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Analyzing The Mountain West’s Non-Conference Schedules For 2017-18

While Nevada enters this season with a great chance to repeat, the team the Wolf Pack knocked out on Selection Eve—Colorado State—built a schedule that might just push it into the at-large picture.

NCAA Basketball: Mountain West Conference Championship Nevada vs Colorado State
Colorado State fell just short of earning the Mountain West’s auto bid last March. For 2018, the Rams have scheduled with an at-large in mind.
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

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

Ranking The Teams

In the 2012-13 season, a half-dozen Mountain West teams ranked among KenPom’s top 100, with five securing NCAA Tournament bids. In the four seasons since, just 13 teams total have cracked the top 100, with a mere seven reaching March Madness. Making matters worse, the conference slipped into the one-bid category in each the last two seasons. While San Diego State and Boise State have largely remained consistent, the bottom of the league has struggled mightily and its new members haven’t played up to expectations. And that combination has dropped everyone’s metrics from the highs of five seasons ago.

MW Team Score Rankings

Team Team Score National Rank
Team Team Score National Rank
San Diego State 6.510303 50
Boise State 4.49781 77
Colorado State 3.283911 92
New Mexico 2.578925 105
Nevada 2.3875985 112
Fresno State 2.1427255 116
Utah State 1.576589 125
Wyoming 1.14953175 131
UNLV 0.3841385 154
Air Force -2.773359 234
San Jose State -5.0085235 287
Average 1.52087725 134.8181818
Conference Rank 9th of 32

Ranking The Schedules

Back when the Mountain West consistently earned at-large bids, league members were accused of gaming the RPI to do so. But with the NCAA changing the definition of a quality win for this season, that’s something that won’t be quite so easy to do. Fortunately, my scheduling metric has long emphasized playing games away from home—and with Colorado State and Boise State challenging themselves against Power 7 squads on the road, it’s no surprise that their non-league slates rank at the top of the conference. However, the lack of schedules in the top 50 and the presence of six in the bottom half of Division I—with three among the bottom 50 overall—mean the league might just struggle again to earn at-large attention.

*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

MW 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
Colorado State 3.586478296 84 3.586478296 72 3.586478296 100 3.586478296 71
Boise State* 3.319405605 96 2.566153969 123 4.530586235 63 2.408518485 121
New Mexico* 2.957700827 111 2.440262583 130 3.222760462 115 2.692641192 108
Utah State 2.799421327 117 2.799421327 114 2.799421327 132 2.799421327 101
Nevada 2.272027665 146 2.272027665 139 2.272027665 166 2.272027665 129
San Diego State* 1.510264983 200 0.8651066806 225 2.831197443 131 0.4462569545 247
Wyoming* 1.469071784 203 0.4955038245 252 2.452038429 151 0.6743152746 234
Fresno State* 0.7661646625 243 0.6195623708 244 0.9344630212 247 0.5978663038 240
San Jose State -0.7406873773 319 -0.7406873773 312 -0.7406873773 322 -0.7406873773 305
UNLV* -1.201697768 335 -2.051178207 340 -1.014355845 331 -1.389039691 334
Air Force -1.508120266 338 -1.508120266 333 -1.508120266 338 -1.508120266 335
Average 1.384548158 199.2727273 1.031320988 207.6363636 1.760528126 190.5454545 1.076334379 202.2727273
Conference Rank 25th of 32 28th of 32 23rd of 32 26th of 32

Who Over- And Under-Scheduled?

Just two teams, Colorado State and Utah State, over-scheduled this season. But of the nine that under-did things, contender San Diego State and rebound candidate UNLV hurt their March chances the most. The Aztecs’ slate is 150-points lower than their four-year ranking, while the Runnin’ Rebels’ is 181 spots lower.

MW 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
16 New Mexico 105 111 -6
22 Colorado State 92 84 8
23 Utah State 125 117 8
52 Boise State 77 96 -19
81 San Jose State 287 319 -32
87 Nevada 112 146 -34
166 Wyoming 131 203 -72
210 Air Force 234 338 -104
239 Fresno State 116 243 -127
269 San Diego State 50 200 -150
296 UNLV 154 335 -181
132.8181818 Average (19/32 conf.) 134.8181818 199.2727273 -64.45454545

MW 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
74 (5 MVC/MW Challenge +4 semi-home games) 5 (+2 semi-home games +1 possible semi-home game) 11 (+1 possible semi-road game in MTEs) 11

Even though the Mountain West has dropped to one-bid status, the conference still schedules better than most mid-majors. The league’s status high on the Western food chain means the 11 MW squads welcome plenty of mid-major visitors in November and December. And thanks to the presence of some particularly attractive destinations in the league—like Las Vegas and San Diego—Power 7 squads occasionally visit conference arenas as well. Still, it would be nice if Mountain West teams were able to jettison the average of one non-D1 game present on their schedules.

