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

With top 100 non-conference slates, UNI and Illinois State are the Valley’s best hopes for remaining in the national picture following Wichita State’s departure for the Power 7.

NCAA Basketball: Missouri Valley Conference Tournament-Wichita State Shockers vs Illinois State Redbirds
Last March, Illinois State’s bubble burst on Selection Sunday, following an agonizing wait after losing the Arch Madness final to now-departed Wichita State.
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

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

Ranking The Teams

Yes, the Valley lost the 10th-best program in the four-year ranking when Wichita State departed for the American. However, in luring Valparaiso from the Horizon League, the MVC managed to replace the Shockers with another a consistent postseason threat. While 70 percent of the Valley ranks in the top half of Division I, the days of half of the league ranking in the top 100—and serving as at-large hopefuls as a result—appear distant.

MVC Team Score Rankings

Team Team Score National Rank
Team Team Score National Rank
Valparaiso 4.71703385 68
Illinois State 4.65943 70
UNI 3.99136292 82
Evansville 1.8463457 120
Loyola of Chicago 0.912672 140
Southern Illinois 0.05821805 158
Indiana State -0.48517505 174
Missouri State -1.13926 188
Drake -3.981035 260
Bradley -4.3168105 270
Average 0.626278197 153
Conference Rank 11th of 32

Ranking The Schedules

As usual, UNI finds itself in a quality bracketed tournament and facing a trio of high-major opponents in three very different environments, giving the Panthers the lone Valley schedule in the top 10...or 25...or 50...or 75. However, even with Illinois State joining Northern Iowa in the top 100, things are less rosy for the other eight teams. While Indiana State and Valpo both edge into Division I’s top half, the rest of the league drops into the second division. Making matters even worse, contender Missouri State has a non-league slate that ranks among Division I’s 50 worst.

*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

MVC 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
UNI* 6.515873219 8 5.41149285 21 7.896922375 3 5.023491438 23
Illinois State* 3.551717355 86 3.469838138 78 4.844904281 53 2.558823938 112
Indiana State* 2.026741235 162 1.343002545 200 2.420740163 157 1.580502725 179
Valparaiso 1.899736025 169 1.899736025 166 1.899736025 187 1.899736025 155
Drake* 1.632579169 187 1.63368528 183 2.543572006 144 0.9502378808 218
Evansville* 1.069190174 227 0.9478400083 218 1.237488533 226 0.9008918154 221
Loyola of Chicago 0.8586453396 236 0.8586453396 226 0.8586453396 251 0.8586453396 224
Bradley* 0.5544399466 256 0.8189566182 228 1.005097407 241 0.2459975904 256
Missouri State* -0.5289854178 305 -0.2761197682 291 -0.3413442462 308 -0.7359015923 304
Southern Illinois -0.796310924 322 -0.796310924 317 -0.796310924 326 -0.796310924 309
Average 1.678362612 195.8 1.531076611 192.8 2.156945096 189.6 1.248611423 200.1
Conference Rank 19th of 32 21st of 32 15th of 32 23rd of 32

Who Over- And Under-Scheduled?

UNI is among the four Valley over-schedulers, with the Panthers the worst of the group thanks to their 74-place gap. The remaining six all under-scheduled, with Valparaiso and Missouri State among the worst offenders on that front. While Illinois State falls within that group, the Redbirds only managed to miss their four-year Team Score ranking by 16 places. That’s perfectly respectable for a quality mid-major that struggles to get games.

MVC 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
35 Indiana State 174 162 12
42 Bradley 270 256 14
45 Illinois State 70 86 -16
168 Drake 260 187 73
172 UNI 82 8 74
202 Loyola of Chicago 140 236 -96
208 Valparaiso 68 169 -101
212 Evansville 120 227 -107
228 Missouri State 188 305 -117
288 Southern Illinois 158 322 -164
160 Average (12/32 conf.) 153 195.8 -42.8

MVC 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
60 (5 MVC/MW Challenge) 2 10 (+1 semi-road game in MTEs) 14

The Valley’s reputation as a league of giant-killers remains, considering that only two Power 7 members visit MVC arenas this season (Xavier travels to UNI and Tulsa visits Illinois State—curiously, those will be the third meetings in a two-year span for both pairs, thanks to exempt tournament showdowns) and each of the 10 members averages just a single power league road game. That’s dead last among the 25 mid-major leagues. While the Valley and the eight-member ASUN are tied for 11th in terms of home non-league games, note that the ASUN’s teams typically play more early contests thanks to a paltry 14-game league schedule.

