Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Scarlet letters for hoops' soft schedulers
By Eamonn Brennan
Scheduling is a fickle beast. Predicting opponents' abilities is difficult. Remaining competitive with conference foes is a priority, but how good are those teams's nonconference opponents going to be? You don't want to schedule a gauntlet, lest your team lose its confidence, dive into a downward tailspin, and lose a huge chunk of its season. You want to pile up some wins. But you don't want to schedule too easy, because that can hurt you come tournament time, too.
Still, there are programs that consistently go creampuff in their nonconference schedules, scheduling a bevy of home guarantee games against tiny mid-major opponents who need the high-major money just to keep the basketballs inflated. They refuse to go on the road. They hide from neutral-court tournaments. They hope they play well enough in the conference season to make a case for a bid, and they hope the NCAA selection committee notices nothing more than the number in the "wins" column on their nitty-gritty sheets.
This is not exactly the most admirable scheduling strategy, which is why it was so enjoyable to read our resident bracketologist Joe Lunardi's thorough list of schools that have consistently scheduled poorly in the nonconference slate. Joe looked at each school's nonconference strength of schedule figure over the past four years, assembling a list of the "worst offenders." Among them? Oregon State, Iowa State, Stanford, Nebraska and a handful of others; the list reads like a "who's who" of recently struggling high-major programs.
Of course, you can understand why these schools schedule this way. They don't want to start their season with a bunch of losses. They don't want to totally torpedo their NCAA tournament hopes in November. They want to rack up enough wins that a surprising run through the conference season might get them in. Or, at the very least, keep fans interested and buying tickets throughout the season.
Still, if the main goal is the NCAA tournament -- and, duh, it is -- then Joe's list is even more instructive. Frankly, padding the schedule doesn't work. The committee sees it for the transparent ploy that it is. Wouldn't these schools be better off giving themselves a chance at a big win while preserving a reasonable SOS in the process? If you lose, you lose. Either way, the NCAA tournament isn't happening.
What can you do to change this behavior? Probably nothing. But thanks to Lunardi, we can now identify these offenders with mathematical certainty. And knowing is half the battle.
The other half is ... ridicule? I'm going to go with ridicule. You're on notice, cupcake-devourers. We know who you are, and we are going to make fun of you. Sorry, but it's for the good of the game. You'll thank us later, promise.