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Analyzing The OVC’s Non-Conference Schedules For 2017-18

These days, “Belmont” is the first name that pops into most folks’ heads after hearing the abbreviation “OVC.” But a few of the Nashville school’s league rivals have built non-conference schedules that size up favorably when compared to the Bruins’ slate.

NCAA Basketball: Belmont at Florida
Rick Byrd’s Belmont Bruins have a typically testing non-conference schedule. But is it the OVC’s best this season?
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

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

Ranking The Teams

While the OVC’s top three teams are perceived to be the conference’s anchor programs, those teams haven’t tasted all that much March success. The trio has just one NCAA bid to show for four seasons of excellence—Belmont in 2015. And that’s with the OVC Tournament’s ladder bracket allegedly protecting the top seeds.

OVC Team Score Rankings

Team Team Score National Rank
Team Team Score National Rank
Belmont 2.44019 111
Murray State 0.39016525 153
Morehead State -0.2387625 162
Eastern Kentucky -1.907842 217
Tennessee State -2.41769435 226
Tennessee Martin -2.4240772 227
Tennessee Tech -3.1800295 245
Eastern Illinois -3.6560245 252
Jacksonville State -3.8681918 258
Southeast Missouri -4.99575 285
Austin Peay -5.071473 290
SIU Edwardsville -6.405037 313
Average -2.61121055 228.25
Conference Rank 22nd of 32

Ranking The Schedules

Just two OVC squads rank in the top 100 across all four scheduling categories, with Tennessee Tech joining Austin Peay and Tennessee State in the Known Schedule group. On the other hand, seven of the 12 members rank in the bottom half of Division I in at least one grouping, with Murray State, Jacksonville State, and Eastern Kentucky flirting with the bottom 50 in most cases. That spread means the average OVC non-conference schedule ranks in the lower 50 percent in all but the Known metric.

Over the offseason, the OVC abolished its divisions and went from a 16-game to an 18-game league schedule, so conference members saw their November/December slates reduced by a pair of games.

*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

OVC 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
Austin Peay 4.701416325 43 4.701416325 37 4.701416325 57 4.701416325 35
Tennessee State 4.518504723 47 4.518504723 41 4.518504723 64 4.518504723 38
Tennessee Tech* 2.475330873 133 3.082514305 97 2.484816426 147 2.46584532 117
Morehead State 2.443100373 135 2.443100373 129 2.443100373 153 2.443100373 119
Belmont* 2.348394979 142 2.863600823 107 2.42394666 156 2.272843299 127
Eastern Illinois 1.854654864 175 1.854654864 169 1.854654864 193 1.854654864 158
SIU Edwardsville 1.715753177 182 1.715753177 178 1.715753177 200 1.715753177 169
UT Martin 0.9590433742 232 0.9590433742 217 0.9590433742 244 0.9590433742 217
Southeast Missouri* 0.4700245942 258 0.8969036542 222 0.5621205269 269 0.3779286615 248
Murray State -0.5540342545 307 -0.5540342545 303 -0.5540342545 318 -0.5540342545 295
Jacksonville State* -0.5827316204 308 -0.5290150217 301 -0.2445983938 304 -0.9208648469 316
Eastern Kentucky* -0.5846273221 309 -0.7385901875 311 -0.4461771346 312 -0.7230775096 303
Average 1.647069174 189.25 1.767821013 176 1.701545555 201.4166667 1.592592792 178.5
Conference Rank 20th of 32 15th of 32 24th of 32 18th of 32

Who Over- And Under-Scheduled?

With just five teams managing a triple-digit scheduling gap, OVC squads did a respectable job—a top 10 one in fact—of scheduling to their relative capabilities. UT Martin did the best, by under-scheduling by five spots, while Belmont’s slate looks slightly disappointing as it’s 31 places below the Bruins’ four-year ranking. Austin Peay and Tennessee State overextended themselves the most, while traditional OVC power Murray State boasts a slate that’s a full 154 places below its four-year standing.

OVC 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
14 UT Martin 227 232 -5
74 Morehead State 162 135 27
75 Southeast Missouri 285 258 27
79 Belmont 111 142 -31
123 Jacksonville State 258 308 -50
179 Eastern Illinois 252 175 77
201 Eastern Kentucky 217 309 -92
223 Tennessee Tech 245 133 112
244 SIU Edwardsville 313 182 131
277 Murray State 153 307 -154
295 Tennessee State 226 47 179
330 Austin Peay 290 43 247
176.1666667 Average (9/32 conf.) 228.25 189.25 39

OVC 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
63 2 27 19

OVC squads will play an average of two Power 7 road games and at least one non-D1 foe during November and December. Lack of success against the former and the mere presence of games featuring the latter plays a significant role in the OVC’s place among the conferences (even if the OVC ranks just 12th out of 25 mid-major leagues in terms of non-D1 matchups). While the conference boasts the seventh-highest total of mid-major home games, it also ranks fifth in terms of Power 7 road trips. But note that Belmont (Vanderbilt) and Murray State (Auburn) will both host SEC at-large contenders this season.

