This is the 3rd part of our preseason preview series. In our first part, we took a stab at predicting the starting lineup and rotation, and our 2nd piece tackled the question where does Liberty stand in the new look Big South.
The Flames released their non-conference schedule recently, and today we will be taking a look at what Liberty’s expectations should be during the non-conference portion of the schedule.
Liberty has not defeated a non-conference Division I team since December 1, 2014. It hasn’t won a non-conference Division I road game since December 31, 2012. The Flames haven’t had a winning record against non-conference Division I teams since the 2008-09 season, McKay’s final season before leaving for UVa. Since that season, Liberty’s record against non-conference Division I teams is 14-59 including last season’s 0-11 mark.
This year, Liberty will face two teams who reached the 2016 NCAA Tournament in VCU and Indiana, and will face 5 teams ranked in the top 100 of the final 2016 KenPom rankings. The average final 2016 KenPom ranking for all of the Flames’ non-conference opponents is 161. Last season, Liberty faced just 2 teams ranked in the KenPom top 100 and the average KenPom ranking for all non-conference opponents was 182. So, Coach McKay has definitely beefed up the schedule in his 2nd season.
OOC record vs DI teams
The home schedule includes 5 games against Division I opponents, the most since the 2011-12 season. Those visiting the Vines Center are VCU, Princeton, Furman, UMass Lowell, Mississippi and Valley State.
Final 2016 KenPom Rankings in parenthesis
11/11 vs Cairn (non-DI)
11/15 vs VCU (30)
11/19 @ Indiana (15)
11/21 vs UMass Lowell (308)
11/23 vs Mississippi Valley State (340)
11/26 @ William & Mary (89)
11/29 vs Central Penn (non-DI)
12/03 @ UNC Greensboro (207)
12/06 vs Furman (174)
12/10 vs Princeton (65)
12/16 vs Clarks Summit (non-DI)
12/19 @ Lamar (320)
12/21 @ Houston (64)
McKay’s squad will take care of business against the 3 non-DI opponents. UMass Lowell and Mississippi Valley State were two of the worst teams in the country last season, and they both pay a visit to the Vines Center. While it’s difficult to mark any non-conference Division I game as a win, those are as close to should-be wins as you can find. UNC Greensboro and Lamar are teams the Flames can beat, but to do so on the road will be a bit of a challenge. Furman advanced to the NIT last season behind Southern Conference Player of the Year Stephen Croone. Croone is no longer at Furman, but Paladin head coach Niko Medved has developed a solid program. Indiana and VCU are NCAA Tournament teams, a win would be a huge upset. Houston and William & Mary are teams that have the potential to make the NCAA Tournament. Playing them on the road make them incredibly difficult. Having Princeton at home gives Liberty a chance, but they will be an underdog entering the game.
Winning 6 or 7 of these 13 games is certainly feasible and would be a nice achievement as the Flames turn their attention to conference play.
MISS. VALLEY ST.
WILLIAM & MARY