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Analyzing The Sun Belt’s Non-Conference Schedules For 2017-18

A relatively late early season tournament change led to Appalachian State jumping UT Arlington in the Sun Belt’s non-conference schedule rankings.

NCAA Basketball: Texas-Arlington at Minnesota
Kevin Hervey and UT Arlington will attempt to break through and reach the NCAAs this March, but the Mavericks don’t have the Sun Belt’s strongest non-conference schedule.
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

For all of the posts in this series, visit the 2017-18 Non-Conference Scheduling Hub.

Ranking The Teams

While the Sun Belt doesn’t have a single top 100 team in the four-year ranking, it also failed to place a team in the bottom 50. Still, the conference’s overall mediocrity, along with recent realignment, means it will take exceptional performances for the league to send a second team to the NCAAs, like now-departed Middle Tennessee did in 2012, or secure a seed higher than 13th, as 12 seed Little Rock did in 2016.

Sun Belt Team Score Rankings

Team Team Score National Rank
Team Team Score National Rank
UT Arlington 2.557335 109
Georgia State 2.041853 117
Louisiana Lafayette 1.610183 123
Little Rock -0.279179 165
Coastal Carolina -0.71495135 180
Georgia Southern -1.1793892 189
Louisiana Monroe -1.5223265 202
Arkansas State -1.57639645 204
Texas State -1.7286869 208
Troy -2.4300585 228
South Alabama -4.045399 263
Appalachian State -4.9979505 286
Average -1.022080533 189.5
Conference Rank 16 of 32

Ranking The Schedules

With just two or three teams sitting in the top half of the national non-conference schedule table, depending on the category, and three in the bottom 50, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that the Sun Belt ranks either 31st or 32nd among the conferences in terms of November and December schedules.

*Denotes team will participate in a bracketed tournament. Reminder: Known Score = known matchups only; Average Score = known games+average of potential bracketed matchups; Maximum Score = known games+games against best potential bracketed matchups; Minimum Score = known games+games against worst potential bracketed matchups

Sun Belt Schedule Strengths And National Ranks

Team Average Schedule Strength Natl. Rank Known Schedule Strength Natl. Rank Maximum Schedule Strength Natl. Rank Minimum Schedule Strength Natl. Rank
Team Average Schedule Strength Natl. Rank Known Schedule Strength Natl. Rank Maximum Schedule Strength Natl. Rank Minimum Schedule Strength Natl. Rank
Appalachian State* 4.44519584 53 4.41295725 45 5.061795375 47 3.752898185 60
Troy 2.291405346 145 2.291405346 138 2.291405346 163 2.291405346 126
UT Arlington* 1.804660579 177 2.398522669 132 2.009636483 181 1.599684675 177
Louisiana* 1.746937859 180 1.282503918 203 2.394999489 159 1.287086364 197
Arkansas State 1.678599767 186 1.678599767 181 1.678599767 202 1.678599767 171
Georgia State* 0.89912903 233 1.26786573 206 1.06026979 239 0.7379882704 233
ULM 0.6464385545 250 0.6464385545 241 0.6464385545 262 0.6464385545 236
Coastal Carolina* 0.5586769 255 0.5238176818 251 1.196558385 227 0.0630105192 266
Georgia Southern* -0.0752024986 287 0.2601691364 261 0.1124386731 286 -0.2821186731 287
Little Rock -0.9971459192 328 -0.9971459192 322 -0.9971459192 330 -0.9971459192 320
South Alabama* -1.98889388 342 -1.998088604 339 -1.859223183 342 -2.118564577 341
Texas State -2.141423031 343 -2.141423031 341 -2.141423031 343 -2.141423031 342
Average 0.7390315456 231.5833333 0.8021352083 221.6666667 0.9545291441 231.75 0.5431549568 229.6666667
Conference Rank 32 of 32 31 of 32 31 of 32 31 of 32

Who Over- And Under-Scheduled?

Thanks in part to its late addition to the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, the Sun Belt’s lowest-ranked team over the four-year cycle, Appalachian State, has the strongest average schedule rank by far this season, resulting in a whopping scheduling gap of +233. While league favorite UT Arlington only under-scheduled by 68 spots and Louisiana by 57, Georgia Southern (98) and Georgia State (116) did their potential March seeding no favors by building weak non-league slates. However, defending conference tournament champ Troy, over-scheduled by 83 spots.

