I'm still about a month away from putting out my first bracket of the season, but I figured it'd be a good time to look at some intriguing non-conference profiles from the first half of the season. Most of college basketball is either finished with their non-conference slate or nearly finished.
The Frogs finished their OOC (out-of-conference, for those not familiar with the acronym) schedule unscathed after beating Tennessee Tech last night. Major props to Trent Johnson and his staff, as they've already come close to doubling their win total from 2013-2014. However, their schedule is incredibly weak. Ken Pomeroy's rating has them dead last in his SOS rating (link) and their RPI SOS is also very low at #321 (keep in mind there are 351 D1 teams). Their best win thus far is a road win against Ole Miss. Luckily for TCU, they play in the Big 12, which may be college basketball's top league this season. They will have many chances for quality wins and their SOS will certainly improve as they move through their conference schedule. That being said, if they are on the bubble come March, their very weak OOC schedule may come back to hurt them (similar to what happened last year to another DFW area private school, SMU).
Northern Iowa is nationally relevant again after a few down years. The Panthers finished their OOC schedule with a record of 11-1. Their schedule is pretty average, with only three games against KenPom top 100 teams (but only two games against KenPom sub 200 teams). UNI's best win to date is a neutral site game against in-state foe, Iowa. They had a golden opportunity to get a signature win at VCU but lost a great game in double overtime. The computers like this team (#11 in RPI, #26 in KenPom) but as of now, they lack quality wins. They'll get two shots at Wichita State during MVC play, which could be a great chance at getting another win for their tournament resume (assuming the Shockers continue their stellar play). But the MVC is pretty weak aside from UNI and WSU, so they'll have to avoid bad losses against sub 200 opponents. I could see this team finishing with 27-28 wins (this includes the conference tourney) but end up in the 8/9 game when March arrives due to a lack of "good wins".
Jeff Jones has quickly resurrected the Monarchs' program after a recent rough patch. ODU is 11-1 after finishing their non-conference slate with a blowout win over Mount St. Mary's. The RPI has this team at #13, while the KenPom rating isn't quite as impressed, ranking them at #53. Still, Old Dominion has put together a impressive resume through their first two months of play. It includes wins over VCU (home), LSU (neutral), and Georgia State (home). That's three wins over RPI top 50 teams (but only 1 KenPom top 50 win). Unfortunately, CUSA won't provide many more chances for quality wins as the Monarchs only play two games against KenPom top 100 teams in conference play (UTEP and LaTech). Like Northern Iowa, they'll have to avoid bad losses to sub 200 teams on a regular basis (bottom of CUSA is very weak). They are in good position right now but they may not be able to afford five or six losses in conference play.
UW-Green Bay was an interesting case on Selection Sunday last year, and they could be again in 2015 if they don't win the Horizon League tournament. Last year, their main case to be included in the tourney was a home win against Virginia. Ultimately, they were left out and played in the NIT. This year's team doesn't have that signature win, as they were blown out by Wisconsin in November (a win could have provided the equivalent to the win against UVA last year). They do have a road win at Miami and split a home/home with Georgia State, which isn't terrible. However, if they want to be considered for a possible at-large, they may have to go 15-1 or 16-0 in Horizon League play. Of course, if they win the conference tourney, this won't even be a conversation.
Plenty of other teams I could have gotten to (Penn State, Georgia State, Alabama, Yale) in this post but I'll stop with these four. Again, my first bracket should be up in January (and how about my final bracket last year finishing top 3 in the Bracket Matrix!). I may do a post sometime in early to mid January recapping the first few weeks of conference play throughout the country.