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

Ball State, a title contender, has the league’s only non-conference schedule that might be at-large worthy this season.

NCAA Basketball: MAC Conference Tournament-Akron vs Kent State
Kent State was the MAC’s lone NCAA entrant in 2017. Based on how the conference scheduled this year, don’t expect it to end its at-large drought when March arrives.
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

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

Ranking The Teams

Seemingly every season, someone, somewhere asks why the MAC isn’t a multi-bid league, which is an odd inquiry, considering the conference hasn’t sent more than one team to the NCAA Tournament in the entirety of the KenPom era...which began in 2001-02! And while the league manages to have just one team in the bottom 100 of the four-year ranking (and barely at that), the other 11 only manage to occupy rankings that are middling at best. And that’s not the formula to earning multiple bids.

MAC Team Score Rankings

Team Team Score National Rank
Team Team Score National Rank
Akron 3.2638525 93
Buffalo 2.598687 104
Toledo 2.237783 114
Ohio 1.3449095 127
Eastern Michigan 1.000781 137
Kent State 0.5164 148
Western Michigan 0.3261186 155
Central Michigan -0.694794 179
Northern Illinois -0.9422773 184
Ball State -1.36208275 197
Bowling Green -1.755083 211
Miami (Ohio) -3.677998 253
Average 0.2380247125 158.5
Conference Rank 12th of 32

Ranking The Schedules

With only Ball State’s schedule ranking among the top 100 and more than half of conference squads ranking outside of the top 200 in at least three categories, it’s going to be very difficult for even a high-quality MAC squad to earn an at-large or escape the bottom four lines of the NCAA Tournament’s bracket. Overall, the conference ranks either 26th or 27th nationally in terms of average non-conference schedule strength. And you don’t want to find your league down that far if it doesn’t have the built in advantages that come from Power 7 membership.

*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

MAC 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
Ball State 4.432461729 55 4.432461729 44 4.432461729 66 4.432461729 41
Buffalo* 2.740554882 121 2.4749485 128 3.519936846 103 2.296077933 125
Toledo 2.432658758 136 2.432658758 131 2.432658758 155 2.432658758 120
Eastern Michigan 2.040761885 160 2.040761885 159 2.040761885 178 2.040761885 146
Northern Illinois* 1.886717423 172 2.521900691 125 2.116523469 172 1.631654181 173
Akron* 1.352236008 215 0.327866512 257 1.931123506 183 0.8649561142 223
Western Michigan* 1.245220577 218 0.3035753841 258 2.464986489 150 -0.0502434538 278
Ohio* 0.7393008898 247 -0.01117335 275 1.29226025 224 0.1032379969 265
Kent State 0.5484950808 257 0.5484950808 248 0.5484950808 270 0.5484950808 242
Miami -0.1063795769 289 -0.1063795769 281 -0.1063795769 298 -0.1063795769 280
Bowling Green -0.7686029056 321 -0.7686029056 314 -0.7686029056 324 -0.7686029056 308
Central Michigan* -0.8294269543 324 -0.928766625 320 -0.5505424327 317 -1.113540202 324
Average 1.309499816 209.5833333 1.105645507 211.6666667 1.612806925 203.3333333 1.025961462 210.4166667
Conference Rank 26th of 32 26th of 32 27th of 32 27th of 32

Who Over- And Under-Scheduled?

Of the MAC’s 12 teams, only Northern Illinois and Ball State managed to over-schedule this season, though the Huskies (12 places) didn’t go quite to the extreme the Cardinals (142) did. Everyone else has a non-conference slate that ranks worse than its four-year Team Score, with the spread ranging from 17 for Buffalo to 145 for Central Michigan.