Sun Belt Scheduling Gaps

National Rank Team Team Score Rank Avg. Schedule Strength Rank Scheduling Gap
National Rank Team Team Score Rank Avg. Schedule Strength Rank Scheduling Gap
51 Arkansas State 204 186 18
121 ULM 202 250 -48
136 Louisiana 123 180 -57
155 UT Arlington 109 177 -68
175 Coastal Carolina 180 255 -75
182 South Alabama 263 342 -79
190 Troy 228 145 83
205 Georgia Southern 189 287 -98
226 Georgia State 117 233 -116
248 Texas State 208 343 -135
287 Little Rock 165 328 -163
323 Appalachian State 286 53 233
191.5833333 Average (10/32 conf.) 189.5 231.5833333 -42.08333333

Sun Belt Home, Power Conference, & Non-D1 Games

True Home Games Scheduled Home Games Scheduled Against Power 7 Teams Road Games Scheduled Against Power 7 Teams Non-D1 Opponents Scheduled
True Home Games Scheduled Home Games Scheduled Against Power 7 Teams Road Games Scheduled Against Power 7 Teams Non-D1 Opponents Scheduled
66 3 19 (+1 possible semi-road game in MTEs) 25

Appalachian State (USF), Georgia State (Tulane), and Coastal Carolina (Wake Forest) will all host Power 7 foes, though only the Demon Deacons look like an NCAA threat. Troublingly, the average Sun Belt member has a pair of non-D1 games on its schedule, which helps fill the typical home schedule of five to six dates. However, that approach isn’t optimal for metrics or the potential of at-large selection. However, with the Southland scheduling far more non-D1 opponents and five other Southern conferences lining up a similar total of games to the Sun Belt’s 25, there are a ton of missed scheduling opportunities out there.

Sun Belt Non-Conference Games By League

Conference Games Scheduled Against Possible Tournament Games Against
Conference Games Scheduled Against Possible Tournament Games Against
Non-D1 25 0
Southland 17 0
C-USA 12 3
American Athletic 7 2
MEAC 7 0
SEC 7 1
A 10 6 1
SoCon 6 0
MVC 5 2
OVC 5 1
SWAC 5 2
WAC 5 1
WCC 4 0
ACC 3 0
Atlantic Sun 3 0
Big 12 3 0
Big Sky 3 1
Big Ten 3 0
Big West 2 0
CAA 2 2
Horizon 2 1
MAC 2 3
MW 2 2
Summit 2 1
America East 1 1
Big East 1 0
Big South 1 0
MAAC 1 4
NEC 1 1
Ivy 0 1
Pac-12 0 0
Patriot 0 0

Even though the Sun Belt doesn’t schedule as many non-D1 games as the Southland, these contests make up a larger portion of conference slates than contests with any single Division I conference. When you consider all of the non-D1 games scheduled by leagues in the Southeast, perhaps more networking or some sort of non-conference scheduling consortium could help reduce the number of these games regionally.

Sun Belt Non-Conference Games By Strength And Location

Opponent Strength Home Away Neutral Total Average Potential
Opponent Strength Home Away Neutral Total Average Potential
1-25 0 3 1 4 0.3333333333 1
26-50 0 8 1 9 0.75 1
51-75 1 7 0 8 0.6666666667 1
76-100 1 6 0 7 0.5833333333 5
101-150 5 9 0 14 1.166666667 4
151-200 1 6 3 10 0.8333333333 7
201-250 6 7 1 14 1.166666667 4
251-300 12 12 1 25 2.083333333 4
301-351 15 8 4 27 2.25 2
Non-D1 25 0 0 25 2.083333333 0
Total 66 66 11 143
Average 5.5 5.5 0.9166666667 11.91666667
Percentage 0.4615384615 0.4615384615 0.07692307692
Conference Rank (of 32) 19th 16th

For all of the criticism I level on non-D1 games, at least they helped get the Sun Belt to home and road game parity this season. However, just 28 of the 143 confirmed games conference schedules come against the top 100 with a whopping 52 against teams in the bottom 101.

Team-By-Team Breakdown

Teams are listed in order of their Average Schedule Strength National Ranking. Numbers in parentheses are opponent’s Team Score Ranking. Logos via SportsLogos.net.

