Oklahoma A Perfect Example Of How To Schedule AdvantageouslyPosted by dnspewak on January 15th, 2013
Joe Lunardi released his latest Bracketology rankings this morning, and there’s a surprise team from the Big 12 in the field as a nine-seed: Oklahoma. After complete irrelevance since Blake Griffin jumped to the pros four years ago, Lon Kruger’s team picked up an important Bedlam victory at home over Oklahoma State this weekend and now firmly has itself in the NCAA Tournament conversation. And why not? The Sooners defend pretty well, they’re obviously well-coached, and they have a good mix of young guards to team with veterans Sam Grooms and Steven Pledger. Leading scorer Romero Osby has been a steady senior, Wyoming transfer Amath M’Baye has helped, and Kruger has much more depth and athleticism than a year ago. There’s a lot to like, but despite this weekend’s victory, there’s still a lot to question, too. Oklahoma was embarrassed by Gonzaga in Orlando during the Old Spice Classic. It also lost at Arkansas, dropped a home game to Stephen F. Austin, and did not have a quality victory over a projected NCAA Tournament team until knocking off the Cowboys. You can count Texas A&M as a decent victory after Elston Turner and the Aggies dismantled Kentucky at Rupp Arena, but the Wildcats have their obvious problems and Lunardi does not have A&M in the field at this point.
Bottom line is, Oklahoma’s resume isn’t staggering. Strangely, though, not only are the Sooners included in the NCAA Tournament field, but they’re actually quite safe as a projected nine seed. There’s a simple explanation for all of this: the RPI! Oklahoma is a top-15 team in the RPI right now and top-10 in strength of schedule, which is downright stunning considering the competition level hasn’t seemed all that demanding to this point. This team doesn’t have many quality wins, it has really only played one elite team in Gonzaga, and it scheduled four teams from the Southland Conference during non-conference play. Makes you wonder whether somebody did the math wrong.
But here’s the dirty little secret about all the fancy computer numbers: You can skew them. That’s what Oklahoma did, and it’s a perfect example for the rest of college basketball on how to schedule advantageously. Like any power conference team, the Sooners have four wins over sub-100 RPI teams: Ohio (#133, a surprise after a Sweet Sixteen run a year ago), Texas-Arlington (#152), Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (#270) and Louisiana-Monroe (#252). Still, notice that only two of those opponents are sub-200. And check out the rest of the schedule: Oklahoma played three games against strong non-BCS teams in Stephen F. Austin (#55), Northwestern State (#67) and Oral Roberts (#88). Compared to other schedules in the Big 12, playing a game against a top-100 team versus a top-300 team can make a significant difference.
Oklahoma did not fare well against the Zags at the Old Spice Classic, but it picked up wins over West Virginia (#83) and UTEP (#62). Those two teams are hardly world-beaters, but that’s not the point. They simply weren’t RPI killers. The middle-of-the-pack major-conference teams like Texas A&M (#41) and Arkansas (#76) didn’t kill the Sooners, either. Add it all up, and you’ve got a terrific recipe for computer success. Kruger’s team lost only three games against a manageable schedule, and amazingly, it positioned itself quite well in terms of computer numbers just through an advantageous scheduling method.
This is why it’s so important for teams not to schedule the worst of the worst in Division I basketball. Look at Iowa State, for example. The Cyclones won eight games in non-conference play against sub-100 teams in the RPI. Six were ranked #200 or worse. Two were in the 300s. And voila: Iowa State’s RPI ranking is right around #50, it’s strength of schedule is close to #80, and Lunardi has the Cyclones squarely on the bubble as an eleven seed. There’s not much difference between the caliber of Oklahoma and Iowa State right now. Including Iowa State’s blowout win over BYU, both teams have exactly one win over NCAA Tournament competition, but the Sooners’ smart non-conference scheduling has given them a leg up in the projected bracketing. See how easy that was? It’ll be really handy for Lon Kruger when his team’s fighting for a berth in March.