10/11/16: While reviewing the Pac-12's schedules again for that post, I noticed that Oregon added not one but two games since I started—one against (drumroll) Savannah State (!) and another against non-D1 Western Washington. That really shook up the standings and averages, so these have again been updated.

Average Schedule Ranking

Team Opponent Score Distance From Average
(1.406)
At-Large Pool Rank
(out of 135)
AAC Rank
(out of 11)
Temple 1.653 +0.247 16 1
Tulsa 1.637 +0.231 18 2
Connecticut 1.616 +0.210 24 3
Cincinnati 1.435 +0.029 61 4
SMU 1.434 +0.028 62 5
Tulane 1.429 +0.023 64 6
Memphis 1.417 +0.011 66 7
UCF 1.184 -0.222 110 8
Houston 1.126 -0.280 124 9
East Carolina 1.116 -0.290 128 10
USF 0.961 -0.445 134 11
American Athletic average 1.364 -0.042 7 of 9*

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

Accounting for average opposition in exempt tournaments, seven of the American's 11 members have better schedules than the theoretical average at-large candidate. However, Houston, a squad that should be in bid contention after earning an NIT spot last season, isn't one of them.

Best-Case (Maximum) Schedule Ranking

Team Opponent Score Distance From Average
(1.445)
At-Large Pool Rank
(out of 135)
AAC Rank
(out of 11)
Connecticut 1.739 +0.294 15 1
Tulsa 1.729 +0.284 16 2
Temple 1.669 +0.224 21 3
Cincinnati 1.469 +0.024 62 4
Tulane 1.459 +0.014 63 5
SMU 1.446 -0.001 68 6
Memphis 1.425 -0.020 72 7
UCF 1.271 -0.174 101 8
Houston 1.175 -0.270 119 9
East Carolina 1.151 -0.294 123 10
USF 0.961 -0.483 135 11
American Athletic average 1.409 -0.036 7 of 9*

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

Now if all of the 10 American members participating in a bracketed exempt tournament reach their respective championship games and play optimal opponents, matters improve considerably. This is particularly true for UConn, which would face North Carolina and Oregon in their second and third games at the loaded Maui Jim Maui Invitational (presuming an opening win over Oklahoma State), and Tulsa, where San Diego State and Utah would await in the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic, provided the Golden Hurricane knock out Stephen F. Austin in the first round.

Such a performance would be pre-conference boon to a team that made last year's field of 68 despite criticism over its non-league slate.

Houston's schedule only marginally improves in the best-case scenario, thanks to the mid-major-heavy lineup of the Gulf Coast Showcase, and it's the same case for UCF in the Gildan Charleston Classic. Despite the presence of defending national champion Villanova in that event, the rest of the field just won't provide much of a bump in quality.

Worst-Case (Minimum) Schedule Ranking

Team Opponent Score Distance From Average
(1.360)
At-Large Pool Rank
(out of 135)
AAC Rank
(out of 11)
Temple 1.637 +0.277 13 1
Tulsa 1.529 +0.169 29 2
Connecticut 1.487 +0.127 36 3
SMU 1.422 +0.062 49 4
Memphis 1.409 +0.049 52 5
Cincinnati 1.402 +0.042 55 6
Tulane 1.393 +0.033 57 7
UCF 1.142 -0.219 115 8
East Carolina 1.082 -0.278 124 9
Houston 1.058 -0.303 126 10
USF 0.961 -0.399 133 11
American Athletic average 1.320 -0.040 7 of 9*

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

The lack of quality in their respective exempt fields really hurt the Cougars and Knights in the event they fall to the 7th/8th place games in their bracketed events. For Houston, that would result in a George Mason-South Dakota-Bradley schedule in Estero, while UCF would have to play a true road game at the College of Charleston between contests against Mississippi State and Western Michigan.

Temple, participating in the four-team NIT Season Tip-Off, would be in the best shape with a first game loss, while UConn would be likely to play Division II Chaminade in the unlikely event of a loss to Oklahoma State in their Maui opener. Such a contest counts as a zero in my formula, and even though it wouldn't count for RPI purposes, it would count as a missed opportunity against a quality opponent in the Selection Committee room.

