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

Naturally, Loyola struggled to put together a strong non-conference schedule following their run to the 2018 Final Four. And that means the Ramblers might just have to win Arch Madness again to reach 2019’s field of 68.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-South Regional-Loyola vs Kansas State Brett Davis-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

For the second season in a row, the Valley ranks 11th out of Division I’s 32 conferences, though it took major improvements by league champ Loyola Chicago and the league’s bottom three teams to hold that position, as Illinois State, UNI, and Valparaiso all slid back in the four-year ranking. Those teams will all need to rebound for the conference to have a shot at earning its first at-large bid since Wichita State‘s departure after the 2016-17 season.

Four-Year Rankings

Team Team Score 4-Year Ranking 2017-18 Ranking
Team Team Score 4-Year Ranking 2017-18 Ranking
Loyola Chicago 3.91296 82 140
Illinois State 3.523103 87 70
Valparaiso 3.3689915 90 68
UNI 2.901238065 99 82
Evansville 1.8528624 122 120
Southern Illinois 0.674104 150 158
Missouri State 0.285439 160 188
Indiana State -0.1015037 164 174
Bradley -1.9214695 205 270
Drake -2.3446675 219 260
Average 1.215105727 137.8 153
Conference Rank 11th of 32 (11th 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
6 Bradley 205 112 93
24 Southern Illinois 150 88 62
115 Loyola Chicago 82 67 15
118 Indiana State 164 151 13
162 Illinois State 87 87 0
168 Drake 219 220 -1
260 UNI 99 123 -24
299 Missouri State 160 198 -38
303 Valparaiso 90 131 -41
342 Evansville 122 210 -88

Sticking to that topic, KenPom’s 2018-19 preseason projections offer a mixed bag for the MVC. Loyola is expected to outperform its four-year ranking by 15 spots, but that’s only enough to put the Ramblers in the typical bubble range. Illinois State, a popular pick for a revival among national pundits, isn’t projected to get past its four-year ranking at all. Evansville, Missouri State, UNI, and Valpo are all projected to backslide, while SIU and Bradley could jump into contention.

Ranking The Schedules

As usual, non-conference scheduling wasn’t the easiest task for the majority of Valley squads—such is the struggle of a conference with a reputation for giant-killing and March success. Most distressingly, the league only features one slate that ranks in the top 100 when averaging the three variable scheduling categories together. That’s a drop of one from a season ago, a decline that’s made worse because UNI had a top 25 slate in 2017-18.

Three teams, including Loyola, have non-conference schedules that rank outside the top 200. Needless to say, that could cause the Ramblers problems if they fail to win the Valley’s auto bid.

On the positive side, MVC squad’s participation in bracketed tournaments will give them opportunities to boost their slates, as noted by the league’s 17th-ranked Maximum Schedule Strength average.

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
88 Valparaiso** 2.993087973 108 3.565338001 87 4.467885208 60 2.618708746 117
127 Illinois State** 1.930070364 165 2.714386769 126 3.530616385 103 1.947752288 156
136 UNI** 2.533275143 131 2.630735558 131 3.449402313 106 1.602497053 178
174 Evansville 1.956968719 164 1.956968719 176 1.956968719 185 1.956968719 155
194 Indiana State** 1.536971005 191 1.76208146 189 2.293790233 169 0.9475167646 219
197 Drake* 1.789676 175 1.596880731 198 1.603036731 208 1.590724731 181
203 Southern Illinois* 1.147633732 209 1.557887493 203 1.695486964 202 1.420288022 197
261 Loyola Chicago* 0.397088025 260 0.5616802038 257 0.5823020192 266 0.5410583885 255
279 Missouri State* -0.7367409592 311 0.1626159319 278 0.2607605569 280 0.06447130692 273
310 Bradley* -1.122499296 325 -0.7102097904 311 -0.4335523115 303 -0.9868672692 317
196.9 Average 1.242553071 203.9 1.579836508 195.6 1.940669682 188.2 1.170311875 204.8
22/32 Conference Rank 25 of 32 22 of 32 17 of 32 25 of 32

Who Over- And Under-Scheduled?

Eight of the 10 Valley members under-scheduled in 2018-19, with only Valparaiso and Drake overdoing things (by reasonable amounts too, as these things go). Not surprisingly, Loyola’s non-conference slate is 178 spots below their four-year ranking, a fate that’s nearly automatic for any mid-major that makes a deep March run.

