non-conference schedules
All roads lead to WAC Vegas. Courtesy Western Athletic Conference.

Looking at Non-Conference Schedules and Comparisons Aren’t Easy

Who has the better non-conference schedule? It is the normal question year after year given out by the fans.

When teams release their non-conference schedules, the comparisons begin. Who is playing who? How many home games? Are there big high majors on the schedule? And so it goes.

Some fan bases and teams are super excited about their non-conference slate. Those are most likely the teams that have a significant amount of home games.

Others aren’t as excited because maybe they were expecting better opponents. Or maybe because they don’t get as many home games as they would have wanted.

Here is the problem, at least in my opinion. NET rankings and other analytics have hurt non-conference schedules in college basketball. Teams stuck in the Quad II or Quad III range get hurt the most. And mid-majors who win a lot are doing themselves harm by winning so much. And this goes for teams from one-bid leagues.

I will give you an example. It was in a tweet I put out on Monday. Rocco Miller, whose work I absolutely respect, said that Wyoming was looking for another game. Well, this is where the frustration comes in. Sam Houston, Stephen F. Austin, and at the time of the tweet, New Mexico State hadn’t put out their full schedules. And I know all three schools were looking for games. So why can’t Wyoming play one of them?

One-Bid Leagues and Non-Division I Opponents

Or, and this is what frustrates me, why are mid-majors from one-bid leagues scheduling non-DI opponents?

Let’s take Utah Valley and Weber State, for instance. Unless something special happens in 2022-23, the WAC is going to be a one-bid league. The same goes for the Big Sky. These are two schools that are within 100 miles of one another in the same state.

Weber State plays Western Colorado on Nov. 10. Utah Valley plays Western Colorado on Nov. 9. And yet, Weber State and Utah Valley are not playing each other in 2022-23. Help me make sense of it because playing a non-DI is a waste. It doesn’t count for or against you in the NET. And wouldn’t playing an in-state game draw a better crowd? Of course it would.

Anyway, off the soapbox. We are going to look at non-conference schedules around the WAC. And you can decide if comparisons can be made, who has the most difficult non-conference slate, and so forth.

Just to be clear, the season openers for WAC schools are pretty exciting.

Non-Conference
ACU opens its season by hosting Jackson State at the newly renovated Moody Coliseum. Courtesy Western Athletic Conference.

Abilene Christian Wildcats

Non-conference opponents from Big 12 (1), Big Sky (2), Big West (2), Horizon (1), SEC (1), Southland (1), SWAC (1)

Five home games, four true road games, three neutral site games.

Multi-Team Event

Vegas 4 – Las Vegas with Wright State, Weber State and UC Riverside

Highest NET Opponent

Texas A&M – 36

Lowest NET Opponent

Should be Texas A&M-Commerce since it is in its first year at the Division I level. For now it’s Northern Arizona at 336

Non-Division I Opponents

3 – McMurry, Arlington Baptist, and Howard Payne

Potential Quad I Opportunities

Two – at Texas A&M on Nov. 11 and at Kansas State on Dec. 6

Thoughts

The schedule isn’t overwhelming for ACU. Yes, there are the two guarantee games at Texas A&M and Kansas State. But outside of those two games, it is very possible that ACU will be favored in every other game on its non-conference slate. In the Vegas 4, ACU matches up with Wright State, Weber State and UC Riverside just fine. The most challenging mid-major game on the schedule may be Dec. 17 at CSU Bakersfield. We all remember Rod Barnes and how hard his Roadrunner squads play. ACU won last year’s meeting 69-59 at the Teague Center.

California Baptist Lancers

Non-conference opponents from the America East (1), Big Ten (1), Big Sky (2), Big West (4), MAC (1), Mountain West or Missouri Valley, Pac-12 (1), West Coast Conference (1)

Eight home games, three true road games and two neutral site games. The Lancers leave the state of California just once in the non-conference slate. CBU plays at Washington on Nov. 17.

Multi-Team Event

SoCal Challenge, San Juan Capistrano, California

Highest Net Opponent

Minnesota – 109

But potentially UNLV at 97 depending on what happens against in the MTE. If the Lancers beat Minnesota and UNLV beats Southern Illinois, they will meet in the SoCal Challenge. And same goes if both lose.

