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Ranking the Sun Belt’s Non-Conference Schedules for 2018-19

The Selection Committee hasn’t treated the Sun Belt champ all that well in recent seasons, but the conference is making some scheduling changes in the hopes of improving its March fortunes.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Cincinnati vs Georgia State Christopher Hanewinckel-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

Over the past 10 seasons, the Sun Belt’s representatives in the NCAA Tournament—always an auto bid winner, other than Middle Tennessee‘s surprise at-large in 2013—have consistently earned double-digit seeds. And with the exception of Little Rock’s 12 seed in 2016, the Sun Belt champ has earned a seed of 14 or lower since WKU‘s own 12 in 2009, including the 15s Georgia State and Troy picked up in the last two seasons.

But with Louisiana entering the top 100 of this season’s four-year ranking and UT Arlington and Georgia State sitting just outside of it, the conference is improving. In fact, six of the top eight teams in the table below saw their four-year team scores increase after last season. And with the Sun Belt moving to a flexible conference schedule in 2019-20, if the leagues continues to work its way up, the teams at the top might see the benefits come March—and while improved at-large chances might not be in play (yet), better seeding would be a distinct possibility.

Four-Year Rankings

Team Team Score 4-Year Ranking 2017-18 Ranking
Team Team Score 4-Year Ranking 2017-18 Ranking
Louisiana 3.1701175 96 123
UT Arlington 2.73978 102 109
Georgia State 2.2997755 110 117
Georgia Southern -0.0521154 162 189
Coastal Carolina -1.1654074 190 180
Troy -1.2584271 191 228
Texas State -1.88406005 203 208
ULM -1.9923265 207 202
Little Rock -2.3881575 222 165
Arkansas State -2.923135 234 204
South Alabama -3.4347985 249 263
Appalachian State -3.501279 255 286
Average -0.8658361208 185.0833333 189.5
Conference Rank 14th of 32 14th of 32 (16th 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
14 Appalachian State 255 178 77
15 South Alabama 249 174 75
90 Troy 191 167 24
98 Georgia State 110 89 21
121 Georgia Southern 162 150 12
167 Texas State 203 204 -1
252 Louisiana 96 118 -22
294 ULM 207 242 -35
302 Arkansas State 234 273 -39
323 Coastal Carolina 190 249 -59
329 Little Rock 222 283 -61
350 UT Arlington 102 229 -127

While KenPom projects that a pair of second division teams will see their fortunes improve the most this season when compared to the four-year ranking, the Sun Belt’s last two NCAA reps, Georgia State and Troy, and another contender, Georgia Southern, should also overperform their recent histories. Unfortunately, Louisiana and, especially, UT Arlington might encounter some difficulties in 2018-19.

Ranking The Schedules

The Sun Belt’s non-conference schedules, which ranked at or near the bottom of Division I in 2017-18, are much improved this year, with reduced membership in both the bottom 50 and 100, along with three top 100 schedules according to the super average. Last season, only Appalachian State found itself ranked that high. Heading into this year, half of the conference’s non-league slates rank in the top half of Division I—only a quarter of the Sun Belt’s membership could make that claim just one season ago.

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
21 UT Arlington 5.44716664 17 5.44716664 21 5.44716664 30 5.44716664 17
51 Georgia State** 3.613509599 83 4.358252987 52 4.955064968 44 3.700668853 64
93 Appalachian State** 2.352729425 139 3.472606489 90 4.187033042 76 2.637670617 116
149 Georgia Southern** 2.909970369 113 2.332680746 149 2.764623457 144 1.882365774 158
168 Louisiana** 2.129895291 152 2.092052766 167 2.419999227 162 1.781043426 169
173 ULM 1.961449975 163 1.961449975 175 1.961449975 184 1.961449975 153
218 Arkansas State 1.182151305 208 1.182151305 220 1.182151305 228 1.182151305 207
260 Coastal Carolina 0.5459755448 255 0.5459755448 258 0.5459755448 267 0.5459755448 253
264 Little Rock* 0.8840430417 234 0.4312305 266 0.8160397308 247 0.04642126923 274
278 Troy 0.1512114583 270 0.1512114583 279 0.1512114583 282 0.1512114583 269
327 South Alabama -1.064690555 323 -1.064690555 327 -1.064690555 328 -1.064690555 320
331 Texas State -1.217846365 328 -1.217846365 331 -1.217846365 333 -1.217846365 329
194.4166667 Average 1.574630477 190.4166667 1.641020124 194.5833333 1.845681536 193.75 1.421132329 194.0833333
21/32 Conference Rank 19 of 32 21 of 32 19 of 32 20 of 32