MVC Non-Conference Games By League

Conference Games Scheduled Against Possible Tournament Games Against
Conference Games Scheduled Against Possible Tournament Games Against
Non-D1 14 0
MW 12 1
OVC 9 0
Summit 8 0
Horizon 7 1
Big Ten 5 1
MAC 5 3
MEAC 5 0
SEC 5 1
Sun Belt 5 2
ACC 4 2
SWAC 4 0
WAC 4 1
C-USA 3 6
CAA 4 4
A 10 2 2
America East 2 0
American Athletic 2 3
Big South 2 1
SoCon 2 1
Southland 2 0
WCC 2 0
Atlantic Sun 1 0
Big 12 1 1
Big East 1 1
Big West 1 0
MAAC 1 3
Big Sky 0 1
Ivy 0 1
NEC 0 0
Pac-12 0 2
Patriot 0 0

Yet again, the Missouri Valley falls within a group of conferences that could improve its scheduling by looking a bit more regionally. Note the 14 non-D1 games, all at home, are slightly less than half the total of contests scheduled against four regional mid-major conferences—the Horizon, MAC, OVC, and Summit.

Not surprisingly, the Mountain West tops this table, thanks to the two leagues’ still controversial challenge series. Five conferences don’t have any scheduled games against MVC opponents, though three could meet Valley foes in the latter stages of bracketed tournaments.

MVC 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 5 2 8 0.8 4
26-50 0 2 2 4 0.4 2
51-75 0 5 0 5 0.5 6
76-100 2 1 4 7 0.7 3
101-150 4 9 6 19 1.9 3
151-200 11 8 2 21 2.1 10
201-250 5 3 0 8 0.8 4
251-300 12 3 0 15 1.5 5
301-351 11 3 0 14 1.4 1
Non-D1 14 0 0 14 1.4 0
Total 60 39 16 115
Average 6 3.9 1.6 11.5
Percentage 0.5217391304 0.3391304348 0.1391304348
Conference Rank (of 32) 13th 21st 10th

Of the 114 known games on Valley schedules, just 24 will come against the top 100. Meanwhile, 43 matchups feature teams from outside of the top 250 or from lower divisions. That gap is a major reason why the MVC can no longer consistently produce at-large threats.

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.

Games marked with a ^ are part of the MVC/MW Challenge.

8. UNI Panthers

*Exempt Event: Bad Boy Mowers Battle 4 Atlantis

True Home Games (7) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (4) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (1)
True Home Games (7) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (4) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (1)
Alcorn State (328) None SMU (15)* None North Carolina (6)
Wartburg (Non-D1) Arizona (7) or
Chicago State (342)* North Carolina State (67)*
UNLV (154)^ Villanova (1) or
UT Arlington (109) Purdue (19) or
Dubuque (Non-D1) Tennessee (62) or
Xavier (25) WKU (190)*
Iowa State (14)
(Des Moines)

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 0 wins and 3 losses (Xavier (N), @Xavier, @North Carolina)

Last season started brightly for the Panthers, as consecutive wins in Orlando saw them reach the (again relocated) Puerto Rico Tip-Off final against Xavier. But the Musketeers handled UNI in two consecutive games—the pair met a mere six-days after the Tip-Off final at Cintas in a non-bracketed game—and Ben Jacobson’s team never really recovered, finishing with a losing record for the first time in his tenure.

Unlike Illinois State, the Panthers have just a single road game scheduled—a doozy at North Carolina. While UNI beat in Cedar Falls two years ago, the Tar Heels blew the Panthers out in Chapel Hill a season ago. And while UNI plays Xavier and Sun Belt favorite UT Arlington at home, the Panthers’ at-large hopes really depend on a potential run in the Battle 4 Atlantis. Beat SMU in game one and a semifinal showdown with Arizona and day three meeting with either Villanova or Purdue will follow. That type of run would get Northern Iowa—and the Valley as a whole—back in the national picture.

86. Illinois State Redbirds

*Exempt Event: Puerto Rico Tip-Off

True Home Games (5) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (2) Semi-Road Games (1) True Road Games (4)
True Home Games (5) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (2) Semi-Road Games (1) True Road Games (4)
Quincy (Non-D1) None Boise State (77) or South Carolina (45)* FGCU (146)
Charleston Southern (292) UTEP (168)* Nevada (112)^
Tulsa (87) Iowa State (14) or BYU (51)
Murray State (153) Tulsa (87) or Ole Miss (63)
UIC (302) Western Michigan (155) or
Appalachian State (286)*

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 1 win (Tulsa (N)) and 1 loss (@Tulsa)

If the Redbirds want to again put themselves in position to be teased by the Selection Committee, they’ll need to put in some serious work away from home. For starters, Illinois State visits ASUN favorite FGCU, defending Mountain West champ Nevada (in a rare on-point MW/MVC Challenge matchup), WCC contender BYU, and Ole Miss in a game that could be titled the Twitter Classic. However, the Redbirds’ Puerto Rico Tip-Off quarterfinal against South Carolina increased in difficulty once the event was relocated from Fajardo to Conway, S.C. after the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma. Still, the Gamecocks are reloading after their surprising Final Four appearance, so Dan Muller’s team will be happy to get them early. If ISU can pick up that major-conference win, another could follow, especially the top team on the other side of the bracket, Iowa State, also rebuilding.

