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

While Murray State represented the league in the NCAAs last March, it’s another familiar name, Belmont, that tops these rankings.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round Jake Roth-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

Thanks in no small part to a 25-6 record and OVC double championship, the Selection Committee slotted Murray State on the 12 line for the 2018 NCAA Tournament. But that’s not the highest seed the OVC has earned over the past 10 seasons—or indeed the Racers themselves. The Steve Prohm-coached Murray team that finished 31-2 in 2012 secured a six seed. One season later, Belmont earned an 11 in its first Ohio Valley campaign. Otherwise, it’s been a grab bag, with three teams landing on the 15 line and two qualifiers each finding themselves on lines 15 and 16.

And with Belmont jumping 20 spots in the four-year ranking in the past season to crack the top 100 and Murray State rising by an impressive 50 places to sit just outside of it, the OVC’s prospects for earning seeds on the more favorable end of the double-digit range will improve. And the Bruins and Racers weren’t the only teams to make big single season moves, with Jacksonville State, Tennessee State, Austin Peay, and Tennessee Tech making particularly impressive positive jumps. But the news wasn’t all good, as Morehead State, UT Martin, and Eastern Kentucky lost considerable position thanks to poor performances in 2017-18.

Four-Year Rankings

Team Team Score 4-Year Ranking 2017-18 Ranking
Team Team Score 4-Year Ranking 2017-18 Ranking
Belmont 3.3558535 91 111
Murray State 2.5976477 103 153
Jacksonville State -1.49321835 195 258
Tennessee State -1.5431492 197 226
Morehead State -2.18455325 213 162
Tennessee Tech -2.8654065 230 245
Austin Peay -3.370852 247 290
UT Martin -3.47822735 254 227
Eastern Illinois -3.6061155 260 252
Eastern Kentucky -3.819867 264 217
Southeast Missouri State -4.763171 284 285
SIU Edwardsville -6.696511 317 313
Average -2.322297496 221.25 228.25
Conference Rank 21st of 32 (22nd 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
28 Austin Peay 247 191 56
65 Jacksonville State 195 160 35
142 Morehead State 213 208 5
169 SIU Edwardsville 317 318 -1
182 Eastern Kentucky 264 267 -3
227 Belmont 91 106 -15
257 Southeast Missouri State 284 307 -23
262 UT Martin 254 278 -24
271 Murray State 103 130 -27
305 Eastern Illinois 260 302 -42
324 Tennessee Tech 230 289 -59
338 Tennessee State 197 268 -71

Unfortunately, KenPom’s preseason numbers don’t favor a trend of continued improvement. While both Austin Peay and Jacksonville State are forecast to again make big jumps, they’ll still be ranked outside of the top 150 if these projections turn out to be accurate. In total, nine of the 12 OVC members are projected to take a step back this season, with Murray State (27 spots) and Belmont (15) falling within that group.

Ranking The Schedules

For the second season in a row, the OVC’s scheduling averages largely rank in the middle of Division I, thanks to a relatively even spread of schedules, with none ranking in the top 50. Half of the league’s slates rank in the top 50 percent of D1 based on the super average, with three top 100 lineups (and one ranking just outside of it), meanwhile the other half ranks 200th or worse, with just two in the bottom 50.

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
74 Belmont 3.991832311 65 3.991832311 72 3.991832311 86 3.991832311 56
92 Jacksonville State* 4.008545042 64 3.452273568 92 3.515334944 104 3.389212192 82
95 Tennessee Tech 3.327054113 89 3.327054113 96 3.327054113 110 3.327054113 84
108 Eastern Kentucky** 3.441007873 88 3.231678721 102 3.697090535 96 2.556695157 123
154 Tennessee State 2.240925681 146 2.240925681 156 2.240925681 171 2.240925681 135
160 Murray State 2.146575736 150 2.146575736 162 2.146575736 174 2.146575736 141
200 Morehead State* 1.731539767 179 1.589911549 201 1.646414015 206 1.533409083 187
225 Eastern Illinois 0.9983290144 219 0.9983290144 226 0.9983290144 234 0.9983290144 214
236 UT Martin 0.9107728093 232 0.9107728093 236 0.9107728093 243 0.9107728093 227
294 Austin Peay* 0.1474870208 271 -0.2025253394 294 -0.0319184 290 -0.3731322788 294
318 SIU Edwardsville* -0.8512057159 316 -0.8671897922 318 -0.8164279906 321 -0.9179515938 312
324 Southeast Missouri State -0.9656610364 320 -0.9656610364 324 -0.9656610364 326 -0.9656610364 315
190 Average 1.760600218 178.25 1.654498111 189.9166667 1.721693478 196.75 1.569838432 180.8333333
20/32 Conference Rank 15 of 32 20 of 32 21 of 32 17 of 32

Who Over- And Under-Scheduled?

