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Ranking the Big Sky’s Non-Conference Schedules for 2018-19

With the conference going to 20 league games, non-conference scheduling has suffered a bit. But defending champ Montana will still test itself during November and December.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Michigan vs Montana Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

For all of the posts in this series, visit the 2018-19 Non-Conference Scheduling Hub.

Warning: Graphics and tables may not appear optimally when viewing on a mobile device.

Ranking The Teams

When considering the four-year rankings, no conference improved from top to bottom as much as the Big Sky did over the past year, and that’s with 2017 NCAA rep North Dakota departing for the Summit League. Of course, the Fighting Hawks win total dropped by 10 last season, so they would have weighed the league down a bit had they stuck around. Montana’s 14 seed a season ago was pretty typical for the Big Sky, with just four league reps earning anything higher (a 13 in all cases) over the past 10 seasons. With the Grizzlies the conference’s only team in the top 150, I wouldn’t expect that to change come March 2019.

Four-Year Rankings

Team Team Score 4-Year Ranking 2017-18 Ranking
Team Team Score 4-Year Ranking 2017-18 Ranking
Montana 2.03844375 118 166
Eastern Washington 0.3124525 158 181
Weber State -0.0594844 163 177
Idaho -0.7765075 182 229
Portland State -2.0969012 211 257
Northern Colorado -2.202875 214 295
Montana State -4.32348 274 276
Sacramento State -4.9663245 289 275
Idaho State -5.508744 299 320
Southern Utah -6.963657 323 340
Northern Arizona -7.6538025 329 319
Average -2.927352714 232.7272727 254.8333333
Conference Rank 24th of 32 (28th in 2017-18)

KenPom Gaps For 2018-19

Rank Team 2018-19 Four-Year Ranking 2018-19 KP Preseason Rank Gap
Rank Team 2018-19 Four-Year Ranking 2018-19 KP Preseason Rank Gap
45 Southern Utah 323 276 47
49 Montana 118 75 43
53 Idaho State 299 258 41
55 Weber State 163 124 39
59 Sacramento State 289 250 39
69 Northern Colorado 214 180 34
117 Northern Arizona 329 315 14
143 Montana State 274 269 5
247 Portland State 211 232 -21
276 Eastern Washington 158 186 -28
328 Idaho 182 243 -61

Might the Big Sky find itself at the higher end of its historic seeding range this year? Based on KenPom’s preseason projections, that’s a distinct possibility, particularly with defending champion Montana outperforming its four-year ranking by a whopping 43 places. Heading into 2018-19, eight of the conference’s 11 teams are expected to perform better than they have over the past four seasons, with five of those projected to be 39 or more spots better.

Ranking The Schedules

A season ago, the Big Sky found itself in the top 10 across the board in terms of its member’s average non-conference schedule strength. But with the expansion of the league schedule to 20 games and some serious variance in the teams’ bracketed exempt events, the conference’s ranks for 2018 are a bit more average when compared to the rest of Division I.

With five teams’ national average ranks in the top 150 and six teams in the bottom 150, it’s not much of a surprise to find the Big Sky near the middle of the pack.

Note: The number of asterisks (*) represent the number of pending games on a team’s schedule.

Schedule Rankings

Super Avg. Rank Team Known Schedule Strength Natl. Rank Average Schedule Strength Natl. Rank Maximum Schedule Strength Natl. Rank Minimum Schedule Strength Natl. Rank
Super Avg. Rank Team Known Schedule Strength Natl. Rank Average Schedule Strength Natl. Rank Maximum Schedule Strength Natl. Rank Minimum Schedule Strength Natl. Rank
61 Eastern Washington* 4.82677079 31 4.104527843 61 4.189377695 75 4.019677991 55
71 Montana** 5.126554641 24 4.003542025 71 4.309883811 67 3.682891343 66
87 Idaho State 3.539490322 87 3.539490322 88 3.539490322 102 3.539490322 73
126 Montana State 2.751969135 119 2.751969135 124 2.751969135 146 2.751969135 111
144 Portland State 2.396766064 136 2.396766064 144 2.396766064 164 2.396766064 131
209 Northern Colorado* 2.056728399 154 1.441048095 207 1.468923397 216 1.413172794 199
235 Northern Arizona 0.91164051 231 0.91164051 235 0.91164051 242 0.91164051 226
242 Southern Utah 0.8119738444 240 0.8119738444 241 0.8119738444 249 0.8119738444 236
289 Weber State -0.1693766114 286 -0.1693766114 290 -0.1693766114 295 -0.1693766114 284
306 Idaho -0.6255759591 301 -0.6255759591 306 -0.6255759591 311 -0.6255759591 301
314 Sacramento State -0.7944724183 313 -0.7944724183 314 -0.7944724183 319 -0.7944724183 308
189.45 Average 1.893860792 174.73 1.67013935 189.18 1.708236345 198.73 1.630741547 180.91
19/32 Conference Rank 14 of 32 19 of 32 22 of 32 15 of 32

