Days ago Conference-USA finally announced its conference slate for the 2014-2015 men's basketball season. The conference decided to add two additional games to conference-play bumping the schedule up to 18 conference games and 30 games total. Savvy basketball fans know that the way a schedule is structured can affect whether or not a team can build a winning or losing streak at any point in the season.
A few years into the Tim Floyd era, we can identify a few scheduling tendencies of his: he loves to get his team into tournaments against good teams (Battle 4 Atlantis, Wooden Legacy), he's used his connections on the west coast to gather home and aways with Pac 12 opponents (Oregon, Washington State, Arizona), and he likes to schedule exhibition games right before the start of conference play (Sul Ross State on December 30th). Before we think about where a possible streak might come, here is the list of 2014-2015 opponents with their records and conference finish from last year:
|Opponent||2013/2014 record||Conference Finish||Postseason?|
|Washington State||10-21||11th in Pac 12|
|New Mexico State x2||26-10||2nd in WAC||NCAA (round of 64)|
|Princeton||21-9||3rd in Ivy League||CBI Quarterfinals|
|Xavier *||21-13||4th in Big East||NCAA (first four)|
|San Diego *||18-17||6th in West Coast|
|Long Beach State *||15-17||3rd in Big West|
|Western Michigan *||23-10||1st in MAC||NCAA (round of 64)|
|Washington *||17-15||9th in Pac 12|
|San Jose State *||7-24||11th in Mountain West|
|Colorado State||16-16||9th in Mountain West|
|Incarnate Word||21-6||5th in Southland|
|Southeastern Louisiana||12-18||10th in Southland|
|Arizona||33-5||1st in Pac 12||NCAA (elite 8)|
|Alcorn State||12-19||6th in SWAC|
|Kent State *||16-16||9th in MAC|
|North Dakota State *||26-7||1st in Summit||NCAA (round of 64)|
|North Texas x2||16-16||11th in C-USA|
|Rice x2||7-23||16th in C-USA|
|Louisiana Tech x2||29-8||Tied for 1st in C-USA||NIT (quarterfinal)|
|Southern Miss x2||29-7||Tied for 1st in C-USA||NIT (quarterfinal)|
|UTSA x2||8-22||14th in C-USA|
|Western Kentucky||20-12||2nd in Sun Belt|
|Marshall||11-22||14th in C-USA|
|UAB||18-13||8th in C-USA|
|Middle Tennessee||24-9||Tied for 1st in C-USA|
|Florida Atlantic||10-22||12th in C-USA|
|FIU||15-16||8th in C-USA|
|Charlotte||17-14||8th in C-USA|
|Old Dominion||18-18||6th in C-USA|
*asterisk denotes potential opponent whose record is not factored in the total at the bottom of the table.
Depending on how the Wooden Legacy and Sun Bowl Invitational brackets turn out, the Miners could face anywhere from 8 to 10 opponents who played postseason basketball last year. The work Coach Floyd and his staff have done in building a respectable non-conference schedule is to their credit. But in order for the Miners to maximize their RPI ranking and improve their at-large NCAA chances, they will need those postseason teams from a year ago and other previously postseason bound teams like Long Beach State, Washington, and Kent State to return to their reputable forms.
The Non-Conference Outlook
The Miners hit the ground running this season with a Pac-12 opponent and then the ever hotly contested Battle of I-10 at home within a 5-day span. Expect Floyd to lean heavily on his veterans in these games and then slowly but surely include more play from his talented freshmen class. The Wooden Legacy soon after those tough opening games provides a wide-open field without the clear cut favorites that were present in the form of Kansas, Iowa, and Villanova in last year's Battle 4 Atlantis. A Miner tourney title in L.A. would do wonders not only for the confidence of this squad moving forward in the season, but also for the program's chances of continuing to pull recruits from the So Cal region to El Paso.
The Miners make tough visits to scrappy Colorado State and [insert your preferred Aggie adjective here] New Mexico State immediately after the Wooden Legacy for their first true road games of the season. It's safe to say that 7 games into the 2014-2015 season, the Miners will have played no easy opponents. They will have played difficult games at home, on a neutral court, and on the road. In other words, they will be battle-tested not even a third into the year and either have loads of confidence or questions to answer as they get ready for conference play.
The easiest set of back to back games come after the NMSU road trip and before the should-be sellout against Arizona. SIDENOTE: The Arizona game should be one of the great home games of all time. Not since Memphis was in the league have we seen that caliber of an opponent on the homeslate and Zona's status as a monster program in the Southwest should elevate it even further.The Haskins Tournament will promise a difficult opponent in the title game. Personally, I think it would be more fun if Earvin Morris got to play some of his former teammates from Kent State.
The Conference Slate
The added conference games for C-USA are beneficial for the top teams that now get to play each other more than once and will therefore boost each other's RPI's. The Miners will play Louisiana Tech and Southern Miss twice, and that's good for the respective teams as well as the conference as a whole. The Miners will benefit from playing UAB, Middle Tennessee and Old Dominion at home as well. Aside from La Tech and So Miss, the Miners' toughest road conference game figures to be Western Kentucky, barring a spectacular turnaround at Marshall or one of the Florida schools.
Overall, the schedule is just right for the Miners. It provides tough but winnable matchups at the onset to build confidence. It has a marquee game against one of the nation's elite teams that should turn heads if the Miners play well. The conference slate begins with two winnable road games before hosting the two conference title contenders. We'll get into specific predictions from the Miner Rush authors as the season draws nearer, but when looking at the upward trajectory of this team and this schedule, it is easy to envision big things this coming year.