Who Over- And Under-Scheduled?

The Sun Belt is split right down the middle in terms of over- and under-schedulers, with Appalachian State and Texas State the only two teams to miss the mark by 100 or more places. In fact, the Mountaineers are the biggest over-schedulers the second season in a row. While Georgia Southern, Georgia State, and UT Arlington all built schedules that exceeded their four-year rankings, Louisiana negatively missed its mark by 72 spots.

Scheduling Gaps

National Rank Team Four-Year Ranking Super Average Ranking Scheduling Gap
National Rank Team Four-Year Ranking Super Average Ranking Scheduling Gap
41 Georgia Southern 162 149 13
47 Arkansas State 234 217 17
85 ULM 207 172 35
103 Little Rock 222 263 -41
139 Georgia State 110 51 59
159 Coastal Carolina 190 259 -69
163 Louisiana 96 168 -72
177 South Alabama 249 325 -76
188 UT Arlington 102 21 81
199 Troy 191 277 -86
262 Texas State 203 329 -126
296 Appalachian State 255 93 162
154.9166667 Average (11/32 conf.) 185.0833333 193.6666667 -8.583333333

Home, Power 7 Road, And Non-D1 Games

True Home Games Scheduled Home Games Scheduled Against Power 6 Teams Road Games Scheduled Against Power 6 Teams Non-D1 Opponents Scheduled
True Home Games Scheduled Home Games Scheduled Against Power 6 Teams Road Games Scheduled Against Power 6 Teams Non-D1 Opponents Scheduled
66 1 32 21

The Sun Belt collectively scheduled the same number of home games as it did one season ago, needing five fewer non-D1 contests to do so. While that reduction in non-D1 games affected the league’s schedule quality, the addition of 13 power conference road games was even more impactful. While the Sun Belt has a single Power 7 home game on the slate, that’s a reduction of two when compared to a season ago. Plus, Tulane‘s visit to South Alabama isn’t one that’s going to draw much attention, nationally or even regionally, anyway.

Non-Conference Games By League

Conference Games Scheduled Against Possible Tournament Games Against
Conference Games Scheduled Against Possible Tournament Games Against
Non-D1 21 0
Southland 15 1
SEC 11 2
C-USA 10 1
American Athletic 9 2
SoCon 7 0
A 10 6 1
MVC 6 1
SWAC 6 1
Big South 6 0
MEAC 6 0
OVC 5 0
Big 12 4 0
Big Ten 4 0
ACC 3 2
CAA 3 2
Atlantic Sun 3 1
Big West 3 1
MW 3 1
WAC 3 1
Big East 2 1
WCC 2 1
Big Sky 1 1
Horizon 1 0
MAAC 1 0
Pac-12 1 0
Patriot 1 0
MAC 0 4
Summit 0 2
America East 0 0
Ivy 0 0
NEC 0 0

While the Sun Belt reduced its non-D1 games this season, that group of opponents still leads the 32 Division I conferences in the table above. Curiously, two of the other three conferences in the top four—the Southland and Conference USA—also heavily rely on teams from outside of D1 to complete their schedules. The SEC jumps into the top three, thanks to the addition of four Sun Belt games. That dropped the American, third a season ago, down to fifth, even though that league added two games itself.