MAC 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
36 Northern Illinois 184 172 12
47 Buffalo 104 121 -17
59 Toledo 114 136 -22
62 Eastern Michigan 137 160 -23
94 Miami 253 289 -36
148 Western Michigan 155 218 -63
216 Kent State 148 257 -109
221 Bowling Green 211 321 -110
229 Ohio 127 247 -120
234 Akron 93 215 -122
259 Ball State 197 55 142
262 Central Michigan 179 324 -145
155.5833333 Average (14/32 conf.) 158.5 209.5833333 -51.08333333

MAC 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
77 1 21 (+1 possible semi-road game in MTEs) 21 (+1 possible in Great Alaska Shootout)

The MAC’s postseason issues partly derive from scheduling. For starters, league members average a little more than one game against non-D1 foes, scheduled to fortify home schedule (even though the conference ranks third among the 25 mid-majors in this statistic). And that total of 21 non-D1 home games equals the number of Power 7 road contests conference members will play this season. At first glance you would assume that number will likely drop once the Big Ten, the Power 7 league that shares the MAC footprint, moves to 20 league games in 2018-19. However...

MAC Non-Conference Games By League

Conference Games Scheduled Against Possible Tournament Games Against
Conference Games Scheduled Against Possible Tournament Games Against
Non-D1 21 1
Horizon 20 0
SWAC 8 0
A 10 6 3
ACC 5 1
Atlantic Sun 5 0
Big Ten 5 1
MEAC 5 0
OVC 5 0
American Athletic 4 1
Big East 4 0
C-USA 4 5
MVC 4 3
NEC 4 0
Summit 4 2
America East 3 0
Big 12 3 1
Big Sky 3 1
CAA 3 3
Ivy 3 1
MAAC 3 1
Pac-12 3 0
SEC 3 2
Southland 3 0
Sun Belt 3 3
WAC 3 2
Big South 1 0
Big West 1 2
MW 1 2
Patriot 1 0
SoCon 1 0
WCC 0 1

...since the 12 MAC members only play a total of five Big Ten opponents in the 2017-18 season, that assumption would be incorrect. Surprisingly, other than 20 games scheduled against the Horizon League, MAC schedules as a whole don’t feature many games against other neighboring leagues—there are just 26 scheduled contests where MAC teams face opposition from the Big Ten, OVC, Big East (think the Midwestern members), C-USA, MVC, and Summit.

MAC 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 6 1 7 0.5833333333 1
26-50 0 12 1 13 1.083333333 4
51-75 1 1 2 4 0.3333333333 1
76-100 2 0 2 4 0.3333333333 7
101-150 13 6 0 19 1.583333333 10
151-200 7 8 1 16 1.333333333 6
201-250 12 8 2 22 1.833333333 3
251-300 7 7 2 16 1.333333333 3
301-351 14 4 2 20 1.666666667 0
Non-D1 21 0 0 21 1.75 1
Total 77 52 13 142
Average 6.416666667 4.333333333 1.083333333 11.83333333
Percentage 0.5422535211 0.3661971831 0.09154929577
Conference Rank (of 32) 12th 20th 17th

The push for at-large bids also doesn’t get much help from the strength of the foes MAC teams face in November and December. Of the known games on this season’s league slates, just 28 will come against top 100 foes, meaning a whopping 114 feature teams from the bottom 251 of Division I or teams from outside of the classification entirely.

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.

65. Ball State Cardinals

*Exempt Event: Phil Knight Invitational (Victory Bracket Visitor)

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)
Stony Brook (142)* None None None Dayton (40)
Oakland City (Non-D1) Oklahoma (23)*
IUPUI (241) Oregon (18)*
Valparaiso (68) Bucknell (128)*
North Florida (209) Indiana State (174)
Jackson State (310) Notre Dame (21)
Florida A&M (351)

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 1 win (@North Florida) and 3 losses (Indiana State, @Valparaiso, IUPUI)

After a 21-win campaign that ended in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament, the Cardinals look to be a strong contender to earn their first NCAA bid since 2000. Other than road games at Dayton and Notre Dame, a quartet of PK80 games (including ones at 2017 Final Four squad Oregon and Patriot champ Bucknell) will provide Ball State with its biggest challenges in James Whitford’s fifth season in charge.