Scheduling Gaps

National Rank Team Four-Year Ranking Super Average Ranking Scheduling Gap
National Rank Team Four-Year Ranking Super Average Ranking Scheduling Gap
6 Valparaiso 90 88 2
66 Drake 219 196 23
75 Indiana State 164 193 -29
93 UNI 99 136 -37
101 Illinois State 87 127 -40
121 Evansville 122 173 -51
123 Southern Illinois 150 202 -52
235 Bradley 205 309 -104
250 Missouri State 160 278 -118
305 Loyola Chicago 82 260 -178
137.5 Average (6/32 conf.) 137.8 196.2 -58.4

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
63 1 9 14

A visit by Ole Miss to Illinois State is the lone Power 7 home game for a Valley squad this season, a drop of one from a season ago. As for the other three categories in the table above, MVC squads either improved (with three more home games lined up) or largely stood pat (playing one fewer Power 7 road game and the same number of non-D1 contests).

Non-Conference Games By League

Conference Games Scheduled Against Possible Tournament Games Against
Conference Games Scheduled Against Possible Tournament Games Against
Non-D1 14 0
OVC 12 1
MW 10 4
Horizon 9 1
MAC 8 1
Sun Belt 6 1
WAC 6 0
A 10 5 3
C-USA 5 2
Summit 5 0
Big Ten 4 1
SEC 4 1
SWAC 4 0
Big 12 3 4
Pac-12 3 3
American Athletic 2 2
Atlantic Sun 2 1
MAAC 2 1
Big South 2 0
MEAC 2 0
Big West 1 2
Big East 1 1
WCC 1 1
America East 1 0
Ivy 1 0
NEC 1 0
SoCon 1 0
Southland 1 0
ACC 0 3
Patriot 0 1
Big Sky 0 0
CAA 0 0

The top five leagues in the table above are largely the same as they were a season ago. However, the Summit League is an exception—dropping to the edge of the top 10 from the fourth spot, thanks to a decline of three scheduled games. Look for the Mountain West to potentially drop out of the top three next season, as the conference is starting a new annual challenge series with the Atlantic 10.

Four leagues have no set matchups with Valley teams, a drop of one conference from 2017-18, but the ACC and Patriot League could both feature in the later rounds of exempt tournaments.

Southern Illinois scheduled three OVC opponents this season, while Evansville has three MAC games on the schedule against just two opponents—the Purple Aces lined up a home-and-home series with in-state rival Ball State. The Cardinals will play five contests with Valley members, all of which are located in the states of Indiana or Illinois.

Non-Conference Games By Quad

Opponent Strength Home Away Neutral Total Average Potential
Opponent Strength Home Away Neutral Total Average Potential
Quad 1 0 5 3 8 0.8 7
Quad 2 5 13 6 24 2.4 9
Quad 3 11 13 5 29 2.9 14
Quad 4 33 9 0 42 4.2 4
Non-D1 14 0 0 14 1.4 0
Total 63 40 14 117
Average 6.3 4 1.4 11.7
Percentage 0.5384615385 0.3418803419 0.1196581197
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

How difficult is it for Missouri Valley Conference teams to get quality games, regardless of location? While league members have just five top 75 home games scheduled (at least based on the four-year ranking), with none of those teams in the top 50, they also only have five top 75 road games scheduled, with all of those opponents featuring in the top 50. Once again, the Valley’s participation in exempt tournaments helps, as conference teams have three top 50 neutral-site games already set, with seven further possibilities in later rounds.

All told, 47 of the Valley’s 63 non-league home games will feature either Quad 4 opposition or non-D1 teams. Conversely, 31 of the 40 road games avoid the Quad 4 designation.

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.

88. Valparaiso Crusaders

*Exempt Event: Myrtle Beach Invitational

True Home Games (6) True Neutral-Site Games (3) True Road Games (4)
True Home Games (6) True Neutral-Site Games (3) True Road Games (4)
(Non-D1) Concordia (Ill.) 127. WKU* 9. West Virginia*
317. SIU Edwardsville 9. West Virginia/ 143. UNLV^
281. UC Riverside 120. Monmouth* 128. George Washington
221. High Point 69. Wake Forest/ 34. Texas A&M
172. Ball State 111. Saint Joseph's/ ^ - MW Challenge
(Non-D1) Purdue Northwest 115. UCF/
225. Cal State Fullerton*

