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Ranking the WAC’s Non-Conference Schedules for 2018-19

The nation’s most unstable conference is quietly improving in men’s basketball, despite its near-constant struggles in building quality non-conference schedules.

NCAA Basketball: WAC Basketball Championship-Grand Canyon vs New Mexico State Daniel Clark-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

Going back 10 seasons, to 2008-09, there’s been one constant in a WAC that has totally overhauled its membership in the last decade—New Mexico State. And the Aggies, who have served as the WAC’s lone representative in six of the seven NCAA Tournaments since Utah State‘s run of dominance ended in 2011, have just about kept the conference from falling to laughingstock status singlehandedly.

But the conference seems to be improving overall—albeit slowly. Sure, Chicago State is still a program in turmoil, UMKC may be heading toward the door—while Cal State Bakersfield has already planned its departure, and UT Rio Grande Valley also has room for improvement. However, the rest of the conference, led by Grand Canyon and Utah Valley in particular, has generally been on the upswing (even if the Antelopes and Bakersfield basically swapped places in the four-year ranking when compared to last season). And if these trends continue, the WAC champion should remain in position to consistently avoid the 16 seed line, while jumping up to lines 12 and 13 with regularity, particularly in the case of NMSU.

Keep in mind that Cal Baptist will not have a four-year raking or scheduling gap measurement as the Lancers are in their first transitional D1 season.

Four-Year Ranking

Team Team Score 4-Year Ranking 2017-18 Ranking
Team Team Score 4-Year Ranking 2017-18 Ranking
New Mexico State 4.72518 71 86
Grand Canyon 1.1425635 140 172
Cal State Bakersfield -0.271177 168 139
Utah Valley -0.5234285 174 254
Seattle -3.506594 256 281
UMKC -4.05125 268 251
UTRGV -6.792732 318 335
Chicago State -10.53303 346 342
Average -2.4763085 217.625 232.5
Conference Rank 23rd of 32 (23rd 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
110 Utah Valley 174 158 16
136 UMKC 268 262 6
156 Chicago State 346 344 2
163 Seattle 256 256 0
170 UTRGV 318 319 -1
228 Grand Canyon 140 155 -15
266 New Mexico State 71 96 -25
292 Cal State Bakersfield 168 202 -34

Based on KenPom’s preseason projections, it’s not going to be a vintage year for the WAC, as three of the conference’s four best teams are expected to decline a bit, relative to the four-year average. Meanwhile, the three teams projected to improve aren’t expected to do so by all that much. That might have negative implications for the league nationally.

Ranking The Schedules

Last season, Chicago State owned a top 30 schedule, at a minimum, in all four categories, while New Mexico State was ranked in the top 100 in three of them. Those slates helped push the WAC toward the upper-third of Division I in the majority of the schedule rankings, despite the presence of a pair of bottom 50 slates. This time, the league again has two terrible slates, but Chicago State and Utah Valley are the only non-conference schedules that approach the top 100. That drops the WAC’s overall non-conference schedule strength into the bottom quarter of Division I in two of the four categories, with the league ranking just above the final quartile in the other two categories.

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
100 Utah Valley* 3.640055057 81 3.240689033 101 3.373855395 108 3.10752267 96
107 Chicago State* 3.689214538 78 3.202119827 108 3.349062502 109 3.055177152 103
115 Cal State Bakersfield 3.062072688 104 3.062072688 115 3.062072688 128 3.062072688 102
128 UMKC* 2.913290172 112 2.711762357 127 2.760731161 145 2.662793553 114
205 UTRGV 1.510014203 193 1.510014203 205 1.510014203 213 1.510014203 190
239 Grand Canyon** -0.05087061417 279 0.8212384513 239 1.716737152 200 -0.08460874964 278
275 New Mexico State* 0.3746488496 262 0.3018947597 273 0.3072299597 279 0.2965595597 267
322 Cal Baptist* -0.6834409667 306 -0.9298240077 320 -0.7227207962 316 -1.136927219 326
335 Seattle -1.272753946 332 -1.272753946 335 -1.272753946 337 -1.272753946 333
202.8888889 Average 1.46469222 194.1111111 1.405245929 202.5555556 1.564914258 203.8888889 1.244427768 201
24/32 Conference Rank 21 of 32 25 of 32 25 of 32 23 of 32

Who Over- And Under-Scheduled?