OVC Non-Conference Games By League

Conference Games Scheduled Against Possible Tournament Games Against
Conference Games Scheduled Against Possible Tournament Games Against
Non-D1 19 0
C-USA 11 0
Atlantic Sun 10 0
Horizon 10 1
MVC 9 0
MEAC 7 1
SEC 7 0
Big 12 6 0
Big Ten 6 0
SWAC 6 2
Big East 5 0
MAC 5 0
SoCon 5 1
Summit 5 0
Sun Belt 5 1
A 10 4 0
Pac-12 3 0
Southland 3 0
WAC 3 1
ACC 2 0
Big South 2 0
MAAC 2 0
MW 2 0
Big West 1 0
WCC 1 0
America East 0 1
American Athletic 0 0
Big Sky 0 2
CAA 0 0
Ivy 0 0
NEC 0 0
Patriot 0 0

Even with the OVC’s prime location, nestled between the Midwest and South, non-Division I opponents top this table. Considering the Big Ten’s predilection for games against perceived D1 bottom-feeders, I’m surprised OVC teams only play a total of six games against that conference.

OVC 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 5 0 5 0.4166666667 0
26-50 1 10 0 11 0.9166666667 0
51-75 1 8 0 9 0.75 0
76-100 2 6 0 8 0.6666666667 0
101-150 5 10 0 15 1.25 2
151-200 8 11 1 20 1.666666667 1
201-250 8 11 0 19 1.583333333 1
251-300 8 5 1 14 1.166666667 2
301-351 10 5 2 17 1.416666667 4
Non-D1 19 0 0 19 1.583333333 0
Total 62 71 4 137
Average 5.166666667 5.916666667 0.3333333333 11.41666667
Percentage 0.4525547445 0.5182481752 0.02919708029
Conference Rank (of 32) 21st 9th 32nd

Even though OVC squads will host four top 100 foes, the total of 33 games scheduled against that group pales in comparison to the 83 contests against the remainder of D1, especially when you add in the 19 non-D1 games on the conference’s aggregate schedule. At least league teams will manage to play a majority of their games against the bottom 101 teams in D1 at home.

Curiously, the OVC ranks dead last among the 32 Division I conferences when looking at the number of neutral-site games scheduled.

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.

43. Austin Peay Governors

*Exempt Event: NIT Season Tip-Off (Visitor)

True Home Games (7) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (0) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (5)
True Home Games (7) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (0) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (5)
Oakland City (Non-D1)* None None None Vanderbilt (37)*
UNC Asheville (143)* Virginia (2)*
Bethel (Non-D1) Oklahoma State (32)
Miami (Ohio) (253) Illinois (71)
Alabama A&M (344) Evansville (120)
Troy (228)
WKU (190)

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 1 win (Oakland City) and 3 losses (@Miami (Ohio), Evansville, @WKU)

Matt Figger replaces the retired Dave Loos and he’ll attempt to improve upon the Governors’ 11-win total of a season ago. APSU won just four times before OVC play—with all of those wins coming in November. While the Govs are in an exempt tournament, they’ll play just 12 non-league games—and four of those are Power 7 road trips.

47. Tennessee State Tigers

Exempt Event: None

True Home Games (5) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (0) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (6)
True Home Games (5) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (0) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (6)
Reinhardt (Non-D1) None None None Kansas (5)
Middle Tennessee (81) Kennesaw State (305)
Canisius (185) Alabama State (327)
Fisk (Non-D1) North Carolina A&T (348)
Lipscomb (240) Texas (39)
Purdue (19)

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 5 wins (@Middle Tennessee, @Canisius, Reinhardt, @Lipscomb, Alabama State) and 2 losses (@Vanderbilt, Kennesaw State)

A 74-63 victory over Middle Tennessee in Murfreesboro was the best of the Tigers’ nine non-conference wins of a season ago—and the Blue Raiders visit the Gentry Center this season. While Dana Ford’s squad got blown out by Vanderbilt last November, it took N.C. State to OT and played Duke to a 10-point margin in December. TSU will hope for results closer to the ones experienced in the Research Triangle when embarking on its three Power 7 road trips this year—to Kansas, Texas, and Purdue.

133. Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles

*Exempt Event: Emerald Coast Classic (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)
Midway (Non-D1) None Omaha (176)* None TCU (69)*
Boyce (Non-D1) Jackson State (310) or New Mexico (105)*
Kennesaw State (305) Maryland Eastern Shore (315)* Furman (196)
Lipscomb (240) Dayton (40)
Chattanooga (124) Central Michigan (179)
Indiana (31)

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 0 wins and 4 losses (Central Michigan, @Lipscomb, Lipscomb, Furman)

Steve Payne’s Golden Eagle squads have alternated winning and losing campaigns since his 2011 arrival in Cookeville—and note that Tech won 12 games a season ago. Thanks to six difficult road games and a visit from SoCon power Chattanooga, the Golden Eagles will likely need to do some serious work in OVC play to ensure the pattern of the last six seasons continues.

135. Morehead State Eagles

Exempt Event: None

True Home Games (4) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (0) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (7)
True Home Games (4) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (0) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (7)
Marshall (178) None None None Xavier (25)
Alice Lloyd (Non-D1) Lipscomb (240)
Kentucky Christian (Non-D1) IUPUI (241)
Central Arkansas (336) Virginia Tech (75)
Central Arkansas (336)
Northern Kentucky (222)
Butler (26)

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 2 wins (Lipscomb, Central Arkansas) and 2 losses (@Marshall, @Northern Kentucky)

Preston Spradlin’s Eagles won 14 games in a turmoil-filled season that saw Sean Woods’s mid-December resignation following accusations of player abuse. While Morehead State won just four non-league games in 2016, they finished with a 10-6 OVC mark. A similar pattern of results could be on the cards for 2017-18, as Morehead will play just a quartet of home games and encounter an equal number of 2017 NCAA qualifiers on the road.

142. Belmont Bruins

*Exempt Event: 2K Classic Benefitting Wounded Warrior Project (Visitors’ Bracket)

True Home Games (7) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (0) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (6)
True Home Games (7) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (0) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (6)
Vanderbilt (37) None None None Washington (103)*
Houston Baptist (282)* Middle Tennessee (81)
Detroit Mercy (237) or Providence (43)*
Seattle (281)* TCU (69)
Green Bay (118) Lipscomb (240)
Lipscomb (240) WKU (190)
Milwaukee (194)
Pepperdine (192)

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 4 wins (WKU, Lipscomb, @Lipscomb, @Milwaukee) and 2 losses (@Vanderbilt, Middle Tennessee)

A visit from Vanderbilt isn’t the lone highlight on a Bruin slate that should at worst prepare them for an NCAA First Round game. While winning at rebuilding Washington in the 2K Classic might not increase the national spotlight on Belmont, pulling upsets at Middle Tennessee, Providence, or TCU most certainly would.

175. Eastern Illinois Panthers

Exempt Event: None

True Home Games (4) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (0) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (7)
True Home Games (4) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (0) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (7)
IUPUI (241) None None None Nebraska (88)
Fontbonne (Non-D1) Western Illinois (300)
Western Illinois (300) San Diego State (50)
St. Francis (Ill.) (Non-D1) Marquette (57)
Bradley (270)
Green Bay (118)
South Alabama (263)

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 5 wins (St. Francis (Ill.), Western Illinois, South Alabama, @Western Illinois, Fontbonne) and 1 loss (@Bradley)

A season ago, the Panthers went 8-5 against a non-conference schedule that included a half-dozen dates at Lantz Arena. This year, Jay Spoonhour’s squad will attempt to improve upon that win total in 11 games, with just four in Charleston. If they do so, it will be a good sign for a senior-laden squad that’s poised to get over .500 for the first time since 2014-15.

182. SIU Edwardsville Cougars

Exempt Event: None

True Home Games (4) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (0) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (7)
True Home Games (4) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (0) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (7)
Valparaiso (68) None None None Purdue (19)
Western Illinois (300) Stetson (325)
South Alabama (263) Creighton (34)
Chicago State (342) Southern Illinois (158)
Fort Wayne (141)
IUPUI (241)
Central Michigan (179)

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 1 win (IUPUI) and 2 losses (Southern Illinois, Stetson)

The Cougars, who won just six games a season ago, have not yet recorded a winning record since beginning their transition to Division I in 2008-09. Don’t expect that to change in 2017-18—especially with a non-conference schedule that features seven road games, including brutal trips to Purdue and Creighton.