53. Appalachian State Mountaineers

*Exempt Event: Puerto Rico Tip-Off

True Home Games (4) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (2-3) Semi-Road Games (0-1) True Road Games (6)
True Home Games (4) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (2-3) Semi-Road Games (0-1) True Road Games (6)
Toccoa Falls (Non-D1) None Iowa State (14)* South Carolina (45) James Madison (173)
Bridgewater (Non-D1) Tulsa (87) or (or Illinois State, VCU (35)
Davidson (78) Western Michigan (155)* Boise State, or UTEP)* Western Carolina (268)
USF (267) Illinois State (70) or Akron (93)
Boise State (77) or Ohio State (46)
UTEP (168) Hampton (280)
(or South Carolina)*

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 2 wins (James Madison, Hampton) and 2 losses (@Davidson, Western Carolina)

The Mountaineers replaced Florida State in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off field after the Seminoles’ departure for the Jamaica Classic—significantly upping the schedule’s degree of difficulty. That could be a bridge too far for a program that wants more national exposure, but has just won nine games in each of the past two seasons.

145. Troy Trojans

*Exempt Event: Adolph Rupp Classic

True Home Games (5) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (2) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (6)
True Home Games (5) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (2) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (6)
Brewton-Parker (Non-D1) None North Dakota (223) None Hawai'i (149)
Delaware State (338)* (Honolulu) Kentucky (3)*
UIC (302)* Arkansas-Pine Bluff (345) ETSU (121)*
UAB (147) (Honolulu) Southern Mississippi (308)
Milligan (Non-D1) Arkansas (42)
Austin Peay (290)

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 1 win (Hawai’i) and 1 loss (@UAB)

The Trojans won their last six Sun Belt contests of 2017, and with four of those coming in New Orleans, that was enough to earn them a surprise NCAA bid. Troy tasted a little bit of success in the non-conference, winning eight of its 14 games—including a trip to Hawai’i, who appears on this schedule again. Phil Cunningham’s team also played USC close in Los Angeles, losing by just five. And you have to think the Trojans would be happy to keep games against Kentucky and Arkansas that close.

177. UT Arlington Mavericks

*Exempt Event: Barclays Center Classic (Visitors’ Bracket)

True Home Games (6) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (1-2) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (5-6)
True Home Games (6) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (1-2) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (5-6)
Loyola Marymount (205) None Western Carolina (268)* None BYU (51)
UT Dallas (Non-D1) Alabama A&M (344) Alabama (59)
Rice (224) (or Niagara)* Niagara (297)
North Texas (303) (or Alabama A&M)*
FGCU (146) UNI (82)
Cal Poly (243) UTRGV (335)
Creighton (34)

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 4 wins (@North Texas, UT Dallas, @Loyola Marymount, @BYU (NIT)) and 1 loss (@FGCU)

If Scott Cross’s team, which has won 51 games over the past two seasons, can make it to the NCAAs, it would be a threat to win a game. However, consecutive Sun Belt semifinal losses knocked the Mavericks down to the CollegeInsider.com Tournament in 2016 and the NIT in 2017. But big things are expected in Kevin Hervey’s senior season, especially after last March’s run to the NIT quarterfinals. If UTA can catch BYU (who the Mavericks defeated in the postseason in Provo) or Alabama napping in their Barclays Center Classic on-campus games, the Mavericks could pick up a quality win or two early, while a trip to Creighton will provide one last stiff test before Sun Belt play. UT Arlington should be able to take care of the field at the Barclays subregional at Niagara fairly easily. The same goes for the six-game home slate, with the exception of ASUN power FGCU. That meeting should be one of the mid-major games of the year.

180. Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns

*Exempt Event: Cayman Islands Classic

True Home Games (6) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (3) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (4)
True Home Games (6) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (3) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (4)
Louisiana College (Non-D1) None Iowa (33)* None Ole Miss (63)
Savannah State (330)* South Dakota State (119) or Nicholls State (329)
McNeese State (321) Wyoming (131)* Louisiana Tech (97)
Loyola (La.) (Non-D1) Cincinnati (20) or Clemson (47)
New Orleans (273) Richmond (80) or
Southeastern Louisiana (298) Buffalo (104) or
UAB (147)*

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 5 wins (Nicholls State, @McNeese State, Loyola (La.), Louisiana Tech, @New Orleans) and 0 losses

The Ragin’ Cajuns head into this season aiming to continue their under-the-radar excellence under Bob Marlin. They’ll get a chance make a splash nationally in the Cayman Islands Classic, where Iowa will await Louisiana in the quarterfinals. While the Cajuns should win all six games set for the Cajundome, the same can’t be said for contests at Ole Miss, Louisiana Tech, and Clemson.

