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Analyzing The Big Sky’s Non-Conference Schedules For 2017-18

The West’s lowest-ranked conference experiences scheduling challenges that leagues situated in other parts of the country can more easily avoid.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Arizona vs North Dakota
SPOILER: Heading into its final season in the Big Sky, defending champ North Dakota does not own the best non-conference schedule in the conference.
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

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

Ranking The Teams

Even though Eastern Washington secured a 13 seed in 2015 (like Montana two seasons prior), the Big Sky champ typically finds itself on either line 15 (North Dakota last season or Weber State in 2016) or 16 (the Wildcats in 2014). And that shouldn’t be too surprising for a league where every member save Montana sits in the bottom half of the four-year ratings table.

Big Sky Team Score Rankings

Team Team Score National Rank
Team Team Score National Rank
Montana -0.315585 166
Weber State -0.6175281 177
Eastern Washington -0.7159005 181
North Dakota -2.336903 223
Idaho -2.629257 229
Portland State -3.823219 257
Sacramento State -4.5298495 275
Montana State -4.607036 276
Northern Colorado -5.2560065 295
Northern Arizona -6.7879075 319
Idaho State -6.8615175 320
Southern Utah -9.400375 340
Average -3.990090383 254.8333333
Conference Rank 28th of 32

Ranking The Schedules

While the Big Sky’s teams don’t rank all that highly nationally, their schedules do. Four to six teams find themselves in the top 100 in each of the four categories, while seven of the conference’s 12 members rank in the top half nationally across the board. Portland State earns a special mention, as the Vikings’ participation in the Phil Knight Invitational boosts its slate to the top 40 in the Average, Maximum, and Minimum categories.

*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

Big Sky 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
Portland State* 4.84399457 40 3.995318566 53 5.270392392 38 4.437381825 40
Southern Utah 3.961436818 66 3.961436818 57 3.961436818 80 3.961436818 52
North Dakota 3.71694099 76 3.71694099 66 3.71694099 96 3.71694099 64
Montana* 3.618262753 82 3.984356365 54 3.630636529 99 3.605888976 70
Sacramento State* 3.566917712 85 3.412997778 82 4.684629793 58 2.666603226 109
Northern Arizona* 2.996185201 110 3.128748948 93 3.206466067 117 2.785904335 102
Eastern Washington* 2.360181143 140 2.850672186 108 2.521321902 146 2.199040383 135
Weber State* 0.3946580232 260 0.64313455 242 0.9404094583 245 0.0517326146 267
Idaho* 0.3806166703 261 0.4380895575 253 0.6200230688 265 0.1744373813 261
Northern Colorado 0.0393960337 278 0.0393960337 271 0.0393960337 289 0.0393960337 269
Idaho State 0.0266649545 280 0.0266649545 273 0.0266649545 292 0.0266649545 272
Montana State* 0.010305063 282 0.297631412 259 0.0340897841 290 -0.0134796582 276
Average 2.159629994 163.3333333 2.207949013 150.9166667 2.387700649 167.9166667 1.970995657 159.75
Conference Rank 8th of 32 8th of 32 10th of 32 10th of 32

Who Over- And Under-Scheduled?

As you’d expect, when a conference has most of its members in the bottom half of Division I and most of its schedules in the top half, there will be scheduling gaps. And indeed, the seven teams with the highest Average Schedule rankings all over-scheduled by margins ranging from 41 spots (Eastern Washington) to 274 (Southern Utah). Montana State, who under-scheduled by six spots, and Northern Colorado, 17-spot over-schedulers, did the best job of scheduling to recent performances out of these 12 squads.