USF's schedule is throughout all three rankings, as is its position—dead last. That's because the Bulls' slate is the only one in the American that won't vary. Note that Orlando Antigua's squad is also the only one in the Power 5+Big East+American Athletic group that didn't sign up for an exempt tournament this season.

True Road And Non-D1 Games

True Road Games
Scheduled
True Road Games
Scheduled Against
Non-Power 6 Teams
Non-Division I Games
Scheduled
28-30 16-18 1-2


Thanks in part to East Carolina weaning itself off home games with Division II opposition, the 11 members of the American will play a maximum of two games against non-DI schools in the 2016-17 season. Given its status as a "tweener" conference, American teams will play more true road games than those in the Power 5+Big East group. The variance in the "true road game" and "scheduled against non-Power 6 teams" groups is due to Tulsa's (Hawai'i) and UCF's (College of Charleston) in exempt tournaments where the host schools are participating.

On to how each squad's slate looks.

Team Capsules

Cincy

Cincinnati Bearcats

Average Opponent Score 1.435 (avg.); 1.469 (max.); 1.402 (min.)
At-Large Pool Ranking 61st (avg.); 62nd (max.); 55th (min.)
American Ranking 4th (avg.); 5th (max.); 6th (min.)
Exempt Event* Hall of Fame Tip-Off (two at home, two at Uncasville, Conn.)
True Home Games
(9)
Semi-Home Games
(0)
True Neutral-Site Games
(2)
Semi-Away Games
(0)
True Away Games
(2)
Xavier
Albany*
Bowling Green
Texas Southern
Marshall
Brown*
Samford
Lipscomb
Fairleigh Dickinson

Rhode Island*
Duke/Penn State*

Iowa State
Butler


Originally, the Bearcats planned to take on the Michigan Wolverines as part of a non-conference slate that already included three 2016 NCAA teams, with the possibility of a fourth—preseason No. 1 Duke in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off. However, John Beilein's team backed out. But Cincinnati still managed to increase its confirmed total of NCAA opponents to four by adding a game against NEC Tournament champ Fairleigh Dickinson as a replacement. Granted, the Knights lost to the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles in the First Four, but a tourney team is a tourney team.

FDU will contend in the NEC again, but the traditional Crosstown Shootout game against Xavier and those tantalizing road trips to Iowa State and Butler are the most important games on a home-heavy slate that doesn't provide much margin for error if things go south. But don't overlook the Hall of Fame Tip-Off semifinal against a Rhode Island squad that will contend for an at-large, thanks to the return of E.C. Matthews. With a win over the Rams, a shot at the Blue Devils would follow on a mid-November Sunday in the wilds of Connecticut.

UConn

Connecticut Huskies

Average Opponent Score 1.616 (avg.); 1.739 (max.); 1.487 (min.)
At-Large Pool Ranking 24th (avg.); 15th (max.); 36th (min.)
American Ranking 3rd (avg.); 1st (max.); 3rd (min.)
Exempt Event* Maui Jim Maui Invitational (three at Lahaina, Hawai'i)
True Home Games
(5)
^ on-campus
Semi-Home Games
(0)
True Neutral-Site Games
(3-4)
Semi-Away Games
(0-1)
True Away Games 
(3)
Northeastern^
Auburn
North Florida^
Boston University
Wagner^

Oklahoma State*
North Carolina/
Chaminade (non-D1)*
Wisconsin/Oregon/
Georgetown/Tennessee*
Syracuse
(MSG)
North Carolina/
Chaminade
(non-D1)
*
Ohio State
Georgetown
Loyola Marymount


If the Georgetown Hoyas and Ohio State Buckeyes rebound from down 2015-16 campaigns, this schedule jumps from "rather good" to "great," even if the Huskies don't have an ideal experience in Hawai'i during Thanksgiving week. And if UConn repeats its 2010 Maui performance, America itself, not just the American, will be put on notice.

My high praise is driven by potential, as Kevin Ollie's team only has one guaranteed matchup against a 2016 NCAA squad, a December 5th date against former Big East rival Syracuse at Madison Square Garden. That's just one quirk in a schedule that also sees the Huskies play another former league adversary—Georgetown—twice, with the guaranteed meeting set for mid-January, and features an odd pre-Maui road game against the Loyola Marymount Lions.