232. UT Martin Skyhawks

*Exempt Event: Global Sports Invitational

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)
North Carolina Central (182)* None None None Marshall (178)*
UMKC (251) Illinois (71)*
Cincinnati-Clermont (Non-D1) Akron (93)
Blue Mountain (Non-D1) Southern (284)*
Arkansas-Pine Bluff (345) LSU (90)
Chattanooga (124)
Arkansas State (204)
Mississippi State (101)

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 2 wins (@Arkansas-Pine Bluff, @UMKC) and 1 loss (Arkansas State)

UTM has strung together a trio of 20-win seasons but is still looking for its first NCAA bid. The good news for the Skyhawks is that this season’s round-robin MTE, anchored by Illinois, should be more forgiving than last year’s, which featured Kentucky. However, UT Martin will play three Power 7 road games in a 13-game slate, a higher percentage than the two scheduled for last season’s 15-game lineup.

258. Southeast Missouri Redhawks

*Exempt Event: Cancun Challenge (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)
Missouri Baptist (Non-D1) None Cal State Northridge (265)* None Louisiana Tech (97)*
North Carolina Central (182) Montana State (276) or Evansville (120)*
Hannibal-LaGrange (Non-D1) Binghamton (331)* North Carolina Central (182)
UMKC (251) Southern Illinois (158)
Bradley (270) Kansas State (41)
Saint Louis (239)

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 1 win (Hannibal-LaGrange) and 2 losses (@Bradley, @UMKC)

Former Mississippi State coach Ricky Ray might be on to something in Cape Girardeau, as his Redhawks tripled their win total from five to 15 between his first and second seasons. Granted, the bulk of that improvement occurred in OVC play, as SEMO won just five non-league games a season ago. Still, this season’s slate features that many home games alone. Plus, there’s a trip to Cancun, where the Mayan Division bracket isn’t filled with opposition that will have the Redhawks trembling in their high-tops.

307. Murray State Racers

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)
Brescia (Non-D1) None None None Wright State (161)
Middle Tennessee (81) Illinois State (70)
Southern Illinois (158) Saint Louis (239)
Harris Stowe (Non-D1) Detroit Mercy (237)
Florida A&M (351)
Marist (312)
Auburn (122)

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 3 wins (Illinois State, Detroit Mercy, Brescia) and 3 losses (@Middle Tennessee, @Southern Illinois, Wright State)

The Racers’ loss to UT Martin in the OVC semifinals ensured they would finish below .500 for the first time in the KenPom era. But with seven home games, including a visit from Auburn, and no Power 7 road games, Matt McMahon’s squad should head into OVC with a winning record—a feat the Racers couldn’t pull off one season ago.

308. Jacksonville State Gamecocks

*Exempt Event: Cayman Islands Classic (Visitors’ Bracket)

True Home Games (7) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (1-2) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (4-5)
True Home Games (7) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (1-2) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (4-5)
Tennessee Wesleyan (Non-D1) None Savannah State (330)* None Richmond (80)*
Alabama State (327) Alabama State (327) Buffalo (104)*
Samford (225) (or Chattanooga) Chattanooga (124)
ULM (202) (or Alabama State)*
USC Upstate (250) Mississippi State (101)
Howard (333) Oregon State (135)
Chattanooga (124)

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 2 wins (@Alabama State, @USC Upstate) and 3 losses (@Samford, @ULM, @Chattanooga)

Ray Harper led the Gamecocks to 20 wins and the NCAA Tournament in his first season in charge, though he needed his squad to win the OVC Tournament to reach both benchmarks. Visits to Mississippi State and Oregon State as well as four Cayman Islands Classic mainland games highlight this season’s road to repeat—with JSU guaranteed to play either Chattanooga or Alabama State twice thanks to their participation in the latter event.

309. Eastern Kentucky Colonels

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

True Home Games (4) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (2) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (7)
True Home Games (4) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (2) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (7)
Kentucky State (Non-D1) None Prairie View A&M (326)* None Rice (224)*
Asbury (Non-D1) Georgia State (117) or Ole Miss (63)*
Jacksonville (306) Eastern Washington (181)* WKU (190)
Norfolk State (261) Oregon State (135)
Northern Kentucky (222)
Charleston Southern (292)
Marshall (178)

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 3 wins (WKU, Marshall, @Jacksonville) and 2 losses (Georgia State (N), @Norfolk State)

Dan McHale has yet to record a winning record in the two seasons since Jeff Neubauer departed for Fordham. And if the Colonels are going to crack .500 before OVC play begins, they’ll have to do a lot of work away from Richmond, as seven road games and a pair of games in Las Vegas for the MGM Resorts Main Event make up the majority of this 13-game slate. EKU’s main goal in Sin City will be to reverse last season’s Cancun Challenge visitors’ final defeat to Georgia State.

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