Big Sky 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
17 Montana State 276 282 -6
48 Northern Colorado 295 278 17
80 Idaho 229 261 -32
103 Idaho State 320 280 40
106 Eastern Washington 181 140 41
188 Weber State 177 260 -83
193 Montana 166 82 84
267 North Dakota 223 76 147
301 Sacramento State 275 85 190
312 Northern Arizona 319 110 209
315 Portland State 257 40 217
338 Southern Utah 340 66 274
189 Average (24/32 conf.) 254.8333333 163.3333333 91.5

Big Sky Home, Power Conference, And 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
53 (2 + 1 semi-home in MTEs) 2 (1 confirmed and 1 possible in MTEs +1 confirmed semi-home in MTEs) 22 26 (+1 potential at Great Alaska Shootout)

With the relative lack of Division I teams between the Rockies and Pacific, the Big Sky’s 12 members struggle mightily to fill their schedules. Nearly half of the conference’s home games will come against teams from outside of Division I, while the typical league team will play a pair of Power 7 road games. The conference joins the Big West and MEAC in a tie for 17th (out of 25 mid-major leagues) in the ranking of non-conference home games and the Horizon and WAC in a knot for 11th in terms of Power 7 road contests. The league is also in a three-way tie for fourth in the non-D1 games table, alongside the MEAC and Conference USA.

Big Sky Non-Conference Games By League

Conference Games Scheduled Against Possible Tournament Games Against
Conference Games Scheduled Against Possible Tournament Games Against
Non-D1 26 1
MW 17 0
WCC 17 5
Big West 16 3
Pac-12 15 2
Summit 11 0
WAC 7 1
Big Ten 4 1
Horizon 3 1
MAC 3 1
Southland 3 1
Sun Belt 3 1
ACC 2 0
C-USA 2 1
SWAC 2 1
America East 1 1
American Athletic 1 0
Atlantic Sun 1 0
Big 12 1 1
Big East 1 1
MAAC 1 1
MEAC 1 0
A 10 0 1
Big South 0 0
CAA 0 2
Ivy 0 1
MVC 0 1
NEC 0 0
OVC 0 2
Patriot 0 0
SEC 0 2
SoCon 0 0

Even though the bulk of the Big Sky’s D1 non-conference games feature other Western opponents, non-D1 games still dominate this breakdown. Nine primarily Eastern leagues don’t have any confirmed games against Big Sky members, but the Midwest’s Missouri Valley an intriguing outlier in this group. However, squads from six of these missing conferences could meet Big Sky opposition on days two or three of tournament competition.

Big Sky 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 1 6 0 7 0.5833333333 3
26-50 0 5 1 6 0.5 3
51-75 0 5 1 6 0.5 2
76-100 1 8 2 11 0.9166666667 2
101-150 3 17 1 21 1.75 4
151-200 8 13 3 24 2 6
201-250 3 4 4 11 0.9166666667 5
251-300 9 8 2 19 1.583333333 4
301-351 1 2 3 6 0.5 2
Non-D1 26 0 0 26 2.166666667 1
Total 52 68 17 137
Average 4.333333333 5.666666667 1.416666667 11.41666667
Percentage 0.3795620438 0.496350365 0.1240875912
Conference Rank (of 32) 27th 11th 13th

Duke‘s Phil Knight Invitational quarterfinal against Portland State accounts for the Big Sky’s best non-league home game, and that game will be played at the Vikings’ part-time home in front of what’s likely to be an ambivalent crowd. Still, the split of non-D1 vs. D1 home games is particularly stark in this table. Beyond that, the number of Big Sky road games against teams in ranked between 101st and 200th—30—jumps out at me.

Thanks to a relatively high number of neutral-site matchups, the Big Sky ranks only 11th nationally in percentage of road non-conference games, while simultaneously boasting only the sixth-highest percentage of home contests.

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.

