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Ranking the Horizon League’s Non-Conference Schedules for 2018-19

The two teams favored to challenge for the conference title this season didn’t do themselves many favors in the non-league schedule department.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Wright State vs Tennessee Matthew Emmons-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

Butler‘s final season before the Bulldogs’ departure for the Atlantic 10 (then Big East), 2011-12, was a harbinger of things to come for the Horizon League. While Butler ended up in the CBI and Cleveland State and Valparaiso (another eventual departure) earned NIT bids, conference tournament champion Detroit Mercy earned a 15 seed. During Between 2007 and 2011, Butler earned single-digit seeds in each NCAA Tournament and the Bulldogs secured at-large bids in the two seasons they required one.

But since the Indianapolis school’s departure, the highest seed the Horizon champion has earned is the 13 current Missouri Valley member Valpo secured in 2015. The conference tournament has been largely responsible for this, as the 2013 and 2015 Crusader squads are the only Horizon regular season champs who have qualified for the NCAAs since 2011. After the last three tournaments—which saw both the 1 and 2 seeds lose in the quarterfinals in 2016 and 2017 and the top seed fall at the same stage in 2018—the conference is making some changes. For starters, only the top eight teams will qualify, with the top four seeds hosting quarterfinals on campus before the semifinals and final take place in Detroit (for the final time under the “Motor City Madness” contract).

While these reforms might push a Horizon League double champion into the field, I wouldn’t expect that team to necessarily earn a seed higher than 13th. After last season, no conference member ranks among the top 125 of the four-year ratings (Oakland and Green Bay did heading into last year), while 70 percent of the league sits in the bottom half of Division I.

Four-Year Rankings

Team Team Score 4-Year Ranking 2017-18 Ranking
Team Team Score 4-Year Ranking 2017-18 Ranking
Oakland 1.4749262 131 115
Northern Kentucky 0.55941 153 222
Wright State 0.4271447 156 161
Green Bay -1.1255455 189 118
Milwaukee -1.71331 201 194
IUPUI -3.552086 259 241
UIC -4.0582605 270 302
Cleveland State -4.4333475 276 219
Detroit Mercy -4.9464597 288 237
Youngstown State -6.1202355 308 278
Average -2.34877638 223.1 208.7
Conference Rank 22nd of 32 (21st 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
11 UIC 270 190 80
73 Wright State 156 125 31
107 Northern Kentucky 153 136 17
240 Youngstown State 308 326 -18
263 Cleveland State 276 300 -24
275 IUPUI 259 286 -27
312 Detroit Mercy 288 333 -45
327 Milwaukee 201 261 -60
336 Green Bay 189 257 -68
347 Oakland 131 231 -100

While KenPom projects that typical contenders Green Bay and Oakland will seriously underperform this season when compared to the four-year ranking, the last two Horizon NCAA reps, Wright State and NKU, should outperform theirs. As should UIC, as squad that caught fire during league play in 2018.

Ranking The Schedules

This season, the Horizon slightly improved upon its non-conference schedule as a whole, as the league is consistently in the top 10 across all of the categories below. Green Bay’s schedule cracks the top 20, with Detroit Mercy in the top 50 and Oakland in the top 75. A season ago, only the Golden Grizzlies found themselves in the top 100. Disappointingly, Wright State and NKU find themselves closer to the bottom of the rankings than the top, with both outside of the national top 200 in most 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
20 Green Bay* 6.112280204 10 5.462225864 20 5.516072886 28 5.408378842 19
49 Detroit Mercy* 5.028281923 25 4.366614006 49 4.444893467 63 4.288334544 41
64 Oakland 4.079534077 58 4.079534077 65 4.079534077 81 4.079534077 51
137 Youngstown State 2.556420946 129 2.556420946 137 2.556420946 158 2.556420946 124
139 UIC 2.455964897 133 2.455964897 140 2.455964897 161 2.455964897 129
193 Cleveland State 1.678799723 182 1.678799723 194 1.678799723 204 1.678799723 173
198 Milwaukee* 1.525139017 192 1.608124688 197 1.688651438 203 1.527597938 188
219 Wright State* 0.8654523583 237 1.241019576 217 1.794014062 196 0.6880250904 243
245 Northern Kentucky 0.7621856923 244 0.7621856923 245 0.7621856923 255 0.7621856923 239
263 IUPUI* 0.9373136292 227 0.5365735808 260 0.7156586192 257 0.3574885423 264
152.7 Average 2.600137247 143.7 2.474746305 152.4 2.569219581 160.6 2.380273029 147.1
10/32 Conference Rank 6 of 32 9 of 32 9 of 32 6 of 32

Who Over- And Under-Scheduled?

