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Mid-Major Perspectives on Scheduling

by Andrew Force | November 24th, 2008

Bright lights enable big crowds to watch their favorite hoop masters all winter long. The Internet and scouting databases have brought fans ever closer to the recruiting battles. Nowadays the least visible aspect of college basketball is scheduling.

Despite its phantom nature, the lining up of opponents has a deep impact on who makes the postseason. Close NCAA Tournament misses the past few years include:

2007 Missouri State (22 wins)
2008 Akron (24)
2008 VCU (24)
2006 Utah State (23)

Conferences like the MAC, Valley, Colonial, and Mountain West find themselves in a precarious position every year. Featuring several teams with twenty wins, the coaches and players in these leagues frequently feel that multiple at-large berths are warranted.

Their strengths of schedule often tell another tale, however. Through no fault of their own Akron plays RPI anchors Buffalo, Northern Illinois, and Ball State during the conference campaign. Their conference allegiance dictates that they play these perpetually talent-poor squads.

What can be helped–what is variable–is a team’s non-conference scheduling.

In that regard, Akron has played the likes of Winston Salem St., Binghamton, Tiffin, Gardner Webb, Tennessee State, and North Carolina A & T within the last two years.

“If I know I have a pretty good strong team and I have built a tradition in my program, then we should play the high mid-majors,” admits Akron Head Coach Keith Dambrot. “And the high majors on a neutral floor.”

Essentially, Dambrot is refusing to play on any Big Ten or Big East floor. To earn respect you have to beat the best. Currently, that opportunity only exists in the big boy’s very own house. By sheltering his Zips, Dambrot and coaches like him are excluding their teams from the bubble.

No pity should be sent to Akron.

Take a look at the other end of the spectrum with Southern Illinois and Miami (OH). These teams remain on the bubble or make the field with multiple losses because they play top-flight competition. For example, Miami (OH) plays at UCLA, at Pitt, at West Virginia, at Xavier, and at Temple before Christmas.

“If you call yourself Division One basketball, I think you have to take your players into some places where it is purely Division One,” offers Miami Head Coach Charlie Coles.

If Miami can steal two of those games and perform above average in the MAC, they will be in the conversation whereas Akron will need 23 wins to be relevant.

A recruit “is not going to respect me, if he sees me staying up to two in the morning trying to figure out if Radford has got two lettermen back or one,” muses Coles. “And I have seen coaches like that. Lets try to get so-and-so because they lost all their players.”

Because he plays the best, Coles is much closer to landing his undermanned RedHawks in the Big Dance where he can try to succeed at the very highest level.

He’s much closer to finding the right formula.

Ducking teams from the “Super Six” conferences is an outdated idea. Until the philosophy changes, the perceived snubs will continue.

“It makes sense to me, that if I don’t succeed, that I tried to succeed at the highest level I could,” says Coles.

Editor’s Note: If you enjoyed this article you might also like “Scheduling 101: How to Use Your Schedule to Your Advantage on Selection Sunday.”

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6 Responses to “Mid-Major Perspectives on Scheduling”  

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  1. John Says:

    @ Andrew. Well I think another way for mid-majors to get some good wins is to have continuing participation in tournaments like the Old Spice Classic(Siena), 76 Classic(Cal State Fullerton, Saint Mary’s), Paradise Jam(San Diego). I think the MAC is not as strong as it once it was back in the late 90′s(although it is my favorite mid-major conference.), but I think an issue that can maybe help is for some teams to stop ducking other teams, or, as an example, Davidson played Duke at Charlotte Bobcats Arena as the home team, this year they have to go to Cameron. That tells me that Duke is ”ducking” them in years when Davidson is the home team. Also, I think the MAC needs to find a conference that is willing to participate in a challenge series like the Missouri Valley and Mountain West just agreed to. More national exposure plus more impressive wins adds up to more NCAA bids for the MAC and other small conferences.

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  2. Butch Says:

    Why would Duke want to play at Davidson? I don’t think power teams are interested in helping out mid-majors. To prove themselves, Davidson and other mids need to win on the road. I really don’t think it’s too smart for Duke, for example, to put itself in a situation where they don’t gain much with a win at a smaller talented team’s place.

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  3. David Mihm Says:

    Hey Butch, thanks for stopping by. I agree that in this particular case, Duke probably should not be scheduling Davidson, although a quality win IS a quality win. But Duke is good enough this year that they probably don’t need it.

    But for teams in the middle-of-the-pack of their conferences (teams like Clemson, Virginia Tech, and Maryland in the ACC, for example), a win over Davidson, particularly on the road, would be HUGE on Selection Sunday. The Committee likes to see teams go out and play quality competition on the road, regardless of the size of the school. And a road loss to a good team doesn’t really hurt you (look no further than the case of Arizona the last two years as proof).

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  4. John Says:

    @ Butch. You are obviously a fan of a big school. I am as well(Florida), but I wouldn’t mind seeing the Gators go to a Davidson, for example. You should help out a mid-major. What is the harm of seeing, for example, North Carolina go to UC Santa Barbara as they did this year? Furthermore, if you need a seeding boost, you are probably going to defeat an NCAA Tournament team. I can counter David’s point by saying that when Duke scheduled Davidson last year, no one knew how good the Wildcats were going to be. In addition, what if Singler would have left? These are all unknown variables. Why must mid-majors prove themselves over and over again? George Mason beating Michigan State, North Carolina, Wichita State and Connecticut isn’t proving themselves? Davidson beating the likes of Georgetown and Wisconsin isn’t proving themselves? There is no harm in playing one year at Cameron Indoor Stadium and the next at Belk Arena. It is always a touch and go subject, but if you don’t think that mid-majors should be helped out, then you obviously don’t understand the situation mid-majors are in.

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  5. Butch Says:

    Dave, I agree that middle of the pack ACCers should schedule teams like the Cats. It would separate them from the average Big 10, SEC, Pac 10, etc. teams that don’t have that many quality wins come Selection Sunday (my favorite day of the year). I wouldn’t want to play them on the road. In my opinion, Steph Curry is the best player in the nation. But, Duke, UNC, UCLA, etc. shouldn’t play the Davidsons on the road, because they don’t need to. And just to let you know, I really like this site.

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  6. Butch Says:

    Well John, I think I understand the situation mid-majors are in. I know it’s hard for them to get respect, and it should be. There are only a handful each year worth mentioning. I love mid-majors and would like to see them get more media attention. What I was saying, which I think you misunderstood, was that Duke is not interested in helping Davidson out. I think that common sense would tell you that. So yeah, maybe they deserve some help, but I don’t think that help should or is going to come from opposing teams.

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