Who Over- And Under-Scheduled?

Just three Big Sky teams under-scheduled this season, with Weber State and Idaho being particularly disappointing. Defending champ and preseason favorite Montana over-scheduled by 47 spots, which should help them prepare for another postseason run, while another contender, Eastern Washington, might have overdone things a bit, thanks to their 97-place gap.

Scheduling Gaps

National Rank Team Four-Year Ranking Super Average Ranking Scheduling Gap
National Rank Team Four-Year Ranking Super Average Ranking Scheduling Gap
21 Northern Colorado 214 208 6
68 Sacramento State 289 313 -24
118 Montana 118 71 47
155 Portland State 211 144 67
193 Southern Utah 323 241 82
218 Northern Arizona 329 234 95
225 Eastern Washington 158 61 97
254 Idaho 182 305 -123
256 Weber State 163 288 -125
284 Montana State 274 126 148
325 Idaho State 299 87 212
192.4545455 Average (25/32 conf.) 232.7272727 188.9090909 43.81818182

Home, Power 7 Road, 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
42 0 15 20

With North Dakota’s departure, the Big Sky is down to 11 teams. As a result, the conference decided to go from 18 league contests to 20. Naturally, that saw the number of available non-conference dates for each team fall from 11, 12, or 13 down to 9, 10, or 11. That means every single one of these categories is lower than it was a season ago.

Non-Conference Games By League

Conference Games Scheduled Against Possible Tournament Games Against
Conference Games Scheduled Against Possible Tournament Games Against
Non-D1 20 0
WCC 17 1
Big West 15 1
Summit 12 1
Pac-12 11 0
MW 10 0
WAC 9 1
Southland 3 0
MAC 2 1
Sun Belt 1 1
ACC 1 0
Atlantic Sun 1 0
Big 12 1 0
Big East 1 0
Big Ten 1 0
Horizon 1 0
MAAC 1 0
MEAC 1 0
SEC 1 0
OVC 0 2
C-USA 0 1
CAA 0 1
A 10 0 0
America East 0 0
American Athletic 0 0
Big South 0 0
Ivy 0 0
MVC 0 0
NEC 0 0
Patriot 0 0
SoCon 0 0
SWAC 0 0

While the Big Sky’s members will play six fewer games against non-D1 foes than a season ago, these opponents still lead the way when compared to Division I leagues. Naturally, Western leagues dominate Big Sky schedules, though the West Coast Conference provides the most opponents by itself this season, as Mountain West teams are playing seven fewer games against conference foes than in 2017, costing the league a share of second. While 10 conferences didn’t provide set opposition to Big Sky squads a season ago, that number has leapt to 13 for 2018-19.

UC Santa Barbara (five games) and non-D1 Bethesda (four) are auditioning for associate Big Sky membership, while North Dakota plays a pair of former league rivals, thanks to the Hawks’ participation in the Big Sky/Summit Challenge.