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 1 win (@SIU Edwardsville) and 2 losses (@Ball State, @UC Riverside)

The Crusaders’ first Valley season was an adjustment—to put things mildly. Matt Lottich’s squad saw its win total decline by nine, with Valpo suffering its first losing season since 2009-10. The Crusaders’ struggles were more evident in league play, as Valparaiso finished its non-conference slate with a 9-4 mark, with heavy losses at Purdue and Northwestern the low-lights. With three power conference road games and three contests at the Myrtle Beach Invitational, which begins with a difficult quarterfinal against C-USA contender WKU, Valpo might find itself in a hole before its second run at Valley play begins.

127. Illinois State Redbirds

*Exempt Event: Cayman Islands Classic

True Home Games (7) True Neutral-Site Games (3) True Road Games (3)
True Home Games (7) True Neutral-Site Games (3) True Road Games (3)
138. FGCU 57. Georgia* 91. Belmont
346. Chicago State* 29. Clemson or 270. UIC
(Non-D1) Lindenwood 157. Akron* 115. UCF
58. BYU 28. Creighton/
54. San Diego State^ 66. Boise State/
75. Ole Miss 74. St. Bonaventure/
276. Cleveland State 110. Georgia State*
^ - MW Challenge

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 2 wins (@Ole Miss, UIC) and 3 losses (@FGCU, Boise State (N), @BYU)

If any Valley team is going to be able to use its November and December to work itself into the at-large pictures, it’s Dan Muller’s Redbird team—which is coming off an 18-15 campaign and second straight berth in the Arch Madness final. For starters, Illinois State will travel to the Caribbean for the Cayman Islands Classic where a win over Tom Crean’s first Georgia squad would see them likely play Sweet Sixteen squad Clemson in the semifinals. Back on the mainland, the Redbirds will host BYU, an at-large hopeful from the WCC; San Diego State, with the defending Mountain West Tournament champs a good get for the Challenge series; and Ole Miss, even if Kermit Davis has replaced Andy Kennedy, who helped set the Twitter series up. Plus, Illinois State travels to OVC favorite Belmont and American Athletic title hopeful UCF. This is a schedule that could be a nice test for how the NCAA’s new NET metric treats a quality mid-major squad.

136. UNI Panthers

*Exempt Event: U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam

True Home Games (5) True Neutral-Site Games (5) True Road Games (3)
True Home Games (5) True Neutral-Site Games (5) True Road Games (3)
(Non-D1) Bemidji State 178. Penn* 102. UT Arlington
(Non-D1) Dubuque 39. Kansas State/ 83. Old Dominion*
140. Grand Canyon 264. Eastern Kentucky* 133. Utah State^
218. North Dakota 83. Old Dominion/ ^ - MW Challenge
180. Stony Brook 125. Oregon State/
98. Missouri/
300. Kennesaw State*
94. South Dakota State !
56. Iowa #
! - Minneapolis
# - Des Moines

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 2 wins (UT Arlington, Dubuque)

Ben Jacobson’s Panthers have put up a 30-32 record in the two seasons since their consecutive NCAA Tournament Round of 32 appearances. In November 2017, UNI earned some well-deserved national attention by toppling both SMU and N.C. State in the Battle 4 Atlantis before falling to eventual National Champion Villanova in the final. This season, the Panthers’ exempt event, the Paradise Jam, is a bit less ambitious, much like the rest of the schedule. But there’s still some quality here, particularly with a semifinal matchup against Kansas State, an Elite Eight team last March, awaiting UNI should they get past Ivy champ Penn in the quarterfinals on St. Thomas. Otherwise, the most noteworthy matchups for Jacobson’s squad are a meeting with Iowa in the final Big Four Classic in Des Moines; a matchup with Summit favorite South Dakota State at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, site of the Final Four; and a non-bracketed Paradise Jam game at Old Dominion.