For more on UConn's non-conference slate, check out this post from the UConn Blog that notes the increase in quality over the Huskies' 2015-16 effort.

ECU

East Carolina Pirates

Average Opponent Score 1.116 (avg.); 1.151 (max.); 1.082 (min.)
At-Large Pool Ranking 128th (avg.); 123rd (max.); 124th (min.)
American Ranking 10th (avg.); 10th (max.); 9th (min.)
Exempt Event* Savannah Invitational (two at home, two at Savannah, Ga.)
True Home Games
(8)
Semi-Home Games
(0)
True Neutral-Site Games
(2)
Semi-Away Games
(0)
True Away Games 
(3)
N.C. Central
College of Charleston
Hampton
Stetson*
North Carolina A&T
Presbyterian
Florida A&M*
Grambling State

Mercer*
Akron/Air Force*

Virginia
UNCW
Charlotte


Last season, the Pirates went 8-5 against a similarly weak non-conference slate—before closing the year by grabbing just four total victories in 19 games involving American opposition. In November of 2015, ECU lost a pair of Las Vegas Invitational road games to the San Diego State Aztecs and California Golden Bears. This time around, they'll serve as a host school in the inaugural Savannah Invitational, where they'll take on teams that aren't quite on that level.

Jeff Lebo's team will play a pair of 2016 NCAA teams—Virginia and UNCW—away from home, but given the weakness of the teams visiting Minges Coliseum this year, they'll need to shock the world and sweep both to have any shot at an at-large.

Houston

Houston Cougars

Average Opponent Score 1.126 (avg.); 1.175 (max.); 1.058 (min.)
At-Large Pool Ranking 124th (avg.); 119th (max.); 126th (min.)
American Ranking 9th (avg.); 9th (max.); 10th (min.)
Exempt Event* Gulf Coast Showcase (one at home, three at Estero, Fla.)
True Home Games
(8)
Semi-Home Games
(0)
True Neutral-Site Games
(3)
Semi-Away Games
(0)
True Away Games
(2)
Rhode Island
Harvard
Cornell
Morgan State
Liberty
Prairie View A&M
UTRGV*
Angelo State
(non-D1)*

George Mason*
Kent State/South Dakota*
Vermont/Hofstra/
Wofford/Bradley*

LSU
Arkansas


Preseason publications are bullish on Houston in the American race, as the Cougars are a popular pick to finish in the top five. And that fact should put Kelvin Sampson's team in the thick of the at-large hunt. But then you look at this schedule, which features no 2016 NCAA teams and a maximum of three teams with a legitimate shot at 2017's field (an Arkansas squad that should be improved, Rhode Island, and Harvard—and even then that's only if things break right).

In other words, the Cougars should own sterling record heading into conference play, along with the need to do a ton of work over the final two-plus months of the season to win over the Selection Committee.

Memphis

Memphis Tigers

Average Opponent Score 1.417 (avg.); 1.425 (max.); 1.409 (min.)
At-Large Pool Ranking 66th (avg.); 72nd (max.); 52nd (min.)
American Ranking 7th (avg.); 7th (max.); 5th (min.)
Exempt Event* Emerald Coast Classic (two at home, two at Niceville, Fla.)
True Home Games
(9)
Semi-Home Games
(0)
True Neutral-Site Games
(2)
Semi-Away Games
(0)
True Away Games
(2)
South Carolina
UAB
Monmouth
Milwaukee
Incarnate Word
Jackson State
McNeese State
Savannah State*
UTRGV*

Providence*
Virginia/Iowa*

Oklahoma
Ole Miss


Now if Houston were to trade schedules with Memphis, the Cougars might find themselves in the Committee's good graces. And that's true even with Iowa, Oklahoma, Providence, and South Carolina all likely to take a step or two back this season. This is an ideal schedule for a Tiger team that's in transition, as Tubby Smith replaced Georgia Tech-bound Josh Pastner this offseason. If Memphis gels quickly, there's the potential to grab victories that will help Smith become the first coach to take six different teams to the NCAAs. If they don't, there's room for the Tigers to get back into the NIT hunt.

While the bottom five home games are terrible, visits from UAB and Monmouth could be particularly helpful.