And that balance results in the scheduling gaps being decent in most cases, with only three teams exceeding the 100-place barrier. SIU Edwardsville joins Kentucky as one of the two teams nationally without a scheduling gap, while Morehead State, Belmont, and UT Martin managed to over-schedule by under 20 places. The most disappointing team here is Murray State, which under-scheduled by nearly 60 spots coming off its 12 seed of a season ago.

Scheduling Gaps

National Rank Team Four-Year Ranking Super Average Ranking Scheduling Gap
National Rank Team Four-Year Ranking Super Average Ranking Scheduling Gap
2 SIU Edwardsville 317 317 0
44 Morehead State 213 199 14
46 Belmont 91 74 17
53 UT Martin 254 235 19
92 Eastern Illinois 260 224 36
97 Southeast Missouri State 284 322 -38
110 Tennessee State 197 154 43
117 Austin Peay 247 293 -46
133 Murray State 103 160 -57
234 Jacksonville State 195 92 103
273 Tennessee Tech 230 95 135
288 Eastern Kentucky 264 108 156
124.0833333 Average (4/32 conf.) 221.25 189.4166667 31.83333333

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
58 0 27 22

A season ago, Belmont hosted Nashville rival Vanderbilt and Murray State welcomed Auburn to the CFSB Center, but with the Commodores off the Bruins’ schedule this season and the Racers headed to Alabama, the OVC’s number of home power conference matchups drops from two to zero. Making matters worse, not only did the conference’s total number of home games drop by five, but the number of non-D1 opponents required to fill even those dates rose by three. However, even with those two Power 7 return matchups, the OVC’s total number of power road games remained steady from 2017-18.

Non-Conference Games By League

Conference Games Scheduled Against Possible Tournament Games Against
Conference Games Scheduled Against Possible Tournament Games Against
Non-D1 22 0
MVC 12 1
SoCon 11 0
Atlantic Sun 10 2
Big South 9 1
SEC 9 1
Summit 8 0
C-USA 7 2
Horizon 7 1
American Athletic 6 0
MEAC 5 0
Sun Belt 5 0
Big 12 4 0
ACC 3 0
Big Ten 3 0
MAC 3 0
Pac-12 2 1
A 10 2 0
Big West 2 0
Southland 2 0
Big East 1 0
CAA 1 0
MW 1 0
NEC 1 0
WAC 1 0
WCC 1 0
Big Sky 0 2
Ivy 0 1
MAAC 0 1
SWAC 0 1
America East 0 0
Patriot 0 0

For the second consecutive season, OVC teams will collectively play more games against non-D1 teams than against any single Division I conference. The Missouri Valley, the top D1 loop in the table above, accounts for 10 fewer total games than non-D1 opposition. There’s been some serious shuffling in the top five when compared to a season ago, with the MVC and SoCon jumping into the second and third spots, replacing C-USA (down to eighth for 2018-19) and ASUN (now fourth). The Horizon also dropped out of the top five (and into a tie with C-USA), replaced by a pair of conferences, as the Big South and SEC jumped into a tie for fifth. The number of conferences missing from OVC slates fell to six from 2017-18’s seven, with only the America East and Patriot League not even appearing as potential later-round tournament opposition.

Western Illinois is scheduled to play five games against OVC opposition, thanks to their annual home-and-home series with EIU. Similarly, Lipscomb has four OVC non-league matchups with two coming in the Battle of the Boulevard series with Belmont. Chattanooga, however, has four games set against a quartet of OVC opponents. On the other hand, no OVC squad has scheduled more than three non-conference games against a single league. Five teams did that, but that includes the in-season series Eastern Illinois and Belmont will participate in.