MW Non-Conference Games By League

Conference Games Scheduled Against Possible Tournament Games Against
Conference Games Scheduled Against Possible Tournament Games Against
Big Sky 17 0
WCC 16 1
MVC 12 1
Pac-12 12 2
Non-D1 11 0
Big West 9 1
Summit 7 0
SWAC 7 0
WAC 5 0
C-USA 4 2
Big 12 3 1
SEC 3 3
Southland 3 0
A 10 2 3
American Athletic 2 2
Big South 2 0
OVC 2 0
Sun Belt 2 2
ACC 1 0
America East 1 0
Big Ten 1 2
CAA 1 1
Horizon 1 0
MAAC 1 0
MAC 1 2
MEAC 1 0
Patriot 1 0
SoCon 1 0
Atlantic Sun 0 0
Big East 0 0
Ivy 0 1
NEC 0 0

Only four conferences—all located primarily on the East Coast—are absent from Mountain West schedules this season. While the overwhelming majority of non-conference games feature other Western opposition, the number of games against the Big West and WAC is surprisingly low.

MW 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 5 4 1 10 0.9090909091 3
26-50 1 3 1 5 0.4545454545 4
51-75 4 5 3 12 1.090909091 3
76-100 3 4 0 7 0.6363636364 4
101-150 5 2 4 11 1 5
151-200 8 11 1 20 1.818181818 4
201-250 13 6 5 24 2.181818182 0
251-300 12 2 1 15 1.363636364 2
301-351 12 1 0 13 1.181818182 0
Non-D1 11 0 0 11 1 0
Total 74 38 16 128
Average 6.727272727 3.454545455 1.454545455 11.63636364
Percentage 0.578125 0.296875 0.125
Conference Rank (of 32) 10th 23rd 12th

Yes, you’re reading that top row correctly—five top 25 teams will visit Mountain West arenas this season. And while that number doesn’t make up for the 56 home games scheduled against teams from outside of the top 150, it’s still an impressive feat for a conference that’s on the edge of mid-major status. Those five contests also serve as opportunities for league members to help push the MW back into the national consciousness early in the season. That’s vital in the race for at-large bids.

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, except for UNLV (RunRebs.com).

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

84. Colorado State Rams

*Exempt Event: Jamaica Classic Montego Bay (Hosts’ Bracket)

True Home Games (7) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (2) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (4)
True Home Games (7) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (2) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (4)
Sacramento State (275) None Tulane (235)* None New Mexico State (86)
Winthrop (144)* Florida State (36)* Missouri State (188)^
Northwestern State (294)* Arkansas (42)
Colorado (60) Oregon (18)
Texas State (208)
Arkansas Fort Smith (Non-D1)
Long Beach State (156)

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 3 wins (New Mexico State, @Colorado, Arkansas-Fort Smith) and 1 loss (@Long Beach State)

After a 24-win season that ended in the NIT, the Rams are poised to return to the NCAA. Colorado State’s schedule—bolstered the addition of games at Arkansas and Oregon, along with a matchup against Florida State in the Jamaica Classic—should help. Head coach Larry Eustachy even secured home games against Big South champ Winthrop and Southland contender Northwestern State for the two on-campus contests scheduled as part of the Caribbean event. While this slate won’t guarantee that CSU reaches its first NCAA since 2013, the Rams are likely to remain in the national picture all the way through mid-March.

96. Boise State Broncos

*Exempt Event: Puerto Rico Tip-Off

True Home Games (7) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (2-3) Semi-Road Games (0-1) True Road Games (2)
True Home Games (7) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (2-3) Semi-Road Games (0-1) True Road Games (2)
Eastern Oregon (Non-D1) None UTEP (168)* South Carolina (45) Oregon (18)
Southern Utah (340) Illinois State (70) (or Illinois State)* SMU (15)
Loyola Marymount (205) (or South Carolina)*
Loyola Chicago (140)^ Iowa State (14) or
Portland (215) Tulsa (87) or
Sacramento State (275) Western Michigan (155)
Grand Canyon (172) Appalachian State (286)*

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 3 wins (Western Michigan (N), SMU, @Loyola Marymount) and 1 loss (@Oregon)

The most disappointing thing about the Broncos’ schedule is that they didn’t schedule the Loyola (Md.) Greyhounds to complete the Division I Loyola set. As it stands now, Loyola of Chicago and Grand Canyon are the most potentially troublesome visitors for Leon Rice’s team, which is coming off an NIT second round appearance. However, the limited away trips—to Oregon, SMU, and to South Carolina for the relocated Puerto Rico Tip-Off featuring a potential day two meeting with the Gamecocks in their backyard—could really help BSU establish its at-large credentials.

