An Open Letter To Cincinnati: Please Stop Scheduling Kennesaw StatePosted by Mike Lemaire on November 1st, 2013
Dear Mr. Babcock and Mr. Cronin,
Without knowing enough about the nuances that go into filling out a full non-conference schedule for your men’s basketball team, I do not envy that part of your job. I cannot imagine all the different factors that need to be taken into consideration and how much tireless negotiation goes on behind the scenes to make sure the schedule is set long in advance. I say all of this to acknowledge the fact that this part of your jobs can’t be easy; in fact, I bet it is a rather arduous and stressful process. That said, you took these jobs knowing full well it would be a part of your responsibilities and it is also your responsibility to put your basketball team in the best position to succeed while making sure you don’t break the bank to do so.
You guys aren’t oblivious. You must be able to recognize the pattern that has emerged in recent years. What was a woeful program in 2007 had become a consistent 20-game winner by 2011. In the last three seasons, the program has won more than 20 games every year, and yet every year, when March rolls around, you and your fans find yourselves sweating out Selection Sunday because the team finds itself on the bubble again. It doesn’t take a basketball expert to figure out why that is. It is because the strength of the program’s non-conference schedule has consistently ranked amongst the worst in the country and your end-of-season RPI inevitably suffers because of it.
We know you read KenPom, so both of you can plainly see what we can — that the strength of your non-conference schedule has been a running joke for the past five seasons. From 2009 to 2013 it has ranked 236th, 166th, 327th, 274th, and 291st, respectively. This is not how you build an NCAA Tournament-worthy resume and one could easily make the argument that it is not how you prepare your team for a brutal conference schedule either.
Disappointingly, it doesn’t seem like you picked up on this trend in time for this season. New Mexico and Pittsburgh should be stiff tests and are potentially resume-building wins, but Xavier and North Carolina State appear to be average teams at best and scheduling home games against North Carolina Central, UMass-Lowell, Kennesaw State, and Chicago State should be outlawed, and quickly. Not only do you gain absolutely nothing from beating these teams, no matter how badly you beat them, but you are also probably paying them a tidy sum to come play you and remember what happened when you lost to Presbyterian in 2012? It nearly undid all of the impressive work the team did in conference that season.
Now it’s not your fault that crosstown rival Xavier has made a slow drop to mediocrity in the past few seasons and that opponents from marquee conferences haven’t lived up to expectations in seasons in which you play them, but it’s your job to plan contingencies for these kinds of types of situations. You can’t just sit on your hands while the best non-conference opponents stop being quality wins, you have to go out and schedule other decent opponents to pick up the slack.
Also, you both know plenty about basketball, especially you Mr. Cronin. Maybe you can tell me what it is your players get out of thrashing a team like UMass-Lowell then? Maybe some bench players get burn they wouldn’t otherwise and maybe some of the newcomers get a chance to adapt to the system and build confidence. But those benefits pale in comparison to the lack of experience against quality competition that will possibly become a problem when you start playing conference foes. The newly formed AAC has a lot of mediocre teams, teams that your program has the talent and ability to beat, if they are prepared. But running through a schedule of patsies and creampuffs won’t prepare you for anything; it may even give your team a false sense of confidence and leave them blissfully unaware of just how intense and physical the games will get once the New Year begins.
In college basketball, not all wins are created equally. Beating New Mexico at The Pit will be the type of win that counts for a lot when the committee starts evaluating your resume, you don’t want the value of that win to be nullified by the fact that you played five of the worst 50 Division I teams in the country, but that is exactly what will happen. You are leaving yourselves with very little be gained and a whole lot to be lost. So by all means, keep scheduling a soft non-conference schedule and artificially inflating your win total, just don’t start complaining in March when you find yourselves sweating out another Selection Sunday because you are on the bubble once again.