And there’s the rub. This schedule appears to have several name brands in transition on it. That means the Redbirds’ hopes will require them to both win the games and hope that those opponents exceed expectations. That’s not an enviable position for a mid-major.

162. Indiana State Sycamores

*Exempt Event: Gildan Charleston Classic

True Home Games (6) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (2-3) Semi-Road Games (0-1) True Road Games (3)
True Home Games (6) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (2-3) Semi-Road Games (0-1) True Road Games (3)
Missouri-St. Louis (Non-D1) None Auburn (122)* Clemson (47) Indiana (31)
Ball State (197) Temple (94) or (or Dayton, Ohio, North Texas (303)
Air Force (234)^ Old Dominion (110)* Hofstra)* WKU (190)
Indianapolis (Non-D1) Dayton (40) or
Green Bay (118) Ohio (127) or
Elon (170) Hofstra (132)
(or Clemson)*

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 2 wins (@Ball State, Missouri-St. Louis) and 1 loss (WKU)

Last November, I was in the building when the Sycamores lost three AdvoCare Invitational games by a total of eight points. And while the Trees somewhat recovered to finish non-Valley play at 6-6 (including a win over Butler), Greg Lansing’s team could have done so much more for itself and the conference as a whole. If Indiana State can reverse its luck in the Charleston Classic and put early pressure on Archie Miller at Assembly Hall, it will go a long way to changing perceptions of a program that’s considered an underachiever.

169. Valparaiso Crusaders

*Exempt Event: Savannah Invitational (Hosts’ 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)
North Park (Non-D1) None Kent State (148)* None SIU Edwardsville (313)
Trinity Christian (Non-D1) UNCW (91)* Purdue (19)
Southeastern Louisiana (298)* Ball State (197)
Samford (225)* Northwestern (61)
Utah State (125)^ Santa Clara (175)
UC Riverside (274)

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 2 wins (Trinity Christian, Ball State) and 1 loss (Santa Clara)

Matt Lottich enters his second season in charge at the ARC seeking to build on consecutive NIT seasons while simultaneously entering a new conference and needing to replace the irreplaceable Alec Peters. Even with road games at Purdue and Northwestern, the Crusaders should be able to win more than they lose during November and December. The question will then be if these contests—particularly the weak home slate—will prepare Valpo to compete for the title in its first Valley campaign.

187. Drake Bulldogs

*Exempt Event: Paradise Jam

True Home Games (4) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (3-4) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (5-6)
True Home Games (4) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (3-4) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (5-6)
Coe (Non-D1) None Wake Forest (66) None Liberty (289)
Chicago State (342) Colorado (60) or (or Houston, Mercer
Omaha (176) Quinnipiac (264)* or Drexel)*
Maryland Eastern Shore (315) Houston (72) or Omaha (176)
Mercer (151) or Wyoming (131)^
Drexel (242) South Dakota (191)
(or Liberty)* Minnesota (64)
Iowa (33) South Dakota State (119)
(Des Moines)

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 0 wins and 2 losses (South Dakota, South Dakota State)

Since Keno Davis departed after the Bulldogs’ 28-win 2007-08 season, Drake has had just two winning seasons and is now on its fourth head coach. Former Furman boss Niko Medved should improve upon last season’s non-league win total of two (with just one of those coming against D1 opposition), thanks to the presence of Division III Coe and two of Division I’s bottom 50 teams on the light home slate. However, the seventh/eighth-place game is likely to be the Bulldogs’ Paradise Jam fate and the known road games all come against teams that reached 2017’s postseason. In short, the rebuilding will continue for yet another year at the Knapp Center.

227. Evansville Purple Aces

*Exempt Event: Cancun Challenge (Hosts’ Bracket)

True Home Games (8) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (2) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (3)
True Home Games (8) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (2) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (3)
Arkansas State (204) None Fresno State (116)* None New Mexico (105)^
North Carolina Central (182) Louisiana Tech (97) or Bowling Green (211)
Southeast Missouri (285)* George Mason (157)* Duke (9)
Binghamton (331)*
Oakland City (Non-D1)
Canisius (185)
Austin Peay (290)
Midway (Non-D1)

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 2 wins (Bowling Green, @Austin Peay) and 0 losses

Even with a game at Duke on the Purple Aces’ schedule for late December, Evansville should be able to meet or exceed its nine win non-league win total of a season ago. Plus, the mid-major focus of this season’s Cancun Challenge even gives Marty Simmons’s team a chance at an early title. The question is whether the Aces will be able to build on its potential November and December success—in 2017, Evansville only managed to win seven times once Valley play began.

