Noncon games won't help Rams, Rebs

October, 11, 2012
10/11/12
11:44
AM ET
Tim Miles knows he isn't some sort of scheduling savant.

He got lucky last season. And he's not trying to camouflage how he scheduled Colorado State's nonconference games last season as the Rams' coach.

"We were fortunate," said Miles, who is now at Nebraska. "What we did was look at our league and try to figure out how many top-100 games we would get in our league. We thought we'd have them in New Mexico, UNLV and San Diego State [twice each]. We were worried about losing BYU [to the WCC], so we thought we needed one more."

The Rams scheduled a one-way guaranteed game at Duke. CSU lost by 23.

"We did it for the exposure, to play a Top 25 team and a good RPI game," said Miles.

The Rams received an NCAA bid last season because CSU won key Mountain West Conference games at home against UNLV, New Mexico and San Diego State, not because of its nonconference schedule.

As we've examined nonconference schedules in a number of high-profile leagues this week on ESPN.com, it's clear that there are exceptions to the rule. CSU was one last season.

The Rams lost to Southern Mississippi and at Stanford; the former was an NCAA team and the latter was the eventual NIT champion but not a candidate for a bubble spot in early March.

Miles said he jokingly called his athletic director State Farm because he liked being such a good neighbor by playing Denver, Colorado and Northern Colorado. The Rams won all three games last season, two of which were in Fort Collins -- including the win against the eventual Pac-12 tournament champ Buffaloes.

But don't think for a second that Miles has somehow figured out the system. He hasn't. He admits he just didn't want to play teams that would hurt him. And he didn't, as the four nonconference regular-season losses (Duke, Southern Miss, Stanford and Northern Iowa) were all "good." The problem is that, outside of beating Colorado, which at the time didn't appear to be a high-profile win, there wasn't a victory to scream about when MWC play began.

Miles left his successor, Larry Eustachy, a potential MWC top-three team and a squad that could return to the NCAAs, especially with the addition of Minnesota transfer center Colton Iverson. He said he left the Rams with games against Denver, CU and Northern Colorado, a series with UTEP and the Las Vegas tournament that doesn't have an NCAA-bound team (Portland, Virginia Tech and Bradley).

Eustachy added games at Washington, at UIC and a home game against St. Bonaventure. Eustachy also added two non-Division I games against Chadron State and Adams State.

If the Rams do get into the NCAA tournament, it will be on the strength of the MWC top-100 teams. And this season, there could be four bids, in addition to CSU, with UNLV, San Diego State, New Mexico and Nevada all viable candidates.

The scheduling dilemma for teams on the bubble is legitimate.

Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy defended his perceived mediocre schedule on a number of fronts.

He said the Rebels had to wait to see how the SEC would divvy up the new 18-game format with the addition of Missouri and Texas A&M. The Rebels got Missouri and Tennessee twice and Kentucky (home) and Florida (road) only once. Those schools should be the top four teams in the SEC this season.

Kennedy said he didn't know who the Rebels would get in the Big East/SEC Challenge. Ole Miss will play a home game against Rutgers. But there was likely no chance it was going to get a marquee Big East team in this made-for-TV event.

Ole Miss is in the Diamond Head Classic, but the Rebels better play San Diego State in the semifinals and would benefit from playing Arizona or at least Miami to get two quality games out of the event. Ole Miss can't afford to leave Honolulu without playing (and beating) one of those teams.

Kennedy said few BCS-level teams would play at Loyola Marymount on the way to Hawaii or at Middle Tennessee State. He's right. Those are games where the team will be rewarded if they win and hurt if they lose. The rest of the schedule won't move the meter for the Rebels.

The Ole Miss coach wanted to upgrade the slate, but Kennedy had no control over the Big East/SEC Challenge or the opponents in Diamond Head. He could have added one or two quality nonconference games, but who would sign up for a home-and-home series with Ole Miss?

The Rebels nearest high-profile Division I school -- Memphis -- wants no part of them. Kennedy has used his relationship with Bob Huggins to get West Virginia to Oxford, but that series has ended.

So Ole Miss, much like CSU last season and again this season, will have to earn a bid by playing well in conference, despite the selection committee's plea to schedule up in the nonconference.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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