Good thing the Blue Raiders return four starters and eight letter winners from their 2016 C-USA championship squad because the 2016-17 non-conference schedule may be Insell’s toughest yet.
Nine of Middle Tennessee’s 11 non-conference opponents participated in either the NCAA or WNIT postseason tournaments last season. Of those, three finished in the Top 25 – Louisville (8), Arizona State (11) and Kentucky (12).
The 2016-17 non-conference schedule includes home dates with Louisville, Arizona State, Georgia Tech, Tulane, Central Michigan, Ohio and Austin Peay, as well as road contests at Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri State and Tennessee Tech.
“This is really no different than any other year,” Insell said. “We always try to play a tough national schedule in the non-conference, and we do that for a number of reasons. We believe it is important to play a schedule that prepares us for conference play. On top of that, with the type of non-conference schedule we play, if we perform well we put ourselves in position for an at-large berth into the NCAA Tournament in the event we don’t win the conference tournament.”
The Blue Raiders have played at least four opponents from Power-5 Conferences each year during Insell’s tenure, with a high of eight in 2008-09. They have played a total of 60 such foes in his first 11 seasons, and will face five in 2016-17, representing the ACC, Pac-12 and SEC.
Insell said with return games and contracts, it just worked out that this season happened to contain several high-powered opponents – home and away.
“Our philosophy is really pretty simple on scheduling,” Insell said. “We will play anybody, from any conference and at their place first, but we will not play anyone non-conference that isn’t willing to return the game to us at Middle Tennessee. I believe our fans deserve to see these types of teams in our facility.”
After opening the season on the road at Virginia, Nov. 11, Middle Tennessee will face Louisville in the home opener, Nov. 16. The Cardinals are projected to be a Top 5 team when the preseason rankings are released this fall.
The Blue Raiders will face in-state rival Tennessee Tech for the 78th time, Nov. 19, making them Middle Tennessee’s most frequent foe.
Middle Tennessee returns home for a two-game homestand with Ohio (Nov. 30) and Tulane (Dec. 3). The game against Ohio will be Middle Tennessee’s annual Murfreesboro City Schools game.
After a game at Kentucky, Dec. 9, Middle Tennessee will close out the non-conference portion of its schedule with four of the last five games at Murphy Center.
The Blue Raiders play host to Arizona State of the Pac-12, Dec. 13, and they will face Austin Peay, Dec. 17. Austin Peay is Middle Tennessee’s second most-frequently played foe with 67 games between the former OVC rivals.
Middle Tennessee’s final non-conference road date will be at Missouri State, Dec. 19. The Blue Raiders close out the non-conference slate at home against Georgia Tech, Dec. 22, and Central Michigan, Dec. 28.