Non-Conference Games By Quad

Opponent Strength Home Away Neutral Total Average Potential
Opponent Strength Home Away Neutral Total Average Potential
Quad 1 0 14 0 14 1.272727273 0
Quad 2 1 10 0 11 1 0
Quad 3 3 25 8 36 3.272727273 3
Quad 4 19 7 2 28 2.545454545 7
Non-D1 18 0 2 20 1.818181818 0
Total 41 56 12 109
Average 3.727272727 5.090909091 1.090909091 9.909090909
Percentage 0.376146789 0.5137614679 0.1100917431
Q1 1-30 1-75 1-50
Q2 31-75 76-135 51-100
Q3 76-160 136-240 101-200
Q4 161-353 241-353 201-353

A plurality of the Big Sky’s paltry total of home games will come against non-D1 opposition. Making matters worse, both Idaho and Portland State will play non-D1 opponents on a neutral floor in Boise, as part of the Vandals’ Thanksgiving tournament.

While Big Sky members will play just a pair of top 100 home games, they’ll play 20 such games away from home with no top 100 contests set for neutral sites.

Team-By-Team Breakdown

Teams are listed in order of their Super Average Schedule Ranking. The number in front of an opponent name is its Four-Year Ranking. Logos via SportsLogos.net.

61. Eastern Washington Eagles

*Exempt Event: 2K Empire Classic Benefitting Wounded Warrior Project (Subregional)

True Home Games (4) True Road Games (7)
True Home Games (4) True Road Games (7)
189. Green Bay* 46. Syracuse*
213. Morehead State or 25. Oregon*
268. UMKC* 100. Washington
94. South Dakota State^ 256. Seattle
(Non-D1) Walla Walla 161. North Dakota State^
^ - Summit Challenge 142. San Francisco
79. Stanford
^ - Summit Challenge

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 2 wins (Walla Walla, @Stanford) and 3 losses (@Washington, @Seattle, @San Francisco)

The Eagles won 20 in Shantay Legans’ first season, highlighted by 13 regular-season Big Sky wins, a berth in the conference title game, and a non-conference victory at Stanford. But that win in Palo Alto was just one of five non-league wins for EWU in 2017. And a repeat performance is possible here, thanks to four Power 7 road games and a difficult draw in the Summit Challenge—as the Eagles drew both North Dakota State and South Dakota State.

At least Eastern Washington gets to host the 2K Empire Classic subregional. The Eagles won the trophy when they hosted the Legends Classic equivalent in November 2016.

71. Montana Grizzlies

*Exempt Event: Islands of the Bahamas Showcase

True Home Games (4) True Neutral-Site Games (3) True Road Games (4)
True Home Games (4) True Neutral-Site Games (3) True Road Games (4)
110. Georgia State 324. Incarnate Word* 28. Creighton
(Non-D1) Montana Tech* 162. Georgia Southern or 119. UC Irvine
(Non-D1) College of Idaho 278. FAU* 13. Arizona
161. North Dakota State^ 152. Towson/ 94. South Dakota State^
^ - Summit Challenge 161. North Dakota State/ ^ - Summit Challenge
235. Pepperdine/
237. Miami (Ohio)*

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 1 win (UC Irvine) and 1 loss (@Georgia State)

It would be a shock if the defending Big Sky champs didn’t pick up another trophy in mid-November, as the Grizzlies will be heavily favored to win the Islands of the Bahamas Showcase. On the other hand, they won’t be expected to pick up wins at Creighton and Arizona, but with both of those teams likely to be rebuilding a bit, surprises might be possible. Like EWU, Montana drew the Summit League’s Dakota powers in the challenge series, while a visit from Georgia State and trip to UC Irvine round out the Division I portion of a solid mid-major non-conference schedule. Well done, Travis DeCuire and staff.

87. Idaho State Bengals

No Exempt Event

True Home Games (3) True Road Games (6)
True Home Games (3) True Road Games (6)
202. Pacific 3. Gonzaga
(Non-D1) Bethesda 66. Boise State
(Non-D1) Montana-Western 235. Pepperdine
216. Santa Clara
174. Utah Valley
181. UC Santa Barbara

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 1 win (Bethesda) and 1 loss (Utah Valley)

Bill Evans’ Bengals have alternated double-digit win seasons with single-digit ones in his six seasons in Pocatello—and if that pattern continues, Idaho State will likely struggle to match last season’s win total of 14. The road trips on this slate alone, particularly the first two listed above, mean the Bengals will have to do serious work in Big Sky play to end their alternating trend.