Lowest NET Opponent

NJIT -332

Non-Division I Opponents

1 – Sonoma State

Potential Quad I Opportunities

Based off the 2021-22 NET, none at the moment. That could change depending on how Minnesota does. But the likelihood CBU will have a Quad I opportunity before WAC play is minimal.

Thoughts:

This is arguably the best non-conference slate CBU has had in the Division I era. The Lancers get the Big West regular season champs, a Pac-12 and Big Ten opponent, and a Big Sky squad in Weber State that is usually solid. Along with that, CBU only plays one non-DI opponent, which is fewest among WAC teams. There is always the crosstown rivalry with UC Riverside. The Highlanders rolled to a 16-point win over the Lancers last season. I am interested in the December 10 matchup at San Diego. A win over a West Coast Conference squad is always good. Plus, San Diego head coach Steve Lavin a national title under his belt. CBU should have no less than nine wins when WAC play begins.

Grand Canyon Lopes

Non-conference opponents from the American Athletic (1), Big Sky (2), Conference USA (1), Mountain West (2), SWAC (2), West Coast (2)

Nine home games, two true road games, three neutral site games in Kansas City and Phoenix.

Multi-Team Event

Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City. Lopes play Wichita State and then either San Francisco or Northern Iowa.

Highest NET Opponent

North Texas – 55

Lowest NET Opponent

Idaho State – 342

Non-Division I Opponents

2 – San Diego Christian, Embry-Riddle

Potential Quad I Opportunities

Based off the 2021-22 NET, GCU will have two opportunities and possibly a third. North Texas (55) and Wyoming (58). There could possibly be a third if GCU beats Wichita State and plays San Francisco at the Hall of Fame Classic.

Thoughts:

I like the schedule that Bryce Drew has put together. And no, nobody paid me to say that. About the only gripe is a wish that GCU would get out of their comfort zone and get away from GCU Arena a little more. Sure, GCU has two true road games and three neutral site games. But one of those neutral site games is at the Footprint Center in downtown Phoenix. Not exactly a neutral site. GCU can make some statements that they are title contenders right off the bat. The Lopes host one of the Big Sky favorites in Montana State. And there are other games against Wichita State, Nevada, and North Texas that will show us if GCU is for real.

New Mexico State Aggies

Non-conference opponents from the A-10 (1), Conference USA (2), MAC (1), Mountain West (2), West Coast (3), potentially the Big West (1) or Southland (1) and CUSA or Big South

Four home games, five true road games, four neutral site games in Las Vegas and El Paso.

Multi-Team Events

Las Vegas Invitational with San Diego, UC Irvine and Nicholls State.

Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational with Kent State, UTEP and NC A&T.

Highest NET Opponent

Saint Mary’s – 19

Lowest NET Opponent

Duquesne – 278

Non-Division I Opponents

2 – New Mexico Highlands, Northern New Mexico

Potential Quad I Opportunities

Based off the 2021-22 NET, New Mexico State will have two Quad I opportunities on the West Coast. Dec. 7 at Santa Clara (70) and Dec. 14 at Saint Mary’s (19).

Thoughts:

Some say that this is a loaded schedule that first-year head coach Greg Heiar has put together. Loaded is a relative word. There is a stretch in December where the Aggies go to California, back to Pittsburgh and back to California in one week. Yes, the games at Santa Clara and at Saint Mary’s will be must-watch games. No doubt about that. And as always, New Mexico State plays both UTEP and UNM twice in home-and-home contests. But outside of being rivalry games, neither of those two games move the meter for me. Sure, Richard Pitino and Joe Golding are going to get the Lobos and Miners going again. But, the Aggies have dominated the series over the past decade so its lost some of is luster. Those games at Santa Clara and Saint Mary’s will tell us so much more about this Aggie squad.

non-conference
Mike Peake and New Mexico State have a difficult road trip in December. Courtesy NMSU Athletics.


Sam Houston Bearkats – schedule not released as of this writing

Seattle U Redhawks

Opponents from the Big Sky (1), Big West (2), Mountain West (1), Pac-12 (2), Summit League (1), SWAC (1), West Coast Conference (1).