111. New Mexico Lobos

*Exempt Event: Emerald Coast Classic (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)
Northern New Mexico (Non-D1) None TCU (69)* None New Mexico State (86)
Omaha (176)* Maryland (30) or UTEP (168)
Tennessee Tech (245)* St. Bonaventure (84)* Colorado (60)
Evansville (120)^
New Mexico State (86)
Arizona (7)
Rice (224)
Prairie View A&M (326)

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 2 wins (New Mexico State, UTEP) and 2 losses (@New Mexico State, @Arizona)

After a 17-14 season, Craig Neal departed Albuquerque with New Mexico State coach Paul Weir making the move up the 25 to replace him. That move alone should add some extra spice to the pair’s annual home-and-home series. In other key matchups for the Lobos, Arizona, winners by 31 in Tucson a season ago, visits the Pit, while New Mexico will face two other Power 7 squads away from home. A third such game, against Maryland, is possible if UNM can get past TCU in the semifinals of the Emerald Coast Classic.

117. Utah State Aggies

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

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)
Montana State (276) None Northeastern (138)* None Weber State (177)
Mississippi Valley State (347) New Hampshire (220)* Gonzaga (4)*
BYU (51) Utah (24) Portland State (257)*
UC Irvine (100) (Vivint Smart Home Arena) Valparaiso (68)^
Life Pacific (Non-D1)
Youngstown State (278)

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 1 win (@UC Irvine ) and 2 losses (BYU (N), Weber State)

Originally, the Aggies were supposed to fly out to Hawai’i for the Diamond Head Classic, but after withdrawing from that Christmas week event, Tim Duryea’s team will instead serve as one of the visiting teams for the Phil Knight Invitational. That excursion will take Utah State to Gonzaga, Portland State, and Nashville for a pair of games against Northeastern and New Hampshire. In terms of Beehive State contests, BYU visits Logan, while the Ags will take on Utah in Salt Lake City, but off-campus. Valparaiso is a difficult MVC/MW Challenge draw, considering that the Crusaders reached the NIT last season, while Utah State won just 15 times.

146. Nevada Wolf Pack

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

True Home Games (6) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (0) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (0)
True Home Games (6) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (0) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (0)
Idaho (229) San Francisco (129)* TCU (69) None Santa Clara (175)
Rhode Island (56) Southern Illinois (158)* (Los Angeles) Pacific (231)
Davidson (78) Hawai'i (149)
Illinois State (70)^ UC Irvine (100)
Radford (255)* Texas Tech (58)
UC Davis (218)*

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 2 wins (Pacific, UC Irvine) and 0 losses

While Eric Musselman’s squad lost two key senior performers after 2017’s league title and NCAA berth, the Wolf Pack should again be in the thick of the championship chase. In terms of bolstering Nevada’s at-large hopes, five games jump out from this list—the home contests with A 10 challengers Rhode Island and Davidson, the MVC/MW Challenge date with Illinois State, the showdown in LA with NIT champ TCU, and a road matchup against a Texas Tech team that fell out of NCAA contention late last season.

200. San Diego State Aztecs

*Exempt Event: Wooden Legacy

True Home Games (6) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (2-3) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (2-3)
True Home Games (6) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (2-3) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (2-3)
San Diego Christian (Non-D1) None Sacramento State (275)* None Arizona State (85)
McNeese State (321) Georgia (54) Cal State Fullerton (272)*
Eastern Illinois (252) (or Cal State Fullerton)* (or Georgia)
Bradley (270)^ Saint Mary's (22) or San Diego (221)
California (49) Harvard (106) or
Gonzaga (4) Saint Joseph's (107) or
Washington State (183)*

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 3 wins (San Diego Christian, San Diego, California (N)) and 2 losses (@Gonzaga, Arizona State)

The Aztecs are responsible for one of the five top 25 home games found on Mountain West schedules, as they welcome a Gonzaga team that beat them by 21 in Spokane a season ago to Viejas. Considering the Bulldogs’ personnel changes after their national runner-up finish and SDSU’s home court advantage, the Aztecs might be able to give new coach Brian Dutcher a marquee win. Otherwise, the Aztecs will aim to win at Arizona State and make their way through a challenging, but not overwhelming, Wooden Legacy field as they attempt to build a selection-worthy profile in the first season after Steve Fisher’s retirement.

