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Ranking the D-I nonconference schedules

09/21/2015, 11:45am EDT
By Stephen Pianovich & Josh Verlin

Stephen Pianovich (@SPianovich) &
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
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September means college students are back in class. It also means teams are releasing their full schedules for the upcoming hoops season.

All 10 D-I teams in the CoBL coverage area put out their full 2015-16 slates in the last month. It’s unfortunately still about two months until we get to see these games on the court, so for now, we’re stuck analyzing them on paper.

We put each team’s nonconference schedule under the microscope and crunched the numbers. Below is a chart showing where the opponents on team’s nonconference schedules finished the 2014-15 season in both the KenPom rankings, as well as RPI. Obviously, everyone will have different pieces for the upcoming campaign, but this gives a good bar to see how challenging out-of-conference play could be for each team. (Note: The average rankings do not include teams beyond the first round of early-season tournaments or D-II/D-III schools)

We ranked the 10 team’s nonconference schedules based on toughness and how we think each slate prepares a team for its goals this season:

1. Temple (Final 2014-15 ranking - KenPom 54; RPI: 33)
Avg. Opponent Rank: KenPom 145.4, RPI: 144.8
Cupcakes: vs. Fairleigh Dickinson (Dec. 2), vs. Delaware State (Dec. 19)
Challenges: vs. North Carolina (Nov. 13), @ Wisconsin (Dec. 5)
Analysis: If Fran Dunphy wanted a nonconference schedule that could get his team some wins that would look impressive on a tournament resume, he certainly got that. The Owls open with North Carolina in the Veterans Classic on Navy’s campus in Annapolis, Md. They also travel to face 2015 national runner-up Wisconsin in Madison and are in a Puerto Rico Tip-Off field that also features Butler, Minnesota, Utah and Miami; that’s not to mention the Big 5 matchup against Villanova in February. Beat one of those three top teams, put together a nice showing in Puerto Rico and take care of business otherwise and the Owls should be in good shape come March.

2. Villanova (KenPom: 6; RPI: 6)
Avg. Opponent Rank: KenPom 141, RPI 140.2
Cupcakes: vs. Fairleigh Dickinson (Nov. 13), vs. Delaware (Dec. 22)
Challenges: vs. Oklahoma (Dec. 7, Hawaii), @ Virginia (Dec. 19)
Analysis: ‘Nova will be the envy of a lot of teams with a December trip to Hawaii, but it’s not just a getaway for Jay Wright’s bunch. The Wildcats will be facing an Oklahoma team that made the Sweet 16 a season ago in the initial Pearl Harbor Invitational. Villanova also has a challenging trip to Virginia on Dec. 19 and dates with Stanford and either Georgia Tech or Arkansas in the NIT Season Tip Off tournament. It’s a very strong schedule and will put the Wildcats in the running for a No. 1 seed again if they go through it with one or two losses--but we like Temple’s non-con just a tad bit more.

3. Lehigh (KenPom: 196; RPI: 176)
Avg. Opponent Rank: KenPom 124.9, RPI 118.3
Cupcakes: vs. Rochester College (Dec. 5), vs St. Francis (Pa.) (Dec. 2)
Challenges: @ Syracuse (Nov. 13), @ Virginia (Nov. 25)
Analysis: Lehigh has the toughest average opponent of any team in the CoBL coverage area. The Mountain Hawks give their players a chance to play in the Carrier Dome and John Paul Jones Arena with trips to Syracuse and Virginia. They also play Purdue on the road and close out their OOC slate against a tough Stony Brook team. Last year, the Mountain Hawks were able to secure road wins over high-majors DePaul and Arizona State, but neither of those were were near the tops of their respective conferences; Syracuse and Virginia will present different challenges entirely, and though Lehigh will be one of the Patriot League favorites this season, they might be pushed past their limits with those games.

4. Saint Joseph’s (KenPom: 163; RPI: 179)
Avg. Opponent Rank: KenPom 131.5, RPI 139.7
Cupcakes: vs. Niagara (Nov. 15), vs Maryland Eastern Shore (Dec. 29)
Challenges: vs. Florida (Nov. 21), vs. Villanova (Dec. 1)
Analysis: The Hawks will play in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament which gives them matchups with Buffalo and Niagara at home and Florida and either Purdue or Old Dominion at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. Big 5 games against Temple and Villanova as well as an ACC-A-10 battle with Virginia Tech at Brooklyn’s Barclay’s Center should prepare Phil Martelli’s team well for conference play.

