The non-conference schedules have been released by pretty much all of the Valley schools. However, Southern Illinois still has to complete theirs due to the teams that are still being lined up to play in the Carbondale bracket of the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic. However, things are good enough that the schedules can be broken down a little more.
The numbers I am using are based on the final rankings from the College Basketball Ranking Comparison site that takes all of the different RPI, Power, Sagarin, Pomeroy and other rankings and gets you the “RPI” rankings for teams. Also for the MTE (Multi-Team Events) I took the potential matchups and averaged the RPI for those opponents. For example Wichita St. could possibly play Michigan St., Gonzaga, Maryland or Oklahoma St. in their final game of their Old Spice tourney so I took the average of the 4 teams for that particular game to give it a rating.
The average RPI of the teams on all of the Valley’s non-conference opponents this year is 160. It also acts as a good median score as well because the five Valley teams are below that number and five are above that number.
As far as the Large Conference Schools go, the Valley will face these teams:
- Big 12–Nebraska, Iowa St. (2), Oklahoma St. (potentially), Texas Tech
- Big East–DePaul (potentially 2), Louisville, Marquette, Georgetown
- SEC–Florida, Vanderbilt, Arkansas, Auburn, Tennessee (potentially)
- Big 10–Michigan St. (potentially 2), Iowa (2), Purdue, Michigan (potentially)
- ACC–North Carolina, Duke (potentially), Maryland (potentially)
- Pac-10–UCLA (potentially)
Looking at this list, it is impressive list of 25 games and the Valley has a chance to compete against the big boys. However, only 3 of those games will happen on a Valley home court. Additionally 2 of the 3 are happening only because of the old Iowa state law that all of the Division I teams have to play each other every year on a home-home basis. So Drake gets Iowa at home and Northern Iowa gets Iowa St. at home this year. Missouri St. was lucky enough to get Arkansas to visit Springfield to open up the brand new JQ Hammond arena. So as much as the Valley would like to say they have strived to become better in scheduling and playing the bigger teams, the success still has not translated to getting these teams to play on the Valley home courts. Here are the team’s best home, away and neutral non-conference game.
|Southern Illinois||IUPUI UMass TBD?||West. Kentucky||Duke|
|Indiana St.||North Texas||Louisville||IUPUI|
|Wichita St.||N. Arizona||Texas Tech||Georgetown|
|Evansville||W. Kentucky||North Carolina||N/A|
|Creighton||New Mexico||Nebraska||Depaul/St. Louis|
|Northern Iowa||Iowa St.||Illinois-Chicago||Marquette|
|Illinois St.||UC-Santa Barbara||Wright St.||Alabama St.|
Looking at the average RPI of non-conference opponents, at the top of the list are the Salukis of Southern Illinois. Their average RPI score is 93. One advantage of their schedule is being part of the that 2K Sports Classic, but at the same time they still need to win the games in their “regional” to get to New York to face most likely Duke and then either Michigan or UCLA. They still have one game to put on the schedule that is part of that event which is a home game at SIU. One other advantage of being part of the 2K Sports Classic is that it has helped SIU line up their “marquee” non-conference home game against IUPUI. Update: I guess IUPUI has been moved to the Michigan regional bracket and that UMass is now coming to Carbondale, but that isn’t even set in stone yet as Tom Weber (SIU’s Sports Information Director) said that as of Sunday night the 2K Sports prelim matchups haven’t been set in stone yet. However, it is sounding like one of the teams that will play in their regional is a decent team which may be the best non-conference team to set foot in SIU arena this year. Although SIU put together a pretty good schedule, it came at the expense of playing games at home as they will go on the road against Western Kentucky, Nevada and a neutral game vs. St. Mary’s in Indianapolis.