Non-Conference Games By Quad

Opponent Strength Home Away Neutral Total Average Potential
Opponent Strength Home Away Neutral Total Average Potential
Quad 1 0 21 1 22 1.833333333 0
Quad 2 1 10 0 11 0.9166666667 3
Quad 3 15 22 2 39 3.25 5
Quad 4 20 19 9 48 4 6
Non-D1 22 0 0 22 1.833333333 0
Total 58 72 12 142
Average 4.833333333 6 1 11.83333333
Percentage 0.4084507042 0.5070422535 0.08450704225
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 both Illinois State and Middle Tennessee visiting, Belmont gets a pair of two top 100 home games (at least according to the four-year ranking), even though just the visit from the Blue Raiders falls under Quad 2 according to the NCAA’s cut-off points. I suspect the game over the Redbirds, expected to compete in the MVC while the Blue Raiders rebuild, will be worth more in the end. With just 16 top 160 home contests for the league as a whole, the OVC is yet another mid-major league with home schedules that won’t help much when it comes to March. But making matters worse, the road games don’t make the picture all that much better, as 41 of the 72 come against Quad 3 or 4 teams.

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.

74. Belmont Bruins

No Exempt Event

True Home Games (5) True Road Games (6)
True Home Games (5) True Road Games (6)
87. Illinois State 193. Lipscomb
62. Middle Tennessee 300. Kennesaw State
(Non-D1) Trevecca Nazerene 243. Samford
193. Lipscomb 189. Green Bay
127. WKU 31. UCLA
8. Purdue

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 3 wins (@Middle Tennessee, Green Bay, @WKU) and 2 losses (Lipscomb, @LIpscomb)

Despite not participating in an exempt event and needing to schedule a non-D1 matchup, Rick Byrd’s Bruins have the best OVC non-conference slate coming off last season’s 24-9 record and second place finish. While the trips to UCLA and Purdue pack the most punch, the annual Battle of the Boulevard series with the ASUN champ and favorite, and contests at Curb against MVC title threat Illinois State and C-USA favorite WKU boost the quality to an even more impressive level. And if Middle Tennessee and Green Bay are better than anticipated, watch out.

92. Jacksonville State Gamecocks

*Exempt Event: Cancun Challenge (Mayan Division)

True Home Games (3) True Neutral-Site Games (2) True Road Games (8)
True Home Games (3) True Neutral-Site Games (2) True Road Games (8)
(Non-D1) Carver 296. Western Carolina* 243. Samford
(Transitional) North Alabama 241. North Florida or 65. Penn State*
(Non-D1) Reinhardt 297. Southern Miss* 205. Bradley*
(Transitional) North Alabama
348. Delaware State
12. Wichita State
122. Evansville
9. West Virginia

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

Ray Harper’s Gamecocks have won 20 or more in both of his seasons in charge, with last season ending in the CBI semifinals at the hands of eventual champ North Texas. Despite the presence of two non-D1 games, a home-and-home series with local rival, and transitional D1 team, North Alabama, and a winnable bracketed event in Mexico, Jacksonville State’s 2018-19 non-league slate rates highly because of the road challenges. The metrics particularly like the three Power 7 road games—Penn State, Wichita State, and West Virginia.

95. Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles

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

True Home Games (6) True Road Games (7)
True Home Games (6) True Road Games (7)
345. Presbyterian* 104. Memphis
207. ULM* 326. Savannah State
148. Winthrop 5. North Carolina*
(Non-D1) Warren Wilson 10. Michigan State*
(Non-D1) Hiwassee 187. Chattanooga
326. Savannah State 300. Kennesaw State
42. Tennessee

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 2 wins (Kennesaw State, Chattanooga) and 0 losses

Over the past four seasons, Steve Payne’s Golden Eagles have alternated between 12 and 19-wins and with Tech finishing over .500 a season ago, the challenge will be to break that cycle. But with trips to North Carolina, Michigan State, and Tennessee—all looking like top 15-20 teams this season—on the docket, and seven total road games, equaling last season’s 8-5 start won’t be an easy task. Tennessee Tech is yet another OVC team playing a non-conference home-and-home series, with the Golden Eagles facing Savannah State twice in the Tigers’ final Division I season.

108. Eastern Kentucky Colonels

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

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)
145. Marshall 39. Kansas State* 187. Chattanooga
(Non-D1) Midway* 99. UNI or 42. Tennessee
314. USC Upstate 178. Penn* 221. High Point
153. Northern Kentucky 83. Old Dominion/ 18. Xavier
(Non-D1) Brescia 125. Oregon State/ 199. Duquesne
98. Missouri/
300. Kennesaw State*

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 0 wins and 2 losses (@Northern Kentucky, @Marshall)

A.W. Hamilton, a former N.C. State assistant, takes over for Dan McHale, was released after three seasons of diminishing returns following the success Jeff Neubauer and Travis Ford delivered to Richmond, Ky. While the Colonels won just 11 games overall last season, they managed to break even in non-league play. But with three games at a Paradise Jam event that might be over EKU’s heads and four games against postseason contenders—Marshall and in-state rival Northern Kentucky at home and Tennessee and Xavier on the road—look for the Colonels to seriously struggle in the final weeks of 2018.