174. Evansville Purple Aces

*Exempt Event: Maui Jim Maui Invitational (On-Campus Only)

True Home Games (7) True Road Games (6)
True Home Games (7) True Road Games (6)
(Non-D1) Kentucky Wesleyan* 81. Illinois*
224. Texas Southern 18. Xavier*
129. Wyoming^ 172. Ball State
(Non-D1) Albion 234. Arkansas State
172. Ball State 103. Murray State
195. Jacksonville State 237. Miami (Ohio)
189. Green Bay
^ - MW Challenge

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 1 win (Arkansas State) and 0 losses

The highlight of Walter McCarty’s first Purple Aces schedule was supposed to be Evansville’s hosting duties for the Maui on the Mainland tournament. But organizers struggled to fill the subregional, so while the Purple Aces, 17-15 in Marty Simmons’ final season, will travel to both Illinois and Xavier, they’ll only host a pair of games against non-D1 Kentucky Wesleyan and SWAC power Texas Southern instead of a bracketed event. Other than the two Maui road games, this is a reasonable schedule for a team expected to struggle a bit in its first season under a new coach. The lack of teams from the bottom 100 keeps it right near the Division I average.

197. Indiana State Sycamores

*Exempt Event: Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic

True Home Games (5) True Neutral-Site Games (2-3) True Road Games (4-5)
True Home Games (5) True Neutral-Site Games (2-3) True Road Games (4-5)
(Non-D1) McKendree 76. Colorado* 172. Ball State
127. WKU 143. UNLV 189. Green Bay
156. Wright State (or Hawai'i)* 292. San Jose State^
271. North Texas 45. TCU/ 45. TCU*
(Non-D1) Truman State 48. Rhode Island/ 179. Hawai'i
108. Bucknell/ (or UNLV)*
266. Charlotte* ^ - MW Challenge

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 1 win (Green Bay) and 3 losses (Ball State, @North Texas, @WKU)

Time might be running out on Greg Lansing in Terre Haute, as the Sycamores haven’t posted a winning record since 2013-14’s 23-11 mark and last qualified for the NCAAs in 2011. Last season, Indiana State bumbled to a 5-7 non-conference record, including an 0-3 mark in the pre-Thanksgiving Charleston Classic (capped by a quadruple overtime loss to Ohio). This season, the Trees’ exempt event is set for Christmas week—and those three games in Hawai’i and an earlier non-bracketed contest at TCU—are among the biggest challenges on a slate also features three tricky Division I home contests (WKU, Horizon champ Wright State, and improving North Texas). Look for the Sycamores to potentially struggle through yet another pre-conference season.

197. Drake Bulldogs

*Exempt Event: Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic

True Home Games (6) True Neutral-Site Games (4) True Road Games (3)
True Home Games (6) True Neutral-Site Games (4) True Road Games (3)
(Non-D1) Buena Vista 161. North Dakota State # 76. Colorado
203. Texas State 33. Iowa State $ 268. UMKC
66. Boise State^ 71. New Mexico State* 201. Milwaukee
317. SIU Edwardsville* 186. San Diego or
177. Rider* 194. Washington State*
(Non-D1) McKendree # - Minneapolis
^ - MW Challenge $ - Wells Fargo Arena

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 0 wins and 1 loss (Colorado (N))

Niko Medved improved the Bulldogs by 10 wins a season ago, getting Drake to the .500 mark before departing for Colorado State. Darian DeVries, a UNI alum and former Creighton assistant, will attempt to continue the rebuild in Des Moines. But don’t expect immediate results against this non-conference slate that’s deceptively difficult. While a trip to Colorado is the most difficult true road game, the Bulldogs will be challenged in four neutral-site contests, with the US Bank Stadium showdown with North Dakota State, Big Four Classic matchup against Iowa State, and Las Vegas semifinal against perennial WAC champ New Mexico State looking particularly nasty. Plus, there are two very difficult home games, as Boise State visits for the Mountain West Challenge and MAAC favorite Rider is one of Drake’s two Las Vegas Classic home games.

203. Southern Illinois Salukis

*Exempt Event: Continental Tire Las Vegas Holiday Invitational

True Home Games (6) True Neutral-Site Games (2) True Road Games (5)
True Home Games (6) True Neutral-Site Games (2) True Road Games (5)
89. Buffalo 175. UMass* 7. Kentucky
344. Arkansas-Pine Bluff* 61. Nevada or 146. Colorado State^
335. Howard* 97. Tulsa* 317. SIU Edwardsville
210. Saint Louis 284. Southeast Missouri State
103. Murray State 89. Buffalo
148. Winthrop ^ - MW Challenge

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 2 wins (@Winthrop, SIU Edwardsville) and 4 losses (@Murray State, @Saint Louis, Southeast Missouri State, Nevada (N))

After a slow start to his tenure in Carbondale, Barry Hinson has led the Salukis to three straight winning seasons. However, SIU hasn’t tasted real postseason success since reaching the Sweet Sixteen in 2007. To get themselves in position to play meaningful March basketball for the first time in over a decade, the Salukis will need to improve upon last season’s 8-5 non-conference mark. And that’s going to be a challenge with this slate featuring an early trip to Kentucky, a home-and-home with MAC favorite Buffalo, a visit from A 10 favorite Saint Louis, tricky home matchups with Murray State and Winthrop, and a potential Black Friday showdown with Nevada in Vegas. The Wolf Pack blasted SIU by 22 there last December.

