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Illinois State’s borderline perfect non-conference schedule can be the boost it needs for an NCAA Tournament bid

Not every team can do this, but if you can, you should.

NCAA Basketball: Puerto Rico Tip-Off-Illinois State vs Tulsa Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

The Illinois State Redbirds see themselves as an NCAA Tournament team in 2018-19 and are preparing accordingly.

The potential preseason Missouri Valley favorites released their complete non-conference schedule on Monday and it is one that is designed to test them early, boost their seeding, and help their numbers enough that perhaps they can withstand a slip-up in conference play.

Here’s a look at the whole thing:

The RPI Games

Nov. 6 vs. Florida Gulf Coast | 2017-18 record: 23-12, NIT | RPI 172

The Eagles welcome a new coach this year and have a ton of roster turnover, but for a season-opener, this will at minimum draw fans and a solid TV audience.

Nov. 10 at Belmont | 2017-18 record: 24-9 | RPI 82

Just four days after playing FGCU, Illinois State goes on the road to a top-100 RPI team that returns perhaps the best player in its conference in Dylan Windler.

Nov. 28 vs. BYU | 2017-18 record: 24-11, NIT | RPI 68

BYU is going to be the second-best team in the WCC and the Cougars will give Illinois State a shot at taking down a name-brand opponent in front of a home crowd.

Dec. 8 vs. Ole Miss | 2017-18 record: 12-20 | RPI 145

The return game from the legendary Twitter home-and-home arrangement made last spring! The Rebels were miserable last year and Illinois State beat them in Oxford. Now, with Kermit Davis at the helm, he’ll be charged with leading a revival in what is a surging basketball conference.

Dec. 21 at UCF | 2017-18 record: 19-13 | RPI 87

UCF should be the favorite in an anticipated down year in the American Athletic Conference behind the returns of B.J. Taylor and Tacko Fall. If you haven’t seen Mr. Fall play basketball, this is all you need to know:

The MTE/Challenges

Nov. 19 vs. Georgia | 2017-18 record: 18-15 | RPI 80

Illinois State will start off the Cayman Islands Classic against the Fightin’ Tom Creans.

NCAA Basketball: Indiana at Minnesota Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Nov. 20 vs. Clemson/Akron

Nov. 21 vs. St. Bonaventure/Boise State/Creighton/Georgia State

Dec. 1 vs. San Diego State | 2017-18 record: 22-11, NCAA Tournament | RPI 64

This could be the best game of the Missouri Valley/Mountain West Challenge. Devin Watson and Matt Mitchell return to make the Aztecs the best team in the MWC not named Nevada.

The Gimmes

Nov. 13 vs. Chicago State | 2017-18 record: 3-29 | RPI 328

Chicago State is going to be one of the worst teams in Division I this year, but the Cougars have to fill a schedule somehow. Given that it’s a relatively local opponent and you need to schedule at least a few games that are early season lay-ups, I have no problem with this.

Nov. 24 vs. Lindenwood | 2017-18 record: 21-12 (Division II)

In a perfect world, Division I schools would never schedule Division II schools. But for programs like Illinois State, who are expected to field an excellent team that other schools don’t want to visit, sometimes it’s a necessity.

Dec. 5 at UIC | 2017-18 record: 20-16, CIT | RPI 208

UIC made a good run in the CIT last year, but loses site favorite Dikembe Dixson. This might not be the highlight of the schedule, but it’s not one to overlook either, especially on the road.

Dec. 16 vs. Cleveland State | 2017-18 record: 12-23 | RPI 282

Sandwiched between the Ole Miss and UCF games, Illinois State is going to need a break. This should be a comfortable win against a team that made a surprising run to the Horizon League title game last year.