203. Wyoming Cowboys

*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)
Chattanooga (124)* None South Dakota State (119)* None Oregon State (135)
New Mexico Highlands (Non-D1) Iowa (33) or Denver (187)
Drake (260)^ Louisiana Lafayette (123)* South Carolina (45)
Eastern Washington (181) Cincinnati (20) or
Pacific (231) Richmond (80) or
Texas Southern (206) Buffalo (104) or
Northern Colorado (295) UAB (147)*

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

The 2017 CBI champs would prefer to not defend their title. And a schedule that sees the Cowboys serve as the MW’s representative in the first-ever Cayman Islands Classic and travel to both Oregon State (who should be much improved over last season’s injury-plagued squad) and South Carolina (likely to step back after a surprise Final Four berth) should prepare them for success in Mountain West play. If things break right, perhaps Wyoming will even find itself on the edge of the at-large picture.

243. Fresno State Bulldogs

*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)
UC Santa Cruz (Non-D1) None Evansville (120)* None Arkansas (42)
Cal State Northridge (265)* Louisiana Tech (97) or Long Beach State (156)
Montana State (276)* George Mason (157)* Cal Poly (243)
Weber State (177)
Cal State Bakersfield (139)
Arkansas Pine Bluff (345)
Oregon (18)
Cal State Monterey Bay (Non-D1)

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 1 win (Cal Poly) and 2 losses (@Cal State Bakersfield, @Oregon)

The Bulldogs are another Mountain West team that’s headed to Fayetteville, and the third league squad that will host a top 25 squad—Oregon will be Fresno State’s marquee home opponent for the autumn of 2017. The remaining 10 Division I games feature a variety of names from outside of the Power 7, with a trio of upper-tier mid-major squads joining Rodney Terry’s team in the Cancun Challenge. Might a matchup with former WAC rival Louisiana Tech await Fresno on that tournament’s second day?

319. San José State Spartans

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)
Antelope Valley (Non-D1) None None None Southern Utah (340)
San Diego (221) Bowling Green (211)
Saint Mary's (22) Southern Illinois (158)^
Idaho State (320) Denver (187)
South Dakota (191) Portland (215)
Santa Clara (175)

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 3 wins (Santa Clara, Bowling Green, Southern Utah) and 3 losses (Portland, Denver, @Saint Mary’s)

The Spartans won 14 times in what turned out to be Dave Wojcik’s final season in charge, and after his unexpected resignation, it will be up to Jean Prioleau to continue SJSU’s march to respectability. The highlight of this 11-game slate is a an encounter with Saint Mary’s, which will most likely turn into the most one-sided game of the Mountain West’s five top 25 home contests.

335. UNLV Runnin’ Rebels

*Exempt Event: MGM Resorts Main Event

True Home Games (8) Semi-Home Games (3) True Neutral-Site Games (0) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (2)
True Home Games (8) Semi-Home Games (3) True Neutral-Site Games (0) Semi-Road Games (0) True Road Games (2)
Florida A&M (351) Rice (224)* None None Northern Iowa (82)^
Prairie View A&M (326)* Utah (24) or Pacific (231)
Eastern Washington (181)* Ole Miss (63)*
Southern Utah (340) Illinois (71)
Arizona (7) (T-Mobile Arena)
Oral Roberts (216)
Mississippi Valley State (347)
Northern Colorado (295)

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

Last season, the Runnin’ Rebels won just 11 games in Marvin Menzies’s first season in charge (and the tumultuous offseason that led to his hire), But thanks to a highly-regarded recruiting class and a non-conference schedule that will see UNLV leave Sin City just once, the Rebels could make a big jump in season two. The highlight of the Thomas & Mack schedule is a visit from Arizona, but UNLV could play a second top 25 Pac-12 squad if it meets Utah on night two of the MGM Resorts Main Event. However, those two games are likely to be the only ones the Rebels play against potential at-large teams before they enter Mountain West play—though the Challenge contest against UNI is a third possibility.

338. Air Force Falcons

*Exempt Event: Men Against Breast Cancer Showcase

True Home Games (7) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (0) Semi-Road Games (1) True Road Games (0)
True Home Games (7) Semi-Home Games (0) True Neutral-Site Games (0) Semi-Road Games (1) True Road Games (0)
Texas State (208)* None None Army West Point (248) Colorado (60)
Canisius (185)* (New York City) Indiana State (174)^
Arkansas Pine Bluff (345)* Denver (187)
Pacific (231)* UC Riverside (274)
Western State (Colo.) (Non-D1)
Abilene Christian (332)
Johnson & Wales (Colo.) (Non-D1)

Record against returning opponents from 2016-17: 1 win (Johnson & Wales (Colo.) ) and 3 losses (@Army West Point, Denver, Colorado)

Last season, the Falcons managed to win seven non-league games on their way to a 12-victory campaign. And with that many home games alone on this schedule—thanks to four teams visiting as part of an exempt event and a pair of non-D1 contests,—Air Force should equal their November/December total of 2016. The question will then be whether Dave Pilipovich’s squad can improve upon its 2017 Mountain West mark of 4-14.

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