Non-Conference Scheduling: How Does the ACC Stack Up?

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 2nd, 2015

While watching a Virginia Tech football game this year — or at least as much of it as I could stomach — I was reminded of head coach Frank Beamer’s reputation as a special teams guru. As the Hokies’ head coach back in the 1990s, Beamer’s approach to emphasizing special teams play was quite effective — he coached the kicking units himself and used his best athletes to cover, return and block kicks. After a few years of using this innovation, the media caught on and his teams’ reputation as great on special teams was established. About five to seven years ago, however, and despite announcers’ best efforts to remind us, it became apparent that Virginia Tech no longer had that same advantage. Crossing over to basketball this winter, any time Michigan State plays a November or December game, an announcer will inevitably say something like, “Tom Izzo ALWAYS plays a brutal non-conference schedule.” But is it actually true? As the Beamer example shows, once a public narrative is established, it’s very difficult to break.

Recently we looked at the ACC’s non-conference schedules and declared North Carolina the clear winner of the ACC’s competition for the toughest slate this season. Today we will examine how the Tar Heels and the other traditional ACC powers stack up in non-conference scheduling when compared with several of the other national programs. For this analysis we chose the 15 winningest college basketball programs of the last 10 years from the ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and Big East. The underlying assumption is that top programs from each of these conferences should be fairly comparable in terms of scheduling opportunities to play whichever teams they want, including various made-for-TV contests and routine invitations to the major early-season tournaments. Teams like Gonzaga from the West Coast Conference were removed from the data set because their non-conference scheduling agendas are far different than those of the power conference schools. The full table, including five ACC schools — Duke, North Carolina, Louisville, Syracuse and Pittsburgh — is below.

NonConf 10YrsWe ranked schools based on the average ranking between two metrics — KenPom strength of schedule (SOS) and Top 25 opponents. For overall SOS, we averaged the last 10 years using Pomeroy’s end-of-season non-conference schedule strength rating (which does not include postseason or non-Division I opponents). We also counted the number of Top 25 opponents (using KenPom’s final season ratings) each school played in the 10-year span, showing it as a per-year average. As you can see above, both Duke and North Carolina perform very well in both metrics, while recent ACC additions Louisville, Syracuse and Pittsburgh struggle. Among non-ACC schools, Kentucky, Arizona and Kansas are clearly the other national programs willing to play the best non-conference opponents on an annual basis, and surprisingly, Michigan State ranks more in the middle of the pack despite what we are led to believe from most media members. How do things look when we feature the same ratings categories over the last five years instead?

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Evaluating ACC Non-Conference Schedules: UNC Has the Toughest

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 24th, 2014

Back in late August when the ACC released complete team-by-team schedules for this season, North Carolina‘s non-conference slate prompted Roy Williams at the time to say, “This one may be a little off the charts.” As we will see below, perhaps his quote should be rephrased: “top of the charts” might be more appropriate. Now that we’ve reached the Christmas break for every ACC school, let’s evaluate this year’s non-conference schedules for all 15, considering different ways to judge the relative strengths and weaknesses of each. Keep in mind that each program must schedule according to its own needs that season, so some disparity in schedule strength is expected. But some of following numbers are still disappointing, to say the least.

ACC NonConf

In the chart above, we used current KenPom rankings and included all past and future opponents (most ACC teams have one or two non-conference contests remaining). As usual, the two most blue-blooded ACC programs top the list in most areas of evaluation. North Carolina has a clear edge in nearly every measurable factor, including average opponent rating, fewest home games, and most Top 25 opponents. The Tar Heels own the best average opponent rating by such a wide margin that even if #1 Kentucky is removed from the schedule, it would still lead the conference in that metric. Triangle neighbors Duke and N.C. State are in a tight race for the second-toughest non-conference schedule, with the Blue Devils earning the nod here due to the Wolfpack’s lack of a Top 25 opponent and their tendency to play so many home games. Mark Gottfried has always scheduled with the infamous RPI strength of schedule rating in mind, and who can blame him? The RPI rewards a win over a team ranked #150 much more than it does versus a team ranked #300, even though good teams should beat both squads relatively easily. Therefore, many of N.C. State’s opponents are chosen because they are expected to fall in that upper middle tier of the RPI: nine of N.C. State’s 13 non-ACC opponents currently have KenPom ratings between #59 and #114. Virginia has upgraded its schedule this season in accordance with the newly-elite status of the Cavalier program. Tony Bennett’s group only plays two games against bottom-150 teams and Virginia has already played (and won) three true road games in non-conference play.

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SEC Non-Conference Schedule Round-Up: Part II

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on January 4th, 2014

Christian D’Andrea is the manager of Anchor of Gold and an SEC Microsite writer. He can be found @TrainIsland on Twitter. 

Conference play is just around the corner in the SEC, and that means it’s time to judge the league’s 14 teams based on their early-season schedules. SEC teams loaded up on cupcakes and quality opponents alike, but the real test for these programs will start when the ouroboros of league play begins. The conference boasts plenty of teams with winning records, but not all victories are built to last – and the drop under .500 could be a precipitous one in a league of “haves” and “have-nots.”

SEC Hoops Tips Off on Saturday With a Full Slate

SEC Hoops Tips Off on Saturday With a Full Slate

Today, we’ll look at five more SEC teams that will be jockeying for a spot in the NCAA Tournament behind big performances this winter. You can find the first part of the non-conference review that was published on Friday here. We’ll have part three, with the final four teams in the league, ready to go in the coming days.

Kentucky

  • Record: 10-3
  • Best Win: A seven-point home win over #6 Louisville.
  • Lowest Point: A 1-3 record against ranked teams. Kentucky’s only win over a ranked opponent came at home, while two of those losses came on neutral(-ish) courts.

At this point in the season, Kentucky has lost to more ranked teams than it’s beaten, but John Calipari’s young team appears to be rounding into shape with SEC play on the horizon. The Wildcats have 11 days to reflect on their season-defining win over #6 Louisville before jumping into conference play against rebuilding Mississippi State and Vanderbilt teams. That should give John Calipari plenty of time to build some momentum behind his young, talented roster.

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