April 5, 2011

College Basketball Scheduling: Kinda like a Big Deal

Penn State fans should know firsthand how important scheduling is in college basketball. For a program like this one, which usually needs all the help it can get to make the NCAA Tournament, your schedule can make the difference between the NCAAs and the NIT. The NCAA tournament committee dwells on many criteria when selecting the brackets, but two of the more important figures are the Ratings Percentage Index and Strength Of Schedule. They're calculated as follows:
  • SOS = (2/3 * Opponents' Winning %) + (1/3 * Opponents' Opponents' Winning %)
  • RPI = (1/4 * Winning %) + (1/2 * OW%) + (1/4 * OOW%)
    • Each team's winning % is weighted to where you won. Road wins/home losses are worth 1.4, road losses/home wins are worth 0.6, and neutral site wins/losses are worth 1.0. 
One big reason why the 2010-2011 Lions were in the tournament was the fact they had played the 5th toughest schedule in the land, according to the SOS calculation. This number drew criticism from the dreadful CBS announcing duo of Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg during the Big Ten tournament. Their claim: "How did PSU play a schedule that tough when they didn't even play one RPI top50 opponent in their non-conference schedule?" Nantz and Kellogg then proceeded to criticize the system and basically called PSU's SOS a fluke. While they might have a point, it doesn't matter because the numbers are calculated and used by the NCAA as criteria for making the tournament.

It's pretty clear when you look at the formulas that the biggest influence to these ratings is your opponent's winning %. So how do you boost your opponents' winning %, while not sacrificing victories for your own team? You play the mid-majors that are suppose to be at the top of their own leagues. Fairfield (24-7), Central Connecticut St (19-12), and Furman (20-10) were huge boosts to PSU's SOS resume, even though Penn State beat all 3 by 15+.

The obvious challenge to all of this is trying to predict which teams are going to challenge for their league's title and getting them on the schedule. Not an easy task, whatsoever, as I found out. I gave myself a 50 team range when trying to predict RPI's for PSU's 11 non-conference opponents. I only got 3 of them right:

Lehigh230-280205Q1 (1-80)41
St. Joe's150-200164Q2 (81-160)26
Fairfield50-10097Q3 (161-240)24
CCSU240-290146Q4 (240+)30
Ole Miss30-8083
Mt St Marys250-300230
Va Tech5-55 62

My simple predictions were based off of returning players/minutes and their media's preseason poll. Most teams were at least semi-close to my predicted ranges, except for Furman and Central Connecticut State. Kudos to those teams on their fine seasons, which tremendously helped PSU. The biggest success of this year's non-conference schedule was they avoided the worst 100 teams in college basketball (Q4). Overall, their non-conference SOS was ranked 58th, considerably higher than 08-09's 307th rank. That combined with a Big Ten slate that one-played the two worst teams in the conference and PSU's SOS was boosted to 5th.

Next season, I don't think anybody is thinking the NCAAs are a possibility for the Nittany Lions. With such a young team, most people might expect a super easy non-conference schedule will be in order for Ed DeChellis' team. That might be great and all, but I don't think its wise for anyone to ever schedule yourselves out of the NCAAs, despite what your season expectations are. If your team overachieves, maximize your chances for the Big Dance.

This might not be a problem for Penn State, since it seems like the 2011-2012 non-con will have some RPI-juice. It was announced that they will be playing in the 2011 Hall of Fame Tipoff. The exempt event follows the same format as the Philly Classic did, with PSU playing 2 home games against Radford and Long Island before participating in a 4-team bracket with Kentucky, South Florida, and Old Dominion. When I first saw this announcement, I thought it was going to be the Philly Classic all over again. But with the Lions drawing Kentucky in their first game of the weekend, I think this will be much more beneficial from an RPI standpoint than the Philly Classic was 2 years ago.

The Hall of Fame Tipoff will allow Penn State to schedule 13 non-conference games, in addition to the 18 game Big Ten slate. Nebraska's addition will not affect the total number of conference games, but will increase one-plays from just two to four. Iowa and Indiana will rotate back on the schedule twice, but we will have to wait and see who PSU will play just once in the Big Ten next season. I'm expecting the BT/ACC challenge will grow to 12 games with Nebraska, but that would mean there is a chance the challenge could end in a 6-6 tie. I'm not sure if having a conference winner in this thing is a priority for ESPN to market the event. I highly doubt it, but I never know with them.

Ole Miss will be coming to State College next season on the back end of a home-and-home series that was signed last year. It was also reported that DeChellis said the Lions will be playing Duquesne at the Consol Center in Pittsburgh next year (which would count as a home game for Duquesne). As far as I know, those are the 7 games that are confirmed for next season. Many reports have PSU playing @ St. Joseph's next season, but I've seen no documented evidence that claimed this year's game was the start of a home-and-home series. This is how PSU's schedule is looking so far:
  • Nov. 14 - Radford - RPI: 333 (5-24). Lose 1 starter.
  • Nov. 16 - Long Island - RPI: 75 (27-6). NCAA qualifier. Lose 2 starters.
  • Nov. 19 - vs. Kentucky - RPI: 7 (29-9). NCAA Final Four. Who knows what they lose yet.
  • Nov. 20 - vs. South Florida/Old Dominion - RPIs: 155/20 (10-23/27-7). SF: loses 1 of 9 contributors. OD: loses 4 of 9 contributors, 3 starters
  • TBA - Mississippi - RPI: 83 (20-14). NIT qualifier. Lose 2 starters
  • TBA - @ Duquesne - RPI: 108 (19-13). Lose 2 starters
  • TBA - Big Ten-ACC Challenge - Could be home or away.
  • TBA - Iowa (Home and Away)
  • TBA - Indiana (Home and Away)

  • RUMORED: @ St. Joseph's 
With what we know now, there are another 6 games remaining. It is most likely all of these will be what are considered 'guarantee games' (home dates for PSU against low-majors). DeChellis and his staff (primarily the DOBO, who does most of the work in regards to scheduling) have usually filled these games with whomever, seemingly never considering the impact to the numbers. They have scheduled some serious dogs over the years and it has shown in their RPI. Until this year, Ed DeChellis had never put together a top 50 SOS slate.

The remaining 6 games will determine whether this schedule will be good or bad from an RPI standpoint. If teams like Bucknell, Iona, and Belmont show up on the schedule over the summer, Penn State will be looking at another top 25 SOS if things fall into place. If the usual dregs of NJIT, UMBC, and Army appear, it will be back to more criticism for DeChellis and his soft schedules. This is always something that will be tracked over the summer, as games leak and rumblings on Basketball Travelers surface. I personally believe the 2008-2009 'snub' has led to a permanent change in DeChellis' scheduling philosophy, which would be a good thing. Hopefully he doesn't disappoint again when the full schedule is released.

Follow LBU on Facebook and Twitter. Subscribe to Linebacker-U.com by Email


Post a Comment