This post is selfish. There’s no getting around that.
Some WAC schools have had their schedules out for what feels like an eternity. For Chicago State, we’re going on three months. Others (New Mexico State, Utah Valley) haven’t yet revealed the goodies, though we do know the Wolverines have that brutal back-to-back in the spotlight to start the year.
But I want to write about schedules because I’m selfish. I live in Kansas City, an underrated place with reliable local beer and (maybe) a chance to puff its chest and land Amazon’s second headquarters. It also has one mid-major program that released its schedule on Tuesday, and I’m excited.
So with that, here are thoughts on the non-conference slates that we know about:
Grand Canyon: A schedule built for the hype
The Lopes first six games are at GCU Arena and very winnable, and they don’t play outside of the state of Arizona until mid-December. Handling Shamorie Ponds and St. John’s (in Phoenix) and Chandler Hutchison and Boise State (on the road) won’t be easy. But it’s not crazy to envision GCU at 12-0 heading into a Dec. 23 game at Louisville. If that not-so-far-fetched dream scenario happens, the Lopes are probably receiving votes in the polls.
It’s not a schedule packed with quality, but it is one that should allow the Lopes to pile up wins in a year of extreme intrigue. Could that build confidence and help them steal a win at Louisville or rebuilding Illinois? GCU fans sure hope so.
CS Bakersfield: Alaska better be kind
The ‘Runners second game of the year at Arizona is the toughest anyone in the league will play, depending on how you view UVU’s foray to Kentucky and Duke. But the opener at Georgia State, which is talented and returning everyone, and third game at Lamar, a veteran team that should challenge for the Southland, aren’t surefire wins either.
So with an 0-3 start looking possible, CSUB’s trip to the Great Alaska Shootout is important. And it presents them with plenty of opportunity. Outside of a very good College of Charleston team, there isn’t anyone in the field that should scare the ‘Runners. If they get fat up north and pick up a solid wins at home against Idaho and Georgia Southern (the rematch), CSUB could carry a respectable record into league play as it works several returning players into expanded roles.
As a bonus: Arkansas hasn’t played at the typical Mike Anderson pace the past two seasons, but the Hogs still play fast. That should mean plenty of Damiyne Durham shots (and points) on Dec. 27 in Fayetteville.
Seattle: Primed for late December momentum
Jim Hayford won’t coach his first home game until Nov. 27, but when the calendar hits that date, the winnable games start rolling in. Amid a brutal trip to Moraga there are a bevy of games at either KeyArena or the Connolly Complex where the Redhawks should be favored.
This doesn’t include Cal, which visits KeyArena on Dec. 19, but (like with Washington on Nov. 24) Hayford will get a crack at a Pac-12 team with a first year coach. The run of winnable contests does, however, include games against retooling Portland and Eastern Washington (a sentimental game in its own right). Entering league play on a 9-2 run seems perfectly plausible for a Redhawks team that is more talented than many may realize.
UMKC: The league’s RPI will thank the Roos
A number of teams (ahem, GCU, UVU, CSUB) have trips to powerhouses that’ll pay marginal dividends throughout the year. UMKC has this too, especially with its opener at Wichita State.
What makes the Roos schedule stand out is that it’s stocked with quality mid-majors. There are games against South Dakota and South Dakota State, which could jockey all year for first and second in the Summit. There’s also Loyola Chicago, which could contend in a post-Shockers Valley. And a trip to the Gulf Coast Showcase includes a game with Manhattan, a likely factor in the MAAC.
Kareem Richardson is replacing LaVell Boyd and four other important seniors. That’s a tall task. The Roos do have a sneaky good backcourt with Broderick Robinson and Isaiah Ross, but it will be tested early against a sneaky good schedule.
UTRGV: In which the Vaqueros play every team in Texas
Texas is a big state, and the Vaqueros will get a look at much of it this year. There are are games against seemingly every program in the state. But in that is plenty of opportunity.
There are games at Rice, a team replacing a coach after a good year, and at North Texas, a team replacing a coach after a bad year. And there’s also a game at Texas State, which lost an all-league talent in Kavin Gilder-Tilbury. None of these are necessarily winnable games, but with Nick Dixon, the Vaqueros will have a chance.
That being said, the schedule is tough. Particularly with the three games mentioned above, as well as trips to SMU, Texas A&M, Georgia Tech, Oklahoma State and a home game against UT-Arlington. UTRGV seems primed to be much better this season, even if it doesn’t show in the non-conference record.
Chicago State: The league’s RPI will be thanking the Cougars too
Top-to-bottom, the Cougars might have the league’s toughest non-conference run. There are four Big Ten teams (none of them Rutgers), plus Marquette and Notre Dame. There are also games against quality mid-majors in Oakland (especially) and Northern Iowa. This shouldn’t scare Fred Sims Jr., who scored 19.6 points per game against Northwestern, Wisconsin and Notre Dame last season.
There are also two opportunities at home against semi-local competition in Northern Illinois and Bradley. The Braves had a nice finish to last season, but much is still unknown heading in to Brian Wardle’s third season. The Huskies are coming off a 15-win season and were dinged heavily by transfers. Both seem like winnable games, and could provide an additional lift for a CSU program that is recruiting well.