236. Loyola of Chicago Ramblers

*Exempt Event: Savannah Invitational (Hosts’ Bracket)

True Home Games (6) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (2) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (4)
True Home Games (6) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (2) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (4)
Wright State (161) None UNCW (91)* None UMKC (251)
Eureka (Non-D1) Kent State (148)* Boise State (77)^
Samford (225)* Florida (17)
Mississippi Valley State (347)* Milwaukee (194)
UIC (302)
Norfolk State (261)

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 5 wins (Eureka, Norfolk State, Wright State, Milwaukee, @UIC) and 1 loss (@Toledo)

With Valpo’s move to the Valley, the Savannah Invitational shifted to a pair of set matchups, and both UNCW and Kent State will provide needed November tests for the Ramblers and Crusaders. Otherwise, the two most difficult matchups for a Loyola squad that’s poised to move up the MVC table come in true road games— against Boise State in the MVC/MW Challenge and 2017 Elite Eight team Florida.

256. Bradley Braves

*Exempt Event: Islands Of The Bahamas 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)
IUPUI (241) None Vermont (89)* None San Diego State (50)^
Delaware (269) Coastal Carolina (180) or Chicago State (342)
Missouri S&T (Non-D1)* UTSA (301)* Southeast Missouri (285)
Georgia Southern (189) Iona (98) or Ole Miss (63)
Eastern Illinois (252) James Madison (173) or
Little Rock (165) Weber State (177) or
Northern Kentucky (222)*

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 3 wins (Southeast Missouri, @Eastern Illinois, Chicago State) and 2 losses (Delaware, @Ole Miss)

From 2015-16 to 2016-17, Brian Wardle’s squad improved by eight wins. And Bradley could very well pick up more victories in 2017-18 thanks to a non-conference schedule that is more forgiving than a 2016 one that only provided five wins. In fact, five home victories alone are possible, with the visit from Sun Belt title hopeful Georgia Southern the exception, and beatable opponents await in the consolation bracket in the Bahamas—the Braves’ destination after a likely quarterfinal loss to America East champ Vermont. Two of the road games also qualify as potential wins, though the MVC/MW Challenge schedulers again missed the mark by assigning Bradley a trip to San Diego State one year after giving the Braves an eventual 22-point home loss to Nevada.

305. Missouri State Bears

*Exempt Event: Gulf Coast Showcase

True Home Games (6) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (3) Semi-Road Games (1) True Road Games (3)
True Home Games (6) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (3) Semi-Road Games (1) True Road Games (3)
Southern (284) None Georgia Southern (189)* South Dakota State (119) WKU (190)
North Dakota State (134) Manhattan (233) or (Sioux Falls, S.D.) North Dakota State (134)
Evangel (Non-D1)* UMKC (251)* Oral Roberts (216)
Colorado State (92)^ Towson (152) or
Hampton (280) Northern Illinois (184) or
Wright State (161) Penn (230) or
FAU (291)*

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 2 wins (North Dakota State, Oral Roberts) and 0 losses

The Bears, pegged by some as the conference favorite, don’t face a single Power 7 team in November or December. But there are plenty of tricky, quality opponents here—with a home-and-home set with North Dakota State, a semi-road game against South Dakota State, and Challenge visit from Colorado State standing out. Missouri State, winners of 17 a season ago, are a bit unfortunate in drawing Georgia Southern in the Gulf Coast Showcase’s quarterfinals. Given the expectations for both teams, that would have been a more optimal matchup for day two or three.

322. Southern Illinois Salukis

*Exempt Event: Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic (Hosts’ Bracket)

True Home Games (7) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (1) Semi-Road Games (1) True Road Games (4)
True Home Games (7) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (1) Semi-Road Games (1) True Road Games (4)
Illinois-Springfield (Non-D1) None Duquesne (195)* Nevada (112)* Winthrop (144)
SIU Edwardsville (313) (Las Vegas) (Las Vegas) Louisville (8)
San Jose State (287)^ Murray State (153)
Southeast Missouri (285) Saint Louis (239)
Jackson State (310)
Lamar (299)*
North Carolina A&T (348)*

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 2 wins (SIU Edwardsville, Murray State, Saint Louis) and 1 loss (@Louisville)

After winning 22 games in 2015-16, Barry Hinson’s Salukis took a step back last season, winning just 17 of their 33 contests. However, if SIU doesn’t head into Valley play with at least eight wins against this schedule, it will be surprising. Yes, the four road trips and the Las Vegas Classic game against Nevada will be tough to win, but the other game in the desert, against A 10 struggler Duquesne, and the seven home games should all result in victories. If the Salukis can improve upon last season’s non-league win total of seven, they should be poised to mount a strong challenge in Valley play and reach the postseason.

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