154. Tennessee State Tigers

*Exempt Event: Ohio Valley Hardwood Showcase

True Home Games (4) True Road Games (8)
True Home Games (4) True Road Games (8)
222. Little Rock 193. Lipscomb
(Non-D1) Carver* 303. Cal State Northridge
(Non-D1) Fisk* 7. Kentucky*
342. N.C. A&T 127. WKU
347. Coppin State
157. Akron
104. Memphis
47. Vanderbilt

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 1 win (Fisk) and 2 losses (Lipscomb, @N.C. A&T)

With Dana Ford off to Missouri State, it will be up to former Tiger assistant Penny Collins to keep the momentum going in Nashville. Last season, TSU finished at .500 despite a 5-6 non-conference mark that featured three Power 7 losses. With another trio of power road games lined up for 2018 and just four home games, the Tigers will be hard pressed to win five games against this slate, even with three sub-300 teams scheduled. But things could have been a bit worse. Even though Tennessee State will travel to Kentucky for the Wildcats’ exempt event, the Tigers, like all of the other visitors in the MTE, will play a pair of non-D1 home games to complete their participation, rather than playing each other in some fashion.

160. Murray State Racers

No Exempt Event

True Home Games (7) True Road Games (4)
True Home Games (7) True Road Games (4)
156. Wright State 55. Alabama
(Non-D1) Spalding 62. Middle Tennessee
160. Missouri State 150. Southern Illinois
311. Prairie View A&M 64. Auburn
330. Jackson State
122. Evansville
(Non-D1) Bethel

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 2 wins (@Wright State, Southern Illinois) and 2 losses (Middle Tennessee, Auburn)

Not only did Matt McMahon’s third Racer team record a 10-win improvement last season, they swept both OVC titles on their way to a somewhat surprising 12 seed in the NCAAs. Murray State got off to a strong start in 2017-18, winning eight of its 11 non-league games. And with a home-heavy schedule this fall, the Racers could be due for a repeat, especially with opening opponent Wright State likely to be the most difficult home game. And if Murray State can somehow win one of its two SEC contests, featuring Alabama and Auburn, they find themselves on the national radar a little earlier this season.

200. Morehead State Eagles

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

True Home Games (5) True Neutral-Site Games (1-2) True Road Games (6-7)
True Home Games (5) True Neutral-Site Games (1-2) True Road Games (6-7)
(Non-D1) Kentucky Christian 268. UMKC* 92. UConn*
193. Lipscomb 189. Green Bay 46. Syracuse*
153. Northern Kentucky (or Eastern Washington*) 158. Eastern Washington
(Non-D1) Ohio-Chillicothe (or Green Bay)*
259. IUPUI 145. Marshall
243. Samford
156. Wright State
98. Missouri

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 2 wins (Marshall, Kentucky Christian) and 2 losses (@Lipscomb, @Northern Kentucky)

The Eagles, long held in the same breath as Murray State and Belmont as OVC powers, have struggled mightily over the past two seasons under Preston Spradlin—winning just eight games a season ago. And with six definite road contests, four of which feature 2018 NCAA qualifiers, a difficult trip to Eastern Washington for the 2K Empire Classic subregional, and visits from both Lipscomb and Northern Kentucky, don’t expect Morehead State to improve upon last season’s total of four non-league wins without a real struggle.

225. Eastern Illinois Panthers

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

True Home Games (4) True Neutral-Site Games (3) True Road Games (6)
True Home Games (4) True Neutral-Site Games (3) True Road Games (6)
298. Western Illinois 229. Gardner-Webb* 43. Texas
149. Purdue Fort Wayne 234. Arkansas State* 259. IUPUI
(Non-D1) Fontbonne* 139. UNCW* 346. Chicago State
(Transitional) North Alabama 298. Western Illinois
205. Bradley
33. Iowa State

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 3 wins (IUPUI, Fontbonne, Western Illinois) and 2 losses (@Western Illinois, @Bradley)

Jay Spoonhour’s Panthers won just four of their 11 non-league games a season ago on their way to a 12-19 overall record. But while EIU will play four non-conference home contests for a second season in a row, they’ve added to the challenges away from Charleston by signing up for an exempt tournament in Asheville, N.C. that features some similarly situated mid-majors to a pair of Big 12 road games against Texas and Iowa State. But with the traditional series with Western Illinois, a trip to Chicago State, and some potentially winnable home contests, the Panthers might need to win just a game in the Blue Ridge to improve upon 2017’s non-conference victory total.