Despite the lack of scheduling ambition, the majority of the WAC’s returning Division I members over-scheduled this season, with Chicago State not surprisingly leading the way. Unfortunately, three of the conference’s best teams—Grand Canyon, New Mexico State, and Seattle—under-scheduled relative to their four-year rankings. That could be problematic for the Antelopes and Aggies come March, provided they earn the WAC auto bid.

Scheduling Gaps

National Rank Team Four-Year Ranking Super Average Ranking Scheduling Gap
National Rank Team Four-Year Ranking Super Average Ranking Scheduling Gap
125 Cal State Bakersfield 168 115 53
171 Utah Valley 174 100 74
181 Seattle 256 333 -77
227 Grand Canyon 140 238 -98
246 UTRGV 318 204 114
277 UMKC 268 128 140
324 New Mexico State 71 274 -203
335 Chicago State 346 107 239
235.75 Average (30/32 conf.) 217.625 187.375 30.25

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
60 2 19 16

With the WAC’s membership growing by one this season, the league slate expanded to 16 games from 14. In turn, the conference’s total number of non-conference home games, non-D1 opponents scheduled, and Power 7 road games all declined. Note that both UTRGV and New Mexico State will welcome power conference teams to their home arenas this season. Only Seattle did so in 2017.

Non-Conference Games By League

Conference Games Scheduled Against Possible Tournament Games Against
Conference Games Scheduled Against Possible Tournament Games Against
Non-D1 18 0
Summit 13 0
Big Sky 9 1
MW 9 1
Southland 8 1
Pac-12 7 2
Big West 6 2
SWAC 6 1
WCC 6 1
MVC 6 0
Big 12 5 0
MAC 5 0
American Athletic 4 0
Big Ten 3 1
Sun Belt 3 1
Big East 3 0
C-USA 3 0
ACC 2 1
MAAC 2 0
OVC 2 0
Horizon 1 1
MEAC 1 1
Atlantic Sun 1 0
Big South 1 0
CAA 1 0
NEC 1 0
SoCon 1 0
A 10 0 1
America East 0 1
Ivy 0 0
Patriot 0 0
SEC 0 0

Thanks to the start of a challenge series with the Summit League, that conference leapt to the top of this table—at least in terms of Division I loops—with 13 games in 2018-19, compared to just two a season ago. As expected, Western and Southwestern conferences dominate this list, with four East Coast conferences and the SEC (which played three WAC teams a season ago) absent.

Surprisingly, Central Michigan is the only Division I team that will play three WAC opponents during non-conference play. On the other hand, UTRGV will play four games against squads from the geographically-convenient Southland, Cal Baptist will play three Big West outfits, and Cal State Bakersfield meets a trio of Big Sky opponents.

Non-Conference Games By Quad

Opponent Strength Home Away Neutral Total Average Potential
Opponent Strength Home Away Neutral Total Average Potential
Quad 1 2 15 1 18 2 2
Quad 2 1 19 1 21 2.333333333 2
Quad 3 4 13 4 21 2.333333333 8
Quad 4 35 8 5 48 5.333333333 4
Non-D1 18 0 0 18 2 0
Total 60 55 11 126
Average 6.666666667 6.111111111 1.222222222 14
Percentage 0.4761904762 0.4365079365 0.0873015873
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

With New Mexico State welcoming Saint Mary’s to the Pan American Center and Oklahoma headed to Edinburg, Texas, the WAC actually has two home games against top 30 teams (according to the four-year rankings) this season—out of three top 100 home games overall. However, those contests are the exception rather than the rule, as 53 of the WAC’s 60 non-conference home contests feature either a team that qualifies for Quad 4 or a non-D1 opponent. On the other hand, 34 of the 55 true road games for WAC squads will feature a Quad 1 or 2 team, with 27 of those featuring top 100 opposition. And this season’s crop of exempt tournaments won’t give conference members many chances against top 100 teams on neutral floors—only two are currently guaranteed and one of those is NMSU’s game against Kansas in Kansas City—a virtual road game for the Aggies.