SMU

SMU Mustangs

Average Opponent Score 1.434 (avg.); 1.446 (max.); 1.422 (min.)
At-Large Pool Ranking 62nd (avg.); 68th (max.); 49th (min.)
American Ranking 5th (avg.); 6th (max.); 4th (min.)
Exempt Event* 2K Classic Benefitting Wounded Warrior Project (two at home, two at MSG)
True Home Games
(9)
Semi-Home Games
(0)
True Neutral-Site Games
(2)
Semi-Away Games
(0)
True Away Games
(2)
Stanford
UC Santa Barbara
TCU
Albany
Eastern Michigan*
Cal State Bakersfield
Gardner-Webb*
McNeese State
Delaware State

Pittsburgh*
Michigan/Marquette*

Boise State
USC


After one year of ineligibility, the Mustangs will be in the hunt for an immediate return to the NCAA Tournament in 2017—SMU's first season under former Illinois State head coach Tim Jankovich, who had the "in-waiting' removed from his title after Larry Brown's sudden resignation over the summer. Jankovich did well filling in for Brown during the latter's nine-game suspension to start last season, going a perfect 9-0.

He might need to repeat that performance to boost the Ponies' at-large hopes, as their two 2K Classic games in New York look like the best bets for SMU to grab a quality early season win. Boise State and USC, the Mustangs' two road opponents, don't figure to be as strong as they've been of late. Meanwhile, the biggest name visiting Moody Coliseum this season—Stanford—will be a bit of a mystery in Jerod Haase's first year in charge, though the Cardinal have first-division potential in the Pac-12.

Temple

Temple Owls

Average Opponent Score 1.653 (avg.); 1.669 (max.); 1.637 (min.)
At-Large Pool Ranking 16th (avg.); 21st (max.); 13th (min.)
American Ranking 1st (avg.); 3rd (max.); 1st (min.)
Exempt Event* NIT Season Tip-Off (two at home, two at Brooklyn)
True Home Games
(7)
Semi-Home Games
(0)
True Neutral-Site Games
(3)
Semi-Away Games
(0)
True Away Games
(3)
George Washington
Yale
La Salle
Manhattan*
NJIT
New Hampshire*
Penn

Florida State*
West Virginia/Illinois*
DePaul
(Miami)

Villanova
Saint Joseph's
UMass


The Owls, the first team to defeat SMU in the 2015-16 season, spent the bulk of February and March on the bubble despite that win, thanks to a slow 5-5 start. Fran Dunphy's 2016-17 squad, depleted by graduation, might find itself needing a similar January-to-March run to earn a second consecutive NCAA bid, as this slate features a high degree of difficulty. Of course, the four Big Five games stand out, with La Salle replacing Saint Joe's as the most likely quality win opportunity of the quartet. (The mid-December date for the Villanova game works to Temple's detriment.)

Visits from Yale and former Atlantic 10 rival GW, along with a trip to UMass, another former league foe, are tricky, and so is the Owls' excursion to Brooklyn for the NIT Season Tip-Off. Temple's semifinal opponent, Florida State, will want to make its own case for a return to the NCAAs, as will potential Friday foe Illinois. But Temple's other potential second-day opponent, West Virginia, might just be Kansas's primary challenger in the Big 12.

Tulane

Tulane Green Wave

Average Opponent Score 1.429 (avg.); 1.459 (max.); 1.393 (min.)
At-Large Pool Ranking 64th (avg.); 63rd (max.); 57th (min.)
American Ranking 6th (avg.); 5th (max.); 7th (min.)
Exempt Event* Tire Pros Puerto Rico Tip-Off (three at Lake Buena Vista, Fla.)
True Home Games
(7)
Semi-Home Games
(0)
True Neutral-Site Games
(3)
Semi-Away Games
(0)
True Away Games
(3)
North Carolina
(Smoothie King Arena)
St. John's
Southern
Texas State
McNeese State
Southeastern Louisiana

Oklahoma*
Arizona State/
Northern Iowa*
Xavier/Clemson/
Davidson/Missouri*

Georgia Tech
Southern Mississippi
New Orleans


Mike Dunleavy Sr., longtime NBA head coach, decided that six years of retirement was enough and headed to New Orleans for his first collegiate coaching job. He has his work cut out for him, as the Green Wave last won more than they lost in 2012-13 and last reached the lofty heights of the NCAAs in 1995 under Perry Clark.