Not surprisingly, both the Raiders and Norse find themselves among the three Horizon members who under-scheduled this year, and both of their gaps are far worse than IUPUI’s three-point difference. Every other league member over-scheduled with Detroit Mercy, coached by notorious over-scheduler Mike Davis, leading the way. Just think that he wasn’t responsible for much of the Titans’ 239-place gap since he was hired relatively late in the offseason.

Scheduling Gaps

National Rank Team Four-Year Ranking Super Average Ranking Scheduling Gap
National Rank Team Four-Year Ranking Super Average Ranking Scheduling Gap
10 IUPUI 259 262 -3
15 Milwaukee 201 197 4
144 Wright State 156 218 -62
154 Oakland 131 64 67
195 Cleveland State 276 192 84
207 Northern Kentucky 153 244 -91
268 UIC 270 139 131
297 Green Bay 189 20 169
299 Youngstown State 308 137 171
334 Detroit Mercy 288 49 239
192.3 Average (24/32 conf.) 223.1 152.2 70.9

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 0 25 16

The average Horizon League schedule features an average of six non-conference home games, with Northern Kentucky and Cleveland State on the high end of the scale and Detroit Mercy and Youngstown State playing two fewer than average. With UIC returning last year’s game against DePaul, no Horizon member will host a Power 7 team. In 2018-19, Horizon teams will play a total of three more power conference road games than they did a season ago, while the league is playing two fewer non-D1 home games than in 2017-18.

Non-Conference Games By League

Conference Games Scheduled Against Possible Tournament Games Against
Conference Games Scheduled Against Possible Tournament Games Against
MAC 26 1
Non-D1 16 0
MVC 9 1
OVC 7 1
A 10 7 0
Big East 6 0
Big Ten 6 0
Summit 6 0
American Athletic 4 1
MAAC 4 1
ACC 4 0
America East 4 0
CAA 3 0
NEC 3 0
Pac-12 3 0
Big South 2 1
C-USA 2 0
SEC 2 0
SoCon 2 0
Southland 1 1
WAC 1 1
Atlantic Sun 1 0
Big 12 1 0
Big Sky 1 0
Ivy 1 0
MEAC 1 0
MW 1 0
Sun Belt 1 0
SWAC 0 1
WCC 0 1
Big West 0 0
Patriot 0 0

For the second season in a row, Horizon League teams will play MAC opponents more than anyone else—with six more games scheduled against their regional rivals than a season ago. It looks like these additional games came at the expense of non-D1 opponents (down two when compared to 2017-18), Big Ten (down two), and MVC (down another two). Horizon members also added games against the A 10 (seven, with just two scheduled a season ago) and Big East (six, compared to three last season). Last season, only two conferences, the Big West and Patriot League, were absent from Horizon schedules. This time around, the SWAC and WCC join them. However, the latter two leagues feature in tournaments Horizon members are participating in.

A trio of MAC members—Northern Illinois, Toledo, and Western Michigan—will play four games each against Horizon opponents, while Kent State will play three. Detroit Mercy has the most non-conference opponents from a single league on its schedule, and its not close. The Titans have a whopping six games lined up against MAC opposition, nearly half of its non-conference schedule, and they could add a seventh in the Legends Classic subregional final.

