Marching to Vegas: The Art of SchedulingPosted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) on December 13th, 2013
Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) of Pachoops again will be joining us all year, providing us with his weekly take on our favorite conference, as we begin the March to Las Vegas.
As you read this – if you’re reading it on Friday – I’m en route to Ann Arbor to watch the Arizona Wildcats compete in basket sport against the Michigan Wolverines. For the Wildcats, it will be their second road challenge of the season, having already won in the ever hostile Viejas Arena of SDSU and The Show lore. For me, it will be a test of strength as I have no idea what to make of a weather forecast that says “70% chance of snow.” And when weather.com tells me the high will be 24, what does that even mean? Alas, let’s move back to the basketball team as it seems to be better prepared for its forthcoming challenges than me. Because that’s exactly what Sean Miller and staff have dialed up with these two road games: challenges. Last year they traveled to Clemson as their pre-conference big road test, but this season has offered the double challenge of the Aztecs and Wolverines (otherwise known as the Brady Hoke tour).
Scheduling is an ever fascinating art to me. Broadly, to develop a schedule for anything is quite the undertaking. Imagine developing the MLB schedule. Or watch this 30 for 30 short. Juggling 30 teams’ requests and special BS sounds like a miserably inefficient and unhelpful task. Bless the Stephenson family. Anyhow, my apologies for the second tangent of our post. Building a college basketball schedule is critical. How often do you hear that frightening acronym S-O-S? And perhaps it’s fitting that the Strength Of Schedule acronym doubles as Save Our Souls. A team’s SoS often saves them from some unfortunate losses. So when I watch a season unfold, and I see some of the better teams playing other better teams, I’m always intrigued to know when those games were scheduled. Schedules are built to cater to a team’s needs and so it has come as little surprise to me that, say, Arizona State‘s schedule is peaking this season as they have perhaps their best team in five years. Already the Sun Devils have played at UNLV, hosted Marquette, and neutral-sited Creighton and The U. Still to come is Texas Tech (along with the rest of the season) but per StatSheet.com’s projected SoS the Devils come in at #48. Last season they checked in at #111. The Sun Devils have helped position themselves – both through talent acquisition and scheduling – to receive an invitation to the Big Dance.
But the Devils have included an element of safety here. They’ve barely left the confines of home and not at all left the lower, left corner of the US. Similarly, Tad Boyle has pieced together a difficult schedule but has kept things neutral or at home. To be certain, I’m not knocking these scheduling elements but it’s worth noting they’re not hitting the true road. By the end of it, Colorado will have played host to Harvard and Kansas and battled Baylor and Oklahoma State at neutral sites (although Baylor in Dallas is hardly neutral). Neither the Buffs nor the Sun Devils are a cake walk. Like Sendek, I believe Boyle understood that his program was going to be peaking in 2013-14 so he’d challenge them. We also see that Miller has pieced together his toughest schedule during his tenure in Tucson. This schedule also happens to coincide with his best team ever.
Now the other interesting component of a schedule is the subjectivity of it. SoS itself is a made-up number but at least it offers us a pretty universally agreed upon quantifier. The subjective part we hear about with adjunct words like “good loss” or “bad loss.” I generally think that all losses suck but I’m sometimes just competitive like that. But I also like and appreciate challenges. I like it when a group takes a risk and puts itself in a situation where failure is expected just so they can see what beats beneath their jersey. And sometimes they succeed, but not always. UCLA gave it a whirl and for twenty minutes in Columbia, Missouri, the Bruins looked offensively dynamic and defensively strong. Their zone was making sure the Tigers could get no penetration and forced the Tigers into long threes. It unfortunately didn’t last but that’s sometimes the beauty of subjectivity, right? We see that UCLA traveled three-quarters of the country to play a good and undefeated basketball team at 9:30 AM PST on CBS in their hostile arena. The Bruins gave it one helluva fight but lost out. It didn’t leave a bitter taste in our mouths and UCLA will be looked upon kindly for their efforts. And while I don’t believe Oregon State will be mentioned inside the selection committee’s war room, they traveled to College Park and took it to Maryland. I love that stuff. I applaud Oregon waltzing into the storm that is Marshall Henderson and Ole Miss and returning to Eugene with a win (then dropping two spots in the AP poll which essentially contradicts everything I’ve just said). Hell, even Utah scooted over to Boise (L), Washington to SDSU (L), and Washington State to Gonzaga (L). They went oh-for-the-road but they’ll be better for it. Cal went to Santa Barbara which just sounds like a part of the Sideways script.
These road tests are great in preparing for what’s shaping up to be a highly competitive conference season. I won’t soon tell you that Oregon State will run the table because they beat the Terrapins (and how have the Beavers only played five games by mid-December??), but it’s not going to hurt. These teams are learning to be comfortable being uncomfortable. And as for me? Saturday’s 24-degree high could be it. SOS.