It can be easy to overlook non-conference games for teams in one-bid leagues. After all, winning the postseason tournament and punching a ticket to The Big Dance is really the main goal.
But November and December games can be critical in preparing a team for conference play and the all-important conference tournament.
That said, here are the most important non-conference games for all nine Summit League teams.
Western Illinois: at Kansas State, Nov. 11
A trip to Manhattan for a matchup against the Wildcats opens Western Illinois’ regular-season schedule.
Typically, games like this are meant for the bigger school to get a blowout win under their belt early in the year. But K-State struggled last season with a 17-16 record and this game could give Western Illinois some invaluable experience if they’re able to compete with a Big 12 team on the road.
Fort Wayne: home vs. Indiana, Nov. 22
This game gives the Mastodons a chance to score a big upset early in the season. One could argue that the crowd will be pro-Hoosier even though the game is in Fort Wayne. But if the students are out in full force and the Mastodons are on their game, then there could be a court storming in Fort Wayne on this night.
IUPUI: at Michigan, Nov. 13
Like Western Illinois, the Jaguars open their season with a road game against a Power 5 opponent. IUPUI’s trip to Ann Arbor will give it an opportunity to play in a hostile environment against a team that made last year’s NCAA Tournament. Even if the Jags can’t pull out a win, the environment will help them prepare for road games in conference.
Oral Roberts: Mississippi, Nov. 18 (Paradise Jam)
Oral Roberts has multiple Power 5 opponents in its non-conference schedule, including trips to Baylor and Michigan State. But the Paradise Jam opener against Ole Miss might be the Golden Eagles’ best chance for a win against a team from a major conference. A win like that — particularly in an tournament setting — can do wonders for a squad’s confidence.
Denver: at Texas A&M, Dec. 7
When new head coach Rodney Billups was introduced at Denver, he promised entertainment A trip to College Station will be an opportunity to test that in Billups’ first season. The Aggies allowed 66.4 points per game last season. They will provide a test for Denver’s faster offense.
South Dakota State: at Wichita State, Dec. 22
The Jackrabbits and Shockers have both become used to NCAA Tournament appearances in recent seasons. Closing out the non-conference schedule in a hostile road environment should be a nice primer for SDSU as the Jackrabbits prepare for Summit League play.
South Dakota: vs. Bowling Green, Nov. 13
The Coyotes play better teams than Bowling Green in their non-conference slate, but this might be one of the more important games. Hosting Bowling Green will give a young South Dakota squad a chance to grab a win early in the season and maybe build its confidence for the year ahead.
North Dakota State: at Xavier, Nov. 29
Xavier is without a doubt the most challenging game on NDSU’s non-conference schedule. The Musketeers return a core of players that landed a 2 seed in last year’s NCAA Tournament. In a one-bid conference like the Summit League, challenging non-conference games can help build confidence for the all-important league slate. The Bison could learn a lot from this difficult road test and that experience could serve them later in the year.
Omaha: at Iowa State, Dec. 5
Few environments in college basketball match the intensity of Hilton Coliseum in Ames. The Mavericks will have a difficult time — as most teams do — coming away with a win, but this game will give Omaha a taste of hostile road environments that could help them in Summit League action.