Tuesday, October 16, 2007

In Medio Stat Virtu Est

Not sure this blog was going to get to 100 entries, but it has. Thanks to one and all for reading and keeping things interesting.

Now, on to business.

I've posted before about our non-conference SOS. A friend whose hoops acumen I've come to respect greatly and who is on the other side of the argument from me, brought to my attention an article by Mike DeCourcy on teams that, in his opinion, over-schedule.

I read it. And in what may seem on the surface to be a contradiction, I agree with everything it says. Tom Izzo's an outstanding college coach, but what he tried to do a couple seasons ago was insane. Experienced team or not, you don't put together a murderer's row like Duke, Kansas, UCLA, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Syracuse, and then go play an Integer schedule on top of it. The only thing your team will prove is dead men can indeed tell tales.

But lest you think I'm going to suddenly bless our non-conference slate, hold on thar, Baba Looey. No one is asking for Notre Dame to schedule itself out of the tournament. Rather, I want them to schedule like they think they belong there. There's an awful lot of space between Izzo's overestimation of his team's prowess and what Notre Dame is trying to do this year, and as the actors say, the Fighting Irish should be using that space.

Compared to the Standards

DeCourcy cites two schedules in his article, one he believes to be too aggressive (Arizona's) and one he believes to be in proper balance (Louisville). Let's take a look at the RPI numbers for that schedule for the last three years, both a straight-up average and a weighted average (three times last year, two times previous year, one time year before that, total averaged) to balance out one-year fluctuations, and see where they end up.

Northern Arizona (149/117/294) -- 187 straight-up / 163 weighted
Virginia (55/79/80) -- 71 / 67
Mizzou-KC (257/264/171) -- 231 / 245
Adams State (336/336/336) -- 336 / 336
@ Kansas (11/20/1) -- 11 / 12
Cal State Fullerton (148/234/113) -- 165 / 171
Texas A&M (17/44/71) -- 44 / 35
@ Illinois (Chicago) (29/14/2) -- 15 / 20
Fresno State (87/124/153) -- 121 / 110
@ UNLV (10/92/92) -- 65 / 51
San Diego State (66/56/186) -- 103 / 83
@ Memphis (8/4/109) -- 40 / 24
@ Houston (83/54/83) -- 73 / 73

Last-year RPI: 97
3-year weighted: 107
3-year straight-up: 112

An average RPI in the top 100 is a pretty strong slate. Factor in that four of the 13 games are true road games and a fifth is a neutral-site game in their opponent's alumni stronghold, and I see DeCourcy's point here. This slate won't give the Wildcats much of a breather, and with strong programs in the Pac10 this year, it may be a tough year in Tucson.

Hartford (226/270/300) -- 265 straight-up / 253 weighted
Jackson State (168/247/263) -- 226 / 210
@ UNLV (10/92/92) -- 65 / 51
vs. BYU (18/67/216) -- 100 / 67
vs. UNC (2/12/6) -- 7 / 6
Miami(OH) (92/84/39) -- 72 / 81
Dayton (75/183/126) -- 128 / 120
@ Purdue (Indy) (42/175/179) -- 132 / 109
Marshall (165/231/235) -- 210 / 199
New Mexico St. (69/97/292) -- 153 / 116
Morehead St. (295/321/290) -- 302 / 303
Iona (326/64/195) -- 195 / 217
@ Kentucky (13/41/11) -- 22 / 22

Last-year RPI: 115
3-year weighted: 135
3-year straight-up: 144

Numerically not as arduous, although still meaty. Two true road games, and Purdue at Indianapolis. This team certainly will be challenged, although not as much as Arizona will.

Now let's compare to the Irish. Note I have Baylor as the second-round opponent in the VI, since the other option, Wichita State, lost their high-profile coach this off-season:

LIU (310/274/236) -- 273 straight-up / 286 weighted
vs. Monmouth (259/144/193) -- 199 / 210
vs. Baylor (121/167/258) -- 182 / 159
vs. Georgia Tech (52/160/27) -- 80 / 84
Youngstown State (173/304/321) -- 266 / 241
Colgate (261/286/238) -- 262 / 266
Eastern Michigan (235/306/266) -- 269 / 264
vs. Kansas St. (NYC) (56/110/97) -- 88 / 81
Northern Illinois (301/127/184) -- 204 / 224
San Francisco (162/185/86) -- 144 / 157
Brown (230/273/229) -- 244 / 244
North Florida (333/332/336) -- 334 / 333

Last-year RPI: 208
3-year weighted: 212
3-year straight-up: 212

Not only is the average way below the center line, there are no true road games and three opponents didn't break the 300 mark last season. The highest-ranked opponent lost the coach that helped get them their lofty ranking last season. Tough as the Big East is, this isn't going to impress anyone in March. Over-challenging a squad may not be a good idea, but neither is under-challenging them.

Compared to the Conference

Although technically ND will compete with the nation for an NCAA bid, their prime competition will come from their conference mates in the Big East. Let's see how the last-year average RPI for the non-conference schedule stacks up with what those opponents are doing, including their home/road/neutral splits. For the purposes of preseason tournaments, I'm assuming the best possible opponent in each round, just as I did for ND above, with the noted Baylor exception.

