Tag:NCAA Tournament
Posted on: April 26, 2008 3:29 am
Edited on: June 30, 2008 8:32 pm

Non-conference scheduling: a difficult decision?

Every year the revolving door of discussion brings two parties together to argue the best way to achieve success through non-conference scheduling. One side adopts the theory that scheduling tough games for their non-conference slate raises their RPI and preparedness for the tournament. The other believes that a less strenuous and more balanced non-conference schedule can achieve the same result. Both ideologies preach eventual success, and both have statistical support for their arguments, but to get a better feel for what the effects and advantages of each really are, further examination is required.

What does competition do for a team and its players? Does a team improve by having their abilities and execution challenged against more difficult competition? Are the players and team then given an opportunity to see their faults and make adjustments to become better players with more of a chance to succeed in the future against that more difficult competition? Or does less difficult competition and easier routes to victory teach a team to win, and therefore instill a winning mentality and confidence? Do players improve through untested repetition?

The numbers work both ways. According to kenpom.com, only two of the past ten champions have had a non-conference strength of schedule greater than 50. Duke had the number 17 non-conference SOS in 2001, and Maryland had the 15th-best in 2002. Only one team can win it all, though, and that limits the probe into the effects of a tough or easy non-conference schedule. Take a look at the number of teams that have advanced to the Elite 8 and Final 4 over the last ten years per non-conference SOS rating.

Teams advancing to Elite 8 (SOS rating range: # of teams)
  • 1-25: 30
  • 26-50: 15
  • 51-75 : 8
  • 76-100: 4
  • 101-125: 6
  • 126-150: 2
  • 151-175: 7
  • 176-200: 3
  • 200-225: 2
  • 226-250: 1
  • 251-275: 2
  • 276+: 0
Teams advancing to Final 4
  • 1-25: 16
  • 26-50: 5
  • 51-75: 5
  • 76-100: 2
  • 101-125: 4
  • 126-150: 1
  • 151-175: 5
  • 176-200: 1
  • 201-225: 0
  • 226-250: 0
  • 251-275: 1
  • 276+: 0
There is an obvious correlation between high non-conference SOS ratings and performance in the tournament, but that's not to say it's the main reason teams advance. Talent is a common theme with past champions. There are 30 current NBA players from the rosters of the 10 past champions, and Kansas is likely to add another two or three to that list in June. That's an average of three future NBA players playing for each champion. None had less than two and some had as many as six. Does a tough or weak schedule even matter for teams like that? Maybe.

Quality non-conference matchups usually expose teams to fresh audiences, or at least sporadic ones. Visibility is a big part of recruiting, and these games provide teams an opportunity to showcase themselves and their styles to a host of recruits. Like winning championships, there are other factors involved in landing recruits, such as the coaching staff, style of play, athletic facilities, tradition and academic appeal. However, even those programs rich in tradition or armed with a successful coach need to remain visible. Contemporary society demands recent success and tends to forget about the past. Athletic directors and general managers dismiss coaches like burned firecrackers. Why shouldn't players do the same with programs?

The NCAA tournament committee has sent a message, still unclear to self-influentially befuddled fans, that they want teams to play difficult non-conference schedules. While part of that is because they want the best and most tested teams in the tournament, it really shows smart marketing. If teams from different sides of the country are playing each other, not only are recruits tuning in, but so are consumers. People naturally think less of and have less interest in teams they've never seen play before or haven't heard much about. The NCAA doesn't want a group of quiet teams in the tournament. They want teams that have been seen, heard and will hike television ratings. It's all about the money. No surprise.

After taking a closer look, it's apparent that teams have found success on opposite ends of the spectrum. Which is the best way to go? Move in the circles of the Boeheimites and Donovanans, or those of the Olsonians and Fewtans? The truth is that the choice is ultimately contingent. Just another revolving door of discussion.
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com