Four true home games, one game at Climate Pledge Arena, five true road games, and three neutral site games. 

Multi-Team Event

Would be fun to go with Seattle U to Hawaii for Christmas. The Redhawks are playing in the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic. Seattle U will face Utah State in the first game. And then either SMU or Iona in the second round. Along with these three, Hawaii, Washington State, George Washington and Pepperdine are the other schools in the MTE.

Highest NET Opponent

Utah State – 65 – unless Seattle U gets SMU then it will be SMU at 53.

Lowest NET Opponent

North Dakota – 348

Non-Division I Opponents

2 – Puget Sound, Pacific Lutheran

Potential Quad I Opportunities

Based off the 2021-22 NET, Seattle has potentially two opportunities. The Redhawks face Utah State at the Diamond Head Classic. And if they win or face SMU in the second round, there is another opportunity.

Thoughts:

Not necessarily a barnburner of a schedule. But not filled with easy wins, either for the regular season co-champs. Seattle should be 5-0 going into that Nov. 28 post-Thanksgiving contest against Washington. And that trip to the Hawaiian Islands for Christmas will be challenging. Oregon State won three games last season so Seattle could pick up a Power 6 win. This is a veteran squad that will win a lot of games in 2022-23.

non-conference schedules
Kobe Williamson and Seattle U get to go to Hawaii for Christmas in 2022. Courtesy Western Athletic Conference.

Southern Utah Thunderbirds

Opponents from the Big 12 (1), Big West (1), Big Sky (3), Mountain West (1), Pac-12 (1), Sun Belt (1) and potentially another game against a Big Sky or Big West opponent.

Five home games, four true road games, three neutral site games.

Multi-Team Event

North Shore Classic in Laie, Hawaii with Texas State, Sacramento State and Hawai’i

Highest NET Opponent

Kansas – 3

Lowest NET Opponent

Idaho State – 342

Non-Division I Opponents

3 – La Verne, Saint Katherine, Bethesda

Potential Quad I Opportunities

Based off the 2021-22 NET, SUU has two opportunities at Kansas on Nov. 18 and at Colorado on Dec. 21.

Thoughts:

SUU head coach Todd Simon has mentioned it before but nobody wants to play the Thunderbirds. Or at the very lease, come to Cedar City to play. It is a product of winning games or going toe-to-toe with high majors. Don’t be surprised if SUU Is 9-3 or 10-2going into its WAC opener at New Mexico State on Dec. 29. Am I optimistic? Or better yet, a little too positive? Yes, yes I am. When fans around the WAC get a look at Tevian Jones, they will understand why. Yes, The Pit is a tough place to play. But SUU knows how to win on the road. Going to Lawrence to face the national champs and Boulder will be tough places to play. The rest of the schedule is very winnable for the T-Birds.

Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks – schedule not released as of this writing

Tarleton Texans – Schedule not released as of this writing

Utah Tech Trailblazers

Opponents from the Big West (2), Big Sky (2), Mountain West (2), Ohio Valley (1), Pac-12 (2), Summit (1).

Five home games, seven true road games, one neutral site game.

Multi-Team Event

North Dakota Multi-Team Event with North Dakota and Cal State Fullerton

Highest NET Opponent

Arizona – 4

non-conference schedules
Trey Edmonds gets way above the rim as Utah Tech gets ready for the 2022-23 season. Courtesy Utah Tech Athletics.

Lowest NET Opponent

Lindenwood who is new to Division I but CSUN is 326.

Non-Division I Opponents

3 – Chapman, The Master’s University, Westmont

Potential Quad I Opportunities

Based off the 2021-22 NET, Utah Tech has two Quad I opportunities. Nov. 17 at Arizona and Dec. 1 at Utah State.

Thoughts:

Road warriors will be the name for the Trailblazers through the month of November. Utah Tech gets one home game on Nov. 12, the only home game between Nov. 7 and Dec. 9. Love that the Trailblazers are playing both Utah State and Weber State. Always love the in-state games. The trip to Grand Forks, N.D. will tell us a lot about this Trailblazer squad. I like the season opener at Nevada. That is a winnable game for the Trailblazers who return home five nights later to host CSU Northridge.

