Mid-Major Perspectives on Scheduling
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.”