40. Portland State Vikings

*Exempt Event: Phil Knight Invitational Motion Bracket

True Home Games (6) Semi-Home Games (1) True Neutral-Site Games (0) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (6)
True Home Games (6) Semi-Home Games (1) True Neutral-Site Games (0) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (6)
Wilmette (Non-D1) Butler (26) or None None Portland (215)
Utah State (125)* Texas (39)* UC Riverside (274)
Duke (9)* Loyola Marymount (205)
Gonzaga (4) or Santa Clara (175)
Florida (17) or Oregon (18)
Ohio State (46) or California (49)
Stanford (74)*
Portland Bible (Non-D1)
Linfield (Non-D1)

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 1 win (@Portland) and 1 loss (@Loyola Marymount)

Thanks to the Phil Knight Invitational, the Vikings should get the rare opportunity to play a pair of Power 7 foes on its part-time home floor of Memorial Coliseum. (Action shifts from there to the Moda Center on day two, hence why PSU’s Friday opponent is listed as a semi-home game.) Duke will already meet Portland State on Thanksgiving, and the likely loss to the Blue Devils would put the Vikings on course for a Sunday game at Memorial as well.

Considering how 2016-17’s 7-4 non-conference mark turned into a 15-16 overall record that resulted in Tyler Geving’s departure, don’t expect a fairy tale over Thanksgiving weekend in Barret Peery’s first campaign.

66. Southern Utah Thunderbirds

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)
San Jose State (287) None None None Oregon State (135)
Benedictine (Az.) (Non-D1) Boise State (77)
San Diego Christian (Non-D1) UNLV (154)
Long Beach State (156) Pepperdine (192)
Central Michigan (179) Michigan State (16)
Iowa (33)

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 0 wins and 2 losses (@UNLV, @San José State)

The Thunderbirds won just six times in Todd Simon’s first season—failing to defeat a Division I team before Big Sky play. Such a result could be on the cards again for SUU, particularly with no clear D1 wins on the home slate and a half-dozen tricky road games on the opposite side of the ledger.

76. North Dakota Fighting Hawks

*Exempt Event: Outrigger Hotels Rainbow Classic

True Home Games (4) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (2) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (6)
True Home Games (4) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (2) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (6)
Northland (Non-D1) None Troy (228)* None Hawai'i (149)*
Utah Valley (254) Arkansas-Pine Bluff (345)* Nebraska (88)
Presentation (Non-D1) Creighton (34)
North Dakota State (134) South Dakota State (119)
Gonzaga (4)
North Dakota State (134)

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 2 wins (Presentation, @North Dakota State) and 1 loss (North Dakota State)

The 2017 Big Sky champs are expected to take a step back in their final season before moving to the Summit League. But the Fighting Hawks should be prepared to defend their title, thanks to a schedule highlighted by games at Gonzaga, Nebraska, and Creighton, as well as three games against local future conference rivals and a trip to Hawai’i for the Rainbow Classic.

82. Montana Grizzlies

*Exempt Event: Legends Classic (Visitors’ Bracket)

True Home Games (5) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (1) Semi-Road Games (0-1) True Road Games (6-7)
True Home Games (5) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (1) Semi-Road Games (0-1) True Road Games (6-7)
Whitworth (Non-D1) None Oral Roberts (216)* UC Santa Barbara (201) Pittsburgh (53)*
Carroll (Non-D1) (or Pepperdine)* Penn State (95)*
Cal State Northridge (265) Pepperdine (192)
UC Riverside (274) (or UC Santa Barbara)*
UC Irvine (100) Stanford (74)
UCLA (28)
Georgia State (117)
Washington (103)

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 3 wins (Oral Roberts (N), @UC Riverside, Pepperdine) and 0 losses

The Grizzlies stumbled to five non-conference wins a season ago before storming through Big Sky play to get back to .500. And with a Legends Classic trip to Pepperdine and five Power 7 road games, a similar pattern may play out in Travis DeCuire’s fourth season in charge in Missoula.