Don't expect that drought to end after 22 years, particularly as Tulane faces a daunting first month. The Green Wave will welcome UNC to NOLA on Opening Night, then, after taking on Southeastern Louisiana in a winnable game back at Devlin Fieldhouse, Dunleavy's charges will travel to Orlando for three potentially daunting games in the relocated Puerto Rico Tip-Off.

This is the type of slate that will likely see Tulane's relatively young roster take its lumps before it takes even more lumps in conference play.

Tulsa

Tulsa Golden Hurricane

Average Opponent Score 1.637 (avg.); 1.729 (max.); 1.529 (min.)
At-Large Pool Ranking 18th (avg.); 16th (max.); 29th (min.)
American Ranking 2nd (avg.); 2nd (max.); 2nd (min.)
Exempt Event* Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic (one at home, three at Honolulu)
True Home Games
(6)
Semi-Home Games
(0)
True Neutral-Site Games
(2-3)
Semi-Away Games
(0)
True Away Games
(3-4)
Oklahoma State
Oregon State
Illinois State*
Texas State
Jacksonville State
New Orleans

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

Utah/Illinois State/
Hawai'i/San Francisco*
Wichita State
Little Rock
Oral Roberts


Thanks to several home-and-home series and a few longer ones, Tulsa's 2016-17 non-conference schedule looks remarkably similar to the one that helped push the Golden Hurricane, controversially, into the First Four last March. The question is whether games against Little Rock, Oregon State, and Wichita State will help as much this time around, since all three squads look to be significantly different than their 2015-16 versions.

Another team going through a major transition, Stephen F. Austin, will be Tulsa's first opponent in Honolulu, where a good showing might be vital for the Hurricane's March hopes. Beat the Lumberjacks, who will still contend for the Southland crown, and a semifinal showdown with Mountain West favorite San Diego State likely looms. Such a result would also set up a potential third-day game against either Utah, which will still contend for a bid even after significant offseason roster turnover, or Illinois State, a Missouri Valley sleeper Tulsa will host earlier in December.

On the other hand, a loss to SFA makes the quest for a second straight NCAA appearance that much more difficult.

UCF

UCF Knights

Average Opponent Score 1.184 (avg.); 1.271 (max.); 1.142 (min.)
At-Large Pool Ranking 110th (avg.); 101st (max.); 115th (min.)
American Ranking 8th (avg.); 8th (max.); 8th (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)
Miami (Ohio)
Penn
Seattle
UMES
Stetson
Nicholls State
Bethune Cookman

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

George Washington
UMass
Boise State/
College of Charleston*


The Knights are the fourth American Athletic member starting life under a new head coach this season, as former Stanford boss Johnny Dawkins replaced the scandal-tainted Donnie Jones. Dawkins' first schedule isn't terribly ambitious, which makes sense considering UCF is coming off three seasons where they managed to rack up a total of 37 wins.

The highlight of this slate is a potential and highly unlikely matchup against the defending National Champs on the third day of the Charleston Classic. That pretty much says it all.

USF

USF Bulls

Average Opponent Score 0.961
At-Large Pool Ranking 134th (avg.); 135th (max.); 133rd (min.)
American Ranking 11th (avg.); 11th (max.); 11th (min.)
Exempt Event* None
True Home Games
(8)
Semi-Home Games
(0)
True Neutral-Site Games
(0)
Semi-Away Games
(0)
True Away Games
(3)
South Carolina
Rider
Northern Illinois
Elon
Delaware
Kennesaw State
Bethune Cookman
Florida A&M

George Washington
Troy
Florida Atlantic


But at least UCF has the pipe dream of a game against Villanova to look forward to. The same cannot be said for their in-state rivals, who as I alluded to in the intro to this series, scored below a one in terms of their average opponent, thanks to an uninspiring schedule loaded with home cupcakes. But since USF has won just 41 games since their surprising two-win performance in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, you can't really blame Orlando Antigua for wanting to get his team some wins and confidence before conference play.

Our USF blog, The Daily Stampede, calls this schedule "manageable." That's fair given the program's recent history, with the last calendar year standing out as a particularly awful one.

The Atlantic 10 is up next.

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