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, except for Cal Baptist (CBULancers.com).

100. Utah Valley Wolverines

*Exempt Event: MGM Resorts Main Event (Middleweight Bracket)

True Home Games (6) True Neutral-Site Games (2) True Road Games (7)
True Home Games (6) True Neutral-Site Games (2) True Road Games (7)
(Non-D1) Westminster 112. Iona * 58. BYU
218. North Dakota 173. Long Beach State or 19. Saint Mary's*
(Non-D1) Western State (Colo.) 302. Hartford* 133. Utah State*
196. Denver^ 13. Arizona
299. Idaho State 329. Northern Arizona
204. Sam Houston State 163. Weber State
^ - Summit Challenge 88. Fresno State

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 4 wins (@Idaho State, @North Dakota, Weber State, @Sam Houston State) and 1 loss (BYU)

Mark Pope has seen his Wolverines improve from a 12-win outfit in 2015-16 to a 23-victory crew that earned a CBI berth a season ago. A solid 11-5 non-league mark built a strong foundation for Utah Valley, even if there wasn’t a win over BYU as there was in 2016. UVU will again be sternly tested away from home, thanks to road games against the Cougars, Saint Mary’s, Utah State, and Arizona, along with a tricky Middleweight Bracket at the MGM Resorts Main Event. That tournament sees the Wolverines meet three-time defending MAAC Tournament champ Iona in the semifinals.

107. Chicago State Cougars

*Exempt Event: Cayman Islands Classic (Mainland)

True Home Games (3) True Neutral-Site Games (1) True Road Games (11)
True Home Games (3) True Neutral-Site Games (1) True Road Games (11)
(Non-D1) East-West 204. Sam Houston State or 44. Indiana
260. Eastern Illinois 330. Jackson State* 20. Notre Dame
(Non-D1) Trinity Christian 171. Central Michigan
87. Illinois State*
157. Akron*
95. ETSU*
205. Bradley
144. DePaul
63. Northwestern
298. Western Illinois^
212. Northern Illinois
^ - WAC Challenge

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 1 win (East-West) and 4 losses (@Notre Dame, Northern Illinois, @Northwestern, Bradley)

The Cougars represent a university that’s fighting for survival, which is probably why it took nearly the entire offseason for them to replace Tracy Dildy after a 3-29 campaign. But Chicago State lined up a prominent name in Windy City basketball—Lance Irvin—to roam the sidelines. And he’ll need to employ every trick in the book to keep the Cougars motivated through what’s likely to be a long non-conference portion of the season. Amazingly, CSU will leave the Midwest just once during this slate—to play two games in Johnson City, Tennessee for the Cayman Islands Classic Mainland event.

115. Cal State Bakersfield Roadrunners

*Exempt Event: Junkanoo Jam

True Home Games (5) True Neutral-Site Games (3) True Road Games (6)
True Home Games (5) True Neutral-Site Games (3) True Road Games (6)
(Non-D1) Antelope Valley 171. Central Michigan* 45. TCU
(Non-D1) UC Merced 292. San Jose State* 52. USC
258. Lamar 163. Weber State* 124. South Dakota^
295. Cal Poly 182. Idaho
(Non-D1) UC Santa Cruz 211. Portland State
3. Gonzaga
^ - Summit Challenge

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 2 wins (Idaho (N), Idaho) and 1 loss (Central Michigan (N))