85. Sacramento State Hornets

*Exempt Event: Wooden Legacy

True Home Games (4) Semi-Home Games (2) True Neutral-Site Games (2-3) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (4-5)
True Home Games (4) Semi-Home Games (2) True Neutral-Site Games (2-3) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (4-5)
Notre Dame de Namur (Non-D1) UC Davis (218) San Diego State (50)* None Colorado State (92)
Antelope Valley (Non-D1) (Golden 1 Center) Georgia (54) Cal State Fullerton (272)
Cal State Northridge (265) Portland (215) (or Cal State Fullerton)* (or Georgia)*
UC Santa Barbara (201) (Golden 1 Center) Saint Mary's (22) or San Francisco (129)
Harvard (106) or Saint Mary's (22)*
Saint Joseph's (107) or Boise State (77)
Washington State (183)*

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 1 win (Antelope Valley) and 3 losses (UC Davis (N), San Francisco (N), @Washington State)

Georgetown’s withdrawal from the Phil Knight Invitational led ESPN Events to shift DePaul from the Wooden Legacy into the Hoyas’ vacated spot. To fill the Blue Demons’ place in Fullerton, the Worldwide Leader turned to the Hornets, who aren’t known for participating in exempt tournaments. The three added games made a slate that was previously highlighted by a pair of Mountain West road trips more intriguing, and far rougher for a Hornet squad that won just 13 times a season ago.

110. Northern Arizona Lumberjacks

*Exempt Event: Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational (Visitors’ Bracket)

True Home Games (3) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (2) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (8)
True Home Games (3) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (2) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (8)
Embry-Riddle (Az.) (Non-D1) None Hampton (280)* None Arizona (7)
San Diego Christian (Non-D1) UC Irvine (100) or Arizona State (85)*
South Dakota (191) Rider (212)* Kansas State (41)*
Santa Clara (175)
Cal State Bakersfield (139)
San Diego (221)
USF (267)
Jacksonville (306)

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 0 wins and 3 losses (@Santa Clara, San Diego, Cal State Bakersfield)

With a brutal schedule that features four Power 7 road games and a difficult visitors’ bracket for the Las Vegas Invitational, don’t expect the Lumberjacks to exceed their 2016-17 non-league win total of three.

140. Eastern Washington Eagles

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

True Home Games (3) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (2) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (8)
True Home Games (3) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (2) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (8)
Walla Walla (Non-D1) None Georgia State (117)* None Washington (103)
Cal State Northridge (265) Eastern Kentucky (217) or Stanford (74)
Providence (Mont.) (Non-D1) Prairie View A&M (326)* UNLV (154)*
Utah (24)*
Seattle (281)
San Francisco (129)
South Dakota (191)
Wyoming (131)

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 4 wins (Seattle, San Francisco, @Seattle, Providence (Mont.)) and 0 losses

Jim Hayford’s tenure in Cheney continues to be consistently successful, though the Eagles, winners of 22 last season, might have trouble matching 2016’s eight non-conference wins. The main reason why—EWU has just three home games this time around, as opposed to the seven on 2016-17’s slate.

260. Weber State Wildcats

*Exempt Event: Islands Of The Bahamas Showcase

True Home Games (6) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (4) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (2)
True Home Games (6) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (4) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (2)
Utah State (125) None Iona (98)* None Fresno State (116)
West Coast Baptist (Non-D1)* James Madison (173) or Utah Valley (254)
Black Hills State (Non-D1) Northern Kentucky (222)*
Pepperdine (192) Vermont (89) or
Arkansas-Pine Bluff (345) Coastal Carolina (180) or
Presentation (Non-D1) Bradley (270) or
UTSA (301)*
BYU (51)
(Salt Lake City)

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 3 wins (West Coast Baptist, Utah Valley), @Utah State and 3 losses (@Pepperdine, Iona (N), @BYU)

Randy Rahe’s Wildcats won 20 games last season, a typical finish for a coach heading into his 12th season in Ogden. But that total included a disappointing 1-2 trip to the Great Alaska Shootout, where Weber lost to the Iona in the semifinals. And guess who awaits in the quarterfinals of the Wildcats’ trip to the Bahamas? Still, even if Weber State loses to the Gaels, wins will still be available in Nassau, and elsewhere for that matter, and that’s due to a schedule that features just two true road games.