186. Arkansas State Red Wolves

*Exempt Event: Hoosier Tip-Off Classic

True Home Games (5) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (0) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (8)
True Home Games (5) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (0) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (8)
Abilene Christian (332) None None None Evansville (120)
Howard (333)* Eastern Michigan (137)*
UT Martin (227) Indiana (31)*
Henderson State (Non-D1) USF (267)*
Culver-Stockton (Non-D1) Cleveland State (219)
Omaha (176)
FAU (291)
Wichita State (10)

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 2 wins (Cleveland State, @UT Martin) and 0 losses

Grant McCasland bolted for North Texas after a single 20-win season, so Mike Balado will lead the Red Wolves through this slate that features road games at Indiana and Wichita State and just three D1 home contests. It’s not one that will make it easy to repeat last fall’s 9-4 non-conference mark.

233. Georgia State Panthers

*Exempt Event: MGM Resorts Main Event (Visitors’ Bracket)

True Home Games (5) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (2) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (6)
True Home Games (5) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (2) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (6)
Carver Bible (Non-D1) None Eastern Washington (181)* None Rice (224)*
Tulane (235) Eastern Kentucky (217) or Ole Miss (63)*
Liberty (289) Prairie View A&M (326)* Alabama A&M (344)
Montana (166) Dayton (40)
Point (Non-D1) UMass (130)
Chattanooga (124)

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 2 wins (Eastern Kentucky (N), Alabama A&M) and 1 loss (UMass)

After dipping to 16 wins in the season following its 2015 NCAA Tournament bid, Ron Hunter’s Panthers again cracked 20 victories last season. And after that four-win jump, you can add Georgia State to the list of potential Sun Belt champs. With both Ole MIss and Dayton expected to take a step back this year, the Panthers should have a legitimate shot at defeating every team on this list. Note that Georgia State could meet Eastern Kentucky for the championship of an exempt tournament visitors’ bracket for the second straight season.

250. ULM Warhawks

Exempt Event: None

True Home Games (7) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (0) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (4)
True Home Games (7) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (0) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (4)
Southeastern Louisiana (298) None None None TCU (69)
Northwestern State (294) SMU (15)
Rust (Non-D1) Stephen F. Austin (99)
Jackson State (310) Jacksonville State (258)
Grambling State (350)
Millsaps (Non-D1)
Centenary (Non-D1)

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 4 wins (Centenary, Stephen F. Austin, Jacksonville State, Grambling State) and 1 loss (Northwestern State (N))

After a pair of 20-win seasons, the Warhawks crashed to nine victories last season, with two-thirds of those coming outside of Sun Belt play. But with seven home games on this season’s slate, ULM might be able to get back on track, even with three top 100 road games also waiting in the wings.

255. Coastal Carolina Chanticleers

*Exempt Event: Islands Of The Bahamas Showcase

True Home Games (7) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (3) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (3)
True Home Games (7) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (3) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (3)
Piedmont International (Non-D1) None UTSA (301)* None Lamar (299)
St. Andrew's (Non-D1)* Vermont (89) or Hampton (280)
Wofford (145) Bradley (270)* South Carolina (45)
Lamar (299) Iona (98) or
Montreat (Non-D1) James Madison (173) or
Wake Forest (66) Weber State (177) or
College of Charleston (133) Northern Kentucky (222)*

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 1 win (Piedmont International) and 3 losses (College of Charleston, @Wake Forest, Wofford)

Cliff Ellis’s Chanticleers extended their streak of 20-win seasons to four, but they needed a run to the best-of-three CBI finals to get there. But with seven home games and a winnable quarterfinal at the Islands of the Bahamas Showcase, Coastal should be able to get off to a better start than its 5-8 non-league mark of 2016. And that should put the Chants in position to contend in what should be a highly-competitive league.

