As non-conference schedules continue to trickle out around the nation, the early season Horizon League picture is starting to take shape. Here's a look at some of the early opportunities teams have to make a statement.
The Titans’ non-conference schedule is full of interesting matchups. Detroit will play as a visiting team in the NIT Season Tip-Off and get two early shots at power conference opponents in Illinois and Florida State. But, to reassert themselves in the mid-major ranks, the Titans should look to December dates at Murray State (Dec. 3) and against Fort Wayne (Dec. 22) at home. Both teams have had success recently and wins would give Detroit a confidence boost heading into the Horizon League schedule.
The Panthers’ schedule contains a December matchup at home against Belmont, which will be a chance for the Panthers to compete with one of the top mid-majors in recent years. Milwaukee will also participate in the Sanford Pentagon Showcase earlier in the season which could set the tone for the Panthers. Milwaukee will face tough mid-major opponents in East Tennessee State, UC Irvine, and South Dakota State. For a team dealing with a coaching change and player turnover, early season success against this kind of tough competition could help bond the team.
Oakland Golden Grizzlies
The Golden Grizzlies released their non-conference schedule early on and it contains some exciting games. Oakland will compete in the Great Alaska Shootout, but fans will likely be looking ahead to the final two games of the non-conference slate. Oakland travels to Michigan State on Dec. 21 to play a team it nearly beat last season. While a win in East Lansing will be difficult to come by, the next game for the Golden Grizzlies will be at home against Georgia two days later. Beating an SEC team would give Oakland momentum going into conference play and some national exposure.
There is really nowhere to go but up for the Flames. UIC has a great deal of talent coming in for this season and has a non-conference schedule filled with very winnable games that will allow the young team to learn how to play with one another. UIC can look forward to mid-December showdowns with Chicago rivals DePaul and Loyola in back to back games. A win at DePaul and a win at home against Loyola would go a long way toward UIC ascending the ranks of Chicago’s D-I programs.
Wright State Raiders
The Raiders’ schedule for next season appears to be designed well for a team dealing with a coaching change and some player turnover, similar to the situation Milwaukee faces. None of the games is unwinnable, but Wright State will also have plenty of opportunities to prove itself on the road. The Raiders will get a shot at Penn State and a marquee road win at the beginning of December. Wright State’s final two non-conference games, at Kent State and at Murray State, will provide a peek into how the Raiders could fare during conference play.
Youngstown State Penguins
The Penguins have matchups against both Michigan State and Ohio State on their schedule for next season. It is probably safe to say neither will be wins for Youngstown State. The first two games on Youngstown State’s schedule, though, are games the Penguins need to compete well in. Youngstown State starts off the year playing Akron and then Toledo. Beating either or both would boost the Penguins’ profile in the recruiting territories they share with both of those schools.