Non-Conference Games by Quad

Opponent Strength Home Away Neutral Total Average Potential
Opponent Strength Home Away Neutral Total Average Potential
Quad 1 0 17 0 17 1.7 1
Quad 2 0 16 3 19 1.9 0
Quad 3 10 20 2 32 3.2 2
Quad 4 34 6 2 42 4.2 5
Non-D1 16 0 0 16 1.6 0
Total 60 59 7 126
Average 6 5.9 0.7 12.6
Percentage 0.4761904762 0.4682539683 0.05555555556
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

The overwhelming majority of Horizon League home non-conference games, 50 of 60, will feature teams from Quad 4 or outside of Division I entirely. Making matters worse, just three of the 10 Quad 3 home games feature teams from the top 100 of the four-year ranking. Naturally, that means Horizon members will have their work cut out for them on the road. They’ll play a total of 14 top-50 road games (based on the ranking) and seven further games against squads ranked among the second 50.

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 Green Bay (GreenBayPhoenix.com).

20. Green Bay Phoenix

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

True Home Games (5) True Neutral-Site Games (1) True Road Games (7)
True Home Games (5) True Neutral-Site Games (1) True Road Games (7)
(Non-D1) Wisconsin Lutheran 213. Morehead State or 56. Iowa*
164. Indiana State 268. UMKC* 158. Eastern Washington*
212. Northern Illinois 25. Oregon*
91. Belmont 228. Bowling Green
(Non-D1) UW Stout 28. Creighton
10. Michigan State
122. Evansville

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 0 wins and 4 losses (@Northern Illinois, @Belmont, @Indiana State, Bowling Green)

Since winning the Horizon auto bid in 2016, Linc Darner’s Phoenix have seen five wins disappear from their total in each subsequent season. 2017-18’s 13-win campaign saw Green Bay win just a pair of games against Division I foes in non-conference play (five wins overall). And that was with seven home contests on the schedule. This time around, the Phoenix will play just five home games—with the three D1 visitors all owning wins over Green Bay from last season. Add in four Power 7 road games and a tricky trip to Eastern Washington for the 2K Empire Classic subregional and it’s possible Green Bay will find itself behind the eight ball before Horizon play even begins.

49. Detroit Mercy Titans

*Exempt Event: GotPrint.com Legends Classic (Subregional)

True Home Games (4) True Road Games (9)
True Home Games (4) True Road Games (9)
304. Loyola (Md.)* 170. Western Michigan
228. Bowling Green or 86. Temple*
279. Hampton* 21. Butler
176. Kent State 101. California*
159. Ohio 147. Eastern Michigan
157. Akron
77. Dayton
114. Toledo
18. Xavier

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 2 wins (Toledo, Western Michigan)

Bacari Alexander was forced out after two seasons at Calihan Hall, the second of which featured a suspension for misconduct. It took the Titans awhile to land a replacement, but the wait was worth it, as former Indiana coach Mike Davis returns to the Midwest after taking Texas Southern to four NCAAs and one NIT in six seasons. During his tenure in Houston, Davis’ Tigers played a total of seven home non-conference games, with four of those in his first season. Not surprisingly, that’s the same number of non-league home matchups on the Titans’ 2018-19 slate—with two of those in the Legends Classic subregional. But with nine road games, including Power 7 matchups against Butler, California, Temple, and Xavier, Davis’ philosophy of lining up difficult road tests to prepare for conference play is very much intact, even in a radically different conference.

64. Oakland Golden Grizzlies

*Exempt Event: Men Against Breast Cancer Oakland Classic

True Home Games (6) True Road Games (7)
True Home Games (6) True Road Games (7)
114. Toledo 143. UNLV
170. Western Michigan 18. Xavier
(Non-D1) Defiance* 215. Fairfield
192. James Madison* 116. Northeastern
212. Northern Illinois* 302. Hartford
223. Oral Roberts* 57. Georgia
10. Michigan State

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 1 win (@Western Michigan) and 2 losses (@Toledo, Michigan State (N))

Despite seeing their win total dip from 25 to 19 last season, Greg Kampe’s Golden Grizzlies should once again challenge NKU and Wright State for the Horizon title. However, Oakland might be road weary by the time league play begins. After their Thanksgiving weekend MTE, the Golden Grizzlies will play six games in a row away from the O’Rena—all of them against teams with postseason hopes.