Utah Valley Wolverines

Opponents from the ACC (1), Big Sky (2), Big West (1), MEAC (1), Mountain West (2), Pac-12 (1), and West Coast (1). Potential game against either the Horizon or ASUN depending on what happens in the MTE.

Five home games, six true road games, and two neutral site games.

Multi-Team Event

Jersey Mike’s Jamaica Classic with Morgan State, Green Bay and Queens College. Utah Valley plays Wake Forest in Winston-Salem in the on-campus portion of the MTE.

Highest NET Opponent

Boise State – 34

Lowest NET Opponent

Northern Arizona – 336

Non-Division I Opponents

3 – Western Colorado, SAGU, Antelope Valley

Potential Quad I Opportunities

Based off the 2021-22 NET, Utah Valley has four Quad I opportunities. The Wolverines play at Utah State, at Wake Forest, at BYU, and at Boise State. Oregon is right on the cusp at 76.

Thoughts:

I won’t lie, I am a little disappointed Utah Valley isn’t in the Montego Bay Division of the Jamaica Classic. Would rather see the Wolverines play Georgetown, LaSalle or LMU along with Wake Forest. So, outside of the Wake Forest campus game, Utah Valley should win their two games in Jamaica. I ABSOLUTELY love that Utah Valley opens up with Utah State on Nov. 7 at the Smith Spectrum in Logan. We are going to find out how good this Wolverine squad is without Fardaws Aimaq right out of the gate. Finishing up non-conference play at Oregon is brutal. But, Mark Madsen said they wanted to play as challenging of a schedule as they could.

UT Arlington Mavericks

Opponents from the Big 12 (1), CAA (1), Conference USA (1), Mountain West (1), Pac-12 (1), SEC (1), SWAC (1), West Coast (1)

Five home games, four true road games, four neutral site games.

Multi-Team Event

Gulf Coast Showcase with Drexel, Toledo, Kansas City, East Carolina, Indiana State, Northern Kentucky and Florida Gulf Coast. Mavericks take on Drexel in the first game of the MTE.

Highest NET Opponent

LSU – 20

Lowest NET Opponent

Drexel – 154

Non-Division I Opponents

3 – Southwestern, Hardin-Simmons, Howard Payne

Potential Quad I Opportunities

Based off the 2021-22 NET, UTA has four Quad I opportunities at Oklahoma State, at LSU, vs. North Texas, and at San Francisco.

Thoughts:

Lots of new pieces for UTA but Greg Young didn’t care when he put together the 2022-23 schedule. Four Quad I opportunities and getting to host North Texas and Nevada. Impressive. Love the Gulf Coast Showcase and some of the potential opponents. I have always said for the WAC to move up, schools will have to be other mid-major opponents and the Mavericks have those opportunities.

UTRGV Vaqueros

Opponents from the Big 12 (2), Big Sky (1), NEC (1), Southland (4), and Summit League (2).

Four home games, five true road games, three neutral site games.

Multi-Team Event

The Vaqueros don’t play in a multi-team event. Instead they have the Leon Black Classic where they will face Northern Arizona on Nov. 22 at Bert Ogden Arena while Texas will play NAU the night before.

Highest NET Opponent

Texas – 16

Lowest NET Opponent

Houston Christian (formerly Houston Baptist) – 338

Non-Division I Opponents

2 – Southwestern Adventist, Southwestern Christian

Potential Quad I Opportunities

Based off the 2021-22 NET, UTRGV has two Quad I opportunities against Texas on Nov. 21 and Kansas State in the season opener on Nov. 7.

Thoughts:

I really like the home-and-home concept with Houston Christian and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. It fills a need for all involved and those games with CC get pretty heated. Love that UTRGV got Texas to come play at Bert Ogden Arena. Would have been even better if it was UTRGV playing Texas there instead of Northern Arizona. Maybe in the future. Challenging schedule right out of the gate with UTRGV heading to Manhattan to take on Kansas State. Will be interesting to see what Matt Figger and Justin Johnson can do with nearly a whole new roster.

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