The Roadrunners followed up their NIT semifinal appearance by crashing to earth—dropping from 25 wins to just 12. And Rod Barnes’ team didn’t even play too badly during November and December—going 7-8 in non-league play, recording a pair of wins over Idaho and another over Georgia Southern. Oddly enough, Bakersfield will meet Central Michigan, the team that defeated it in the last-ever Great Alaska Shootout final, in the first-ever game at the men’s version of the Junkanoo Jam in the Bahamas. That excursion and road trips to Gonzaga, TCU, and USC mean the Roadrunners will hard pressed to improve upon last season’s non-league record.

128. UMKC Kangaroos

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

True Home Games (6) True Neutral-Site Games (1-2) True Road Games (7-8)
True Home Games (6) True Neutral-Site Games (1-2) True Road Games (7-8)
219. Drake 213. Morehead State* 82. Loyola Chicago
(Non-D1) Avila 189. Green Bay 56. Iowa*
149. Purdue Fort Wayne^ (or Eastern Washington*) 92. UConn*
201. Milwaukee 158. Eastern Washington
315. McNeese State (or Green Bay)*
198. Elon 94. South Dakota State
124. South Dakota
171. Central Michigan
28. Creighton

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: (UMKC) 1 win (Avila) and 4 losses (Loyola Chicago, South Dakota, Central Michigan, South Dakota State)

Kareem Richardson’s Roos followed up 2016-17’s 18-17 campaign with an eight-victory decline, including a poor 5-12 mark in non-league contests. Making matters worse—UMKC has to play return games against a quartet teams that defeated them in Kansas City last fall.

205. UTRGV Vaqueros

*Exempt Event: Deep South Showcase

True Home Games (10) True Road Games (7)
True Home Games (10) True Road Games (7)
(Non-D1) Texas A&M-Commerce 246. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi
27. Oklahoma ! 242. East Carolina*
311. Prairie View A&M* 85. Georgia Tech*
258. Lamar* 41. Houston
246. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi 102. UT Arlington
218. North Dakota^ 30. Texas Tech
203. Texas State 119. UC Irvine
250. Rice
315. McNeese State
(Non-D1) Wayland Baptist
! - Bert Ogden Arena
^ - Summit Challenge

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 5 wins (@Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, @Rice, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, UC Irvine, Wayland Baptist) and 3 losses (@Texas State, @Georgia Tech, UT Arlington)

Lew Hill’s squad quietly improved its win total from 10 to 15 in his second season in charge in Edinburg. Year three will be a new challenge—highlighted by a visit by Hill’s mentor, as Lon Kruger brings his Oklahoma club to the Bert Ogden Arena on November 9th. That contest is the highlight of the Vaqueros’ 10-game non-conference home slate. As for the road games, there aren’t any gimmes, even if Georgia Tech (the marquee team in UTRGV’s exempt event for the second straight year) and East Carolina will be among the worst the Power 7 have to offer this season.

239. Grand Canyon Antelopes

*Exempt Event: Wooden Legacy

True Home Games (6) Semi-Home Games (1) True Neutral-Site Games (3) True Road Games (3)
True Home Games (6) Semi-Home Games (1) True Neutral-Site Games (3) True Road Games (3)
348. Delaware State 61. Nevada # 37. Seton Hall* 94. South Dakota State^
310. Jacksonville # - Talking Stick Resort Arena 36. Utah or 43. Texas
234. Arkansas State 179. Hawai'i* 99. UNI
66. Boise State 23. Miami (Fla.)/ 186. San Diego
349. Mississippi Valley State 63. Northwestern/ ^ - Summit Challenge
(Non-D1) Eastern New Mexico 88. Fresno State/
166. La Salle*

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 1 win (Mississippi Valley State) and 2 losses (@Boise State, San Diego)

The Antelopes didn’t quite live up to the hype in their first NCAA Tournament-eligible season, even if they won 22 games and reached the WAC final. Dan Majerle’s squad will try again, with a marginally more difficult non-conference slate than what they encountered in 2017-18. That’s largely due to the road games, three contests at what should be a decent Wooden Legacy, and a marquee matchup with Nevada in downtown Phoenix.

