Pac-12 Burning Question: Most Useful Non-Conference Schedule?Posted by AMurawa on November 15th, 2012
It’s not basketball season until the first Pac-12 non-conference loss. Um, thanks Washington? Anyway, every team has their own philosophy when it comes to scheduling and below we’ll discuss which program did the best job assembling its non-conference slate this season.
“Which program has the best non-conference schedule for their needs?
Parker Baruh: The Stanford Cardinal set up a very interesting non-conference schedule for themselves. It hasn’t started out too difficult, but that’s a good thing for Johnny Dawkins and company. The Cardinal struggled a bit against inferior opponents USF and Cal State Fullerton, but came out with victories and look like they are on the verge of putting it all together. The Cardinal will take on Belmont before they head to the Bahamas to take place in the loaded Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament, which should be good preparation for them. In the opener, Stanford will square off against Missouri, which will be their first tough test of the season. The rest of the tournament field consists of Louisville, VCU, Duke, Northern Iowa, Minnesota, and Memphis, so regardless of how the bracket falls, Stanford will have three intense games in the Bahamas. Later, Stanford plays a very challenging road game at NC State and again on the road against Northwestern. The schedule is well-suited for Stanford because they do have some easy opponents like Seattle University, UC Davis, and Lafayette that will help the Cardinal build confidence for conference play and improve their record, but they also have a couple of games against opponents that could be feathers in their cap come Selection Sunday. The Cardinal will be underdogs to Missouri and NC State, but those games will help them when they have to play UCLA, Arizona, and Colorado on the road. Overall, I like what Stanford has set up this season on the non-conference slate. They don’t have the hardest schedule, but it shouldn’t hurt them come Selection Sunday.
Andrew Murawa: What can I say? I’m a sucker for Kevin O’Neill’s scheduling. I’m sure I’ve talked about it before here, but USC’s schedule is brutal. Aside from opening with a solid challenge from a game Coppin State team and December back-to-back games against smaller teams from the southern California area (UC Riverside and UC Irvine, although the latter is looking more appealing after the Anteaters’ performance on Tuesday night), the schedule is loaded with tough challenges and major conference opponents. They played Long Beach State the other night (another team that would probably schedule the Lakers if invited) and next week they head to Maui, where an opening-round game against Illinois will either land them Texas in the semifinal round or Chaminade in the consolation bracket, certainly a case where an opening round loss would add insult to injury. If they keep on the good side of that bracket, they could see North Carolina or Marquette later on in the tourney. When they get back home San Diego State visits, just before a pair of road games over the course of three days at Nebraska and New Mexico. While the Cornhuskers aren’t much to write home about, roadies to any major conference team are no joke. Then, towards the back end of December, there’s another visit to an athletic Georgia team followed by tough mid-major Dayton visiting the Galen Center. While teams like Utah and Arizona State have gone out of their way to soften up the schedule following last year’s disasters, O’Neill has done no such thing. He expects his team to be significantly better and he expects them to prove it from day one; dumbing down the schedule would be akin to him admitting that expectations for this team should be lowered. Say what you want about O’Neill’s offense or his demeanor, but as he proves year in and year out with his schedule, you need never question his commitment to getting the best out of his team. And, just like in 2011 when his team earned an at-large bid to the NCAAs with a 19-15 record, if this team can score a few scalps in the non-conference slate, O’Neill’s scheduling will have put them in great shape to earn another invite this year.
Connor Pelton: Teams that will be in the running for a top five seed come Selection Sunday need to model their non-conference slates after Arizona‘s. Six of Zona’s first eight games are against solid names that will not only contend for an NCAA bid (whether via automatic or at-large), but also help the Wildcats’ RPI immensely. Even better, with the talent the Cats have, they should be favored in every one of them. In last Sunday’s opener, UA held off a feisty Charleston Southern team, one that is a favorite to win the Big South, for an 82-73 victory. Up next are back-to-back home dates with UTEP and Long Beach State, a pair of athletic teams that have a chance to win their respective leagues. Texas Tech and Clemson are teams that likely won’t go dancing this year, but road games against power conference schools are always trippy. Finally, to cap off the stretch, the Wildcats will get a visit from the only team here that can match them in talent; Florida. Led by guys like Kenny Boyton, Erik Murphy, and Mike Rosario, the Gators will come into their third game in the state if Arizona oozing with confidence after last year’s overtime win against Sean Miller’s club. So, Arizona will get a taste of its bigger and athletic Pac-12 opponents in UTEP, two games in hostile environments against the Red Raiders and Tigers, and a possible Sweet Sixteen preview against the Gators. There’s even a chance to experience a March Madness, neutral-site scenario three times when Arizona plays in the Diamond Head Classic over Christmas. All of these factors combine to prepare this talented bunch for conference and postseason play.
Kevin Danna: This is taking the question in a bit of a different direction, and I don’t necessarily like what they have done with their schedule, but I think the Utah Utes have the non-conference schedule that best fits their needs. Look, I hate nothing more than to see D-I schools take on non-D-I opponents (just ask Connor), and yes, the Utes play two of ’em in Willamette and College of Idaho. At the same time, though, this is a Utah team that is still a year or two away from actually being competitive in the BCS ranks. After losing by 31 to Cal State Fullerton, 30 to Fresno State and dropping a home contest to Montana State in last year’s non-league schedule, the Utes need to build confidence and work on themselves more than anything else. This team has absolutely no chance to make the NCAA tournament, so why not build a little momentum heading into Pac-12 play by racking up some early season wins? And it’s not like the schedule is 100 percent devoid of competition- Utah will play SMU twice and travel to Provo to take on in-state rival BYU. All in all, Utah has given itself a realistic chance to be 9-3 entering a Pac-12 slate that will be daunting by the Utes’ standards. And hey, win a game or two here and there in conference- which Utah is more than capable of- and the Utes avoid another 20-loss season. Nobody is really going to think 6-26 is just as good as 12-19 just because the Utes played a “tougher” non-conference schedule last year. Hell, see if you can add Chico State or BYU-Hawaii while you’re at it, Coach K.
Adam Butler: I really like the schedule Colorado has going for themselves. It projects out to be amongst the top-50 toughest in the nation and includes a good mix of opponents. They get out of dodge enough to cut their teeth but they also won’t overwhelm themselves. The crown jewel of their schedule comes on 12/8 when the Buffaloes head to Lawrence to face their old Big-12 rivals. The Jayhawks are always an RPI boost and if you can hang tough in Lawrence you can hang anywhere. One thing worth noting, the Buffs really do need to get past Dayton this week to improve their SOS. It’s the difference between Baylor and BC, then the subsequent other likely losers (Charleston or Murray State). I suppose that’s the beauty of these preseason affairs: your national perception is defined by whether you win or lose, pretty simple really. Alas, this is a group that’s got some good pieces but needs a wee bit more floor time to come together. Not getting overworked before what should be an improved Pac-12 year fits perfectly with what Colorado needs to do. The budding program won’t put itself in position to deflate themselves as they grow into what could become a perennial Pac challenger.