The Dagger - NCAAB

Shut out of the NCAA tournament last season in part because of a lack of marquee victories outside its conference, Wichita State seems to be working harder to make sure next year's schedule packs more punch.

The Shockers have not released a full 2011-12 non-conference schedule yet, but the tidbits that are public appear promising so far.

They host Mountain West contender UNLV on Dec. 4 and perennial WAC favorite Utah State on Dec. 10. They face Alabama-Birmingham on Nov. 25 at Intrust Bank Arena in Wichita. And they will participate in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off tournament headlined by the likes of Alabama, Temple, Purdue and Maryland.

That schedule certainly isn't as challenging as the ones Gonzaga or Xavier have assembled for next season, but it's also far more difficult for a Missouri Valley Conference team to get home-and-homes with BCS-conference foes. Plus, it's certainly a far more sensible set of non-conference games than what Wichita State had a year ago.

When the Shockers lost by a bucket to Connecticut in the Maui Invitational quarterfinals, it put their hopes of an at-large bid in immediate jeopardy. Instead of potential matchups with NCAA tourney-bound Michigan State, Washington or Kentucky the next two days, Wichita State beat Virginia and Chaminade, which did little for its RPI or schedule strength.

The lone remaining marquee non-league opponent on Wichita State's schedule turned out to be San Diego State, which dispatched the Shockers fairly easily. As a result, Wichita State went 24-8 in the regular season, finished 14-4 in the Missouri Valley Conference and never sniffed the NCAA tournament, settling instead for a run to the NIT title.

There's no guarantee the Shockers make the NCAA tournament next season of course, but they're at least setting themselves up to have a better chance. If they can defend their home court against the likes of UNLV and Utah State and notch a win or two of note in Puerto Rico, that could be enough to vault them into at-large contention.

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