261. Idaho Vandals

*Exempt Event: GCI Great Alaska Shootout

True Home Games (4) Semi-Home Games (1) True Neutral-Site Games (2-3) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (4-5)
True Home Games (4) Semi-Home Games (1) True Neutral-Site Games (2-3) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (4-5)
George Fox (Non-D1) UC Irvine (100) Santa Clara (175)* None Nevada (112)
Sam Houston State (193)* (Boise) Cal State Bakersfield (139) Alaska Anchorage (Non-D1)
Washington State (183) (or Alaska Anchorage)* (or Cal State Bakersfield)*
Simon Fraser (Non-D1) College of Charleston (133) or Nicholls State (329)
Central Michigan (179) or Cal State Bakersfield (139)
Sam Houston State (193) or Western Michigan (155)
Cal Poly (243)*

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 0 wins and 2 losses (@Sam Houston State, @Washington State)

The Vandals finished with a winning record—and in the postseason—for a second year in a row under Don Verlin, and Idaho should be able to improve upon 2016’s five non-league wins. Neighbors Washington State visit Cowan Spectrum, while the most difficult road trips will be to Nevada and to Anchorage for the final Great Alaska Shootout.

278. Northern Colorado Bears

*Exempt Event: Sanford Pentagon Showcase

True Home Games (5) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (2) Semi-Road Games (1) True Road Games (5)
True Home Games (5) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (2) Semi-Road Games (1) True Road Games (5)
UC Davis (218) None Youngstown State (278) South Dakota (191)* Colorado (60)
Northern New Mexico (Non-D1)* Southern Mississippi (308)* Pepperdine (192)
Western State (Colo.) (Non-D1) UC Davis (218)
Oklahoma Panhandle State (Non-D1) Wyoming (131)
Denver (187) UNLV (154)

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 1 win (Northern New Mexico) and 1 loss (@Denver)

Jeff Linder’s Bears return to postseason eligibility after an 11-win campaign that featured four victories before Big Sky play tipped off. Thanks to a weak Sanford Pentagon Showcase field and five home games, Northern Colorado should be able to improve upon that total as it sets off on the quest for its first NCAA bid since 2011.

280. Idaho State Bengals

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)
Utah Valley (254) None None None Arizona State (85)
Bethesda (non-D1) Washington State (183)
Cal State Northridge (265) San Jose State (287)
Northwest Nazarene (Non-D1) Seattle (281)
Youngstown State (278) BYU (51)
Cal State Northridge (265)

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 0 wins and 3 losses (@Utah Valley, @Cal State Northridge, @BYU)

A season after winning just one game against Division I opposition over a 13-game non-league slate, the Bengals dialed the degree of difficulty back a bit here. Still, it’s unlikely that Bill Evans’s squad makes headway after a six-victory campaign a season ago—particularly as the winnable home games are balanced out by road trips to Arizona State, Washington State, and BYU.

282. Montana State Bobcats

*Exempt Event: Cancun Challenge (Visitors’ Bracket)

True Home Games (4) Semi-Home Games (1) True Neutral-Site Games (2) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (6)
True Home Games (4) Semi-Home Games (1) True Neutral-Site Games (2) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (6)
Montana-Western (Non-D1) Omaha (176) Binghamton (331)* None Utah State (125)
Bethesda (Non-D1) (Great Falls, Mont.) Cal State Northridge (265) or Louisiana Tech (97)*
UC Santa Barbara (201) Southeast Missouri (285)* Fresno State (116)*
Denver (187) Milwaukee (194)
Central Michigan (179)
Omaha (176)

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 0 wins and 3 losses (Milwaukee, @Omaha, Central Michigan)

The Bobcats’ 2016-17 played out almost exactly like that of their rival from Missoula’s. However, Montana State’s 2017-18 slate has a couple of advantages over Montana. For starters, there are no Power 7 road trips, as opposed to five for the Grizzlies. Plus, MSU’s exempt event features all mid-majors, with the winnable visitors’ bracket set for an actual neutral site. For the second season in succession, the Bobcats will play a Summit team in a home-and-home series. Last season, South Dakota swept Montana State. This time around it will be Omaha on the slate, though the Bobcats’ “home” game is set for Great Falls, not Bozeman.

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