Non-conference scheduling is always important for strength of schedule and RPI purposes, but in the MVC it takes on even more meaning. When the conference standings become final Feb. 28, all seeding tiebreakers for Arch Madness are determined by non-conference strength of schedule.
Here is a look at which teams put together the toughest schedules for 2014-15:
Note: All rankings are in the following format — AP Ranking/The Catch and Shoot Ranking. If both rankings are the same, only one number will be given.
1. Wichita State
The Shockers are challenging themselves even more than last year. They open the season against WAC favorite New Mexico State and then face Memphis on a neutral site. In December, they will play at No. 25/NR Utah and at home against Seton Hall and Alabama. Plus, a road game at Detroit will be trickier than it looks.
There is no way of knowing for sure who Wichita State will play in the Diamond Head Classic after Loyola Marymount, but potential games against No. 21/20 Nebraska, NR/No. 25 Colorado and George Washington would all boost that strength of schedule.
2. Northern Iowa
The Panthers will play on the road against some tough mid-majors, such as Stephen F. Austin and Denver. They will also play Virginia Tech, Iowa and potentially Northwestern on a neutral site.
A mid-December game at No. 15/17 VCU will be the Panthers’ most challenging matchup.
3. Indiana State
Indiana State’s schedule is highlighted by November’s Las Vegas Invitational. The Sycamores will host a pair of respectable but unspectacular mid-majors, Brown and Austin Peay, and then head to Sin City, where they will play Illinois and either Baylor or Memphis. They will also host Butler and travel to MAAC favorite Iona.
The Sycamores will ease into conference play with home games against Truman State, Eastern Illinois and UMKC.
Bradley has its share of low-major teams, and it should — the Braves are expected to be one of the bottom-four teams in the MVC.
But Bradley also has a good number of road and neutral games against potential NCAA Tournament teams. In early December, the Braves will travel to Memphis and NR/No. 23 Kansas State. Later in the month, they will face Big West favorite UC Irvine and potentially Horizon League favorite Green Bay at the South Point Holiday Hoops Classic.
The Bulldogs are challenging themselves away from home this season. They face a pair of tough mid-majors, Valparaiso and Murray State, in Nashville at the Challenge in Music City, and in December they play at Green Bay and at No. 12/14 Iowa State. Early-season games at DePaul and Western Michigan won’t be too easy either.
However, the home schedule is loaded with cupcakes against Bowling Green, IUPUI, North Dakota, Jackson State and Simpson.
6. Illinois State
Illinois State could wind up playing a pretty tough schedule. The Redbirds will play in the Paradise Jam, which features three teams from Power 5 conferences: LSU, Seton Hall and Clemson. But none of those matchups are guaranteed.
The only guaranteed opponent that stands out for Illinois State is VCU, which will come to Normal Dec. 2. Games against IPFW and Murray State will also be tough.
7. Missouri State
With only five home games before conference play, Missouri State has a challenging road ahead. There is no single team that stands out, but the Bears will have some very tough matchups. They play at Texas Tech and then open the Great Alaska Shootout against Colorado State. Later in that tournament, they could also see Washington State or UC Santa Barbara.
In the final leg of a three-game road trip in December, the Bears will face Tulsa, which is trying for its second consecutive NCAA Tournament berth.
Evansville faces the OVC’s top two contenders, Murray State and Belmont, in December. In November, the Aces’ marquee matchups will be at the Gulf Coast Showcase. They open against Fresno State and could later play Green Bay and Florida Gulf Coast, both of which are the favorite in their respective conferences.
9. Southern Illinois
Southern Illinois faces a slew of respectable mid-majors, including Kent State, Yale and Murray State. The Salukis are challenging themselves early with their first five games away from home, but they will spend Thanksgiving weekend and most of December in Carbondale.
Loyola opens with a pair of non-Division I opponents and also plays host to Jackson State, Abilene Christian and Southern Utah during non-conference play. But games at No. 18 Michigan State and Kent State keep the schedule from being completely boring and easy. The Ramblers will also face Texas Tech and then either Boise State or Houston in the Continental Las Vegas Classic.