287. Georgia Southern Eagles

*Exempt Event: Gulf Coast Showcase

True Home Games (4) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (3) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (6)
True Home Games (4) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (3) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (6)
Cal State Bakersfield (139) None Missouri State (188)* None Wake Forest (66)
Bluefield State (Non-D1)* Manhattan (233) or Bradley (270)
Tennessee Wesleyan (Non-D1) UMKC (251)* George Mason (157)
Savannah State (330) Towson (152) or Cal State Bakersfield (139)
Northern Illinois (184) or Kennesaw State (305)
Penn (230) or ETSU (121)
FAU (291)*

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 1 win (@Savannah State) and 0 losses

Coming off an 18-win season, many consider the Eagles the biggest threat to UTA in the conference race. And with this schedule, Mark Byington’s squad will be battle-tested heading into Sun Belt play, even if only one Power 7 foe is present on the 13-game schedule. The most intriguing contests for Georgia Southern are a Gulf Coast Showcase quarterfinal with Missouri State, a team in a similar position to the Eagles in the Missouri Valley, and a home-and-home series with NIT semifinalist Cal State Bakersfield.

328. Little Rock Trojans

*Exempt Event: Grand Canyon Classic

True Home Games (6) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (0) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (7)
True Home Games (6) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (0) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (7)
Ouachita Baptist (Non-D1) None None None Memphis (79)
Robert Morris (262)* Grand Canyon (172)*
Norfolk State (261)* San Diego (221)*
Central Arkansas (336) Central Arkansas (336)
Oral Roberts (216) Bradley (270)
University of the Ozarks (Non-D1) Sam Houston State (193)
Mississippi State (101)

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 3 wins (University of the Ozarks, @Central Arkansas, Central Arkansas) and 1 loss (@Oral Roberts)

The Trojans saw their win total halved between Chris Beard’s final season (30) and Wes Flanagan’s first (15), with the bulk of last season’s victories, nine, coming before conference play tipped off. However, with three fewer games against teams in the bottom 50 and road trips to Memphis, Grand Canyon, and Mississippi State, Little Rock will struggle to be as successful this time around.

342. South Alabama Jaguars

*Exempt Event: Hall Of Fame Tip-Off (Visitors’ Bracket)

True Home Games (6) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (1-2) Semi-Road Games (0-1) True Road Games (5)
True Home Games (6) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (1-2) Semi-Road Games (0-1) True Road Games (5)
Mobile (Non-D1) None Maine (343)* Sacred Heart (304) Texas Tech (58)*
Stetson (325) Saint Peter's (164) (or Saint Peter's) La Salle (159)*
New Orleans (273) (or Sacred Heart)* FIU (259)
Southern Mississippi (308) SIU Edwardsville (313)
Eastern Illinois (252) Tulane (235)
Trinity Baptist (Non-D1)

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 2 wins (FIU, @Southern Mississippi) and 2 losses (@Eastern Illinois, @Stetson)

The Jaguars claimed exactly half of their 14 2016-17 wins during the non-conference, and they’ll look to improve that total in Matthew Graves’s fifth season in charge in Mobile. But with an exempt tournament that will see South Alabama play all four games away from home (after a home round-robin last season), the path to the first .500 or better record of the Graves administration won’t be all that easy.

343. Texas State Bobcats

*Exempt Event: Men Against Breast Cancer Showcase

True Home Games (5) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (2) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (6)
True Home Games (5) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (2) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (6)
UTSA (301) None Arkansas-Pine Bluff (345)* None Air Force (234)*
UTRGV (335) Canisius (185)* Pacific (231)*
Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (200) Houston Baptist (282)
McMurry (Non-D1) Abilene Christian (332)
Ecclesia (Non-D1) Colorado State (92)
Rice (224)

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 0 wins and 3 losses (Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, @UTSA, @UTRGV)

Danny Kaspar, who got the ball rolling at Stephen F. Austin, finally broke the 20-win barrier in San Marcos last season, even if a Sun Belt final loss left the fans wanting just a bit more. And even with only five home games on the schedule, the Bobcats could exceed last season’s non-league win total of seven. No Power 7 foes are to be found on the slate, and Texas State’s exempt field features four games that could all break the Bobcats’ way.

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