Last year, three conferences were absent from Sun Belt slates, a number that’s grown to five this season, though both the MAC and Summit could line up against league teams in the later rounds of tournaments.

Central Arkansas and Tulane are the only two teams that will play three games against Sun Belt opposition, with the Bears only qualifying because of their annual home-and-home with neighbors Little Rock. That series helps push the Trojans toward three Southland games, with Louisiana and ULM also playing a trio of games against members of that conference (five of those opponents are from Louisiana, fittingly). Coastal Carolina (Big South), Georgia State (SoCon), and Troy (C-USA) will also play three non-conference opponents from one league in 2018-19.

Non-Conference Games By Quad

Opponent Strength Home Away Neutral Total Average Potential
Opponent Strength Home Away Neutral Total Average Potential
Quad 1 0 22 1 23 1.916666667 4
Quad 2 0 13 1 14 1.166666667 6
Quad 3 10 14 3 27 2.25 10
Quad 4 34 18 6 58 4.833333333 6
Non-D1 21 0 0 21 1.75 0
Total 66 67 11 143
Average 5.5 5.583333333 0.9166666667 11.91666667
Percentage 0.4615384615 0.4685314685 0.07692307692
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

Of the Sun Belt’s 66 non-conference home games, just three will come against opposition that ranks (barely) within the four-year rankings top 100, while league members will play 28 such games on the road. In fact, 41 of the conference’s home games will feature teams that are either ranked outside of the top 250 or aren’t even Division I members. That’s the type of discrepancy that will only hurt the league’s collective metrics as the season goes on.

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 Louisiana (Matt Sullivan, Louisiana Athletics) and ULM (ULMWarhawks.com).

21. UT Arlington Mavericks

*Exempt Event: Hardwood Showcase

True Home Games (5) True Road Games (8)
True Home Games (5) True Road Games (8)
(Non-D1) UT Tyler 44. Indiana*
99. UNI 40. Arkansas*
246. Texas A&M Corpus Christi* 97. Tulsa
169. UC Davis* 98. Missouri
318. UTRGV 271. North Texas
3. Gonzaga
295. Cal Poly
43. Texas

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 3 wins (North Texas, @UTRGV, Cal Poly) and 1 loss (@UNI)

Chris Ogden, formerly a Texas assistant, replaces Scott Cross, who was relieved of his duties after three consecutive 20-win seasons, none of which ended with an NCAA bid. Last season’s Maverick squad couldn’t build upon a 9-4 non-conference record, highlighted by an early win at BYU and Barclays Center Classic subregional title. This season’s slate is markedly more difficult the last, particularly since the number of Power 7 road games jumped from two to five—and that number doesn’t even include the visit to Gonzaga.

51. Georgia State Panthers

*Exempt Event: Cayman Islands Classic

True Home Games (5) True Neutral-Site Games (3) True Road Games (5)
True Home Games (5) True Neutral-Site Games (3) True Road Games (5)
95. ETSU* 74. St. Bonaventure* 118. Montana
154. Mercer 28. Creighton or 194. Tulane
187. Chattanooga 66. Boise State* 233. Liberty
139. UNCW 29. Clemson/ 55. Alabama
(Non-D1) Middle Georgia 157. Akron/ 39. Kansas State
57. Georgia/
87. Illinois State*

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 3 wins (Tulane, Montana, @Chattanooga) and 1 loss (Liberty)

Ron Hunter’s Panthers, who gave Cincinnati a fight in last season’s NCAA First Round, could earn some early attention with a good performance at the Cayman Islands Classic, where three fellow March Madness qualifiers are present in the bracket, with two on Georgia State’s side alone. Later on, the Panthers will visit another two NCAA squads—an Alabama squad that won a game in the Big Dance and a Kansas State outfit that reached the Elite Eight.