275. New Mexico State Aggies

*Exempt Event: Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic

True Home Games (9) True Neutral-Site Games (2) Semi-Road Games (1) True Road Games (3)
True Home Games (9) True Neutral-Site Games (2) Semi-Road Games (1) True Road Games (3)
161. North Dakota State^ 219. Drake* 6. Kansas # 106. New Mexico
209. UTEP 186. San Diego or # - Kansas City 209. UTEP
19. Saint Mary's 194. Washington State* 146. Colorado State
(Non-D1) Eastern New Mexico
194. Washington State
106. New Mexico
214. Northern Colorado*
303. Cal State Northridge*
(Non-D1) Texas A&M International

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: (NMSU) 6 wins (New Mexico, Colorado State, UTEP, @UTEP, @New Mexico, Eastern New Mexico) and 2 losses (@Saint Mary’s, San Diego)

Not only did Chris Jans get the Aggies to the NCAA Tournament in his first season, NMSU improved its seeding by two lines over 2017’s 14. And based on this schedule, the Aggies should be able to equal that if they again win the WAC crown. Sure, the game in Kansas City against Kansas is the biggie, but this season’s series against New Mexico (under former coach Paul Weir) should have extra meaning with the Lobos expected to be improved. (As for the UTEP series, let’s wait a year or three.) Two mid-major powers—Saint Mary’s and North Dakota State visit Las Cruces, as does Washington State, a team New Mexico State could play twice, as they’re both in the Las Vegas Classic over Christmas week.

322. Cal Baptist Lancers

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

True Home Games (5) True Neutral-Site Games (1-2) True Road Games (7)
True Home Games (5) True Neutral-Site Games (1-2) True Road Games (7)
(Non-D1) San Diego Christian 344. Arkansas Pine Bluff* 223. Oral Roberts^
349. Mississippi Valley State 335. Howard 97. Tulsa*
119. UC Irvine (or Little Rock)* 61. Nevada*
(Non-D1) Caltech 222. Little Rock
(Non-D1) La Verne (or Howard)*
281. UC Riverside
252. Southeastern Louisiana
313. Southern
^ - Summit Challenge

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: (CBU) N/A

With no top 50 squads and the possibility of meeting four sub-300 teams along the way, the Lancers’ first Division I schedule sees them dipping their collective toes in the water. Coming off a 28-6 season that ended in the Division II Elite Eight, this slate should see Rick Croy’s team pick up a few early wins.

335. Seattle Redhawks

*Exempt Event: Elgin Baylor Classic

True Home Games (9) Semi-Home Games (2) True Road Games (4)
True Home Games (9) Semi-Home Games (2) True Road Games (4)
(Non-D1) Puget Sound 334. Bryant # 79. Stanford
323. Southern Utah 194. Washington State # 100. Washington
196. Denver* # - Kent, Wash. 251. Portland
215. Fairfield* 101. California
343. Longwood*
(Non-D1) Northwest*
158. Eastern Washington
217. Omaha^
311. Prairie View A&M
^ - Summit Challenge

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: (SU) 3 wins (Puget Sound, Eastern Washington, Portland) and 3 losses (@Washington State, @Washington, California)

Jim Hayford’s first season in Seattle was successful, as the Redhawks earned 20 wins and CBI bid. However, with the reduced non-conference slate, they’ll be challenged to equal last season’s total of 11 wins outside of league play. And with three Pac-12 road games on the slate, that means Seattle will likely need to sweep its nine true home games and the two set for the Showare Center in Kent (as KeyArena is being transformed) to equal that total. Note that one of those games features an upset target in Washington State, expected to finish near the bottom of the Pac-12.

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