If you looked at the standings through November 30th, and nothing else, there are some surprises: Murray State with the worst record in the West Division, Belmont tied for fourth in the East. The West still has a small advantage over the East in overall record, although that has been lessened in the past week.
As I established last week, though, you can’t trust the records alone, especially in November, where non-conference schedules vary wildly.
Here’s the updated chart comparing a team’s winning percentage to their KenPom Strength of Schedule (SOS) rating.
Since last week, the biggest changes are that teams SOS ratings are becoming more normalized, and moving closer to each other. Really from TSU to SEMO, the difference in SOS isn’t statistically significant. (The Tigers schedule is ranked the 169th toughest. SEMO’s is 238th toughest)
In other words — it’s more fair to compare those eight teams by their record alone than, say, comparing them to Eastern Illinois or Belmont.
Team-by-team SOS notes. (Note on the notes — I’m really only looking here at who they’ve beaten and who they’ve lost to. Unlike the college football playoff committee, I’m not using any kind of ‘eye test,’ or comparing how teams have played…that will come later. The goal of this post: show which teams have beaten good teams, and which ones really haven’t)
AUSTIN PEAY | The Governors SOS is bolstered by playing at Dayton, but their record is a bit inflated: half of their four wins are against non-Division I teams. Their loss at Miami (OH) is a bit troubling — the Redhawks are 3-3 without any good wins to their own name, but it’s only one game, which we should never put too much stock in. The next three games are brutal: a home-and-home with Fort Wayne, with Arkansas sandwiched in between. Come mid-December, AP will likely have among the conference’s toughest SOS ratings. The question is…will they be above .500?
BELMONT | The Bruins SOS dropped due in part to their game against Lipscomb, a narrow two-point win in the cross-town rivalry. For now, they still have played the toughest schedule, as all three of their losses are against top-100 competition. As weird as this is going to sound, we still don’t know a lot about Belmont, because they haven’t played OVC contender-like teams; It’s hard to judge the Bruins against competition that is largely much better than what the OVC has to offer. That changes next month: they host Middle Tennessee (108th in KenPom) and travel to Green Bay. (142nd)
Also worth noting: The five toughest OVC schedules so far all belong to East Division teams, one reason why the East has a slightly lower win percentage to the West.
EASTERN ILLINOIS | I’ll continue to caution too much optimism on EIU’s 4-3 start because outside the South Alabama win at home, they haven’t played a single team in the top-200 of KenPom. (And South Alabama barely qualifies at 197th) Following their OT loss at home against Bradley, (ranked 242nd) KenPom has the Panthers as underdogs in their next four games — all on the road: Illinois-Chicago, (237th in KenPom) Northern Kentucky, (253rd) Western Illinois (294th) and Missouri. (145th) If they win a few of these, we can reevaluate the Panthers a bit, but right now it’s hard to get much of a read given their friendly November slate.
But, that being said, it’s not like the OVC is filled with top-200 teams, either. Right now, there are four: Belmont, Tennessee State, Morehead State, and Murray State)
EASTERN KENTUCKY | Georgia State is a good team — maybe not “lose by 23” good, but that’s not a terrible loss, and games can easily get out of hand. Overall, EKU has played a very tough slate, and it stays tough for most of December. If EKU can beat a Marshall or Ball State in December, you can really make an argument that this team could contend in the crowded East Division. If not, they would be 0-3 against teams ranked 100-150 in KenPom, which isn’t the best of signs, given that’s where Belmont and TSU are likely to slot-in.
JACKSONVILLE STATE | JSU has won four straight games, and while none of the wins are majorly impressive, they still have that win against a good Tulsa team on their resume as well. For the first time in…forever, possibly?…we’re going to be talking about the Gamecocks offense this year, even though they don’t put up a lot of points. (Think UT Martin the previous two years — efficient, but sloooowww)
One sidenote here: JSU will finish non-conference play with one of the conference’s best SOS ratings. Why? As I mentioned last week, they don’t play a single home game in December. None. Nadda. Zip. You get the point. That will inflate their SOS over just the raw strength of their opponents.
MOREHEAD STATE | The Eagles have just one win over a Division I opponent: Lipscomb. Their losses are all to teams in the top-150, and all on the road. They were also all by double-digits, though. So, Morehead State hasn’t made the most of early-season opportunities, but there’s not enough evidence, either, to necessarily think the Eagles are going to take a step back in the conference. NKU, Lipscomb, and Eastern Washington are up over their next four games, and those are okay benchmark games; Morehead State should win them all. If they lose two of those, that would raise some eyebrows.
MURRAY STATE | The loss to SIU isn’t terrible, especially given that the Racers forced the Salukis to OT, and it was in Carbondale. Their SOS rating is interesting for one reason: they haven’t played a weak slate, but they haven’t played that top-50 or top-25 opponent that the teams above them have. Take out their game against Alabama A&M, and every other Racers opponent is ranked in the top-205. They just don’t have a Florida or Kentucky or similar opponent on the schedule that provides big SOS boosts. (Ole Miss, who Murray plays next month, is ranked below Illinois State, who the Racers beat in their season opener) In other words — the Racers schedule is tougher, in my view at least, than the raw SOS ranking shows.
SIUE | Unlike the similar 4-2 Governors, the Cougars four wins have all come against Division I competition, and three of those wins were against teams ranked in the top-200 of KenPom. Cougars fans should be quite encouraged by their start. Interestingly, they remain in the 300s themselves in KenPom rankings, but are 75th in the NCAA’s RPI (which only looks at wins and losses) behind only Tennessee State and, weirdly since I just mentioned them, Austin Peay.
SOUTHEAST MISSOURI | The Redhawks schedule has actually been tougher than originally anticipated: UMKC is a relatively strong team, and Bradley is in the mid-200s. Of course, those were both SEMO losses; their best win was against Western Illinois. (294th in Ken Pom) Coming off a five-win season, no one’s going to complain about any win. The game I think will give us the best picture of where the Redhawks stand: when they host Northern Kentucky on December 10th. Much of the rest of December is quite brutal, with Indiana, Depaul, and a home-and-home with Missouri State. Any win in those four games would be good wins.
TENNESSEE STATE | The Tigers were never in the game with Vanderbilt, and that’s disappointing, but the Tigers can still hang their hats on their win at Middle Tennessee, which will flirt with the top-100 most of the year. Simply, TSU has beaten enough good opponents to show that, likely, the Tigers will be contending for an OVC title.
TENNESSEE TECH | Despite the conference’s worst record, TTU is much less an outlier than they were a week ago. The Golden Eagles have Lipscomb and Alabama A&M on the schedule this week: both very winnable games, but both on the road. If they get two wins, suddenly they’re 4-5, and things look a bit rosier. If they lose both, they’re 2-7, and things are the opposite of rosy.
UT MARTIN | For one game, at least, UTM fixed their turnover problems against Florida Atlantic. I know, that’s not really an SOS-related comment, but I wanted to make it anyway. The Duquesne and Canisius wins aren’t resume building, but they’re quality wins far away from home. I think given the departures many expected the Skyhawks to return to the middle of the West this season. Their non-conference play is showing, though, they have no intention of doing that.