I believe a good out of conference schedule is one that is challenging, but not overwhelming. In regards to top teams like Louisville, Kentucky, and Indiana, they’re looking for opportunities to demonstrate that they are a #1 seed caliber team. For NCAA Tournament at-large hopefuls, especially those that don’t play in major conferences, they’re looking at opportunities for statement wins to indicate that they are an NCAA caliber team. Here is my assessment of these team’s OOC schedules….
INDIANA – D+
-As everyone knows, Kentucky and Indiana, two likely preseason top five teams, will not be playing each other this year due to an inability to come to terms. They should lose a letter grade on that alone. They were unable to retain a long standing series against a likely top five team. They could have sold out Lucas Oil Field and given us one of the premier OOC showcases of the season. Notable games include Georgia, and either UCLA or North Carolina in the Legends Classic, North Carolina at home, and Butler on a neutral floor. They have nine games that aren’t just against teams from weak conferences, but are against teams that typically don’t do well in weak conferences.
KENTUCKY – B.
-It’s not completely free of the junk food known as cupcakes, but there is a lot of healthy meat on this schedule. They travel to Notre Dame, will face Baylor at home in an Elite Eight rematch, travel to Louisville who is likely a top five team, and face Missouri as well. Other OOC notables are Marshall, Long Island (who isn’t on the same level as Kentucky, but who is one of the better teams in the NEC), and Morehead State (wish it was Murray, but Morehead isn’t bad).
LOUISVILLE – C
-They face what should be a good Northern Iowa team in the Battle of Atlantis, and other possible opponents include Missouri, Stanford, Duke, Minnesota, VCU and Memphis. Whichever two teams the play out of that bunch should be pretty good. They also travel to Memphis, who should be a formidable team this year. In somewhat of a rare road game, they’re going to College of Charleston, who returns pretty much their entire roster on what was a good team last year. Western Kentucky had a strong finish to the season, and is a decent opponent, and of course they face Kentucky at home. This schedule is not without its cupcakes, but there are more notable OOC games than what we’re used to seeing from Louisville.
DREXEL – C
-This is a team that was good enough to be in the NCAA Tournament last year, but was left out due to a lack of quality wins. The reason they lacked quality wins?? They didn’t play a quality schedule. I should dock them a letter grade for not having their schedule posted on their website yet, but I guess I’ll let it slide. They open at Kent State, who isn’t an elite program, but they are tough to beat at home and this would likely give them a win of some note. They will also play in the Anaheim Classic where they will open against Saint Mary’s, and potentially face other notable teams such as Xavier, Georgia Tech and Cal. The field isn’t particularly strong, so they won’t have too many shots at major statement wins. In addition, they’ll be hosting Davidson, Illinois State and Saint Joseph’s, who are all tournament hopefuls. It’s a ton better than last year’s schedule, but they still have limited options and a small margin of error. I think Drexel is a top 25 caliber team, but the less chances you have to prove yourself, the harder it is to build up a strong profile. It’s better than last year’s schedule, but it is far from solid.
MURRAY STATE – F
-They are in the Charleston Classic where they will open against Auburn, and have the possibility of facing Saint John’s, College of Charleston, Baylor, Boston College, Colorado or Dayton. Their other notable games include going to Dayton, and playing at home against Old Dominion. They will also participate in the Bracket Buster. For a team that sees virtually no quality competition in conference (at least none that would impress the selection committee) they really need to step up out of conference. This schedule is weak. The Charleston Classic is their only chance at getting any notable wins, so if they can’t get it done in that their margin for error is virtually zero. I realize it is difficult for them to put a quality schedule together, but they still needed to do better than this. They have a top 25 caliber team. They needed to give themselves more chances to build a solid resume.
VCU – B-
-They face what should be a very good Wichita State team at home, and are in the Battle For Atlantis where they fill face Memphis, and either Duke or Minnesota in the second game. It’s nice to see that they will continue to play Old Dominion, who is a long time conference rival, even though they are not in the CAA anymore. Additional home games include Alabama, Western Kentucky (who should be improved) and Dayton. As difficult as it can be for VCU to get games on equal or favorable terms, they’ve done a nice job putting together a quality schedule. They didn’t too many major conference schools outside of playing in Atlantis, but did a good job getting good teams from outside the major conferences. Now that they’re in the Atlantic Ten, they will have more than enough opportunities at statement wins.
SAINT MARY’S – D-
-They travel to Utah State, which is not an easy place to play. They also face what should be a very good Drexel team in the opener of the Anaheim Classic. It’s crazy that it is bracketed this way, but Drexel and SMC are likely the two best teams in the tournament even though they face each other in the first round. Other notable games include a Bracket Buster opponent and going on the road against Northern Iowa. I guess I should give them some props for going on the road to play teams like Utah State and Northern Iowa, who are not easy to beat, but other than that their schedule is very lackluster.
GONZAGA – A
-They’re at home against West Virginia, Illinois, and Baylor, and will face Clemson, Washington State, Kansas State and Oklahoma State on the road. In addition to those seven games, they will participate in the Old Spice Classic, where they will open against Clemson and could potentially face Vanderbilt, Oklahoma and West Virginia. That is a quality out of conference schedule that allows them to establish themselves not just as an NCAA team, but as a protected seed. With teams like Saint Mary’s and BYU in conference, they’ll have more than enough opportunities.
DAVIDSON – B
-Davidson returns their top five scorers from what was a very good team last year. Other than College of Charleston, there isn’t a whole lot of opportunities to get wins in conference play that are even remotely noteworthy, so the OOC portion of the season is hugely important. They’ll have their chances. They travel to New Mexico, which is not an easy place to play, and will also participate in the Old Spice Classic along with teams like Vanderbilt and West Virginia. Later in the year they go on the road to face Drexel and Richmond, and will also face Duke in Charlotte. They will also participate in this year’s Bracket Buster as the home team. This should be a very good Davidson team. Don’t be surprised if they’re able to win some of those games and get themselves in the NCAA Tournament discussion.
NORTHWESTERN – F- (last, and least for today)
-Texas Southern, Mississippi Valley State, Fairleigh Dickinson, Delaware State, TCU, UIC, Texas State and Brown all make up Northwestern’s OOC schedule. They do face Maryland in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, and will also face Stanford, Butler and Baylor, but although those are teams with name brands, Baylor is the only one that was actually any good last year. Before anyone says the obvious, I know that they play in the Big Ten. This is the problem, though. Teams that want to make the NCAA Tournament must either win the conference tournament or make a case for themselves at some point. Scheduling like this basically means that they are taking a pass on making any sort of case for themselves out of conference. That means they put more pressure on themselves to do it in conference, which they’ve never been able to do. They always schedule like this. For the past several seasons they’ve been within reach of the bubble, but never inside of it. A better OOC schedule would help.