5. Drexel (KenPom: 247; RPI: 251)
Avg. Opponent Rank: KenPom 149.7, RPI 147.4
Cupcakes: vs. Monmouth (Nov. 21), vs. UNC Asheville (Nov. 26)
Challenges: @ South Carolina (Dec. 15), @ Iona (Dec. 28)
Analysis: The Dragons are also taking a nonconference trip outside the continental United States -- they’ll have to pack heavier clothes, though. Drexel will play in the Great Alaska Shootout at the end of November and the team will also be challenged by road dates with Saint Joseph’s, South Carolina and Iona before it starts CAA play.

6. Delaware (KenPom: 245; RPI: 255)
Avg. Opponent Rank: KenPom 177, RPI 171.7
Cupcakes: vs. Fairleigh Dickinson (Nov. 24), vs. Bradley (Dec. 1)
Challenges: @ Temple (Nov. 29), @ Villanova (Dec. 22)
Analysis: Only three of the Blue Hens’ 11 nonconference tilts come at home, and the team will have its hands full with trips to Iona, Temple, Boston College and Villanova. Monte Ross’ squad just wants to do anything to avoid repeating last year’s start to the season when it went 0-10. The Blue Hens, however, rebounded to go 9-9 in the CAA, and they return two of the league’s best sophomores in point guard Kory Holden and wing forward Chivarsky Corbett. Don’t be surprised if they rise into the top half of the CAA.

7. Penn (KenPom: 289; RPI: 265)
Avg. Opponent Rank: KenPom 189.7, RPI 179.2
Cupcakes: vs. Central Connecticut State (Nov. 15), vs. Ursinus (Dec. 19)
Challenges: @ Washington (Nov. 21), @ Villanova (Dec. 28)
Analysis: The Steve Donahue era will get underway with two home games at the Palestra against Robert Morris and Central Connecticut State. The Quakers’ will face tough OOC games on the road as they travel across the country to face Washington and across the Main Line to face Villanova. A trip to Washington, the home state of Darien Nelson-Henry, provides a nice opportunity, but overall there’s nothing incredibly sexy about this schedule.

8. Penn State (KenPom: 82; RPI: 109)
Avg. Opponent Rank: KenPom 167.3, RPI 170.4
Cupcakes: vs. VMI (Nov. 14), vs. Radford (Nov. 28)
Challenges: @ George Washington (Dec. 8), vs. Colorado (Dec. 22)
Analysis: Penn State’s nonconference lacks flash, but that might not be a bad thing for a team replacing a player that led the team in nearly every offensive category (D.J. Newbill). The Nittany Lions got another unappealing matchup in the Big Ten-ACC challenge as they’ll face Boston College. They’ll be tested on the road at George Washington and also play two games in their former gym, Rec Hall, which is the most exciting part of the OOC schedule for fans.

9. La Salle (KenPom: 104; RPI: 105)
Avg. Opponent Rank: KenPom: 158.3; RPI: 148.9
Cupcakes: @ Rowan (Nov. 28)
Challenges: @ Villanova (Dec. 13), vs. Miami (Dec. 22)
Analysis: The Explorers won’t do too much exploring in the nonconference schedule as just two games come outside of the Philly area (at Rowan on Nov. 28 and at Florida Gulf Coast on Dec. 31). La Salle will host Miami at the Palestra, play five games at Tom Gola Arena and also be on the road to face Big 5 rivals Villanova and Penn.

10. Lafayette (KenPom: 195; RPI: 119)
Avg. Opponent Rank: KenPom 184.1, RPI 196.9
Cupcakes: vs. Saint Peter’s (Nov. 15), vs. Fairleigh Dickinson (Dec. 9)
Challenges: @ George Washington (Nov. 13), @ USC (Dec. 23)
Analysis: Lafayette will spend a lot of days on the road in November as four of its first five games are away from home. The Leopards open their season in the nation’s capital against George Washington and also have an interesting matchup to close out their noncon slate, taking on USC in Los Angeles on Dec. 23. Southern California certainly trumps eastern Pennsylvania in the winter, but it will be the Leopards seventh road game out of 11 in the nonconference.


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