261. Loyola Chicago Ramblers

*Exempt Event: Fort Myers Tip-Off

True Home Games (8) True Neutral-Site Games (2) Semi-Road Games (2) True Road Games (1)
True Home Games (8) True Neutral-Site Games (2) Semi-Road Games (2) True Road Games (1)
268. UMKC 113. Richmond* 32. Maryland # 270. UIC
126. Furman 121. Boston College or 111. Saint Joseph's !
267. Niagara* 129. Wyoming* # - Baltimore
336. Grambling State* ! - The Palestra
61. Nevada^
172. Ball State
294. Norfolk State
(Non-D1) Benedictine
^ - MW Challenge

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 4 wins (@UMKC, UIC, Norfolk State, Nevada (N))

Porter Moser’s Ramblers will have their work cut out for them this season, at least in terms of earning an at-large bid to help them repeat their heroics of March 2018. Loyola had an even more difficult time building a non-conference slate than they did for 2017-18, which is saying something. The Ramblers’ best game, a Sweet Sixteen rematch with Nevada, was an easy choice for the MVC/MW Challenge, but there’s not much else here that will help Moser’s club’s profile. None of Loyola’s rivals in the Fort Myers Tip-Off looks like a slam dunk at-large team, while Maryland and Saint Joseph’s (who the Ramblers will both play in semi-road situations) are coming off disappointing seasons. Illinois’ best college hoops team will likely need a bit of help to be a true at-large threat...again.

279. Missouri State Bears

*Exempt Event: Hall of Fame Classic

True Home Games (6) True Neutral-Site Games (2) True Road Games (5)
True Home Games (6) True Neutral-Site Games (2) True Road Games (5)
223. Oral Roberts 72. Nebraska* 103. Murray State
272. Robert Morris* 30. Texas Tech or 231. Air Force^
319. Stetson* 52. USC* 125. Oregon State
127. WKU 161. North Dakota State
344. Arkansas-Pine Bluff 234. Arkansas State
(Non-D1) William Woods ^ - MW Challenge

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 2 wins (@WKU, @North Dakota State) and 2 loss (North Dakota State, @Oral Roberts)

Dana Ford left Tennessee State for Springfield, Mo. to replace Paul Lusk, who was relieved of his duties after seven seasons of not being able to get the Bears over the hump. The biggest challenges for Missouri State, rebuilding after losing five seniors from an 18-15 squad, will come in Kansas City, where the Bears will play a pair of games against Power 7 at-large contenders in the Hall of Fame Classic. Otherwise, the biggest challenges will come against WKU at home (a season after the Bears beat the Hilltoppers to open the season) and Murray State, North Dakota State, and Oregon State on the road.

310. Bradley Braves

*Exempt Event: Cancun Challenge (Riviera Division)

True Home Games (7) True Neutral-Site Games (2) True Road Games (4)
True Home Games (7) True Neutral-Site Games (2) True Road Games (4)
(Non-D1) UW Parkside* 24. SMU* 270. UIC
284. Southeast Missouri State 65. Penn State or 259. IUPUI
195. Jacksonville State* 156. Wright State* 222. Little Rock
346. Chicago State 162. Georgia Southern
106. New Mexico^
260. Eastern Illinois
252. Southeastern Louisiana
^ - MW Challenge

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 6 wins (IUPUI, Georgia Southern, Eastern Illinois, Little Rock, @Chicago State, @Southeast Missouri State) and 0 losses

In his third season in Peoria, Brian Wardle’s Braves reached the 20-win mark, their second consecutive improvement of seven wins or more. Last season, Bradley used a 10-3 non-conference run to build its record and similar results could be on the cards this fall. That’s because this slate features seven opponents ranked outside of the top 200 and the Cancun Challenge will far and away offer up the most difficult matchups.

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