236. UT Martin Skyhawks

No Exempt Event

True Home Games (5) True Road Games (6)
True Home Games (5) True Road Games (6)
(Non-D1) Cumberland 127. WKU
298. Western Illinois 154. Mercer
155. UNC Asheville 194. Tulane
(Non-D1) Brescia 95. ETSU
187. Chattanooga 88. Fresno State
228. Bowling Green

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

After winning 22 in Anthony Stewart’s first season, the Skyhawks tasted victory just 10 times in year two, with fully half of those triumphs coming in non-league play. The challenge will be a little steeper this time around for UT Martin, as it won’t participate in an exempt event this season and will therefore have two fewer chances to claim a win. Still, this slate isn’t overwhelming with the biggest challenges being trips to WKU, in-state rivals ETSU, and Fresno State.

294. Austin Peay Governors

*Exempt Event: Jersey Mike’s Jamaica Classic (Visitors’ Bracket)

True Home Games (3) True Neutral-Site Games (4) True Road Games (6)
True Home Games (3) True Neutral-Site Games (4) True Road Games (6)
(Non-D1) Oakland City 341. Central Connecticut State* 73. Mississippi State
(Non-D1) Calvary 283. Campbell* 285. USF*
149. Purdue Fort Wayne 283. Campbell # 159. Ohio*
233. Liberty or 191. Troy
337. Alabama State # 351. Alabama A&M
# - St. Pete Shootout 40. Arkansas

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 3 wins (Oakland City, Alabama A&M, Troy)

Matt Figger’s first season in charge in Clarksville ended with 19 wins and a CollegeInsider.com Tournament appearance. Year two will begin with a non-conference schedule featuring one of the biggest oddities of the season. You see the Governors will play Campbell twice in separate events in different countries, even though the first of these tournaments—the Jamaica Classic—uses preset matchups. While there are plenty of potential wins on Peay’s slate this season, there are also three Power 7 road matchups, with the visits to the two SEC schools the most notable.

318. SIU Edwardsville Cougars

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

True Home Games (6) True Neutral-Site Games (2) True Road Games (4)
True Home Games (6) True Neutral-Site Games (2) True Road Games (4)
202. Pacific 303. Cal State Northridge* 90. Valparaiso
148. Winthrop 177. Rider or 298. Western Illinois
324. Incarnate Word 214. Northern Colorado* 219. Drake*
150. Southern Illinois 194. Washington State*
(Non-D1) Harris-Stowe
(Non-D1) Missouri S&T

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 2 wins (Valparaiso, Western Illinois) and 1 loss (@Southern Illinois)

Entering his fourth season in charge, Jon Harris has yet to post double-digit victory total in Edwardsville, with non-conference struggles consistently putting the Cougars into an early hole. But with six home games, a trip to Vegas for bracketed tournament where at least one win will be possible, and just a single power conference road game (at Washington State of all places, thanks to the Cougars’ participation in the Las Vegas Classic), this slate offers the possibility of an improved non-league win total.

324. Southeast Missouri State Redhawks

*Exempt Event: Goldie and Herman Ungar 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)
(Non-D1) Quincy* 310. Jacksonville* 210. Saint Louis
(Non-D1) Missouri S&T 187. Chattanooga* 205. Bradley
298. Western Illinois 249. South Alabama*
150. Southern Illinois 349. Mississippi Valley State
309. Abilene Christian 316. The Citadel
26. Florida State

Record against returning opponents from 2017-18: 1 win (@Southern Illinois) and 2 losses (Bradley, @Saint Louis)

Entering his fourth season pacing the sidelines in Cape Girardeau, Rick Ray’s Redhawks might be at the point where they’re finally ready to break past the .500 mark after two years of coming close. And with just two road games against potential at-large teams on this schedule (Saint Louis and Florida State) and no fewer than nine winnable contests overall on this slate, SEMO could post its best non-conference record in Ray’s tenure this fall. Then we’ll see what happens in OVC play.

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