Turns out well-adjusted Louisville is the best in the Big East bunch:

115 avg RPI last year -- Louisville (8 home, 3 road, 2 neutral)
117 -- Syracuse (10, 1, 2)
139 -- DePaul (6, 3, 3)
141 -- St. John's (7, 3, 2)
148 -- Georgetown (7, 4, 0)
148 -- Providence (7, 2, 3)
149 -- Connecticut (8, 2, 3)
153 -- Villanova (8, 2, 1)
161 -- Cincinnati (8, 4, 0)
166 -- Pittsburgh (9, 3, 1)
191 -- West Virginia (10, 3, 0)
200 -- Marquette (8, 2, 2)
200 -- South Florida (6, 4, 3)
203 -- Rutgers (9, 4, 0)
206 -- Seton Hall (8, 3, 2)
208 -- Notre Dame (8, 0, 3)

That's right, ladies and germs. Not only do we have the lowest average out-of-conference RPI in the entire Big East this season, we're also the only Big East team that will not play a true road game out of conference. At all. You can be guar-on-freaking-teed that's going to come up as the season winds down and the discussion of the NCAA tournament comes up. And God help them if they stumble somewhere in that non-conference slate, because if they don't go into that WVU game at 11-0, there's going to be trouble. ND will have to pray some of these opponents finish better than advertised, because as of right now, the stink pervades.

ND has an outstanding team, and there's no doubt in my mind they'll get that NCAA bid. But they'll also get seeded one (if not two) levels lower than they'd otherwise deserve, and/or get an unfavorable location and draw. Just like they did last year, when they were Big East semifinalists and 11-game winners in conference, but got stuck out in Washington as a #6 seed playing the best #11. It adds up to a tougher road to the Sweet 16 and beyond than they'd otherwise get, and in an event like the NCAA's where sometimes draw can make all the difference (see: Davis, Mike), they're setting themselves up for failure.

Nuts and bolts? No way. We'll have no one to blame but ourselves. At Notre Dame, it's not enough to just make the tournament.

What's even more disappointing is even the younger teams in the conference seem to be finding ways to challenge themselves. Only one of UConn's true road games is before the conference season starts, but they'll be going to Bloomington during Big East play. One of SJU's road games is Hawaii in the Rainbow Tourney, but they're also going to Duke. One of Marquette's road games is Chaminade in Maui. They only play one other true road game, but it's at #4 Wisconsin.

And the usual poster child for bad scheduling, Syracuse, may only be playing one road game, but it's at #55 Virginia. And with the second-highest-ranked average RPI in the conference, it's not like their home contests are against patsies. I guess they learned their lesson last year when they were left out of the tournament with 10 Big East wins and a victory at the EWSNBN.

I'm praying it's not a lesson we'll have to learn.

Tomorrow: How I'd fix it

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Anonymous Scranton Dave said...

I couldnt agree more and I am embarrased. Didnt they learn anything from lasy year? This team is very good and Id like to see 1 tough home game and 1 tough road game in the non conf.

10/16/2007 03:28:00 PM  
Blogger Dan said...


Great post- the minute the non-conference slate was posted, I was fearful our draw would resemble last year. Ever since Brey lost in the sweet 16, it seems like the schedule has teetered towards the 200+ oblivion, and it looks like it has happened.

The depressing thing is this team is ready and waiting for elite-level competition. I was priveleged enough to be on the court and at the bball tailgate this fall and the chemistry on this team is unlike I've seen in the last 5 years. Great things are in store for their team, and it would be a shame for their draw to dictate how far the ride goes.

Thanks for the great research and analysis. Notre Dame needs to start scheduling like its proud basketball tradition demands.


10/16/2007 06:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a very good post. Notre Dame's schedule hurts the Big East as well. The way the RPI works, beating teams at home that have low RPIs means . . . you have a low RPI . . . which means . . . beating you means nothing. Notre Dame not only has to hope a team like Kansas State does well this season, they have to hope they are able to win a few road games in the Big East.

The Irish have a good team, and they didn't need to do this. This leaves them little margin for error against the NCAA caliber teams they will play in the Big East, and watch out if they get upset in conference.

This story will hit the national press assuming ND has the team we all think it does - meaning it has a great record, and they will be the joke of January because every commentator will make light of how they got there.

ND has played big games OOC in the past. Not sure what is going on here.

10/16/2007 09:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Ted said...

The schedule is set, so all the Irish can do is take care of business in both non-conference and the Big East games. If they do that, it may not turn out as you project.

I live in Wichita, and while it doesn't win games, this city is crazy about the new Coach, Greg Marshall. I am not certain I would call Mark Turgeon a high profile coach. The Shockers collapsed last year, and many believe he will have his hands full at Texas A & M facing the likes of Texas, KU, KSU, Texas Tech,and Oklahoma.

Go Irish!

10/17/2007 09:43:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree. Our nonconference schedule is ridiculous. What would Digger think? UCLA and Indiana should be on the schedule every year.

10/17/2007 05:58:00 PM  

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