126. Montana State Bobcats

*Exempt Event: Hardwood Showcase

True Home Games (3) Semi-Road Games (1) True Road Games (6)
True Home Games (3) Semi-Road Games (1) True Road Games (6)
133. Utah State 194. Washington State 44. Indiana*
(Non-D1) Presentation* $ - Kennewick, Wash. 146. Colorado State
218. North Dakota^ 181. UC Santa Barbara
^ - Summit Challenge 40. Arkansas*
217. Omaha^
196. Denver
^ - Summit Challenge

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 3 wins (Omaha (N), Denver, North Dakota) and 5 losses (@Utah State, UC Santa Barbara, @Omaha, @North Dakota, North Dakota (N))

Brian Fish’s Bobcats will see plenty of familiar faces during their non-conference schedule this season, thanks in no small part to their Summit Challenge matchups, which feature an Omaha squad Montana State played in a virtual home-and-home last fall and former league rival North Dakota. Two of the more unfamiliar names, Indiana and Arkansas, are the biggest challenges on this list, as those two squads anchor MSU’s exempt event. Note that a semi-road game against Washington State gives the Bobcats a slightly better than normal chance at a Power 7 win.

144. Portland State Vikings

*Exempt Event: Vandal Holiday Hoops Showcase

True Home Games (6) True Neutral-Site Games (2) True Road Games (3)
True Home Games (6) True Neutral-Site Games (2) True Road Games (3)
281. UC Riverside 181. UC Santa Barbara* 25. Oregon
(Non-D1) Willamette* (Non-D1) Northwest Nazarene* 79. Stanford
(Non-D1) Portland Bible* 58. BYU
251. Portland
208. Loyola Marymount
168. Cal State Bakersfield

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 6 wins (@Portland, Willamette, @UC Riverside, Stanford (N), Portland Bible, @Loyola Marymount) and 1 loss (@Oregon)

Last season, the Vikings took advantage of their participation in the Phil Knight Invitational to put mighty scares into both Duke and Butler before ultimately defeating Stanford on the event’s final day. Barret Peery’s squad couldn’t maintain that level of consistency all season, even though they did win 20 games when all was said and done. Maybe this slate, which features a trio of tricky road games, but a lack of the ESPN spotlight, will allow the 2018-19 Vikings to grow at their own pace.

209. Northern Colorado Bears

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

True Home Games (3) True Neutral-Site Games (2) True Road Games (6)
True Home Games (3) True Neutral-Site Games (2) True Road Games (6)
(Non-D1) Colorado College 177. Rider* 324. Incarnate Word
235. Pepperdine 303. Cal State Northridge or 30. Texas Tech
(Non-D1) Johnson & Wales (Colo.) 317. SIU Edwardsville* 196. Denver
129. Wyoming
186. San Diego*
71. New Mexico State*

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 4 wins (@Pepperdine, Denver, @Wyoming, @San Diego) and 0 losses

Fresh off a 26-win season and CollegeInsider.com Tournament title, the Bears will be looking to topple their ursine rivals from Missoula in the league race this time around. And the “other” UNC didn’t just hit that lofty win total by winning a bunch of postseason games either—the Bears went 9-4 in non-league play. They might struggle to match that total this season, thanks to six road games, including one at Texas Tech. A second consecutive MTE title may also be a tough ask, thanks to some poor bracketing in the Las Vegas Classic, which sees Northern Colorado face MAAC favorite Rider in the semifinals.

235. Northern Arizona Lumberjacks

No Exempt Event

True Home Games (2) True Road Games (8)
True Home Games (2) True Road Games (8)
310. Jacksonville 124. South Dakota
174. Utah Valley 217. Omaha
179. Hawai'i
169. UC Davis
216. Santa Clara
292. San Jose State
142. San Francisco
36. Utah

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 1 win (@Jacksonville) and 2 losses (@Santa Clara, South Dakota)

Since winning 23 games in their CollegeInsider.com Tournament runner-up season of 2014-15, the Lumberjacks have won just 19 games in the following three campaigns. That means the pressure is definitely on head coach Jack Murphy as he enters his seventh season. But eight road games in 10 contests (permitted since NAU travels to Hawai’i) means the ‘Jacks will be hard-pressed to even equal their three non-league wins of a season ago.