121. Buffalo Bulls

*Exempt Event: Cayman Islands Classic

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)
Canisius (185) None Cincinnati (20)* None Delaware (269)
Jacksonville State (258)* Richmond (80) or Syracuse (38)
Niagara (297) UAB (147)* Texas A&M (44)
St. Bonaventure (84) Iowa (33) or
Central Penn (Non-D1) South Dakota State (119) or
Robert Morris (262) Louisiana (123) or
NJIT (249) Wyoming (131)*

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 1 win (@Niagara) and 3 losses (@St. Bonaventure, Canisius (N), Robert Morris (N))

Kent State ended the Bulls’ quest for a third straight NCAA bid in last March’s MAC quarterfinals, but Buffalo still won more than it lost for the fourth straight season. And that happened despite a 6-7 run through pre-MAC play that included a 2-1 trip to the Great Alaska Shootout and three Power 7 road losses. This season, Nate Oats’s squad has one fewer power conference road game but makes up for it with a trip to the Cayman Islands Classic, where the Bulls will meet favorite Cincinnati in the first round.

136. Toledo Rockets

*Exempt Event: HoopHall Miami Invitational (Visitor)

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)
Saint Joseph's (107) None None None Syracuse (38)*
Ohio Northern (Non-D1) Cornell (277)
Oakland (115)* Kansas (5)*
Texas Southern (206)* Detroit Mercy (237)
Marshall (178) Cleveland State (219)
Wright State (161) Penn (230)
Jackson State (310)

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 2 wins (@Wright State, Detroit Mercy) and 2 losses (@Saint Joseph’s, @Marshall)

Tod Kowalczyk’s Rockets will face a far more daunting non-league schedule than the one they went 7-6 against a season ago—on the way to a 17-17 finish. The biggest change is the addition of a pair of Power 7 road trips—to Kansas and Syracuse as part of the HoopHall Miami event—that were absent a year ago. But the two mid-majors visiting the Glass City for that event—Oakland and Texas Southern—aren’t slouches either. Neither is season-opening foe Saint Joseph’s.

160. Eastern Michigan Eagles

*Exempt Event: Hoosier Tip-Off Classic

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)
Spring Arbor (Non-D1) None None None Indiana (31)*
Michigan-Dearborn (Non-D1) USF (267)*
Arkansas State (204)* North Florida (209)
Howard (333)* Long Beach State (156)
Oakland (115) Oakland (115)
Central State (Non-D1) Syracuse (38)
Rochester (Mich.) (Non-D1)

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 2 wins (Rochester (Mich.), Long Beach State) and 1 loss (@Syracuse)

After three straight winning season’s, Rob Murphy’s Eagles dipped below .500 in 2016-17, although EMU managed an 8-5 non-conference run. Meeting or beating that total isn’t a given this time around, thanks to a trio of Power 7 road matchups, including the now-traditional showdown with a Syracuse squad coached by Murphy’s mentor, Jim Boeheim, along with a home-and-home series with neighbors Oakland and an excursion to Long Beach State.

172. Northern Illinois Huskies

*Exempt Event: Gulf Coast Showcase

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)
St. Francis (Ill.) (Non-D1)* None Penn (230)* None Chicago State (342)
Green Bay (118) Towson (152) or Iowa State (14)
Rockford (Non-D1) FAU (291)* Marquette (57)
Milwaukee (194) Missouri State (188) or Iowa (33)
Central Connecticut State (346) Georgia Southern (189) or
UIC (302) Manhattan (233) or
UMKC (251)*

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

Mark Montgomery’s squad was another that couldn’t translate decent November and December results—eight wins, including a victory at USF—to a strong MAC campaign—the Huskies finished 15-17. And with three rough Power 7 road games and three-games at a Gulf Coast Showcase full of mid-majors contenders and wildcards, NIU might need to put together a strong MAC season to ensure that 2017’s dip below .500 was just a blip.