137. Youngstown State Penguins

*Exempt Event: John Bach Classic

True Home Games (4) True Neutral-Site Games (2) Semi-Road Games (1) True Road Games (6)
True Home Games (4) True Neutral-Site Games (2) Semi-Road Games (1) True Road Games (6)
(Non-D1) Heidelberg 157. Akron # 200. Columbia* 109. Pittsburgh
(Non-D1) Westminster* 262. FIU* 232. Fordham*
171. Central Michigan # - Cleveland 272. Robert Morris
170. Western Michigan 9. West Virginia
321. Binghamton
35. Ohio State

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: (YSU) 1 win (Westminster) and 1 loss (Robert Morris)

Jerrod Calhoun’s Penguins saw their win total drop from 13 to eight in his first season in charge—with Youngstown State winning just a pair of games against non-D1 squads during non-conference play. A similar start could be in the cards again this season, as the Penguins play three power conference road games and another three contests in the Bronx as part of Fordham‘s exempt tournament.

139. UIC Flames

*Exempt Event: Gotham Classic

True Home Games (7) True Road Games (6)
True Home Games (7) True Road Games (6)
132. William & Mary* 20. Notre Dame*
205. Bradley 220. Radford*
(Non-D1) UW Parksids 199. Duquesne*
82. Loyola Chicago 111. Saint Joseph's
87. Illinois State 76. Colorado
324. Incarnate Word 144. DePaul
(Non-D1) St. Francis (Ill.)

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 1 win (UW Parkside) and 4 losses (Saint Joseph’s, @Loyola Chicago, DePaul, @Illinois State)

The Flames didn’t live up to expectations last season, despite winning 20 games and advancing to the CollegeInsider.com Tournament final. Not only did UIC lose its last two Horizon League games at home, which cost Steve McClain’s squad a shot at the two seed in the conference tournament, they struggled through non-conference play, going just 5-8 with only three Division I wins. It could be another slow start in the Windy City, as this slate, which features a trio of power conference road games and visit from 2018 Final Four squad Loyola Chicago, is considerably more difficult than 2017’s. Last fall’s non-conference slate featured four teams that ranked 249th or worse in KenPom at the end of the year. Just one D1 team ranked that low in the four-year-rankings, Incarnate Word, is on this season’s non-conference schedule.

193. Cleveland State Vikings

*Exempt Event: Buckeye Basketball Classic

True Home Games (8) True Road Games (5)
True Home Games (8) True Road Games (5)
176. Kent State 60. Davidson
(Non-D1) Urbana 35. Ohio State*
338. South Carolina State* 144. DePaul
243. Samford* 114. Toledo
149. Purdue Fort Wayne* 87. Illinois State
228. Bowling Green
(Non-D1) Notre Dame (Ohio)
267. Niagara

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 1 win (Notre Dame (Ohio) and 3 losses (@Kent State, @Niagara, @Toledo)

Former Western Kentucky and Georgia coach Dennis Felton took over from Gary Waters last season, with the Vikings subsequently improving from nine wins to 12. A quarter of those victories happened as part of CSU’s surprise run to the Horizon League final, while another 25 percent happened during a 3-10 non-conference season. Look for a bit of early improvement in Cleveland—if only because the Vikings play eight home games this time around, with six of those featuring teams ranked either outside of the top 200 or not part of Division I period. Last fall, Cleveland State hit the road eight times.

198. Milwaukee Panthers

*Exempt Event: Belfast Basketball Classic (Goliath Bracket)

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)
218. North Dakota 89. Buffalo* 121. Boston College
275. LIU Brooklyn* 107. Stephen F. Austin or 262. FIU
137. Albany* 142. San Francisco* 11. Cincinnati
219. Drake 218. North Dakota
(Non-D1) Wisconsin Lutheran 268. UMKC
170. Western Michigan

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 1 win (FIU) and 1 loss (Western Michigan)

The Panthers improved by five wins—from 11 to 16—in Pat Baldwin’s first year in charge—following LaVall Jordan’s lone campaign before Butler hired him away. While Milwaukee lost to non-D1 Concordia in their exempt event, they still managed a 7-6 non-league mark a season ago, highlighted by a road win over Iowa State. While the Panthers will play both Boston College and Cincinnati on the road, the highlight of this season’s slate is a journey across the Atlantic, as Milwaukee will take part in the second annual Belfast Basketball Classic. Of course, the Panthers drew the toughest assignment in the Goliath Bracket semifinals, as heavy MAC favorite Buffalo awaits. A visit from America East power Albany and the home half of an in-season series with North Dakota highlight the five-game home slate.