242. Southern Utah Thunderbirds

No Exempt Event

True Home Games (3) True Road Games (6)
True Home Games (3) True Road Games (6)
(Non-D1) West Coast Baptist 292. San Jose State
(Non-D1) San Diego Christian 256. Seattle
235. Pepperdine 143. UNLV
173. Long Beach State
171. Central Michigan
52. USC

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 5 wins (San Jose State, @Pepperdine, San Diego Christian, Long Beach State, Central Michigan) and 0 losses

While the Thunderbirds won just 13 games a season ago, six of those victories came before Big Sky play—with five of those opponents returning to this season’s slate. But don’t necessarily look for a repeat, as Todd Simon’s squad will play two fewer non-conference home games than they did in 2017.

289. Weber State Wildcats

*Exempt Event: Junkanoo Jam

True Home Games (5) True Neutral-Site Games (4) True Road Games (2)
True Home Games (5) True Neutral-Site Games (4) True Road Games (2)
(Non-D1) Bethesda* 292. San Jose State* 186. San Diego
(Non-D1) Benedictine-Mesa* 168. Cal State Bakersfield* 88. Fresno State
58. BYU 171. Central Michigan*
174. Utah Valley 133. Utah State !
348. Delaware State ! - Salt Lake City

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 1 win (Utah State) and 3 losses (@Fresno State, @Utah Valley, BYU (N))

Yawn. All Randy Rahe’s Wildcats did was win 20 games for the eighth time in his 12 seasons in charge, though a conference quarterfinal loss to Northern Colorado undoubtedly left Weber State hungry to topple both the Bears and Montana in the league race this time around. Six in-state games, a pair of winnable games in California, and round-robin event in the Bahamas should prepare the Wildcats well for a title challenge. But you’ll want to keep an eye on BYU‘s visit to Ogden, as the Cougars are likely to be Gonzaga‘s primary challenger in the WCC—and an at-large threat—this time around.

306. Idaho Vandals

*Exempt Event: Vandal Holiday Hoops Classic

True Home Games (5) Semi-Home Games (2) True Road Games (4)
True Home Games (5) Semi-Home Games (2) True Road Games (4)
287. Nicholls State (Non-D1) Northwest Nazarene* 119. UC Irvine
(Non-D1) Bethesda* 181. UC Santa Barbara* 218. North Dakota^
(Non-D1) Walla Walla* 194. Washington State
168. Cal State Bakersfield 216. Santa Clara
217. Omaha^ ^ - Summit Challenge
^ - Summit Challenge

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 5 wins (Santa Clara (N), @Nicholls State, Washington State, @North Dakota, North Dakota) and 3 losses (Cal State Bakersfield (N), @Cal State Bakersfield, UC Irvine (N))

Like EWU, the Vandals both won 20+ games and defeated a Pac-12 foe, though Idaho took out Washington State in Moscow, not eight miles down the road in Pullman. Don Verlin’s squad heads across the border this time, with that contest and one at UC Irvine looking like the most daunting ones on a slate that will see Idaho play seven games in state.

314. Sacramento State Hornets

No Exempt Event

True Home Games (4) Semi-Home Games (1) True Road Games (4)
True Home Games (4) Semi-Home Games (1) True Road Games (4)
(Non-D1) Simpson 169. UC Davis # 181. UC Santa Barbara
295. Cal Poly # - Golden 1 Center 303. Cal State Northridge
225. Cal State Fullerton 251. Portland
(Non-D1) Holy Names 100. Washington

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 1 win (Cal State Northridge) and 4 losses (UC Davis (N), @Cal State Fullerton, Portland (N), UC Santa Barbara)

Last season, the Hornets participated in a bracketed exempt tournament for the first time, going 0-3 in the Wooden Legacy after serving as a late call-up after DePaul got called up to the Phil Knight Invitational to replace Georgetown. That’s an innovation that the 7-win Hornets aren’t repeating this season. It’s now been four years since Sacramento State’s 21-12 campaign, the lone winning record Brian Katz’s team has posted in his 10 years at the helm. This California-heavy schedule might just get them back on track, however.

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