93. Appalachian State Mountaineers

*Exempt Event: Myrtle Beach Invitational

True Home Games (4) True Neutral-Site Games (3) True Road Games (5)
True Home Games (4) True Neutral-Site Games (3) True Road Games (5)
(Non-D1) Winston-Salem State 8. Purdue* 55. Alabama*
335. Howard 12. Wichita State or 242. East Carolina
248. N.C. Central 60. Davidson* 285. USF
(Non-D1) Milligan 49. Virginia Tech/ 68. Georgetown
55. Alabama/ 210. Saint Louis
116. Northeastern/
172. Ball State*

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 2 wins (Davidson, South Florida) and 0 losses

While the Mountaineers’ four home games should allow them to nearly equal last season’s non-conference win total of five, Jim Fox’s squad will be challenged on their travels. And that’s true even though they visit a pair of American Athletic bottom feeders in South Florida and East Carolina. Appalachian State, which saw its win total jump by six in recording a 15-18 mark in 2017-18, will play three difficult games at the Myrtle Beach Invitational, starting with their quarterfinal against Purdue . Plus, they’ll visit Alabama in a non-bracketed game for that event, rising Georgetown, and Saint Louis, the A 10 favorite. The Mountaineers will likely need to pull off a surprise in Charleston or defeat ECU or USF to have a chance at bettering last season’s non-conference performance.

149. Georgia Southern Eagles

*Exempt Event: Islands of the Bahamas Showcase

True Home Games (5) True Neutral-Site Games (3) True Road Games (5)
True Home Games (5) True Neutral-Site Games (3) True Road Games (5)
(Non-D1) Carver* 278. FAU* 13. Arizona
185. George Mason 152. Towson or 154. Mercer
95. ETSU 235. Pepperdine* 115. UCF
(Non-D1) Brewton-Parker 118. Montana/ 220. Radford
205. Bradley 161. North Dakota State/ 77. Dayton
237. Miami (Ohio)/
324. Incarnate Word*

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 1 win (@George Mason) and 3 losses (Towson (N), @Bradley, @ETSU)

Mark Byington’s Eagles will look to improve their win total for the third consecutive season, starting with a manageable non-conference slate that features just two Power 7 contests, at Arizona and UCF. With ETSU expected to take a step back in the SoCon, A 10 contender George Mason, a team Georgia Southern defeated in Fairfax last season, is likely to be the strongest visitor to Statesboro this fall. Meanwhile, the Eagles have a great chance to make the final of the Islands of the Bahamas Showcase, where Big Sky champ Montana could be waiting.

168. Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns

*Exempt Event: Gulf Coast Showcase

True Home Games (5) True Neutral-Site Games (2-3) Semi-Road Games (0-1) True Road Games (5)
True Home Games (5) True Neutral-Site Games (2-3) Semi-Road Games (0-1) True Road Games (5)
(Non-D1) Virgin Islands 146. Colorado State* 138. FGCU 42. Tennessee*
313. Southern 114. Toledo (or Toledo)* 6. Kansas
(Non-D1) Loyola (La.) (or FGCU)* 269. New Orleans
311. Prairie View A&M 94. South Dakota State/ 315. McNeese State
123. Louisiana Tech 119. UC Irvine/ 252. Southeastern Louisiana
194. Tulane/
245. UTSA*

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 5 wins (McNeese State, Loyola (La.), @Louisiana Tech, New Orleans, Southeastern Louisiana) and 0 losses

The Ragin’ Cajuns 2017-18 campaign ended in disappointment, even with a 27-7 record and Sun Belt regular season title. That’s because UT Arlington knocked Louisiana off in the conference semifinals, with the Ragin’ Cajuns eventually losing an ill-tempered NIT contest at LSU. As Bob Marlin’s squad attempts to rebound, nearly all of the quality in its non-conference schedule comes from its participation in the Tip-Off version of the NIT—sort of. In a season full of exempt tournament difficulties and shenanigans, the Ragin’ Cajuns will play at both Kansas and Tennessee as part of the hosts’ NIT on-campus rounds. But only the game in Knoxville will count for Louisiana, which was added to a decent Gulf Coast Showcase field, with that event becoming an NIT subregional for this season. While in Fort Myers, Louisiana will have a decent shot to reach the final, though they might have to get past a FGCU squad playing not far from campus in the semifinals, where Summit power South Dakota State would be the ideal opponent.