215. Akron Zips

*Exempt Event: Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic

True Home Games (7) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (2-3) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (2-3)
True Home Games (7) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (2-3) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (2-3)
Cleveland State (219) None USC (65)* None Dayton (40)
UT Martin (227) Princeton (76) or Marshall (178)
Chattanooga (124) Middle Tennessee (81)* Hawai'i (149)
Fort Wayne (141) Miami (Fla.) (29) or (or Miami, Davidson,
Appalachian State (286) Davidson (78) or New Mexico State)*
Mississippi Valley State (347) New Mexico State (86)*
Concord (Non-D1) (or Hawai'i)

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

Former Ohio head coach John Groce returns to the MAC this season, replacing Keith Dambrot, who left for Duquesne. The former Illinois boss will look to extend the Zips’ run of 20-win seasons to 13, and this non-league schedule should get Akron much of the way there. There’s nothing too challenging here outside of a road trip to rebuilding Dayton and a holiday excursion to Hawai’i for the Diamond Head Classic. The Zips are guaranteed to meet a 2017 NCAA team on both days one and two in Honolulu.

218. Western Michigan Broncos

*Exempt Event: Puerto Rico Tip-Off

True Home Games (6) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (2-3) Semi-Road Games (0-1) True Road Games (4)
True Home Games (6) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (2-3) Semi-Road Games (0-1) True Road Games (4)
Siena Heights (Non-D1) None Tulsa (87)* South Carolina (45) South Carolina (45)*
Northwood (Non-D1) Iowa State (14) or (or Illinois State, Saint Louis (239)
Oakland (115) Appalachian State (286)* Boise State, or UTEP)* Detroit Mercy (237)
Cleveland State (219) Illinois State (70) or Milwaukee (194)
Idaho (229) Boise State (77) or
Chicago State (342) UTEP (168)
(or South Carolina)*

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 0 wins and 4 losses (@Oakland, UTEP (N), Boise State (N), @Cleveland State)

Like Toledo, WMU finished at the break-even point a season ago, but the Broncos did most of their work in MAC play, thanks to a 4-8 non-league mark. That total included three losses in the Charleston Classic. Steve Hawkins’s club will look to avoid a similar result in this season’s trip to South Carolina, for the relocated Puerto Rico Tip-Off. The Broncos could meet South Carolina twice in the Gamecocks’ home state as part of that event.

247. Ohio Bobcats

*Exempt Event: Gildan Charleston Classic

True Home Games (7) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (2) Semi-Road Games (1) True Road Games (2)
True Home Games (7) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (2) Semi-Road Games (1) True Road Games (2)
Alabama A&M (344) None Dayton (40) or Clemson (47)* Maryland (30)
Mount St. Mary's (236) Hofstra (132)* Marshall (178)
Iona (98) Temple (94)* or
Coppin State (339) Old Dominion (110)* or
Western Kentucky (190) Auburn (122)* or
Prairie View A&M (326) Indiana St. (174)*
Northwestern Ohio (Non-D1)

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 0 wins and 3 losses (@Marshall, @Iona, @Western Kentucky)

With seven home games and just one Power 7 road contest—at Maryland, the Bobcats will be in great position to win 20 games again, even if they failed to defeat any of this schedule’s returnees in 2016. However, a trip to the Charleston Classic could result in an early loss or two, particularly since Ohio opens with Clemson, who will have plenty of fan support in their quarterfinal.

