Don’t be alarmed by the lack of quality non-conference games that have been announced this spring. Most coaches just aren’t willing to play in other teams’ buildings anymore.
Using KenPom’s tier system, I recorded each power six team’s (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Big East, Pac-12, SEC) non-conference schedule from the past five seasons. In the simplest terms possible, according to KenPom’s system, a “Tier A” game is roughly a top 50 opponent, a “Tier B” game is roughly a top 100 opponent, and a “Non-tiered” game is a non-top 100 opponent. To understand how willing and dedicated certain head coaches are to scheduling true road games against quality opponents, I then used KenPom’s tiers to mark each team’s true road games as a “Tier A” game, a “Tier B” game or a “Non-tiered” game dating back to 2013. Finally, I converted the totals to a percentage of the entire non-conference schedule.
Of the 76 power conference teams, the average percentage of true road games against “Tier A” teams is 7.7%, 3.0% against “Tier B” teams and 3.1% against “Non-tiered” teams. This amounted to a total of 13.8%, which is the average percentage of true road non-conference games scheduled by power conference teams. Over 85% of power conference teams’ non-conferences games have been played in their own backyard or on a neutral site since 2013. The frequency of true road games against “Tier A” teams is over twice as much as “Tier B” or “Non-tiered” teams, showing that most power conference coaches do not want to risk a dent in their tournament resume by falling to lesser teams on the road.
But that’s just the average. Other coaches are reluctant to schedule any true road games. Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and Notre Dame’s Mike Brey have combined to play three true non-conference road games since 2013. Duke and Notre Dame have played 129 non-conference games in that span, so just 2.3% of their non-conference schedules have been allotted to true road games. Krzyzewski and Brey didn’t make an effort to schedule these three road games, either. Duke’s only true road game from the past five seasons was against Wisconsin in the 2015 Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Both of Notre Dame’s true road games were also a part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge – at Iowa in 2014 and at Illinois in 2016.
There are coaches that aren’t afraid of hostile non-conference environments, though. Villanova’s Jay Wright is the most notable of the list below, scheduling 14 true road games in November/December in the past five seasons – six of the 14 were against “Tier A” opponents. Wake Forest and Rutgers – both of which have changed coaches since 2012 – lead all power conference teams with over 22% of their non-conference games being played on the road.
I’d be remiss to avoid mentioning Texas Southern’s Mike Davis and Long Beach State’s Dan Monson. Mid and low-major conferences typically schedule more road opponents than power conference teams, but Davis and Monson have constructed some historic non-conference schedules in the past half-decade.
Texas Southern has dedicated 82.5% of its non-conference schedules to road games and the two teams have combined to play 57 “Tier A” opponents on the road since 2013. The Texas Southern Tigers had all 13 of its non-conference games away from home this past season, not playing its first home game until January 14. Davis and Monson have coached against Arizona, Louisville, Cincinnati, Baylor, Syracuse, Gonzaga, Michigan State, San Diego State, Wichita State, North Carolina, Kansas, Virginia, Oregon, Duke, Texas and Ohio State over the past five seasons. Don’t tell those two about staying at home in the winter.