On Boeheim Scheduling: Do Tough November Games Pay Dividends in March?

Posted by Will Tucker on December 7th, 2012

Jim Boeheim’s Syracuse team has looked like the most complete in the country at points in its dominant 7-0 start this season. But tough road tests at Arkansas and against ranked San Diego State notwithstanding, their generally lackluster non-conference schedule (ranked #69 nationally thus far, according to StatSheet) exposes the Orange to the perennial “paper tiger” treatment their fans have come to expect. In his press conference after a shellacking of Long Beach State on Tuesday, Jim Boeheim argued unequivocally that scheduling difficult opponents in the first month of the season does not help a team prepare for the NCAA Tournament:

Jim Boeheim doesn’t see long term benefits in non-conference challenges, like playing SDSU in California

Boeheim makes the dubious suggestion that teams that suffer losses in November and December “aren’t even playing when it comes to the tournament.” That claim might raise eyebrows from slow starters like Brad Stevens, whose consecutive national runner-up squads each lost four games before New Year’s Eve. Boeheim stressed that his non-conference slate is designed exclusively to prepare for the Big East schedule, and that “if you’re not going to be ready in those 18 [Big East] games, then you have no chance to be good [in March].” While the league’s rigor is well documented, it can also present a liability when teams encounter unfamiliar styles in March: In each of the past two NCAA Tournaments, teams finishing in the top three of the Big East standings were all upset by lower seeds in the Elite Eight or prior.

Nevertheless, Hall of Fame coaches generally know what they’re talking about, so it was only fair to find some empirical evidence with which to assess Boeheim’s comments. A quick analysis of results from this past March suggests a strong correlation between strong non-conference scheduling and postseason success. Among the Elite Eight field, all but one had played at least one opponent in November that would later appear in the NCAA Tournament. The outlier? Boeheim’s team. Four of Syracuse’s Elite Eight peers faced multiple tournament opponents in the first month of their schedule, with a cumulative record of 13-3. North Carolina, Kansas and Louisville led the pack with five, three, and three tournament teams on their November schedules, respectively. Two of those teams made it to the Final Four, and KU’s experience refutes the notion that November losses portend an early exit in March; the Jayhawks made it to the title game despite having the worst November record (1-3) against tournament teams of the entire Elite Eight field.

Team Record vs NCAAT Teams
North Carolina 4-1
Louisville 3-0
Kansas 1-2
Ohio State 2-0
Florida 1-0
Kentucky 1-0
Baylor 1-0
Syracuse N/A


This is an excerpted glimpse of one season, and by no means establishes a causal link between non-conference scheduling and tournament preparedness. But it suggests that Jim Boeheim’s reasoning is flawed, and many of his colleagues in the upper echelons of coaching don’t seem to share his philosophy about November scheduling.

Will Tucker (124 Posts)

Kentucky native living and working in Washington, D.C. Fan of tacos, maps, and the 30-second shot clock. Not a fan of comments sections, bad sportswriting.

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