173. ULM Warhawks

*Exempt Event: Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational (On-Campus Only)

True Home Games (5) True Road Games (7)
True Home Games (5) True Road Games (7)
(Non-D1) Millsaps* 330. Jackson State
336. Grambling State 43. Texas*
107. Stephen F. Austin 10. Michigan State*
287. Nicholls State 230. Tennessee Tech*
347. Coppin State 332. Northwestern State
75. Ole Miss
80. LSU

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 3 wins (Jackson State, Grambling State, Millsaps) and 2 losses (Northwestern State, @Stephen F. Austin)

After following up a pair of 20-win seasons with a 9-24 mark in 2016-17, the Warhawks recorded a seven-win improvement last year to get back to .500. Keith Richard’s squad did so while recording six wins in its 11 non-conference game, though only the first two came against Power 7 opponents. With four such contests on this season’s expanded 12-game slate, including a pair of Las Vegas Invitational contests at Texas and Michigan State, securing a second consecutive winning non-league record will be a far more challenging assignment. Working in ULM’s favor—a non-D1 game and six games featuring teams from outside of the top 200.

218. Arkansas State Red Wolves

*Exempt Event: VisitCurrituckOBX.com Battle in the Blue Ridge

True Home Games (5) True Neutral-Site Games (3) True Road Games (5)
True Home Games (5) True Neutral-Site Games (3) True Road Games (5)
(Non-D1) Missouri Baptist* 139. UNCW* 309. Abilene Christian
122. Evansville 260. Eastern Illinois* 140. Grand Canyon
278. FAU 229. Gardner-Webb* 188. Lehigh
160. Missouri State 84. Minnesota
(Non-D1) Harding 46. Syracuse

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 1 win (Abilene Christian) and 2 losses (@Evansville, @FAU)

Mike Balado’s first Red Wolves team recorded nine fewer victories than Grant McCasland’s last, though the Red Wolves’ 5-8 non-league mark was only partially to blame. But with an easier exempt tournament on offer in 2018 than last season’s Indiana-focused event and five true home games, Arkansas State will have a decent chance of entering Sun Belt play with an over-.500 record. And that’s true even if four of the five road games are likely losses.

260. Coastal Carolina Chanticleers

*Exempt Event: KEMI Northern Kentucky Basketball Classic

True Home Games (4) True Neutral-Site Games (2) True Road Games (6)
True Home Games (4) True Neutral-Site Games (2) True Road Games (6)
(Non-D1) Ferrum 244. Manhattan* 283. Campbell
(Non-D1) Methodist 155. UNC Asheville* 194. Tulane
279. Hampton 153. Northern Kentucky*
248. N.C. Central 51. South Carolina
151. Wofford
117. College of Charleston

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 1 win (@Hampton) and 3 losses (Wofford, @South Carolina, @College of Charleston)

Last season, the Chanticleers finished below .500 for the first time since 2012-13. And with four winnable home games and two victory opportunities at Horizon favorite Northern Kentucky‘s exempt event, Cliff Ellis’ squad should be able to record six non-conference wins for the second straight year. Other than the game against the Norse, Coastal’s three in-state road contests are the matchups most likely to give them problems before Sun Belt play tips off.