219. Wright State Raiders

*Exempt Event: Cancun Challenge (Riviera Division)

True Home Games (7) True Neutral-Site Games (2) Semi-Road Games (1) True Road Games (3)
True Home Games (7) True Neutral-Site Games (2) Semi-Road Games (1) True Road Games (3)
296. Western Carolina* 65. Penn State* 73. Mississippi State # 103. Murray State
114. Toledo 24. SMU or # - Jackson, Miss. 164. Indiana State
241. North Florida* 205. Bradley* 176. Kent State
(Non-D1) Cedarville
237. Miami (Ohio)
(Non-D1) Northwestern Ohio
213. Morehead State

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 2 wins (Kent State, @Toledo) and 1 loss (Murray State)

Scott Nagy followed up 2017’s 20-win, postseason-free first campaign in Dayton with a 25-win season and NCAA bid in his second. And with just three winnable true road games and a position in the host Riviera Division of the Cancun Challenge, the Raiders are poised to rack up even more wins in Nagy’s third. Given the lack of oomph on the seven-game home slate, Wright State might need to take care of both Penn State in the Cancun semifinals and SEC contender Mississippi State in a semi-road game in Jackson to have a shot at a seed higher than 13th should the Raiders repeat as Horizon champ.

245. Northern Kentucky Norse

*Exempt Event: KEMI Northern Kentucky Basketball Classic

True Home Games (8) True Road Games (5)
True Home Games (8) True Road Games (5)
(Non-D1) Wilmington 212. Northern Illinois
(Non-D1) Wabash* 115. UCF
155. UNC Asheville* 213. Morehead State
244. Manhattan* 11. Cincinnati
190. Coastal Carolina* 264. Eastern Kentucky
257. UMBC
237. Miami (Ohio)
212. Northern Illinois

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 2 wins (Morehead State, Eastern Kentucky) and 1 loss (@UMBC)

Road tests against a pair of likely NCAA teams from the American Athletic—Cincinnati and UCF—are the two biggest road blocks on a home-heavy schedule which could put John Brannen’s Norse on course for a second consecutive Horizon regular-season crown. While NKU hosts a three-game round-robin event in November, the most anticipated contest on the BB&T Arena portion of the slate will undoubtedly be the visit from UMBC, the first 16 seed to topple a No. 1 seed in NCAA Men’s Tournament history.

263. IUPUI Jaguars

*Exempt Event: Fort Myers Tip-Off (Visitors’ Bracket)

True Home Games (6) True Neutral-Site Games (1-2) True Road Games (5-6)
True Home Games (6) True Neutral-Site Games (1-2) True Road Games (5-6)
260. Eastern Illinois 325. St. Francis-Brooklyn* 18. Xavier
205. Bradley 336. Grambling State 121. Boston College*
172. Ball State (or Niagara)* 113. Richmond*
(Non-D1) IU Kokomo 267. Niagara
(Non-D1) IU Northwest (or Grambling State)*
298. Western Illinois 149. Purdue Fort Wayne
213. Morehead State

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: (IUPUI) 2 wins (Morehead State, IU Kokomo) and 4 losses (@Bradley, @Eastern Illinois, @Western Illinois, @Ball State)

The Jaguars have yet to break even in four seasons under Jason Gardner, though they showed signs of life in 2017-18 by following up a poor three-win non-league campaign by winning eight Horizon League contests. Casting aside likely losses against Boston College, Richmond (both in Fort Myers Tip-Off on-campus games), and Xavier, the rest of the schedule sets the Jags up for an increased win total. They could even claim a trophy by winning two games at Niagara in the Fort Myers event’s subregional.

As someone who spent part of his youth not far from Niagara’s campus and much more of it in Florida, that subregional assignment is downright cruel for November.

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