The importance of smart scheduling

Longtime readers of this site will know that we have a tendency to rip programs which schedule like idiots. The Selection Committee places a tremendous amount of influence on the RPI, and the RPI is easily manipulated. Failure to do so is unforgivable.

Yesterday, a colleague at Tomahawk Nation wrote a piece about the nuances of scheduling, in his preview (part I) of the Seminoles' basketball schedule. He covered most of the basics, and here's an excerpt of the important stuff.

We start with the schedule. However, I’ve decided to actually make this a two-part breakdown. Part 1 will discuss the importance of having a solid schedule in basketball, what differentiates a good schedule from a bad schedule, and general rules of thumb when thinking about following a basketball team over the course of a year. I am doing this, largely because the Seminole fan base is a football first fan base and what works for football scheduling often does not in basketball. Part 2 will then focus on our actual schedule and apply some of the lessons learned from Part 1 to the 2012/2013 slate awaiting Michael Snaer and company. And here we go.

Why is having a good SOS important in college basketball? Simply put, it gives you a greater margin for error. College basketball has a playoff. A very inclusive playoff in fact, as long as you reside in a major conference. This means you can lose upwards of 11 or 12 games in a season and still make the NCAA Tournament. I don’t say this to diminish the regular season—obviously the better you do in the regular season the better your odds are of earning a protected seed and thus an easier path to a Final Four. Nonetheless, it’s important to note that it’s okay to lose games in college basketball, as long as you lose them to the right teams and have enough good wins to balance out the losses. And you can’t get good wins if you don’t play good teams.

This leads to another question: what’s a good win? Generally speaking, the NCAA Selection Committee considers a good win as a win against an RPI top 100 team. Yes, the RPI is outdated, yes it doesn’t factor in efficiency or other advanced metrics, and yes it often produces weird, almost house of card like results. But it cannot be denied that the committee still uses it greatly—both directly and indirectly—when making their selections. Therefore, it would be foolish not to consider it when analyzing a schedule.

So, back to good wins. A top 100 RPI win is a good win, top 25 and 50 wins are great wins, and winning those games on the road elevates them even more (both in the eyes of the selectors and in the actual RPI ratings). Naturally, this means the more chances of top 100 wins you have the more likely you are to win some. But perhaps equally as important, both for making the Dance and for earning a higher seed, is avoiding bad losses. Bad losses are losses to teams outside the top 150 in the RPI and losing these games at home rubs even more salt on the wound. FSU in particular seems to find a way to drop one or two of these games every year, so limiting the number of sub-150 teams we play is good way to avoid falling victim to multiple such losses each season.

In addition to maximizing your chances of getting good wins and minimizing your chances of bad losses, a strong SOS is key for another reason: It can be the difference between a 3 seed and a 7 seed, a 7 seed and a 10 seed, and a 10 seed and the NIT. Let's look no further than last season:


Record (after con. tourney)

Good Wins

Bad Losses





























As you can see, overall record means almost nothing in terms of the seeding differences between these three teams. Good wins certainly gave Vandy and FSU a boost, but if they were the end-all-be-all why wouldn't Vandy have received the highest seed? And as far as the advanced metrics go, the Commodores again were the best team, but all three teams were pretty equal. Yet, their respective seeds range from 3 to 12! Then you look at the SOS and RPI columns and you see that these are the only two columns that match-up perfectly with the seeds. FSU had the highest SOS, the highest RPI, and the highest NCAA seed. Vanderbilt was not far behind in either category, and they were only two seeds lower than the Noles. But Cal had a lower SOS and a significantly lower RPI. Consequently, the Golden Bears just managed to sneak into the Dance, earning a 12 seed. Yes, folks, the RPI-which is largely determined by your strength of schedule-makes a difference.

There are other factors that deserve mention as well when breaking down a basketball schedule. Again, the goal of any team is to win a national title. In basketball, that is accomplished by winning three sets of two games played on neutral courts over a three-day period against an opponent that is unknown to you until at most a couple days before the game. This dictates that coaches try to replicate those conditions as best as possible during the regular season. There are several things that can be done to achieve this. 1. Play lots of road and neutral site games. 2. Play a variety of teams to expose you to different styles and challenges. 3. Have stretches where you play two games in a three-day period.