257. Kent State Golden Flashes

*Exempt Event: Savannah Invitational (Hosts’ Bracket)

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)
Ohio Christian (Non-D1) None Youngstown State (278) None Norfolk State (261)
Mississippi Valley State (347)* (Akron) Xavier (25)
Southeastern Louisiana (298)* Valparaiso (68)* Wright State (161)
Cleveland State (219) Loyola of Chicago (140)* Albany (126)
Northeastern (138)
Oregon State (135)

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 2 wins (Cleveland State (N), Mississippi Valley State) and 3 losses (@Northeastern, @Wright State, @Oregon State)

The Golden Flashes won four games in the MAC Tournament to claim the league’s lone 2017 NCAA berth, and Rob Senderoff’s team acquitted itself well against UCLA once there. While Kent State won eight non-conference games last season, it was one of five squads to lose to Oregon State all year. But the Beavers visit Northeast Ohio this season. A visit to Xavier and a pair of games against Missouri Valley foes at the Savannah Invitational are the biggest travel highlights of the Flashes’ 2017 schedule.

289. Miami (Ohio) RedHawks

*Exempt Event: Jamaica Classic Montego Bay (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)
Wright State (161) None LIU Brooklyn (288)* None Fordham (186)*
Midway (Non-D1) Hartford (324)* Tulane (235)*
Fort Wayne (141) Austin Peay (290)
Rio Grande (Non-D1) Western Illinois (300)
Missouri (150)
DePaul (171)
Ohio State (46)

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 2 wins (Austin Peay, Western Illinois) and 2 losses (@Wright State, @Fort Wayne)

After five seasons failing to crack the .500 mark, John Cooper was relieved of his duties in Oxford and now it’s up to Jack Owens to build upon last season’s 11-win campaign. With nine games scheduled away from home, don’t expect the 2017-18 RedHawks to match last season’s 7-6 non-conference mark. But at least Miami will get a nice trip to Montego Bay for a pair of winnable games at the Jamaica Classic.

321. Bowling Green Falcons

*Exempt Event: Creek Classic

True Home Games (6) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (2) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (5)
True Home Games (6) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (2) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (5)
South Dakota (191) None Abilene Christian (332)* None Drexel (242)
FGCU (146) USC Upstate (250)* Campbell (311)*
Lake Erie (Non-D1)* Norfolk State (261)
San Jose State (287) Old Dominion (110)
Evansville (120) Green Bay (118)
Lourdes (Non-D1)

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 1 win (Norfolk State) and 4 losses (@South Dakota, Green Bay, @Evansville, @San José State)

The Falcons slipped from 16 to 13 wins in Michael Huger’s second season, with six of last year’s wins coming outside of MAC play. But with a fall slate that features six home games, a weak round-robin event at Campbell, and an absence of power conference matchups, that total could tick up in 2017. And that’s even considering the awful 1-4 mark against returning foes.

324. Central Michigan Chippewas

*Exempt Event: GCI Great Alaska Shootout

True Home Games (7) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (2-3) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (3-4)
True Home Games (7) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (2-3) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (3-4)
Siena Heights (Non-D1) None Sam Houston State (193)* None Michigan (27)
Eureka (Non-D1)* College of Charleston (133) or Alaska Anchorage (Non-D1)
Jackson State (310) Cal Poly (243)* (or Cal State Bakersfield,
Montana State (276) Cal State Bakersfield (139) or Santa Clara, or
Tennessee Tech (245) Santa Clara (175) Idaho)*
SIU Edwardsville (313) Idaho (229) Southern Utah (340)
Lawrence Tech (Non-D1) (or Alaska Anchorage)* UMKC (251)

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 2 wins (@Tennessee Tech, @Montana State) and 0 losses

The Chippewas will hope to improve upon Buffalo’s 2016 performance in Anchorage, as they’ll be the MAC’s representative in the final edition of the Great Alaska Shootout. If Keno Davis’s squad can get past Sam Houston State in the quarterfinals, CAA favorite College of Charleston would await in the semifinals. That hypothetical contest would rank second on CMU’s slate—behind the visit to Michigan. In other words, if the Chips don’t equal last season’s non-MAC win total of 13 it will be a disappointment.

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