Speaking of Multi-Team events, 8 of the 10 Valley schools are taking part in one. Probably the top 2 tournaments are the Saluki’s mentioned above and Wichita St.’s involvement in the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, (which the Jays will take part in next year), with their first round matchup against Georgetown and potentially playing Tennessee, Mich. St., Maryland or Gonzaga in the following 2 rounds. Bradley had to settle for a late addition to the CBE Classic as a secondary team due to the cancellation of the Top of the World Classic in Alaska. So Bradley doesn’t get the opportunity to play the likes of Kansas, Syracuse or Washington. Instead they get UMKC, Florida Gulf Coast, and Richmond. Drake is having 2 different multi-team “tournaments” of their own and are also participating in an event in Cancun. Northern Iowa is taking part in the Chicago Invitational that was started a couple of years ago which includes games against Auburn and Marquette. Missouri St. is hosting their own multi-team event. I have written extensively on the Jays opponents in the Las Vegas Classic, so we don’t need to touch on that again.
Two coaches that need their scheduling skills sharpened or re-educated on scheduling are Double G, Gregg Marshall of Wichita St. and Tim Jankovich of Illinois St. Each of these coaches are in their second year as head coach of the respective schools and really their first opportunity to put together a schedule. First let’s take Illinois St. Their non-conference average RPI is the worst in the league at 215. After finishing 2nd in the Valley last year, you would expect a little more as far as scheduling. I know they lost a lot, but with POY candidate Osirus Eldridge, you would think the players coming in could be built around him. When your best home game is UC-Santa Barbara, road game is Wright St. and you have an MTE at SMU with 2 teams with RPI’s of 225 and 270 and the third team being Houston Baptist, that scheduling is horrible. Houston Baptist actually counts as an RPI game this year in their transition to D-1 basketball so by default they get the 341 RPI rating just because. Illinois St. may come in to conference play with an impressive record, but I think they will be a paper tiger. If anything, Tim should call his former boss Bill Self to get a game against Kansas next season. Doug Elgin should have a good talk with him for next season as well.
Let’s take the Double G case. I think he got lucky that Wichita was able to be part of the Old Spice tourney because the rest of it looks like he was still scheduling like he was still at Winthrop and didn’t do the Shocker diehards any favors with the home scheduling. The fans like to tout how they have the Shocker home court sold out year after year, but at what point will fans stop coming to see the home games with lineups like Florida A & M, UMKC, Centenary, TCU, Gardner-Webb, Northern Arizona and North Dakota. Gee, makes me feel thankful for being a Jays fan.
Now, a second year coach that seems to be on the right track is Kevin McKenna at Indiana St. and not because he was a former Jay. In trying to build up the Sycamore program that probably doesn’t have the fan base Creighton, SIU or Wichita St., he is able to do some different things. The home schedule isn’t that great, but he is willing to go to larger school home courts and take on Louisville, Depaul and Purdue which will make this team tough come conference time also making it have the 2nd best average opponent RPI. This is going out on a limb, but I think Indiana St. may struggle in the non-conference, but that they will finish better than Illinois St. in conference play.
Evansville gets a pass because they were willing to go to North Carolina this year where they are probably the consensus team to win it all. They also take on Butler and Western Kentucky on the road. Another school that doesn’t really have to worry about the home court fan base. Heck, with Western Kentucky and Butler on so many MVC schedules, they should just become part of the Valley. However, that is another discussion for another time.
One thing that might be noted in all of the school’s scheduling is that 8 of the 10 Valley schools either scheduled a D-II team or a school currently reclassifying as a D-I team. Creighton and Missouri St. were the only schools to totally include all D-I teams on the non-conference schedule. Sorry to pick on you again Illinois St., but although Houston Baptist counts this year, they are just like a D-II school at this point.
Finally, I’ll say for the Jays, they were able to get about as close to the average as they could get. I’m starting to warm up a little more to their schedule, but it would be nice to see that “bar” to test against to see how good this team is. As much as there is talk about the Jays being the team to beat in the conference this season, I hope the rug isn’t pulled out beneath this team come tournament time since there was not that high powered team to test against. Though those games could break the confidence of a team, I can’t imagine this year’s Jays don’t have that season ending kick in the teeth Florida NIT game in the back of their head as motivation to raise the bar and have a chance against one of those teams again. We shall see. It is a long season and we’ll all be here to see how it plays out.