264. Little Rock Trojans

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

True Home Games (7) True Road Games (6)
True Home Games (7) True Road Games (6)
(Non-D1) SE Oklahoma State 197. Tennessee State
335. Howard* 61. Nevada*
(Transitional) Cal Baptist or 97. Tulsa*
344. Arkansas-Pine Bluff* 301. Central Arkansas
204. Sam Houston State 104. Memphis
205. Bradley 68. Georgetown
301. Central Arkansas
(Non-D1) Miles

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 1 win (Central Arkansas) and 4 wins (@Memphis, @Central Arkansas, @Bradley, @Sam Houston State)

While the Trojans’ first season without Chris Beard was difficult enough, as the 2016 Sun Belt champs slipped to a 15-17 mark, the second was even worse, as Wes Flanagan was relieved of his duties after posting a 7-25 record. Former pro Darrell Walker replaced Flanagan in Little Rock and his first non-conference schedule is manageable, largely because the Trojans will host the subregional of the Las Vegas Holiday Invitational, with that event featuring a new D1 team and two bottom 20 programs. While there are six road contests lined up, only the three Power 7 ones and the trip to Nevada are almost assuredly losses.

278. Troy Trojans

*Exempt Event: Barclays Center Classic

True Home Games (7) True Road Games (5)
True Home Games (7) True Road Games (5)
(Non-D1) Fort Valley State 210. Saint Louis*
297. Southern Miss 109. Pittsburgh*
301. Central Arkansas* 26. Florida State
(Transitional) North Alabama* 127. WKU
247. Austin Peay 135. UAB
(Non-D1) Carver
344. Arkansas Pine Bluff

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 1 win (Arkansas Pine Bluff (N)) and 3 losses (UAB, @Southern Miss., @Austin Peay)

The Trojans finished a game under .500 one season after qualifying for the NCAAs both overall and in non-conference play. The slate Phil Cunningham and his staff built for 2018-19 is heavy on the winnable home games and road tests. While there are only two power conference games on the schedule—Pittsburgh and Florida State, trips to A 10 favorite Saint Louis Billikens and a pair of C-USA contenders in WKU and UAB will also be stern challenges for Troy.

327, South Alabama Jaguars

*Exempt Event: Goldie and Herman Ungar Classic

True Home Games (9) True Road Games (4)
True Home Games (9) True Road Games (4)
(Non-D1) Huntingdon* 64. Auburn
187. Chattanooga* 34. Texas A&M
310. Jacksonville* 297. Southern Miss
284. Southeast Missouri State* 269. New Orleans
350. Florida A&M
194. Tulane
351. Alabama A&M
(Non-D1) Mobile
113. Richmond

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 3 wins (Mobile, New Orleans, Southern Miss.) and 1 loss (@Tulane)

Coming off a 14-18 record and .500 non-conference mark, the Jaguars have a home-heavy slate in Richie Riley’s first season in charge, including a round-robin event that South Alabama could possibly sweep. The Jags have two of the better home games in the conference, with both Tulane and Richmond visiting the Mitchell Center this fall. Meanwhile, South Alabama’s two roughest road trips are to SEC arenas, those of Auburn and Texas A&M.

331. Texas State Bobcats

*Exempt Event: Portland Classic

True Home Games (5) True Neutral-Site Games (2) True Road Games (6)
True Home Games (5) True Neutral-Site Games (2) True Road Games (6)
231. Air Force 295. Cal Poly* 219. Drake
(Non-D1) Hardin-Simmons* 314. USC Upstate* 251. Portland*
250. Rice 245. UTSA
305. Houston Baptist 246. Texas A&M Corpus Christi
(Non-D1) Howard Payne 318. UTRGV
40. Arkansas

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 3 wins (UTRGV, Texas A&M Corpus Christi, @Rice) and 3 losses (@Air Force, UTSA, @Houston Baptist)

Danny Kaspar’s Bobcats went 15-18 last season, meaning 2016-17’s 22-14 record is the only winning mark he’s posted in five seasons in charge in San Marcos. A nine-game losing streak to close the regular season ruined what had been a 14-8 start, including a 7-6 non-conference record. And with five home games and a weak Portland-hosted round-robin event, Texas State might be able to get itself going a little more quickly this season. Note that the Bobcats’ trip to Arkansas is their lone non-league game scheduled against a team ranked in the top 200.

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